Filed under dewey decimal project

Dewey Decimal Project: 780.904 ROS The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century

I believe I heard about this book Cover of The Rest is Noisewhen it was first published and it was something that intrigued me. I had dabbled in listening to twentieth-century classical music in my twenties, but didn’t really start digging deeply until I began singing with the choir at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. The choir director at the time, Matt Walsh, programmed a lot of twentieth-century (and twenty-first-century as the millennium turned) music for the masses. It wasn’t necessarily great for the congregation—Poulenc’s choral motets aren’t really the sort of thing that the typical person in the pews is likely to sing along with, even if the music was available to them which it wasn’t—but for the choristers, it was amazing. Nothing really gets one into the heart of the harmony like singing choral music.

Ross, in this book, tends to focus on operatic music, beginning with Richard Strauss’s Salome whose 1906 Graz performance had in attendance a wide variety of contemporary composers from Puccini to Schoenberg to Alban Berg and the widow of Johann Strauss II. He follows the course of “classical” music (really, the term should apply to eighteenth-century music only, rather than the common appellation to anything performed with orchestral instruments and occasional voices) through the twentieth century and its eventual decline in the popular consciousness as first jazz then pop and rock took its place until it became the domain primarily of a small cultural elite. It was a bit surprising to read of American GIs arriving in Germany to find the elderly Richard Strauss and knowing who he was. Few living composers now would be able to claim such currency.

As a finite work, it leaves out a lot that readers might want to know more about. The first half of the century claims more than half the page count, with the fifties arriving roughly two-thirds of the way through the book, but the middle section, comparing the development of music in Stalin’s Russia, Roosevelt’s America and Hitler’s Germany was especially fascinating.


Dewey Decimal Project: 778.925 JAN How to photograph children

Picking something out of photography Cover of How to Photograph Childrenseemed a bit of a bore and I ended up going with this book as an option. Of course, since I’m over a year behind in these write ups, I don’t remember much of the book other than it was not notable in either positive or negative terms so I’m going to leave this entry in the series a little more than a picture of the book cover.

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Dewey Decimal Project: 760 GRE The Artists of Terezin

Nestled in the 760s, “Printmaking and Prints,” I found this book which talked about the background of the artists of Terezin as well as showing their work. Terezin was a former fortress city which the Nazis took over to use as a “model ghetto.” Living conditions were as awful as in other Jewish ghettos under Nazi rule, but there was a façade of respectability laid over the horror so the Nazis could claim that the Jews were being treated well for the benefit of foreign observers such as the International Red Cross.

Picture of bread being delivered in a horse-drawn hearse, but with a Jewish laborer pulling the hearse rather than a horse, drawn by Malvína Schálková

I knew a bit about Terezin from my novel research and this was a great opportunity to see the work created clandestinely by the Jewish artists who had been deported to Terezin. Like most Holocaust stories, it ends with tragedy—few of the artists survived to see the end of the war—but the work is beautiful and haunting.


Dewey Decimal Project: 759.054 RUB How to Read Impressionism: Ways of Looking

Growing up in Chicago, I’ve had tCover of How to Read Impressionismhe good fortune of easy access to what’s arguably the best collection of impressionist artwork in the work at the Art Institute (I remember visiting the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and realizing that they had fewer pieces than the Art Institute and many of the best pieces of the period were in Chicago rather than Paris). Perhaps as a consequence of this proximity to the work, I’ve always loved impressionist artwork even if I didn’t necessarily have a good understanding of the people and culture behind it.

In this book, James H. Rubin takes the standard approach of focusing on large reproductions of the artwork and adds a new twist in his presentation: rather than segregating the artworks by artist, he instead arranges the text around thematic aspects so we see multiple artists’ takes on similar subjects including work beyond the standard paintings that make up the popular consciousness of impressionism.


Dewey Decimal Project: 741.59 CHU Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere

Comics are covered in the DeweyCover of Why Comics Decimal system under “Graphic arts & decorative arts.” There was little chance that I would read anything else when I got to this part of the Dewey Decimals, but I had originally thought I’d read some collection of newspaper strips. With the wealth of options available, I ended up deciding to instead read some writing about comics and picked up Hilary Chute’s book.

Chute is a scholar of comics (something that is new and still uncommon) and she approaches the subject here on a series of topics beginning with “Why disaster?” before touching on such disparate topics as superheroes, suburbs, illness/disability and LGBT issues. Some of the artists were familiar to me (Chris Ware actually lives a few blocks away from me and I’ve seen him on occasion at our local indie bookstore. He’s much less geometric in person than I would have imagined). Others were new. A few of the books mentioned I ended up seeking out, in one case, with Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen, it was a bit of brilliant serendipity as I was working on a chapter in my current novel about the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing when I read this book and Nakazawa’s book was a great way to help visualize the settings and events that I was writing about.

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Dewey Decimal Project: 731.42 HOL Polymer Clay for the first time®

I’ve always wanted to learn to sculpt. Cover of Polymer Clay for the First TimeThe whole concept of creating three-dimensional art has always fascinated me. So when I got to the 730s, “Sculpture, ceramics & metalwork” I was sure this was going to be my chance to finally learn this skill.


I picked up this book hoping it would be about sculpting with polymer clay, but it turns out that it’s really about making simple patterns by slicing rolled (or occasionally stacked) clay for things like necklaces and decorative objects. It’s my own fault that it didn’t fulfill my hopes. I could have looked closer at the book before clutching it to my breast and scurrying out of the library. I don’t remember if there was anything closer to my desires among the books at the library or if the other options would be books about sculpture rather than about how to sculpt.


Dewey Decimal Project: 720.483 MAR Marina City: Bertrand Goldberg’s Urban Vision

Bertrand Goldberg’s Picture of Marina CityMarina City has always been a fixture of my perception of downtown Chicago. As a child I attended a broadcast of the local children’s television program, BJ and Dirty Dragon from the Marina City TV studios (now the House of Blues), saw Steve McQueen chase the bad guys through the parking garage until they crashed through the railing and plunged into the Chicago River in the TV trailers for The Hunter, not to mention all the times that I saw the towers in person, always from the outside (although I did look with interest at rental listings when I was apartment hunting in Chicago in the late ’90s).

I knew bits and drabs of the history of the towers, mostly from Blair Kamin’s writings for the Chicago Tribune along with books about Chicago real estate and development by Ross Miller, Richard Cahan and Lois Wille that I read back about the same time that I was apartment hunting. But this book put it all together into a single narrative, explaining how union money met with Goldberg’s utopian socialist ideals to build this unique complex (Goldberg’s even more ambitious River City exists as only a small fraction of the originally planned complex.) Between having only vague memories of 20+-year old reading and not knowing details at all, I was left with a fascinating account of the development and life of some of Chicago’s most iconic architecture.

I had for a while believed that I was born in Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital and Maternity Center at Northwestern Hospital, but in researching this post, I learned that it was built after I was born so my birth took place in a different Northwestern Hospital building. So much for my connection to Goldberg reaching back to my birth.

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Dewey Decimal Project: 711.4 SMI The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City

Image from the plan of Chicago showing the proposed civic center plaza and surrounding buildings

Had I gone to public school in the city of Chicago instead of just outside it, a mandated part of my education would have been learning about Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago. Since that’s a counterfactual, I only learned about the plan in dribs and drabs, a lot of retailed by my father and grandfather who were products of the Chicago Public School system.

It was an amazingly utopian vision, something that one would imagine having little actual chance of happening if it weren’t for the existence of Hausmann’s renovation of Paris which had taken place in the half century preceding Burnham’s plan. Reading this book, I got a chance to learn about the origins of the plan, and its ultimate failure to be implemented except in vague nods by later city planners (the boulevard system of interconnected parks being the most notable survival of Burnham’s vision). I would have liked more reproductions of the maps and illustrations from the Plan of Chicago, but failing that, this was still an intriguing read.


Dewey Decimal Project: 700.19 LAI The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

And now I enter theCover of The Lonely City 700s: Arts & recreation. In the generic category of “Arts” I decided to got with The Lonely City Olivia Laing’s book which is a mix of memoir and examination of the works of artists who treated on the topic of solitude.

The mixture of genres within this book worked extraordinarily well and struck me as a fantastic exemplar of the creative non-fiction genre. Enough time has passed since I’ve read this that I’m hard pressed to cite anything specific (it’s been over a year—I’m way behind on these blog posts), but I remember enough that I can wholeheartedly recommend the book to anyone who might be interested in it.


Dewey Decimal Project: 690.837 ADL Outwitting Contractors: The Complete Guide to Surviving Your Home or Apartment Renovation

We close out the Cover of Outwitting Contractors 600s—Technology—with “construction of buildings.” Since we were planning on doing some renovations, I thought it might be helpful to read a book like Outwitting Contractors. The book itself is padded with a number of anecdotes which made me think that Adler was perhaps at one point a journalist, although there is no indication in his biography that this has ever been the case.

There’s a mix of the useful and filler in the book, but overall, it felt like a useful read to prepare us for what’s ahead in our renovation journey. That said, I didn’t feel like there was anything that was unique to this book, and any book on the topic would have done just as well.