1. Nate Chinen, Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century. Chinen mounts a persuasive argument that the “golden age of jazz” is in fact today, and fills in the background knowledge you might need to grasp such a claim. I’ve long suggested that if you enjoy live performance, the access/price/talent gradient is truly remarkable. You can see virtually any world class performer, from an A+ quality seat, for a mere pittance. Except in London. The bottom line is that I will keep this book, hardly ever the case.
2. James Mustich, 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List. Paging through this book, from beginning to end, or just browsing it, and buying the attractive-sounding titles is in fact a good (but expensive) way to find new reading. I see no reason why such volumes should be regarded as absurd. Right now I am on “Bradley,” and while I don’t agree with all of the selections, they are unfailingly intelligent and at least plausible.
3. Can Xue, Love in the New Millennium. Is she the Chinese writer most likely to next win a Nobel Prize? “In this darkly comic novel, a group of women inhabits a world of constant surveillance, where informants lurk in the flowerbeds and false reports fly.” Much of the story is set in a brothel, with a rotating cast of characters. Parts remind me of The Dream of the Red Chamber, in any case this is definitely a new fictional work of note. Here is an atypical excerpt: “He and Xiao Yuan had one thing in common: they both valued sensual pleasures. His greatest wish was to sit in the darkened National Theater and listen to La Traviata with her. He thought that after experiencing that atmosphere, their sex life would become satisfying. His idea was naive; Xiao Yuan said he was “too practical.” She added, “Sex is a black hole. People can’t understand all of its implications within a lifetime.”
4. Thomas J. Bollyky, Plagues and the Paradox of Progress: Why the World is Getting Healthier in Worrisome Ways is a good history of public health advances, but also how they have led to what are now plague-prone poor megacities. Here is the author’s piece in Foreign Affairs.