What I’ve been reading

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.


'I see no reason why such volumes should be regarded as absurd.'

Printed listicles for the ages, not merely Internet ephemera, sounds a bit more absurd though.

I think of them more as lists of suggested reading than as some notion of the best 1000 books or the most important 1000 books, which merely provokes disagreement and arguments over inherently subjective evaluations.

The lists are more useful if there are separate ones for each genre or topic, rather than one huge list.

Good post. I absolytely love this site. Stick wifh it!

What is everyone else reading today?

I just finished Norm MacDonald's "Based on a True Story" and it's just what you would expect. I'm reading Robbie Robertson's "Testimony" and as soon as it is available from the library I'm gonna read "Resistance is Futile" by the irrepressible Ann Coulter. That's probably the second to last book TC would every read, just ahead of "Art of the Deal".

Why am I not surprised you're too poor to afford an Ann Coulter book.

And "Art of the Deal" is far from Tony Schwartz's best work.

I just looked at Schwartz’s works, such as they are, on Amazon. Seems like the Art of the Deal was a high point. Now he’s trying to reinvent himself as an anti-Trump expert. Doesn’t seem to be helping his career.

At least he sells plenty of books vs having his fans check them out of libraries.

I hope that IS an atypical excerpt!

3. "... informants lurk in the flowerbeds and false reports fly. Much of the story is set in a brothel."

Sounds like a Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

The "atypical excerpt" is pretty bad.

"set in a brothel, with a rotating cast of characters. Parts remind me of ...": that's a rather tin-eared bit of writing, Mr C.

4. From the Thomas Bollyky Foreign Affairs article:

"In 1990, heart disease, cancer, and other noncommunicable diseases caused about a quarter of deaths and disabilities in poor countries. By 2040, that number is expected to jump as high as 80 percent in countries that are still quite poor. At that point, the share of the total deaths and disabilities from chronic diseases in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Myanmar, for example, will be roughly the same as it is in the United Kingdom and the United States, but the diseases will affect much younger people."

This is bad.... I know Tyler has said he doesn't expect any medical breakthroughs until 2030 at the earliest but Bollyky doesn't anticipate any for the next 25 years. Can someone in the medical field really be so unaware?

Bollyky also doesn't consider that Ethiopia and Bangladesh have been growing rapidly for 20 years: Ethiopia's GDP per capita was $600 in 1995 and is now $1,800. Bangladesh's GDP per capita was $1,400 in 1995 and is now $3,500. Both countries will certainly be much wealthier in 2040.

Bollyky goes even further as he discusses unemployment increases in poor countries in the year 2050...

1. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a city of any size had a jazz radio station. I mean real jazz. And the stations promoted jazz musicians, local and national. Those alive and fans of jazz during this era know what came next. First, radio jazz evolved into "smooth jazz". From there, it became difficult to distinguish smooth jazz from elevator music. And finally, off the air entirely, to be replaced by boy bands and girl bands and songs of teenage angst. But Cowen is right that this is the golden age of jazz in the sense of its availability, not on commercial radio but on Apple, Spotify, and the rest of the pay to listen internet and satellite services. But one has to wonder if very many are listening: if they were, wouldn't jazz be on commercial radio?

Boy bands went out a long, long, long time ago.

Did your radio break in 1998, never to be replaced?

Presently, it's all rap and auto-tuned women singing dance music.

Have you read rayward's new book? It's called Crystal Radio Memories. Those were the days!

TPM, you've just aged out of it. There are boy bands all over the place today, if you have kids they can tell you. The big English one was One Direction (they are defunct but the members all have solo careers). The biggest boy band in history is going on right now, BTS.

There will always be boy bands, ever since the trend got started with The Beatles (yes, they were the first boy band circa 1963).

Actually The Beach Boys probably can claim to be first. Heck even The Four Seasons.

In USA recording history, Sinatra. Before Sinatra, you and to be a grown man to lead a band, Sinatra in the early days was the kind of little fellow girls who did not know what men should be like were fans of.

In the Pickwick papers, one of the characters ( a young male ) decides to go to a costume ball as a "highway robber", hilarity ensued.

I hope someone, out of the five billion people on earth, noticed the syncopation there (replace and with had and the syncopation would be lost).

Probably likely not, though, but why would nobody care

The peak of jazz as popular music peaked in tbe big-band era. Unless you don't consider that "real jazz," of course. But, there's not much jazz after that that can truly be considered popular.

Arguably this shift had benefits as well as drawbacks as jazz musicians, freed from the need to appeal to popular tastes, were also freed to be more creative and innovative.

Since commercial radio lives and dies by ratings, it's to be expected that it's difficult to find much music on it that's not popular music. Although a big city might support a niche market for non-popular music on a single commercial station, especially if its listeners might be considered demographically valuable to advertisers.

Perhaps the larger loss is that non-commercial broadcasters (e.g., college stations and NPR) used to broadcast a lot more non-popular music but have largely abandoned this.

Fortunately, the digital online world has come to support "the long tail" of music in ways that broadcast radio was never able to.

1. "You can see virtually any world class performer, from an A+ quality seat, for a mere pittance."

That seems like textbook evidence that demand has never been lower.

Apparently if no one wants something, and in fact actively rejects it... it is in a "Golden Age."

Welcome to the Golden Age of Hillary Clinton, I suppose.

Oh, come on. She's really big with the harridans.

Burn! Take THAT Hillary Clinton!

"Burn! Take THAT Hillary Clinton!"

Actually, we all should be grateful anytime anyone says something funny, and that was funny.

Get with the program, my young padawan.

I object to Hillary on political, moral, economic, and aesthetic grounds. But apart from that I don’t mind her. Because I don’t mind moderate Dems. (She’s moderate compared to some of the others, no? Booker and Harris.)

I think she’d make a great opponent for anyone because of her past gaffes, and those she’d undoubtedly make over the course of a campaign. I think Elizabeth Warren will be the Dem nominee and she’s far more capable. She has less baggage too. But Hillary has the backing of many in the party.

Are you kidding? The Clintons are d-o-n-e done. The chances of her running for anything again are less than zero.

This is what cracks me up about these guys, they keep ragging on her even though she's a total zero now. It would be like the other side making jabs at W. He's done too.

3. If we have problems understanding our desires and motivations, I think (based on my readings in modern neuroscience) that there are two possible explanations.

First, The (internal) Conspiracy Theory would be that our brains shield our true motivations from our consciousness, because that makes us in some way more effective. We are more effective liars when we don't know we are lying. Etc.

The other possibility, I think more strongly supported, is that we are less conscious than we think and stringing together rationalizations for our behavior constantly. We do what we do, for some imperative, and then make up a story for it afterwards.

Both of these could explain the "emotional settlement" taking place on both sides of the Supreme Court situation.

We are uncomfortable with Schrödinger's cats in the real world. It takes some real power of will to keep them as unknown.

"Is she the Chinese writer most likely to next win a Nobel Prize?"
Will there be another Nobel Prize for literature? After the Dylan fiasco and the sex scandal, does anybody even care?

You're probably right. There will no longer be Nobel Prizes for literature.

Jazz has probably always been a bit long tailish. The internet has helped keep it healthy and a little fatter.

I just got my first VR headset. I'm hoping I'll be able to see some "live" performances with a really good seat sometime soon.

Why does all the new books, movies and TV have to be set in brothels, be about drug dealers, involve some kind of criminal element, etc.? I keep reading we're in the best of times for humanity but you wouldn't know it by the works of art we're creating.


Everything but Hallmark Channel.

Probably has something to do with evolution and adrenaline circuits.

Because it's enjoyable to read about our vices running rampant, but not so enjoyable to read about keeping them in check. Plus it's easier for writers to imagine giving their vices free reign.

But what changed compared to past periods? I don’t recall much of this stuff in literature from the last century.

Only an economist would confuse the production of music with its fresh and inspired creation. Jazz is not anywhere near as alive as it was in 1950 so it's quite absurd to make the claim now is the golden age.

If you're in London try the Vortex Jazz Club. Volunteer run, which makes it somewhat affordable. It also means they have the chance to bring in interesting stuff that might not draw a crowd.

Comments for this post are closed