Reading Around: Absurd Science Fiction in Translation and the Ongoing Triumph of Bach

Books by Andri Snær Magnason, Wendy Guerra, Rosa Montera, and Paul Elie

Another oddity of Amazon: the fact that you can score the Bach Guild's nine-hour set of Bach music for less than 10 bucks. That's something to give Walter Benjamin fits. What listener will truly concentrate on such a surfeit of genius so easily available? In his illuminating study Reinventing Bach (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 498 pages, $30), Paul Elie offers something of an answer. From his discussion of Bach's nearly 300 works for organ, “all of it so good”: “The effect of hearing all the music all together is not one of loss or diminishment, of thinning out or dumbing down. No, on the contrary, it is the experience of boundless abundance—an experience that is very close to the experience, the distinctive soul-swelling delight, that characterizes the encounter with Bach's music generally.”


By Andri Snær Magnason
SevenStories Press, 320 pp., $16.95

Everyone Leaves
By Wendy Guerra
Amazon Crossing, $4.99 download, $7.47 paperback

Tears in Rain
By Rosa Montera
Amazon Crossing, $4.99 Kindle, $9 paperback

Reinventing Bach
By Paul Elie
Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 498 pp., $30

Go ahead, then, and download. And read Elie, if the composer's radiant figures concern you. Reinventing Bach, while occasionally purple, is invaluable, a history not just of Bach but of his 20th-century interpreters (Schweitzer, Gould, Casals, Ma), their recordings, and in vital counterpoint the history of recording itself, always with an eye toward the way that record-making has altered our relationship to this music once meant to be played in church or court—and only heard, the poor souls, a couple of times per life. Elie is perceptive, inviting, and occasionally catty—the pop-crossover hits of Vanessa-Mae, he sniffs, now look as dated as Switched on Bach. He's particularly good on the music's secularization, over time, and the question of how we use it today, in our “Rome of aural superabundance.” His advice is sound, even thrilling: stop worrying and go with it.

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