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My 2015 Readings

(Above painting by Giuseppe Crespi, 1665 -1737)

Well, it’s 2016. I hope I read more this year than I did last.

This list is a little incomplete: there’s some more game stuff I read, some of it in part and some in full. But it’s close enough to a list of all the books I finished, so I’ll go with this.

My Library at LibraryThing

It’s hard to pick standouts, because there were a lot of great books. Having so little time to read, I focused on things I felt I’d really enjoy.

Still, if I were to recommend a few books, I guess I’d go with these, in no specific order:

I guess those were my favorite books of the year. But almost everything was good.

And now, one book I didn’t mention in any of my previous “Books Read 2015”-tagged posts, because it annoyed me profoundly:

Clive James’ Cultural Amnesia is a truly frustrating book. The introduction is so promising, as is the chapter on turn of the century Vienna. But, being a jazz lover, I went ahead and looked at the chapters James wrote on various jazz musicians, and, well… they don’t put the book in a good light, as far as I’m concerned. When he’s discussing Anna Akhmatova, or Peter Altenberg, he discusses their lives and work. But somehow jazzmusicians aren’t afforded the same consideration.

The first example is the most horrifying: Louis Armstrong’s chapter is about… how awesome Bix Biederbecke was. James’ excuse is that Armstrong once said something nice about Bix’s playing, which… well, it’s well-known Louis respected Bix and his playing, but that’s hardly an excuse to make the chapter all about Bix and only about Louis in passing. If Bix deserved a chapter, why not give him one of his own? Because, you see, the real point James wants to address is one the rest of the world has left in the ditch: “Can white cats play jazz?”

Next is the Miles Davis chapter, which is basically about how money ruined Miles Davis. No kidding. And it’s based on a quotation James didn’t even bother to verify or track down, because hey, it rings true in James’ head.

Finally, the chapter on Duke Ellington, in which he sneers about how Coltrane sucked (because he’s not melodic like Duke) for a sizeable chunk of a short chapter. Again, no kidding.

There’s room for all those discussions, mind: the legacy of racism in jazz and how it’s skewed jazz folk mythology about race; the question of whether economic success impacted certain major figures in the jazz world, and whether it did so negatively; the question of whether the increasing abandonment of easily-digested melody in jazz is the main reason for its decline in popularity, and what to do about it… these are all grist for the mill on good jazz blogs like Do the Math. But James’ choice to grind his assorted snarky old white man axes at those particular points in the book just turned me off, to the point where I finally distrust him as a commentator on cultural and artistic history. As with any author, if I can detect massive problems—and problems the author seems not to realize exist—in the sections of a book covering the stuff I know about, then it just makes me trust the author much less when it comes to the areas I don’t know much about.

I may still come back to Cultural Amnesia to see what James has to say about people like Borges and Kafka and Keats and Proust, since he is mostly a lit guy… but the bad taste in my mouth is likely to remain, just the same.

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