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The books I read in May 2022

Books to be read

Books start conversations. Each month I have a goal to read five books on a variety of topics and from different genres in order to learn and to start conversations with readers and others I encounter along the way. Here are the books I read in May 2022. If you click on the title, you’ll go to the longer post on More to Come. Enjoy!

Magnus, the second novel of George Mackay Brown, was published in 1973 (and republished by Polygon in 2019). It is the fictional account of the real-life murder of Earl Magnus of Orkney who “walked calmly, knowingly and completely unarmed to a terrible death at the hands of his cousin Hakon Paulson.” Told through the eyes of several peasants, it is both atmospheric in capturing the spirit of the islands, and descriptive in recounting the hardships and terror of life in the 12th century. Poet Seamus Heaney once remarked that Mackay Brown passed everything “through the eye of the needle of Orkney.” That is true in Magnus, where Brown takes off on a dream flight in the midst of the description of the killing of the 12th century martyr to meditate on the murder of famed German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the hands of the Nazis near the end of World War II. This is a serious and powerful work from one of Scotland’s most accomplished 20th century writers.

The 9.9 Percent: The New Aristocracy That is Entrenching Inequality and Warping our Culture (2021) is philosopher and historian Matthew Stewart‘s wide-ranging survey and urgent call to action on wealth inequality. Most of us assume we are not “rich” because we are not billionaires, allowing us to fall into the 99% and scapegoat the world’s wealthiest individuals. Stewart reframes the issue, noting that the really wealthy make up only 0.1% of the population. When you examine the top ten percent to find the people who control more than half of the country’s wealth, it is those other 9.9% — looking a great deal like many of us and our friends — who are doing so many things to entrench inequality in our system. There are many suggestions and conclusions in this brilliant work which are worthy of mention. In the end, Stewart calls for a strong recommitment to liberal democracy, which works to raise everyone up and which he describes as a truth machine. Its most fundamental premise is that every step in the direction of reason is also a step in the direction of justice. Highly recommended.

Bedside Essays for Lovers (of Cities) (2012) is architect Daniel Solomon‘s call for all of us to understand and care for our cities. In this short collection, Solomon is focused on what makes cities vibrant, livable, and sustainable; places where we would all want to live. Cities are complex, with innumerable moving parts, and the need to find solutions that work is made more urgent by factors such as climate change, justice, and inequality. Solomon’s voice is an important one, as he as argues that we need to pay more attention to nurturing “continuous cities” where “new buildings, new institutions, and new technologies don’t rip apart the old and wreck it. They accommodate, they act with respect, and they add vibrant new chapters to history without eradicating it.”

Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding My Voice 1967 – 1975 (2021) is British singer-songwriter Richard Thompson’s witty, moving, and un-ponderous (to use one reviewer’s description) memoir of his early musical career in Fairport Convention, as a session guitarist for hire, and then in a musical duo with his wife Linda. The work is as well-crafted as Thompson’s music and is a delight to read. Throughout there are unforgettable lines, thoughtful passages about tragedy and resilience, insightful descriptions of 1960s London, and laugh-out-loud stories.

Edvard Grieg: His life and music is a 2002 work written by Erling Dahl, Jr. and published by the Edvard Grieg Museum — Troldhaugen. It was an excellent short intro for those — like me — who may have heard a number of Grieg’s compositions through the years but do not know much about the life, influences, and work of Norway’s most famous composer. The Hungarian composer Béla Bartók said that “Grieg was the first to cast off the yoke of Germany.” There is much packed into this short biography, but I was most fascinated by Grieg’s connections to, and love of, Norwegian folk music. That connection flowered in an especially creative period in the mid-1870s, when he lived in western Norway. The well-received work from this era has been seen as a group of highly personal, heartfelt compositions.

Enjoy reading!

More to come…

DJB

NOTE: To see which books I read in January, FebruaryMarchand April, click on the links. You can also read my Ten tips for reading five books a month online.

Image: My to-be-read pile from a couple of years ago…some of those books remain in the pile, which grows along the lines of Strega Nona’s pasta bowl.

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