Sunday, February 13, 2011


I don't know about you, but I can't read and do other stuff at the same time. Except maybe the usual autonomous functions like breathing or letting my heart beat. But I was in the Barnes & Noble (yes, sorry, B&N) store a few months ago, and couldn't help but be a little curious when I saw a CD on the counter called "Living Well: Read" -- "a collection of music from around the world to enhance your reading experience." The very idea of enhancing the experience of reading by any means other than focusing one's attention -- through silence, rather than sound -- struck me as improbable at best, but I figured I'd give it a try. Feeling embarrassed at the purchase, I asked the cashiers if they judged people for what they bought. They said, "mostly no." The one exception they cited was anyone who bought "The Game," Neil Strauss's book about how to pick up women (or men?). Feeling that I was spared their judgment, I made the purchase and went home.

I finally got around to listening to the CD the other night, while reading. In spite of the fact that the composers of the dozen songs come from various countries, it's hard to call this "music from around the world," because it's all flattened out into a new-age register. The CD started off inoffensively enough, with a soft piano tune, and I started reading: "Christianity is the white man's religion. The Holy Bible in the white man's hands and his interpretation of it have been the greatest single ideological weapon for enslaving millions of non-white human beings. Every country the white man has conquered with his guns, he has always paved the way, and salved his conscience, by carrying the Bible and interpreting it to call the people 'heathens' and 'pagans'; then he sends his guns, then his missionaries behind the guns to mop up--"

It was "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," not the book most in tune with the pleasant tones of "Resonance," "Ode to Simplicity," "Meditation," "Daisy," "Quiet Mind," or other such titles. As I continued reading, I was gently distracted by a synthesizer. And then a ribbon of cello twisted its way into my ear. It had been easy enough to ignore the piano, or even the synthesizer, which was more like white noise (no pun intended, given the reading material!), but the strings were too intrusive. They only pointed up what the rest of the music was making me do: expend energy trying to ignore it. Far from enhancing the experience of reading, the CD was only diminishing it. For me, anyway, the best music to read by is still none at all.


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