I like to read with music playing, but it must be instrumental and relatively placid.
Over the years, I've been adding tracks to this mega Reading & Writing playlist on Spotify.
It's 45 HOURS long. I put it on shuffle and let it fly.
I've recently stumbled across similar playlists that aren't as long.
Jon Hopkins wanted to find a meditative, ambient music to share with his friends. So here's his: QUIET playlist (it's only 25 hours long).
Ben Watt has a playlist called Air Gap, which follows a similar set of rules: "ambient, beatless, suspended meditations." (~4 hours)
Now, if you don't have Spotify, you can still listen to these playlists, but they will play on shuffle and have intermittent ads. (Please correct me if I'm wrong.)
For an other meditative treat, here's 30 minutes of Studio Ghibli meditative beauty:
In other music-y realms, I've been come to building ongoing playlists for the year. Whenever I encounter a song that grabs me (usually introduced to me from the Spotify algorithm--it finds music that it thinks I may like), I dump it in a playlist for that year. And then it accompanies me on walks, road trips, Saturday. It's also a primary source for building a playlist for a game night or party or what-have-you.
These kind of playlists serve as a kind of musical commonplace book--a place to log and collect songs (and if you know anything about me, I'd say it's a pretty eclectic collection). The songs transport me to vividly specific times and places. It's like other sense memories.
My 2021 playlist is growing at quite a brisk pace. There are some fun songs on there by musicians I've never heard of (and some I have). I love it. Here's my playlists from a couple years back as well:
This is a 25-minute blog post.
I set a timer for 20 minutes, then I have 5 minutes to wrap it up and make adjustments. Here goes.
In 2021, I've committed to reading a "door stopper" novel each month. My parameters are:
Anyway, in January, I read Roberto Bolaño's epic 2666. The novel is wild. It's divided into 5 books and they make up a kind of...whatever you'd call a five-paneled work of art (quin-tych?). I guess the books can be read on their own in any order, but I am fascinated by the one laid out by the publishers and Bolaño's family (he died right before completion).
At the end of the second book ("The Part about Amalfiatno"), we get this sublime passage about "door stoppers."
"There was something revelatory about the taste of his bookish young pharmacist...who clearly and inarguably preferred minor works to major ones. He chose The Metamorphosis over The Trial, he chose Bartleby over Moby-Dick,...and A Christmas Carol over A Tale of Two Cities or The Pickwick Papers. What a sad paradox, thought Amalfitano. Now even bookish pharmacists are afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters. Or what amounts to the same thing: they want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench."
2666 is just under 900 pages. I read about 30 each day, save for one day, but it was easy enough to carve time to catch up. The experience was incredible. It covers so much terrain, sprawling and diverging and still manages to contain some kind of whole. This book is difficult in sooo many ways (it's often unrelentingly gruesome). I wrestled with it a lot and just when I was on the brink of calling it a day, something stunning would ping off the page, and I'd hunker down for more reading.
Recently, I'm keenly interested in that struggle. That moment when a work becomes frustrating, when I'm not getting it, bored, or confused, or whatever. How do I get out of that? Is it an issue with the book or me? In 2666, I'd always come to some kind of marvel at his genius. I'd come to a satisfying rationale for each annoyance or idiosyncrasy.
Now, there are books out there that just don't work for me. And I'm getting better at understanding if A) the read will be constant struggle and simply "not for me" Or (B) if the read will be something that's going to take an investment and a careful examination of paying attention to my reaction to the reading. This mindfulness is something George Saunders calls for in his latest book A Swim in a Pond in the Rain.
I picked up that book a few weeks ago and read the introduction. It's brilliant. Saunders is one of my favorite writers and he teaches at the MFA Creative Writing Program at Syracuse. One of his classes is an exploration of 40 Russian short stories. His latest book is a condensed version of that class, choosing only 7 stories instead. Saunders is focusing on the short story and talking to me as a fellow writer, but also as a reader and general art reader (seeing a film, theater, taking in a painting, etc.).
I'm curious what Saunders would have to say about how the sprawling novels differs from the short story (beyond the obvious: length). So I'm sure Saunders would approach 2666 in a different way as a reader/writer. But I know that after reading only the first 6 pages of A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, I was thinking about how I was reading 2666: what delighted me, what didn't, and why. This made the experience that much more full and engaging. Perhaps I'll share more of that someday.
My timer just dinged, so I'm going to make sure there isn't anything totally embarrassing.
But here's to "the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown."
I'm a third of the way through Olivia Manning's Fortunes of War: The Balkan Trilogy and it's a totally different kind of "torrential" work. More on that later.
I deserve a prize for resisting the urge to buy a new notebook.
I've had this funky composition version for a couple years. It's only one-third full of random notes. So I clipped those away and am starting a version of bullet journaling.
I'm not gonna get all crazed about it. But if I find that this is super helpful, I may share my method.
I've just come from an intense half year of recording audiobooks (a lot more to come on that). A couple other books are on their way. The work is extremely rewarding and enjoyable. But there are aspects that overwhelmed me. Part of this journal's purpose is to organize that work along with the other little things that swirl in my head. There's a lot of administrative stuff to sort out. My hope is that I can dump those tasks in the journal and get them done.
Another element of the bullet journal is a storage for blogging ideas. In the coming weeks, I hope to add a lot more content to this part of my website. I want to share the good work of friends and colleagues. Perhaps give a peek into my process. You know, bloggy stuff.
Last week, I started rehearsals for Saint Joan with the Orchard Theater Collective in Minneapolis.
We've got a team of five actors playing the couple dozen roles. I'm playing Charles the Dauphin, John de Stogumber, Poulengey, some pages, and, for the briefest of moments, the Executioner.
The play has a short run (March 6 - March 21).
For tickets and more details, visit this link.
And here's a first-day-of-rehearsal shot with the cast and our director, Ben Shaw (no relation to George Bernard Shaw...I think).
Movies and TV series watched in the year.
I'm headed back to Texas Shakespeare Festival for the summer!
I'll be playing:
Come visit me in Kilgore, Texas this summer. They're also doing Into the Woods and a brand-new children's show called The Girl Who Cried Throgmonster by my friend Grace Abele.
This leaves me booked until August 1 in 2019.
I'm eager to find work after that.
Here's a running list of the books (and plays) I've read cover-to-cover:
News, updates, quotes, and other miscellany.
Books Read 2020
Books Read 2019
Books Read 2018
Books Read 2017
Books Read 2016
Books Read 2015
Movies Watched 2020
Movies Watched 2019
Movies Watched 2018
Movies Watched 2017
Movies Watched 2016
Movies Watched 2015