I am a big advocate of Kindles. When I moved to Mexico, I knew the thing I would miss most were bookstores. They just did not exist in the little villages I call home. Even if there was a bookstore, its offerings, would be in Spanish.
In 2009, I was consuming two books a week. The supply I brought south quickly dwindled.
Then, an electronic miracle happened. Amazon reduced the price of its Kindle reader to the point where it would not matter if the tropical salt air ate it, and simultaneously, Amazon started offering books for sale outside of the American borders. I could now get almost any book I wanted anywhere in the world.
Even more than availability, I fell in love with its compact size. Each of my readers has decreased in size and weight. My Oasis is almost a wisp in my fingers.
As much as I love my Kindle, I never fully lost my love for printed books. A couple of years ago, I brought down the few volumes I saved from the massacre of my Salem book collection. They now reside happily in my Mexican home's library.
But they are lonely. I have less than 200 volumes. And I would like more.
Over the past year, when I see a new release that interests me, I will order a printed copy from Amazon -- and, occasionally, an electronic copy for my Kindle. Slowly, my library is growing again.
I discovered just how much it has grown when I straightened up my bedroom while packing for my Oregon Thanksgiving-Panama Canal trip. My reading table has accreted layers of unread books.
Eleven to be exact. If I have read a printed book, I will place it on the shelf in the library. If I want to read it before I display it, I place it next to my bed for later reading.
Here is what is pending in my future. I have heard you can learn a lot about someone merely by what they read. I am not certain what this eclectic mix tells you about me.
Stephen Sondheim, Look, I Made a Hat and Finishing the Hat
These two volumes are a collection of Stephen Sondheim's lyrics. Sondheim is a poet at heart, and his lyrics describe the human condition with skill equal to a Cole Porter or Ira Gershwin. They stand apart from their music as stand-alone art. That cannot be said of many lyrists.
Philip Yancey, Vanishing Grace
Yancey is one of my favorite Christian authors. He is an apologist for the faith without getting trapped into being a defender of organized Christianity. For years, he has spread the word about the core truth of the gospel, and has been just as blunt how Christians have run roughshod over the core teachings of Jesus.
Grace is a favorite topic. This recent book asks the question why it appears Christian grace is diminishing. I intend to use it as the core for my next Bible study.
Jay Cost, The Price of Greatness
One of my undergraduate degrees is in history -- specifically, the early years of the American republic. So, I pick up almost every book I see that attempts to discuss the divisions in politics that arose in the first years under the Constitution.
The usual conceit is to compare Thomas Jefferson with Alexander Hamilton. The weakness in that approach is that Jefferson's sphinx-like persona hid a lot of his motivation. Cost gets around that by channeling Jeffersonian thought through Jefferson's Charles Colson, James Madison. Some of the same divisions we see in today's politics are quite visible in the Republican-Federalist rift.
Ted Kooser, Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems
I came to Kooser late in life. This year, in fact. Until I purchased this book based on a critique in National Review, I am not certain I had heard of him. I certainly had not read much of his work.
The purchase of Kindest Regards has turned out to be an unmixed blessing. Kooser's poems are based on a very simple notion -- that stories of ordinary people told simply are the most effective way to understand ourselves better. When I finish reading one of his poems, I feel as if I know who he has described -- and a bit about myself.
Poems are best read sparingly. At least, for me they are. This is the book I pick up when I want to spend a few minutes by the pool with a pot of green tea. Where I can read a poem. Watch the dragonflies or the hummingbirds. And enjoy the moment of simply being alive in a world that can still be described in carefully chosen words.
Jan Swafford, Language of the Spirit
This is another book I am taking my time reading. Swafford has compiled a short survey of serious music. He is a missionary who wants others to enjoy music in the sense he does.
His construct is to describe each of the musical periods through a brief introduction on musical theory and then through short biographies of the leading composers in each era. I was a bit skeptical of his approach.
Music theory taught through biography is usually little more than pop psychology. Swafford avoids that trap by approaching each biographical sketch as a way to describe the development of music as opposed to a simple and wrong way to describe music through what composers thought of their mothers.
The reason I am taking my time with this volume is that I am listening or re-listening to each work described. It has been a fascinating journey. I am in the middle of Beethoven's fifth symphony right now.
Edward Dusinberre, Beethoven for a Later Age: Living with the String Quartets
This August at the San Miguel de Allende Chamber Music Festival, I acquired a new fascination with Beethoven's late string quartets. The performers at the festival played most of them. They took on a new sound to me. And I was intrigued at how the deaf Beethoven could have written music that was obviously far ahead of its time. And music that was hauntingly moving.
Dusinberre is an expert on the quartets. As the first violinist of the Takács Quartet, he has an interesting perspective not only on the quartets as music, but also how they can be presented to a modern audience without losing any of their significance.
Matthew Guerrieri, The First Four Notes: Beethoven's Fifth and Human Imagination
I cannot remember who gave me this book. I think it was my friend John Hofer. Or I may have bought it. It has been with me for years, but I have never read it -- until I read the first chapter last week.
Everyone's favorite sweetheart Marion the Librarian includes an interesting plea for the man she would love in her torchy Being in Love. "
And if occasionally he'd ponder/What makes Shakespeare and Beethoven great./ Him I could love 'til I die./
Him I could love 'til I die!"
What is it that makes Beethoven great? I have often wondered that. (Hint. Hint, Marion.) Two years ago, I tried to organize a salon at my house to discuss that question -- and others. But I found little interest in our community.
Maybe this book will help fill that gap. For me.
Anne LaMotte, Bird by Bird
You already know I admire Anne LaMotte's writing. She pops up now and then on these pages.
Her politics are far to the left of mine. But her commitment to her faith is always a model to me, even when she becomes a bit annoyingly neurotic. But that gives her faith authenticity.
Bird by Bird is not really a Christian devotional, even though her stories always have a core of Christian moral agency. The book is designed as a guide on learning how to be a more effective writer.
I have read it before. I will read it again. Because all of us writers can stand a bit of improvement. We owe that to you, dear readers.
Juan Rulfo, Pedro Páramo
Each nation has a novel that is considered to be the novel that represents the best writing of the nation. The Great American Novel is purportedly Moby Dick. For Spain, it is Don Quixote.
They are the type of book that is known by all and read by few.
My Mexican intellectual friends claim Pedro Páramo is the Great Mexican Novel. And they will unanimously admit they know it, but have not read it.
That is too bad. I read it in college upon the recommendation of a geology professor who also acted as a recruiter for an intelligence agency. It was the best piece of advice he gave me.
I recently bought a copy, and have been reading and re-reading the first two chapters for months. It is a small book. There is no good reason I have not yet finished it. But Rulfo's surrealistic style is so beguiling, I find myself getting caught in the same loops of logical irrationalism that the narrator faces.
If you have not read it, I strongly recommend it. Maybe I will finish it by the time you do.
Jorge Castañeda, Mañana o Pasado
This is the Spanish edition of Castañeda's Mañana Forever?: Mexico and the Mexicans that shows up frequently in Mexpatriate. For me, it was a very thought-provoking book.
I bought the Spanish edition, not because I thought I could understand it as well as I did the English edition. I bought it for Omar.
I am a bit concerned about the lack of critical thinking taught in his high school -- and the lack of any type of serious reading in classes that are the equivalent of being a junior.
When I told him I would like to buy the book for him to read and we could then discuss it, he jumped at the opportunity. I am hoping he will find the experience interesting enough to become a reader.
That means I will not be reading this book. But I will have to read the English edition if we are going to have a thorough conversation. It will also give me an opportunity to improve my Spanish by comparing the texts.
There is another essay embedded in there. But it will be for another day.
So, there you have it. I have bared a bit of my soul. Do with it as you will.
But I am also interested in the list of books sleeping on your reading table. Maybe we could meet for mineral water one day to talk about them.
Reading without sharing often feels like not reading, at all.