The idea comes from a post by Simon Savidge over at SavidgeReads Reading me like a book (or ten) – see his post for where he got it from: pick ten books at random from your shelf and tell the world what those ten books say about you. Ironically, since it was a post about reading, I misread it, and picked a clump of ten books from one of my shelves. This will hardly be random, because I treat my bookshelves like a kind of two-dimensional Rubik-cube: every now and again, I half-heartedly put books of a kind on the same shelf. When one project or another takes over, I shift them by the shelf-load and put the most relevant ones nearest to my desk. As a result, here’s ten not very random choices that nonetheless say something about me, I think (if nothing else, it says something about my cataloguing). I’ll do the proper version another day.
Ten not very random books
Suzanne Langer, Philosophy in a new key: I dreaded having to read this book for my philosophy of music module, since in my experience, seeing the name ‘Langer’ in any article about dance was usually the kiss of death, both to the enjoyment of reading or dance. In fact, I ended up liking Langer a lot, and there’s much in her work that makes a lot of sense about music and dance, something that Mark Johnson picks up on in The Meaning of the Body.
Dermot Moran. Introduction to Phenomenology. If this is an introduction, God help me when it comes to the main bit. I didn’t understand a friggin’ word of this. Shame really, because I have a felt sense, as they say in phenomenology, that the ph word is something that appeals to me philosophically, but I can’t understand more than 1% of the books. A very bright man I met the other day who’s got an MA in philosophy told me the only way he’d understood it was by reading Sophie’s World.
The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought. I think I bought this years ago when it looked like I’d have to write a module I knew nothing about. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. It’s been quite useful, but the thing about modern thought, or indeed any kind of thinking, is that you can’t get a book to think for you. There’s no such thing as microwave philosophy.
Alex Moore, Teaching & Learning: Pedagogy, Curriculum and culture. I bought this as a quick read to get my head round the issues in the title, thinking it would be dull. Apart from the fact that it’s easy to understand, a great introduction to huge themes and topics, it’s got an openness and freedom about it that makes you excited about teaching and learning. The last chapter is called ‘Working with and against official policy’ – how do you deal with conflicts between your personal standards and an official curriculum, and being ‘subversive’ within the constraints. Fantastic stuff.
Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. I bought this from the Tate Modern bookshop (which I love) after I saw it referred to in Wolfram Fleischhauer’s Der gestohlene Abend. It’s one of those books that you’ve seen referred to so many times that you think you’ve read it, whereas in fact, you’ve only read a two-sentence distillation of the ideas. Why couldn’t they have given us this to read at school instead of Future Shock and Twelfth Night? Benjamin seems to explain the 21st century from his 1930s viewpoint as well as any contemporary theorist, and is much more fun to read.
Milan Holas, Hudební Pedagogika. (Music pedagogy). I don’t speak Czech, but having once been fluent in Russian and Croatian, I can kind of guess my way through books in other Slavic languages, as long as they’re on a subject that I already know something about. From my time as a student in Zagreb, I’ve always had a penchant for no-nonsense Central European text-books that might not be cutting edge fashionable scholarship, but they sure as hell are choc-full-o’facts and get the job done. What constitutes musical knowledge, teaching and learning is a lifelong obsession (I’m beginning to discover) so I like flicking through books like this to see how other people and nations frame the topic. Having said that, I bought this years ago, and I’m only flicking through it now for the second time. That says a lot about me.
Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things. Probably one of my favourite books of all time, because it explains in design terms why my parents’ gas hob was so darn stupid, and why I could never work out which knob operated which gas ring, and why it’s so easy to push a door that should be pulled. Donald Norman takes those everyday annoyances in life, and makes you realise it’s their fault for designing it so badly. God bless him.
Paul White, Basic Digital Recording. This came as a freebee introductory reference text on the music technology module of my MA. One of the great things about doing an MA is that it gives you an excuse to spend even more time taking your hobbies seriously, and then be given credit for it. What’s not to like?
Ellen Bouchard Ryan & Howard Giles, Attitudes towards Language Variation: Social and applied contexts. Once upon a time, I started a doctorate in sociolinguistics, with the working title Lexical variation in the cooking vocabulary of Serbo-Croat. No, that’s not a joke, I really did. Back in 1982 (for that’s how long ago it was) this was one of the key texts. Language variation and socio-political aspects of language still interest me, and I smile very wryly to myself when I see it at work in everyday contexts. I often wonder if one day I’ll swap directions and do a doctorate in linguistics after all.
Bennett Reimer, A Philosophy of Music Education (2nd edn). I fully expected to hate this book (if you see some of the reviews on Amazon, you’ll hate it without reading it) but in fact, when I came to write my first MA essay (on the philosophy of music education) about the spat between Reimer & David Elliott over aesthetic education and praxial music education, I ended up defending Reimer totally against my own expectations. As much as Reimer is annoying at times, I find his enemies even more so. That’s quite something to have learned from a course in educational philosophy, I reckon.