This Week, I Read… (#4)

9 - The Basque History of the World

#9 – The Basque History of the World, by Mark Kurlansky

  • Read: 1/21/16 – 1/24/16
  • Provenance: Borrowed from family
  • Challenge: BookRiot Read Harder 2016
  • Task: A book about politics, in your country or another
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

This is as much history as politics, but in Basqueland, as in all of Europe, the two are basically the same thing.  Before reading this, I was aware of the strong cultural identity of the Basque people, and how they have no country of their own, but what I didn’t know was why, so this seemed like just the thing to educate me.  And it was.  I’m never going to remember all the names and dates, because I read this casually, not as if I were studying for a history exam, but I do know more than when I started.  Like, a lot of famous and influential people throughout history were Basque, including the founder of the Society of Jesus (ie, the Jesuits.)  Did not know that before.

10 - The Student Conductor

#10 – The Student Conductor, by Robert Ford

Yes, before I get into what I thought of the book, let’s talk about this cover.  First, I don’t like books with transparent film on top of the dust jacket–it makes it nearly impossible to photograph well. (If you look closely you can see the reflection of my hands holding the camera.)

This was a library book once, and I picked it up from a library book sale, though interestingly enough the book came from a library in Florida, according to the stamp.  How it made its way to Michigan, I have no idea.  I saw the title on the spine where it nested with other books in a box on a table, so I picked it up.  Then I saw the cover, which looks more appropriate to a ghost story than anything else, with its faded palette and blurriness.  And it’s killing me that the photograph is off-center; you can see more of the left-front chandelier than the right, and the door is definitely skewed to the right.  If it were more deliberate, then it might be okay, but as it stands it just looks like it’s meant to be centered, and isn’t.

Anyway, I have a thing for musicians, due to my childhood dreams of being one, so despite the awful cover I read the blurb and brought it home.

Time to talk about the book itself.  I’m so conflicted about this one.

On the one hand, the language was gorgeous.  I was completely swept up by the imagery, by the excellent pacing, by the way Ford describes music.  I could see the sights of Germany and feel the presence of the orchestra on stage. Completely captivating.

On the other, I wasn’t impressed by the plot.  So little happens that this can’t be called much more than a character study, but generally in those, the main character is the one being studied…and Cooper Barrow was not, by any stretch of the imagination, the most compelling character, being out-shined by both his teacher and his paramour.  And the ending left me…adrift? Unsatisfied? I can’t tell if Barrow got what he wanted from his experience.  Maybe I’m meant to feel that way, because he’s not sure either.  Maybe I’m supposed to be longing for the closure he didn’t get.

I don’t have to have a clean, happily-ever-after ending to be satisfied with a book, but I do require an ending.  Not just a single paragraph after a scene break where the book tells me “look how his story was shaped by these two oddballs who were way more interesting than him.”

That’s not closure.

Not hanging on to this one–it came from the library, and it can be donated right back to their book sale.

Anyone read anything interesting this week that they want to recommend to me?


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