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>Reading along

>Yesterday I was having one of the few unalloyed pleasures of my job, where I was asked to read a book merely for another opinion. We were beyond the yea-or-nay stage of reviewing it–the reviewer and Martha agreed it was really good–and I was just reading it to Keep Up.

See, the problem with being a professional reviewer is that you know that following even the most pleasurable read is a deadline. You have to ‘splain yourself, Lucy. It’s going to turn into work. And I’m in the camp that believes it’s harder to review a book you love than it is one you don’t. So the more you love something, the greater the challenge rises (is it because I was reading on a Sunday morning that I’m starting to feel like a Unitarian minister?).

All of this is just preamble to the fact that I like to listen to music when I read “for fun.” (Never when I’m reading to review, or when I’m writing.) A psychologist I know says that we never actually do listen and read at the same time, more like one activity takes over during lapses in the other, but I like the landscape the music puts me in. Call me crazy, but I sometimes put music on when I’m going out, ostensibly for Buster’s enjoyment but really because I secretly believes it means the house will be a better place for the experience–back from vacation, so to speak,*–when I return.

Dork alert: I try to program music that goes with my book. I have, for example, a cd of music Jane Austen liked that’s good for when I’m reading her. Villa-Lobos for magical realism. Elgar for epics of Empire. Tense mysteries get tense music. Spy stories set amidst neo-Nazis in the Antarctic–you’d be surprised how much music the cold continent has inspired.

I had read a bit of my assigned-but-no-strings book already, and I remembered that it had lots of eccentric characters, an elliptical narration, and not much of a plot–in other words, it was Canadian. So I cranked up the Gavin Bryars only to realize the novel was in fact set in Australia, and that Bryars himself is only marginally Canadian, so my theory of geographical affinity went completely to pot. So As African American mezzo Shirley Verrett said, upon walking down the hall of a music school and hearing what she thought was a black singer singing spirituals “like she was from deepest Mississippi” only to open the practice room door to see a Korean girl going phonetically through “Deep River,” “there goes that.”

Having now finished the book, Judith Clarke’s One Whole and Perfect Day (Front Street), I see that I should have gone with Mozart. Bee-yoo-ti-ful counterpoint, and it’s a book about happiness.

*(For an entertaining take on this very notion, look for The House Takes a Vacation, a picture book by Jacqueline Davies and Lee White, published this month by Marshall Cavendish.)

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. GraceAnne LadyHawk says:

    >I always Read Roger, and occasionally, like today, a post so excites me that I have to write almost as much in reply.

    Reviewing a book one loves is absolutely the most difficult thing. You need to find the right words for the transcendence of the story that changed your life, made you weep and smile, aroused your senses, and do it in a way that doesn’t make your editor think you are addled.

    Rarely, I get to sit down with a book I am not reading for review, or for teaching, or because my beloved recommended it to me. It is Just. Reading. I need to do that to remind me that voluptuous pleasure is why I review stuff.

  2. GraceAnne LadyHawk says:

    >I used to be able to listen to music while I read, or while I wrote. No longer, unless it is the most background of background music, perhaps Paul O’Dette on the lute. But you are the only person I know besides TheInfomancer who listens to Gavin Bryars.

  3. Roger Sutton says:

    >Bruce Brooks is the only other person I knew who listened to Bryars, so now there are three.

    I really can’t write at all with music in the background, and can be at my most crotchety when someone in the office has some music going at her desk.

  4. Anonymous says:

    >isn’t this practice doing injustice to the music? treating it like backround noise in a movie?

  5. Roger Sutton says:

    >The music doesn’t know if I’m listening or not. It’s not like I might hurt its feelings.

  6. Anonymous says:

    >Canadian? HAHAHAHAHA. R., you are nothing if not transparent. But it was a great blog entry because it was such a great admittance of you. I love the music and reading part. It’s very sweet. You go, not girl.

  7. Anonymous says:

    >obviously the question wasn’t whether you were hurting the music’s little feelings – just that one could infer that you didn’t value the music,

  8. Roger Sutton says:

    >Myabe you could ask my stalker, above, how much I value music. Or you could ask my piano, which, unlike my cd player, does silently judge me every time I walk past it.

  9. Anonymous says:

    >Roger – I do the SAME thing. Turn on the music, leave the house. Come home to a happy sound…What does your psychologist friend say about this?

  10. rindawriter says:

    >Aw, everybody….go get a good book and a soft spot to sprawl…and take a listen to Anonymous 4’s latest…although ’tis difficult to tell admist their many which could possibly be most superior…

    DON’T know about Anonymous 4? Tcha, tcha, tcha…don’t deprive yourself any longer….talk about sensory overload…

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