I live in music

I live in music

The other day I had a yearning, very specific in its musical nature. I wanted/needed to hear “Dance me to the End of Love,” à la Leonard Cohen when he first recorded it. Maybe not an anthem song in the way “Hallelujah” is, but there must be a reason his last two tours opened with that number. It’s a set-list/strategy that works. Make a show of time with a song of yearning transformed into a wistful waltz.dance me

Tracking down the original is easy these days. Yes, you have to be a fan to appreciate his voice (not that ‘voice’ was ever his strong point). And, yes, only a fan would want to go back, immerse herself in the sound/the spirit/the poetry that first hooked her. For all the change, subtle and otherwise, that years bring to a singer/songwriter, any song is bound to be infused with echoes of its earlier incarnation.

I downloaded. I listened. Found myself transported, in an instant, to another time and place. Nothing does that to me the way a piece of music does. Don’t ask how many nights I needed those “Sisters of Mercy” or slipped into the longing of “Suzanne.” Or told a boyfriend that’s no way to say good-bye.

But this is not about being maudlin (though I can be). It’s about the power of music, the way it infuses itself into your heart/your soul/your bloodstream. It’s about the ways in which a piece of music courses through your body, taking you back, no line between today and yesterday. Here I am/there I was: sprawled on a white Haitian cotton couch, head resting against the pillows, a twenty-something living in a NYC studio apartment, my sanctuary. Take a toke, pump up the volume. Feel the space between the notes and the lyrics. Leonard Cohen got to that crack in my heart. Janis Joplin took a piece of it. Billie Holliday made it ache.

Pink Floyd required my undivided attention.

Bob Dylan LPs had a shelf of their own.

Rubinstein playing Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2” brought me to tears more than once. When I got around to reading the liner notes (something I still resist before getting my own impression), I learned that the great Russian composer was emerging from a period of despair when he wrote this concerto. Doesn’t the heart know what the mind takes time to figure out?

I happened to live next door to a talented concert pianist. He lived next door to the disco kid. It was the ’80s. Walking down the corridor to my apartment gave new meaning to the battle of the bands. We were all friends.

Turns out my concert pianist friend, Michael Lewin, is a featured artist on “Winds of Samsara,” which won the 2015 Grammy for best New Age Album.   Not long ago I felt compelled to reconnect in the way that old friends do on Facebook. Now I had reason to give a congratulatory shout-out, share the news on my wall, along with a You Tube link of him playing the Ricky Kej/Wouter Kellerman arrangement of a Chopin nocturne I love. What a thrill!

Better yet, it brought us from Facebook to e-mail. We did our best to catch up on twenty+ years. He asked me to choose a CD I’d like in exchange for my book. If just sampling the range of possibilities via his website brought it all back home to me—the sound of his Steinway echoing through the walls—imagine the sensation when I listen to that full spectrum of birdsong made manifest in his enchanting CD, If I Were a Bird. Now I know something even more about him than I did back when.

CD birdMusic is infused into the very fabric of more than one novel by Richard Powers, including his latest, Orfeo.   A glimpse into his way with words may tell you why I just can’t get enough of his work.

Music forecasts the past, recalls the future. Now and then the difference falls away, and in one simple gift of circling sound, the ear solves the scrambled cryptogram. One abiding rhythm, present and always, and you’re free. But a few measures more, and the cloak of time closes back around you.




Russian Winter-1

What’s in Your Beach Bag?

I’m sitting on my deck, birds flitting here and there, a tiny fawn at the heels of her mother in the grassy patch along my driveway, bicycles instead of school buses on the road. All of which I take note of only in passing, the real concentration saved for the book in my lap. Summer reading — a phrase, an idiom, a state of mind that conjures memories of my favorite bench, one of the many dotting the middle-income housing project, Brooklyn, NY, where I grew up, me reading one of the seven or eight or ten books I got from the library. It was a defining element of the season. A break from school. Twice as many books to be checked out for twice as much as time.  The heft of them in my arms, the library binding that practically creaked when you opened a book, no better reminder of that wonderful shared experience.

So imprinted is the notion of summer reading that it speaks to a certain license, more often than not light reading at the beach, sprawled on a towel or  in a chaise. Sometimes, though, there are summers when that very same ‘license’ suggests the really hefty book, the one I’ve been wanting to sink my teeth into for oh-so-long if only I had the uninterrupted time. Maybe it’s all that daylight, a circadian shift that conjures the overriding rhythm of the school year (long gone if not forgotten), making two weeks of vacay feel (almost) like two months.  One summer it was Anna Karenina. Another summer, when I lived in Sag Harbor, it was Moby Dick. Call me crazy.

Call me curious. Or just call me delighted to join in the summer reading link-up for bloggers hosted by Jennie @ Life is Short, Read Fast and Kelly @ Reading with Martinis. Summer is, after all, party time, and this party is about the books that entice and excite, the ones we read and blog about.


I don’t know if it’s the power of suggestion, but something Russian has taken a hold on me.  The premise of Daphne Kalotay’s novel, Russian Winter, is nothing if not intriguing:  a Bolshoi ballerina star, precious jewels, the mystery of  of something from the past coming back to haunt the heroine. Did I mention an escape from Stalinist Russia?





A great story demands being read more than once; in his introduction to The Essential Tales of Chekhov, Richard Ford writes, “The more you linger, the  more you reread, the more you’ll experience and feel addressed by this great genius who, surprisingly, in spite of distance and time, shared a world we know and saw as his great privilege the chance to redeem with language.”  This is the summer I plan to reread the Chekhov stories that hooked me in the first place, and discover a few new ones as well.





Then there’s that other great literary heroine who fascinates me, the French one, Madame Bovary, all the more compelling (to a writer at least) for being written by an author known for his obsessive revising and all the more alluring in a new translation by Lydia Davis. Put together le mot juste with the “original desperate housewife” (so says the jacket copy) and I’m sold. All I need is a glass of good French wine (or a martini).





How can you resist a title like this?  Doesn’t hurt that I love stories alluding to mythology and Buddhist and Zen tales (even in parody) or that cover cross-cultural, intergenerational terrain.  And if the title isn’t enough, there’s the twin protagonists Moonie and Mei Ling Wong (known as the “Double Happiness” Chinese food delivery girls)  and their coming-of-age via the tales Marilyn Chin weaves together in Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen.






I had the pleasure of meeting Masha Hamilton when she received the 2010 Women’s National Book Association award for her work as a journalist and novelist as well as her literacy projects, including the Afghan Women’s Writing Project and the Camel Book Drive. I read her latest novel, 31 Hours, which I found riveting, and am now following with The Distance Between Us, the story of a journalist in the thick of it, the Middle East. Such is the appeal of her work, I may well end up reading all of her novels.




Now, lest you think your eyes are playing tricks on you, take another peek at the image at the top of the post. I admit it,  I’m a sucker for a beautiful bookmark, all the more reason to be delighted when I chanced upon the whimsical In My Book bookmarks that double as notecards. Printed on heavy-duty watercolor paper, they come in fifteen different designs, each one as charming as the next. Doesn’t every good book deserve one?