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Bought this for $1 in my local library’s used book store. It’s vinyl. I actually had the record on an old Stereo Treasury Series reissue, but this is the original vinyl from the late 1950s. It sounds terrific — not just the performance, but the recording itself. Decca’s crack engineers traveled to Victoria Hall in Geneva to capture it. There’s both space and clarity in the result, a real sense that you’re in the room with Ataulfo Argenta and the orchestra. What surprised me most is that the recording is monaural (it was also issued in a Stereophonic version, but this isn’t it).  Iberia is one of Debussy’s most underrated works, by the way.

The vinyl within.

On another visit to the library’s bookshop, I was amazed to find this book staring at me from the shelf. It’s a first edition of “My Mark Twain” by his friend and colleague William Dean Howells. (I paid a few bucks for it.) It was put together and published the year Twain died, in 1910. The first part of the book consists of Howells’ reminiscences of his friend; the second is a collection of his reviews of Twain’s books, written over many years. In the end, the book is a little uneven and leisurely but also charming and warm. You get a good sense of what both Howells and Twain were like.

Here’s the title page.

Alain de Botton’s “Religion for Atheists” explores the ways religious practices could be put to use in a secular society. De Botton is an atheist — he says so right off — but the book doesn’t attack religion. Rather, he thinks there are a lot of good things about religion that Enlightenment thinkers (and all of us) have thrown out with the bath water. Some of de Botton’s ideas are far-fetched, and they’ll never be put into practice, yet their very far-fetchedness points to how empty much of secular life can be. De Botton is one of my favorite writers; there’s no one that I know of that thinks or writes quite like him. This isn’t his best — start with “The Consolations of Philosophy,” “Status Anxiety,” “The Architecture of Happiness” or “The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work” — but, as always with him, it is extremely thought-provoking. You look at life differently for having read it.

Jonah Lehrer’s “Imagine: How Creativity Works” starts out by examining what goes on in the brain when creativity happens. (It’s the usual — scientists see different parts of the brain light up and interact with each other when various creative acts occur.) Interesting enough. He then approaches the subject from several angles — peering into the creative cultures and best practices at places like Proctor and Gamble (R and D is good!), Apple and Pixar; telling us how Bob Dylan and W.H. Auden did their best work. (Auden took amphetamines.) I found myself tiring of this second part. Too much about corporate culture, it reads like a prospectus for management types who want to get the most out of their workers. I guess I wanted more on how I could get the most out of my own creativity. Some of it’s there, but Lehrer’s tone is Polyanna-ish and the writing is, perhaps, on an 8th grade level. (“Very unique” — really?) I much preferred Lehrer’s previous book: “How We Decide.”

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