My book group likes connecting previous books and themes to our current reading. Even more than that, we love a good field trip… which is how we ended up at Tanglewood for its annual celebration, Tanglewood on Parade.
Our being there wasn’t as arbitrary as it seems; last year we read three books that somehow revolved around Abraham Lincoln — The Poet and the Murderer by Simon Worrall, Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell, and Henry and Clara by Thomas Mallon* — and the concert featured Lincoln Portrait, Aaron Copland‘s composition commemorating the sixteenth President. Interspersed in the music are some quotations from Lincoln, which were read that night by Deval Patrick, while the Boston Pops played.
The evening’s finale was Tchaikovsky‘s 1812 Overture, replete with canons, and followed by a spectacular fireworks display. It was my first time seeing non-televised fireworks — which was quite exciting, particularly since we happened to be sitting very close to where both they and the canons had been set off. I don’t think any of us in my book club were expecting either canons or fireworks; indeed, when the first shot banged out during the overture, more than one of us screamed in fright and surprise.
In spite of the amazing fireworks and canons, my personal favorite piece of the night was Tributes: For Seiji, which was written as a gift for Seiji Ozawa by John Williams to honor Ozawa’s twenty-fifth years as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Ozawa held this position for four more years after that). I thought it was brilliantly moving.**
Another thing about the night that I found brilliant were other people’s ability to glamorize something as prosaic as a picnic. Apparently it’s something of an established practice to pack a picnic to Tanglewood, especially if you’ve lawn tickets to a concert. Our book club decided to follow tradition, toting in a mushroom tortellini salad with marscapone, corn on the cob with feta-mint butter, black bean and corn salad, mixed berries with brandy syrup, a berry buckle and several bottles of wine. We blindly set up our spread by the pale light of the distant stage, observing as we did several of our neighbors’ citronella-scented candelabras, cut-crystal wineglasses and tables adorned with flower arrangements. Honestly, such accoutrements were the norm. We stood out (sat out?) by having mismatched blankets and no chairs — though our hurried discussion of this past month’s book might have also had something to do with it.
We had read Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcón; it’s the story of insurrection in an unidentified South American country, and how lives are changed as a result. The main character hosts the nation’s most popular radio show; each week, Norma reads an ever-expanding list of missing people. As a result, listeners are reunited with their loved ones, though, ironically, Norma still searches desperately for her own missing person: her husband.
The aspect of the novel that I thought the most interesting was something quite small — the fascistic government that emerges after the war renames all populated areas with numbers. The larger the city, the smaller the number. To speak a city’s name rather than its number is highly punishable. I found this tiny little detail fascinating.
In general, it seemed we had mixed feelings on Lost City Radio, but I can’t say for certain, as we were more focused on the evening’s music than on the book. Please don’t blame either the novel or book club for that. Not much could compete with canons, fireworks and the symphony — not even our appetites. Which is really saying something.