Music to Eat Cake By by Lev Parikian
A book of essays often have a unifying theme; this unusual and very readable book has many themes, and most of them suggested by other people. This book is produced by Unbound, which means that it is sponsored by a number of people. Parikian had the idea of asking people for ideas of what he could write about – subjects for essays, however unlikely. It meant that there is an unusual collection of topics covered in this book, even for a writer who identifies himself as a conductor and keen birdwatcher with interests in cricket and other topics. Just to make it more of a challenge to write and compile this book, he worked out that forty pieces of writing, decreasing in length by one hundred words from four thousand to begin with would also mean that the pieces of writing got shorter as the book progressed. Each piece is carefully written in accordance with these self imposed rules to be the exact length, which is no mean achievement. It also transpires that people “provided” words, which are inserted into the pieces. These range from the German “Sehnsucht” (a nostalgic longing for what might have been) to “sunflowers”. Some words are simple, others polysyllabic, and each word is identified with its nominator.
Within this framework the pieces of writing reveal much about the author and his special areas of knowledge, such as “Getting the Best out of Enthusiastic Amateur Musicians” which as a conductor he understands thoroughly in all respects. His father was a professional violinist who played a Stradivarius, which gave rise to “The 1681 ‘Fleming’ Stradivarius”, a quite moving piece. One of his other interests is cricket, and there are several pieces which reflect this, asking about particular cricketers, commentators and about the sporting nature of the game, the laws and the spirit of fairness which it is supposed to represent. There are also fascinating pieces which extol the virtues of the sandwich and soup, their construction and deconstruction. He looks at the way aging affects people, especially him, and the concept of “Second Chances” through tennis players and a famous actor. Not that he is an expert of everything he writes about, and can be self deprecating, especially in the rather funny “How Not to Cure Hiccups at Midnight on Ryde Esplanade”. There is maths and music, sibling singing groups and a difficult wedding reception or two.
I enjoyed “A Brief History of the Keighley and Worth Valley, which packs a lot into eight hundred words. My favourite is the fantastically named “The Intrinsic Link Between Chocolate, the Wombles and Musical Theatre in Post-Millennial Britain”, a subject suggested which is “clever, perverse, or an irritating mixture of both”. He reveals much about his method of writing, which includes extensive research on people desperately trying to make the link between topics, and in this case failing. With three thousand two hundred words to play with in this piece, he can admit to some diversions and hopeless links. The answer is ingenious, and quite an achievement.
I enjoyed this book for its variety and well written mix of ideas. This is at once a personal book and an academic exercise, a collection of amusing, clever and odd pieces, a real cornucopia of ideas and observations. It is undoubtedly an achievement, a book which it is possible to pick up and put down,having perhaps learnt something, and definitely been entertained. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book and recommend it as entertaining.