The classical music lover's summer reading list - Albuquerque Journal

The classical music lover’s summer reading list

(c) 2016, The Washington Post.

Not long ago, in a review, I called Julian Barnes’s Shostakovich novel “The Noise of Time,” which recently came out in the United States, “one of the least musical books about a composer ever written.” This statement prompted a reader to ask, perhaps timidly, what works of fiction I thought did do a good job with classical music; he started by nominating Vikram Seth’s “An Equal Music.”

My first ideas, off the top of my head, were Thomas Mann’s “Doktor Faustus,” James McCourt’s “Mawrdew Czgowchwz,” and Willa Cather’s “The Song of the Lark.”

But I was haunted by the idea that I was leaving out some important or obvious titles. I therefore put out the question to readers – on Facebook and Twitter – name your favorite musical novels and short stories. The response was a veritable flood of titles: short stories and novels, popular fiction and Nobel Prize-winners, and many books I’d never even heard of.

So here you go: a crowdsourced list, compiled by several dozen people, of recommended musical reading for the summer. I’ve pared the list down because of space restrictions, and I have to add that I haven’t read all of these books by any means, so I can’t say whether I think all of them surpass the rather low bar set by Barnes’ novel.

In the spirit of fairness, however, I have left “The Noise of Time” in, as well as “Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett, another book I didn’t much care for – but which has inspired others sufficiently that an opera based on it had its world premiere in Chicago this past season.

The next step would be forming a book group to read all these works. I hope someone does it, and lets me know.

– Kingsley Amis

“Girl, 20”

– Honore de Balzac

“Gambara” (short story)

“Sarrasine” (novella)

– Julian Barnes

“The Noise of Time”

“Harmony” (short story)

“Vigilance” (short story)

– Saul Bellow

“Him With His Foot in His Mouth” (short story)

– Thomas Bernhard

“The Loser”

– Anthony Burgess

“Napoleon Symphony”

– James M. Cain

“Career in C Major” (short story)

– Joseph Caldwell

“The Uncle From Rome”

– Bo Carpelan


– Alejo Carpentier

“The Lost Steps”: About a composer who sojourns with a primitive tribe in the Amazon jungle and finds his musical voice. – Benjamin Yarmolinsky

– Willa Cather

“The Song of the Lark”

– Kate Chopin

“The Awakening”

– Frank Conroy

“Body and Soul”

– Marcia Davenport

“Of Lena Geyer”

– Robertson Davies

“A Mixture of Frailties”

“The Lyre of Orpheus”

“The Rebel Angels”

– Thomas M. Disch

“On Wings of Song”

– Rita Dove

“Sonata Mulattica”

– Jessica Duchen

“Alicia’s Gift”

– Jean Echenoz

“Ravel:” The best adaptation of ‘classical’ music in fiction I know. – Simon Morrison

– Robert Ford

“The Student Conductor”

– Janice Galloway


– Steven Galloway

“The Cellist of Sarajevo”

– Nikolai Grozni


– James Hamilton-Paterson

“Gerontius:” An exquisitely moving portrait of Elgar at the end of his life. – Joshua Kosman

– Herrmann Hesse

“The Glass Bead Game”

– E. T. A. Hoffmann

“Kreisleriana”: Johannes Kreisler, des Kapellmeisters musikalische Leiden

“The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr Together With a Fragmentary Biography of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler on Random Sheets of Waste Paper”

– Kazuo Ishiguro

“The Unconsoled”

“Nocturnes” (short stories)

– J. D. Landis


– Norman Lebrecht

“The Song of Names”

– Donna Leon

“The Jewels of Paradise”

– Thomas Mann

“Doktor Faustus”

“Tristan” (short story)

“The Blood of the Walsungs” (short story)

– James McCourt

“Mawrdew Czgowchwz”

– Ian McEwen


– Brown Meggs


– Sean Michaels

“Us Conductors”

– David Mitchell

“Cloud Atlas”: (the composers’ section is based on Frederick Delius and Eric Fenby)

– Alice Munro

“Dance of the Happy Shades” (short story), others.

– Cory Oldweiler

“Testimony of the Senses”

– Conrad L. Osborne

“O, Paradiso”

– Ann Patchett

“Bel Canto”

– Richard Powers

“The Time of Our Singing” (the one title most often mentioned)


“The Gold Bug Variations”: In some ways his most startling writing on music. – David Froom

– Terry Pratchett


– Sarah Quigley

“The Conductor”

– Anne Rice

“Cry to Heaven”

– Kim Stanley Robinson

“The Memory of Whiteness”

– Romain Rolland

“Jean Christophe”

– Carter Scholz

“The Ninth Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven and Other Lost Songs” (short story)

“The Johann Sebastian Bach Memorial Barbecue and Nervous Breakdown” (short story)

– Lynne Sharon Schwartz

“Two-Part Inventions”

– Vikram Seth

“An Equal Music”

– Nathan Shaham

“The Rosendorf Quartet”

– Josef Skvorecky

“Dvorak in Love: A Light-Hearted Dream”

– Wesley Stace

“Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer”

– Leo Tolstoy

“The Kreutzer Sonata” (short story)

– Rose Tremain

“Music & Silence”

“The Gustav Sonata” is scheduled for publication later in 2016

– William T. Vollmann

“Europe Central”

– Jiri Weil

“Mendelssohn Is on the Roof”

– Rebecca West

“The Fountain Overflows”

– A.N. Wilson

“Winnie and Wolf”

Home » Life in NM » Books » The classical music lover’s summer reading list

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email

taboola desktop

'The Lies I Tell' is a hard-to-put-down thriller
For the reader, the book's revelations ... For the reader, the book's revelations lead to questions about the possible gray area of doing what's 'wrong' in order to make things right.
Whips, quips in Tom Segura's newest book
Comedian gives bookish world a window ... Comedian gives bookish world a window into his heart
'Love and Asperger's' a memoir on moving forward together
Mary A. Johnson neatly entwines several ... Mary A. Johnson neatly entwines several seemingly disparate strands in her new book – a love story, memoir and perhaps even a ...
'The Favor' a well-executed crime thriller
Nora Murphy's debut novel 'The Favor' ... Nora Murphy's debut novel 'The Favor' delicately but unabashedly puts a microscope to domestic abuse in modern America with the added layer of a ...
A charming and mordantly funny follow-up
Elif Batuman brings back the tedium ... Elif Batuman brings back the tedium and exhilaration of undergraduate life in 'Either/Or.'
'Team America' plumbs enduring impact of 4 generals
America at the turn of the ... America at the turn of the 20th century sets the quartet's origin stories.
Actress Selma Blair bares soul in captivating memoir
Most people probably know Selma Blair ... Most people probably know Selma Blair from her memorable roles in late '90s/early '00's hit films such as 'Cruel Intentions,' 'Legally Blonde' and 'Hellboy.'
Author Don Winslow finds joy in weaving together words
Don Winslow will participate in a ... Don Winslow will participate in a talk at the Santa Fe Literary Festival from 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. on Saturday, May 21.
'Under the Banner of Heaven' author Jon Krakauer ready ...
Krakauer is slated to be on ... Krakauer is slated to be on stage at 4:45 p.m. Sunday, May 22.