- Matheson, Richard — I Am Legend (161 pages)
- McCarthy, Cormac — No Country for Old Men (307 pages)
- Dexter, Gary — Why Not Catch 21?: The Stories Behind the Titles (213 pages)
- Ryman, Geoff — 253 (366 pages)
- Wyndham, John — The Day of the Triffids (267 pages)
- Kurkov, Andrey — Death and the Penguin (228 pages)
- Chesterton, G.K. — Orthodoxy (183 pages)
- Gibbs, Christopher H., ed. — The Cambridge Companion to Schubert (334 pages)
- Sendak, Maurice — Where the Wild Things Are (48 pages — though only 1 page will count towards my tally)
- Hurston, Zora Neale — Their Eyes Were Watching God (215 pages)
- Clarke, Arthur C. — Rendezvous With Rama (245 pages)
- Clarke, Arthur C. — The City and the Stars (246 pages)
- Chesterton, G.K. — The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (205 pages)
- Tepper, Sheri S. — Beauty (468 pages)
- Slawson, Douglas J. — Ambition and Arrogance: Cardinal William O'Connell of Boston and the American Catholic Church (186 pages)
- Belloc, Hilaire — The Great Heresies (166 pages)
- Waugh, Evelyn — Brideshead Revisited (326 pages)
- Rawicz, Slavomir — The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom (278 pages)
- Junger, Sebastian — The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea (309 pages)
- Seth, Vikram — An Equal Music (486 pages)
- Dubus III, Andre — House of Sand and Fog (351 pages)
- Kurkov, Andrey — Penguin Lost (251 pages)
- Bradbury, Ray — Dandelion Wine (247 pages)
- Bradbury, Ray — Farewell Summer (209 pages)
- Doran, Jamie and Piers Bizony — Starman: The Truth behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin (241 pages)
- Makine, Andreï — A Life's Music (106 pages)
Page count: 6400.
I always carry at least one book with me. (Which was pointed out to me a few months ago by the store clerk who asked, "What are you reading today? You always have a different book.") Always. Except this time.
I didn't take a book with me to the picnic on the Heath last Saturday because I was going there with a friend, meeting friends there, and coming back, I assumed, with a friend. I would have no opportunity to read without potentially being rude. But the friend who rode out with me took a different bus route home. Suddenly, I was being stared down by 30 minutes of reading time — and I wasn't packing! Really, I think I was just begging for excuses to duck into the book shop, conveniently only a block away, that had previously caught my eye.
I scanned the titles looking for something thin (after all, I still have several other books in progress) that caught my imagination and was cheap enough to override any guilt felt in buying yet another book. I found this little gem: Andreï Makine's A Life's Music.
At 106 pages, A Life's Music is thin enough it kept falling out of my pocket unnoticed, trying to get itself lost, like the book's main character. Yet this is not a particularly quick read. Every page is so loaded. I found myself re-reading certain passages to make sure I hadn't missed something, or because I realized what I'd just read could be taken differently. I found myself re-reading certain passages just for the sheer beauty of the language or the imagery. As I lingered over certain pages, I found myself trying to visualize this scene or that with my mind's eye, taking in as much as I could of what was being expressed without being said. This was a short book, but it contains within its pages as much as most books three times its length.
This is a beautiful story, a poignant story, and also a scathing indictment of the Soviet system. The narrator, waiting in a small town in the Urals for a train that is six-hours delayed because of the snow, meets an old man, hands silently gliding over a neglected piano, tears wetting his cheeks. During the train ride to Moscow, the man tells his story: how days before his debut piano recital his family was 'disappeared', how he avoided that same fate, though it meant suppressing his past, suppressing his music. The two paragraphs where the climax occurs six pages from the end form one of the most heart-rendingly beautiful passages I have read.
I have one minor criticism. The old man's story is told in the third person by the narrator, who is recounting a first person account. Yet towards the end we are told what other characters thought and felt. How could the old man know these thoughts and feelings if he weren't told them? It's only a minor flaw, and perhaps not even that, if we recognize that the old man's story is his version of events, and such embellishments do not diminish the power of his story.