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- Duffy-Korpics, Lisa — Tales from a Dog Catcher (255 pages)
- Laclos, Choderlos de — Dangerous Liaisons (437 pages)
- Sagan, Françoise — Bonjour Tristesse (100 pages)
- Stephenson, Neal — Snow Crash (440 pages)
- Ross, Alex — The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (614 pages)
Page count: 8722.
The twentieth century will no doubt be remembered as a century of upheaval, no less in the arts than in other arenas. These upheavals did not occur in a vacuum independent of each other but helped shape each other in myriad ways.
The Rest Is Noise is a survey of twentieth century music, placing it in a cultural, social, historical, and geopolitical context. Developments (and particularly one musical revolution that began in Vienna) greatly altered to musical landscape in a way unheard of in preceding eras, making the twentieth century the source of some of the most diverse and fascinating music ever composed.
Ross begins with Mahler and Strauss, who pushed the tonal envelope to its bursting point; onto Schoenberg and Stravinsky, who turned the musical world on its head, and covered every major and many minor composers right up to John Adams and the post-minimalists who are still composing today. He discusses how developments in the world of music were shaped by and helped influence world events, such as the rise of communism and the Soviet system, the Weimar Republic, the Holocaust, the New Deal, and the reactionary, avant-garde ethos of the post-War world. He discusses in depth the contributions of and to jazz and popular music. (More of a two-way streak than I ever realized—I never thought a book on "classical" music would spend so much time on Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Sonic Youth, the Velvet Underground, the Beatles, Public Enemy, and Missy Elliott, amongst others!) Really, it's as comprehensive a survey as I've ever read.
And it is, naturally, a fascinating read. The Rest Is Noise is about the movers and shakers during the most exciting era in music history, but it is also a book about the twentieth century in broader terms. Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, writes in an engaging, accessible style and includes just enough (very basic) music analysis to keep those with musical backgrounds happy, but not so much that a non-musician would lose interest. And Ross took the trouble of creating an accompanying website to The Rest Is Noise, filled with audio and video clips (including rare, archival footage), photographs, anecdotes, and links to other sites of interest. (This website is essential for understanding the book, for no amount of musical expertise would enable you to understand discussion about, say, Cage or Stockhausen or Xenakis without listening to their work.)
The Rest Is Noise is one of the best books about music I have ever read and I couldn't recommend it enough. Even if "classical" music isn't your thing — and many with preconceived notions of what classical music is wouldn't recognize a lot of twentieth century music as such — I think you would find this book and the developments discussed therein, at the very least, might force you to rethink your notions about music in the past century.