The winter holiday season has always seemed to me to be a good time to strike out beyond my usualreading preferences. Maybe that’s a relic from the childhood years when adult relatives would give me the books they thought I ought to enjoy, whether these were ones I would have ever thought of selecting for myself. And many were treasures indeed. So here are a few, genre and not.
Top of the list is the book I’m currently immersed in, An Equal Music by Vikram Seth. It appeared on our To Be Read Bookshelf. I have no idea where it came from, perhaps a box of books from one friend or another, left with me when they departed for another continent, to be read and passed on to the library book sale. I suspect I delayed so long in cracking its cover because it looked pretentiously “litrary” and is written primarily in present tense. I’m only reluctantly willing to tackle present tense, although given sufficient motivation, I settle into it nicely. To talk about the richness of characterization or the layers of story is really to say nothing at all about the book. What captured me and held me firmly was the wonderfully inventive, detailed description of how professional musicians – in this case, the protagonist being second violin in a world-caliber string quartet – experience classical music. After eight years of piano lessons, I have a glimmering from my own experience of what it’s like, but the book takes me right into the heart of chamber music, of the intense love and hate affair between a highly skilled musician and his instrument, and of the relationships between people who play together. Into this, Seth weaves stories of love won and lost, of rivalries and misunderstandings and sheer bloody-mindedness (the characters are British, don’t you know). The music is the real star, the living heart of the book.