Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Letter of Introduction

Hello! My name is Sheila, and I'm new on staff at the Odyssey. This post is to introduce myself a little bit, and to give you an idea of my usual reading habits so you know where I'm coming from if you see a post or shelf tag by me! (My first staff pick is definitely going to be Wanting Sheila Dead by Jane Haddam. I hear it's great.)

I grew up in Springfield, moved to South Hadley just before 8th grade, and have been around ever since. In May I graduated from UMass with a double major in music and political science, which are two subjects that will pop up frequently on my reading list. After graduation, I started an internship at the National Priorities Project, a federal budget research group based in Northampton, MA. At the end of the summer, I joined the staff there part time, and was luckily able to fill up the rest of my time with a new job at the Odyssey! Outside of my various jobs, I play a lot of music. The project I'm spending most time on right now is a Tom Petty cover band, Your Father's Mustache. We would love to play your uncle's birthday party, stop by the Odyssey sometime and we'll talk.

As far as reading goes, it was my favorite pastime when I was a kid, and have been a huge book lover ever since. I love a good novel, but mostly tend to read non-fiction. If a gun were pointed at my head and I had to pick three favorite books, they would be Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, Silence by John Cage, and The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross. 

Invisible Cities is built around imagined conversations between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, with Marco's descriptions of fantastic cities in the Khan's empire in between their discussions. It's a great book to keep in your bag to read in little spurts while you're waiting for the bus or the doctor simply because the divisions are so short, most of the cities are only a page or two. Each description of a city plays with something that we take for granted, for example the fact that cities stay in one place and that we breathe air and not dirt. The world Invisible Cities lives in has no restrictions from the laws of physics, and it's just so much fun imagining life in these mysterious places.

Silence is a collection of writings by John Cage, a still-controversial 20th century composer. You can walk into any university music department in the country and start an argument about his music and philosophies, with some people passionately defending his value and some saying that his music is not music at all. My tent has been firmly staked in the pro-John Cage camp ever since I read this book, and would love to discuss him with you if you find me at the Odyssey! I firmly believe that people should read this book with an open mind before making up their mind either way about him and his music. This book changed how I listen to the world, and the people that I've recommended it to have reported back the same result.

Alex Ross is the classical music critic for The New Yorker, and is a fabulous music writer. Whether it's his reviews and essays or either of his two books, his writing just makes you need to go listen to whatever he's talking about. Reading The Rest is Noise introduced me to more great music than I could possibly list, and his second book Listen to This has had the same effect. The Rest is Noise takes you through the music of the 20th century in a way that is completely accessible for everybody, not just those with a degree in music history or theory. The book gives insight into some of the most interesting stories from the last century of classical music, and puts it into context with the general history of each time period. One of the most gripping sections of the book deals with World War II, telling the stories both of Richard Strauss, who led the Reich Music Chamber for the Nazis to protect Jewish family members, and Olivier Messiaen, who wrote his most famous piece from inside a German prisoner of war camp. I would suggest this book to anyone, and especially to music and history lovers.

That's all for now! I'm currently reading Pinched by Don Peck, which is about the current economic turmoil we've found ourselves in. It's been fantastic so far, can't wait to finish it and write something up!

See you around,



Susan Knightly said...

Nice work, welcome to our favorite bookstore. Happy trails in your Odyssey.

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

Great first post, Sheila!