Saturday, September 28, 2013

Nineteenth century rich men side by side

I recently read some biographies of XIX century American magnates both to get a better feel for the period and to hopefully learn something useful. There was a  small problem though. Their lives were so parallel on some areas that I began confusing parts of them around. So, to sort things out I made an outline by year and here it is for anyone to use. Some events might be off by a year.


Sources are Andrew Carnegie by Nasaw, Titan by Chernow, The Great Pierpont Morgan by Lewis Allen, The First Tycoon by Stiles, Dark Genius of Wall Street by Renehan and Mellon by Cannadine.   The two books that I enjoyed best were Nasaw's and Cannadine's in that order.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Glenn Gould first time listening

    Some people revile his playing, others adore it. That's Glenn Gould. For my part, count me in the fan side. He's idiosyncratic, but that makes him endearing. He hums at playtime, but I like how it adds to the composition (ok, count me among the heretics as well). If you ever decide to listen to his Bach playing, may I suggest you do so in the following order as I believe it will  bring more delight than doing it randomly :

    1. The Goldberg Variations, 1955 recording. Of course one must start with the Goldberg, not only because it was the 'first' chronologically, but because it sets the tone for the rest of his recordings. If you have never heard this version before, you are in for a good surprise.
    1. The Well Tempered Clavier Vol 1
    2. The Keyboard Concertos (along with Leonard Bernstein). First with the BWV 1055
    3. The English Suites
    4. The French Suites
    5. The Partitas
    6. The Tocattas

    These will give you the most accessible pieces. Probably the most difficult to listen to up to this point are the French Suites. If you have come this far and still want more, you can continue with:

    1. The Well Tempered Clavier Vol 2. I find this one more difficult or 'drier' than Vol 1 for some reason
    1. The Art of Fugue. Gould on the organ!
    2. The 'Italian' album. A miscellany of some pieces he disliked, but quite good nonetheless

    Now, there is also this one which might be saved for last

    1. The sonatas for violin & harpsichord with Laredo

    Wherever you you decide to stop, close with

    1. The 1981 Goldberg Variations

    On the non-Bach front I find the Gibbons album almost a must, while the Hindemith unsortable.  There is also an album with Gould's own compositions, that includes So you want to write a fugue? that for me is mostly a curiosity. There is also a well-regarded Haydn Sonatas album that I've not listened.

    Now that I'm on a roll, I want to also a full-hearted shout-out to Bazzana's biography of Gould Wondrous Strange. It is among the top three of the most enjoyable biographies that I've read. Frequently  'couldn't put it down' is an exaggeration. This time it isn't.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The longtailed rooster and the hermit

There was once a longtailed rooster. He was the most beautiful bird in the area and was much cared for and admired. So much so that even since he was a chick, it was decided that he would compete in the neighboring big town beyond the hills. The longtailed rooster grew proud and certain that he would win when the time came.

Standing on its high perch, he once saw a sorry creature arrive into town. It was a hermit. What would he want here? He was bent and his clothes were all tattered, if clothes could be called to the rags hanging on him. He was also silent not opening his mouth to say anything. As  the longtailed rooster peered him the townsfolk began curiously to gather round the man. It was the eve of the competition and the next day in the longtailed rooster expected to be taken beyond the hills.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Zen Life Book Review

I wanted a book about Zen. If you look around, there are very many. Problem is that most of the books one finds are about learning and doing Zen. There are primers, manuals, story collections with fables such as The Hermit and the Long Tailed Rooster (never heard about that one? I just made up the title). Though valuable, I didn't want any of these; I didn't want to practice, become a monk or become enlightened or at least not at this point. What I wanted was a book that looked at Zen from the outside. What I wanted was more of 'this is', rather than a 'how to'; a window into the practice if you will. I was about to settle with a documentary or video from YouTube when unexpectedly I found just the book I wanted in my dad's very own library.

The Zen Life is a small book written in English by native authors. It is divided into two parts. The first one consists of 101 black-and-white photographs taken at Empuku-ji monastery that illustrate the ordinary activities of a Zen monk coupled with very brief explanations. The second part looks at the former and gives a more extended commentary. The photographs are top notch and capture the essential elements clearly. One can tell that these were taken by a pro. It doesn't take much to flip through the hundred and, guess what, this is a good thing. Looking at the pictures can serve as a quick relaxation treatment.

The explanation section covers a great deal of ground. It centers mainly round the monks' daily practices, from zazen to eating and sleeping, but it also addresses zen monasticism in the context of society at large. This part is written by a psychologist and the rational or philosophy of each facet is briefly treated upon. Some calendar events are also explored.

If you are in the position of wanting to know, but do not want to practice, this is a good book that can satisfy your interest.

As a runner-up there's
Asking About Zen: 108 Answers by Jiho Sargent

For intro practice and philosophy try:

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

In closing, a nice project to consider is to contrast what happens here in The Zen Life with the experience of the Carthusians in the documentary film Into Great Silence (recommended!).