Symphony for the City of the Dead

posted in: Good Reads: Nonfiction | 0

I just finished reading M. T. Anderson‘s Symphony for the City of the Dead, a book that feels like it was written specifically for me.  I love the music of Dmitri Shostakovich and have wondered for many years how he survived in Stalinist Soviet Union.   Was he a stooge, writing music to please his Communist handlers?  Or was he a dissident, coding his music with subversive messages?  Through his narrative, Anderson makes clear that the great Soviet composer was a mixture of both defiance and compliance, both courage and cowardice.  In short: “He kept himself alive.”

Read the book for the story of a man of twitchy nervousness, a chain smoker with a mania for soccer and a tenderness for his children, the ability to write lyrical music with bombs thundering all around him.

Read the book for the tale of a city of canals and bridges, palaces and concert halls, as it undergoes revolution, purges, and the longest siege in recorded history.  All the horrors of the twentieth century are concentrated in a single city: St. Petersburg/Petrograd/Leningrad.

Read the book for the descriptions of the music.  They will impel you to your local library to find recordings of the pieces he mentions, above all Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7, the Leningrad.

Blood Brother

posted in: Good Reads: Nonfiction | 0

Jonathan Daniels may be the most important Civil Rights hero you’ve never heard about.  Rich and Sandra Wallace aim to correct that injustice with their new book, Blood Brother.  The subtitle says a lot: Jonathan Daniels and His Sacrifice for Civil Rights.  Daniels makes the ultimate sacrifice, and he does so with his eyes open all the way.  He understands the risks of fighting against Southern racism:  “No white outsider here is entirely safe….  The possibility of death, whether immediate or remote, cannot be a deciding factor for me.”  But his idealism pushed him forward:  “My freedom depends upon everyone having their freedom.”  What an inspiration!


Wallace, Sandra and Rich.  Blood Brother: Jonathon Daniels and his Sacrifice for Civil Rights. Honesdale: Calkins Creek, 2016.

A New Author

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I received a surprise package on my fifty-third birthday: five ARC copies of The Great American Foot Race.  ARC stands for Advance Reader Copy–advance because there may still be errors that need to be fixed before the final product reaches the shelves in April 2017.

More changes.  Possibly.  When I look at my digital files for this book I see seven different draft folders.  The first one, from 2010, has only three different drafts.  The second, from 2012, contains nine numbered drafts.  2013 has six more.  In 2014 I hired an editor and wrote fifteen; in 2015 Calkins Creek editor, Carolyn Yoder, spurred me to another fifteen.  I still had many more times to read through my manuscript to make the sentences clearer and the information more accurate, but you get the picture.  The finished book, when it arrives, will represent a lot of work–and not just mine.  A whole team went into creating it.