Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Stories of Almost Everyone

My friend John Steinmetz sent me an excerpt from the book Mirrors, Stories of Almost Everyone by Eduardo Galeano.  The excerpt is about a famous piece of classical music (the one I have resolved never, ever to listen to again.)

Deafness kept Beethoven from ever hearing a note of his Ninth Symphony, and death kept him from learning of his masterpiece's adventures and misadventures.

Bismarck proclaimed the Ninth an inspiration for the German race, Bakunin heard it as the music of anarchy, Engels declared it would become the hymn of humanity, and Lenin thought it more revolutionary than "The Internationale."

Von Karajan conducted it for the Nazis, and years later he used it to consecrate the unity of free Europe.

The Ninth accompanied Japanese kamikazes who died for their emperor, as well as the soldiers who gave their lives fighting against all empires.

It was sung by those resisting the German blitzkrieg, and hummed by Hitler himself, who in a rare attack of modesty said that Beethoven was the true f├╝hrer.

Paul Robeson sang it against racism, and the racists of South Africa used it as the soundtrack for apartheid propaganda.

To the strains of the Ninth, the Berlin Wall went up in 1961.

To the strains of the ninth, the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.
John knew I would be fascinated by this because it deals with the common Mixed Meters trope that musical meaning is mutable according to who is listening.   And of course it mentions Adolf Hitler, which I have been doing a lot lately.

After reading about Galeano I ordered a "like new" copy of this book from an Amazon associate seller.  The price was 39 cents.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Thirty-nine U.S. pennies for a $26.95 list price hardcover book originally published in 2009.  Shipping charges were more than ten times the price of the book: $3.99.

In capitalistic America such a low price for nearly 400 pages of printed matter can only mean a huge lack of demand.   Could this be because Galeano says things Americans don't care to hear?  Or maybe someone is giving copies away because they think Americans ought to hear those things.  After all, the vilified Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez presented another of Galeano's books to Barack Obama, the increasingly vilified American president.

Mirrors consists of nearly six hundred short historical tales similar to the sample above.  I thought to myself "It's a novel in the form of a page-a-day calendar."

In reality it's a history book.  It's the story of human culture told in sequential "sound bites".   Each bite is short enough for even the tiniest attention span.  It would be perfect for multi-tasking, channel-switching, constantly on-the-go media consumers.  Except for one problem - it's a book.

Galeano makes his attitudes perfectly clear.  He is against sexism, racism, facism, colonialism, corporatism, imperialism and exploitation.  He counters pro-western, pro-northern, pro-European bias.  He lampoons the silly and he bemoans the greedy, the evil and the immoral.  He talks about the crazies, the revolutionaries, the successes, the failures and the famous.  Almost everyone.

Galeano obviously has strong opinions. His little tales will make you think.  Like the Beethoven symphony, what he tells is often open to interpretation.  If you think about the stories too hard they could be profoundly depressing.  You could even end up regretting being human.

But in spite of that, the book is a really easy read.  It would make a good blog.

Listen to an interview with Eduardo Galeano on the NPR radio show Latino USA.  He says "I am just a person fascinated by reality and the magic hidden inside reality."

Other Mixed Meters posts mentioning Beethoven's Ninth: Everybody Loves Beethoven Probably and In Which Music Moves Slowwwly.

Everyone Tags: . . . . . .


Pasadena Adjacent said...

I ordered a copy off of your recommendation. But I threw in the extra penny to get the "like new" description from a seller with a 95% approval rating.

in 4 to 14 working days we'll be able to exchange sound bites

John Steinmetz said...

I like your description of the book! As you say, it's full of things we Americans don't want to hear about, as well as things we humans struggle with, particularly the unequal distribution of power. The writing is not a rant or recitation, but more like a series of vivid images of moments in human history.

I highly recommend Galeano's 3-volume history of the Americas, "Memory of Fire." It's a similar collection of moments, but because he has more pages to cover only half the world, Galeano has room for a greater range of events and emotions--there are funny moments, terrible moments, surreal moments, the whole human soup.

David Ocker said...

PA - I just checked Amazon - there were two sellers offering copies of this book for NINETEEN cents. The price has dropped by 50%. But those are only in "good" condition. You get what you pay for, huh?

John - Turns out Leslie has her own copies of the Memory of Fire books. I doubt I'll read them right away - but his particular writing style should serve as an inspiration to help me keep my blog posts short and to the point.

Anonymous said...

[[The Ninth]]
Much of the above I'm sure is apocryphal, but that should never get in the way of telling a good story. The essence of the story is always more important than the absolute accuracy of any of its individual details.

[[Shipping charges were more than ten times the price of the book: $3.99.]]

Our mutual friend Phil Perkins has an analogy about the value of cultural artifacts in modern American life. He compares them to air conditioning. The product itself has no perceived value, but the conveyance is what people will pay for. Your book was essentially free. Shipping is what constituted the value of the exchange. Fascinating. Depressing.

[[Could this be because Galeano says things Americans don't care to hear?]]

Every author says things Americans don't want to hear, because Americans are too lazy to read.

I suspect it's cheaper for the publisher to blow them out through Amazon at 39 cents (no doubt at great loss,) than it is to ship them to a paper recycler (at even greater loss.)

[[Mirrors consists of nearly six hundred short historical tales]]

Sounds like my kind of book. Digestible in a non-linear fashion in between long interruptions of work. Like the slim volume of light weight tales surrounding a number of Scottish castles I'm currently piffling through, post having visited those castles last week. I'll order myself a copy of the Galeano.

Speaking of the 'problem' of being a book, I hear that the OED, the touchstone of the educated English speaking world, will not publish a physical edition this year. Not enough demand.

[[If you think about the stories too hard they could be profoundly depressing. You could even end up regretting being human.]]

But probably no more so than is already the case. I await my copy.
Thanks for the tip. My usual book recommendations come from New Yorker mag & have been about 50/50 of hits to misses.