Michael Kennedy - Mahler (1974, second edition 1990): Intended as a short introduction in the "Master Musicians" series, this argumentative book does pretty much what's intended but suffers a bit from Kennedy's knowledge. Maybe there's a point in tracing a drum roll in one of the later symphonies to Mahler watching a fireman's funeral in NYC but do we really need to know the date, fireman's name and years of service? Still, stuff like this bogs down Chilton's Bechet biography to near-uselessness but Kennedy is at least always readable. One quote from Mahler: "Of Wolf's one thousand songs I know only 344. Those 344 I do not like." Mahler requested only his name on his tombstone saying, "Any who come to look for me will know who I was, and the rest do not need to know."
There will be a lot about comics on here for the next couple of months or so. There's a reason. The last time I paid much attention to comics was early 1988 but their expense and increasing conformity caused me to lose interest. Still I'd sample a few every couple of years just to see if anything was going on but it appeared that nothing ever was. So about three months ago I realized that it would be cheaper to sample some by buying lots on eBay which I did. The surprise was that there's been a lot of interesting things happening in comics recently. For one thing they're fun and inventive again. For another there's some serious work being done, even with superheroes: Astro City, Devin Grayson's Batman, much of Alan Moore's stuff. So there's plenty that I'm still exploring.
But let's start with the kind of thing that most people think all comics are and that's Savage Dragon (from Image). I'd heard this was moderately amusing and so picked up issues #6-10 from late 93/early 94 (the series is expected to hit #100 sometime this year), all written and drawn by Erik Larsen. Alas, these issues aren't even minutely amusing. They're about a big, apparently indestructible lizardman who even though he's nominally a Chicago police officer does little but get in fist fights with powerful adversaries. #10 even has the following exchange. Dragon: "You killed my best friend--and for that--YOU'RE GOING TO PAY!" (This last phrase all in red for extra emphasis.) Bad Guy: "Musclebound cretin. I tire of your interference with my affairs. This game no longer holds my interest. It's time that it ENDED." All while they're leaping about and smashing the stuffing out of each other. I'd like to think it's tongue-in-cheek but clearly it's not. Like I said, most people think all comics are this mindless. Still Larsen is a fairly interesting artist and has a real knack for layout so I wonder if the series improved any. Each issue also has an astonishing four to six pages of letters; I think most comics shouldn't have letters pages (creators pay way too much attention to fans as it is) but with something new like this it's probably not a bad idea.
Moving to the other extreme, perhaps, is the acclaimed Pistolwhip (published by Top Shelf). It's written and drawn by Matt Kindt and Jason Hall but oddly they aren't identified anywhere on the front/back cover, the spine or the title page. Even the "thanks" in the back only has their first names. The only place you can ID them is the copyright information. Anyway, Pistolwhip is a sort of noirish tale (though taking place mostly in broad daylight) with a PI, femme fatale, scheming musician and behind-the-scenes mover. I don't want to give too much of the plot away but will say it doesn't go in the usual directions you'd expect and thankfully avoids most of the "I'm more hardboiled than thou" attitude. There are several nested stories that intersect in some unusual ways along with odd radio script commentaries so in a way it's as much about the concept of narrative as character motivations, something I can't help but admire. I'm less sure about the art which is sketch-like and expressionist (lines for things like cabinets and doors tend to curve unnaturally). This gives the whole thing an insubstantial feel. Is that bad? Don't know. I'll admit I wasn't as impressed as I expected to be but suspect a second reading might change that. Supposedly there's a follow-up due later this year.