☾the ella luna book club☾
The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb
For my Dad’s 56th birthday in November of 2023, I flew to Denver to surprise him. Whenever I’m home, no matter how briefly, I want to visit all of my favorite places that I miss dearly while I’m in L.A. The Botanic Gardens, Stella’s Coffeehouse, Cheesman Park, places where I made so many memories in my adolescence, and that still make me so happy in my adult life. This list includes the intersection of Elizabeth and Colfax, across the street from the high school my friends went to while I studied classical voice at art school. I pick up a book at Tattered Cover and cross the street for a used jazz CD at Twist & Shout.
Tattered Cover is a chain of independent bookstores in Denver, and one of the largest independent bookstores in the US. I grew up frequenting the location in Highlands Ranch with my Mimi, and in my teenage years, the location on East Colfax with Lulu. The night I met Erin in New York, I was wearing my Tattered Cover crewneck to stay warm. It’s a special place for me personally, and a centerpiece of a community for book lovers in Colorado. A month before I went home for this visit, Tattered Cover filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, and closed three of its seven locations. In support of this Colorado treasure, I always go to purchase some books while in town. In my browsing, I stumbled upon a bright yellow cover with a multicolored drawing of a violin. I sat down in the bookstore and began the first few pages, and couldn’t put it down for the next few days.
The Violin Conspiracy is described as a “page turner” and lives up to that promise. It tells the story of Rayquan McMillian, a young violinist with a complicated family reliant on his support. An already exceptional and ambitious musician, he is thrown into classical music stardom when the fiddle he inherited from his beloved grandmother is discovered to be an authentic Stradivarius violin worth more than 10 million dollars. The fiddle is stolen just weeks before the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition, where Ray must prove time and time again his talent and commitment to the music, as well as attempt to win the competition and the respect of his audience and peers. Not only is the story of crime and competition enthralling, but it also focuses heavily on the experience of being a person of color in classical music, a community and genre historically predominantly white. It recounts experiences of generational oppression, police brutality, and inherited trauma. Slocumb has stated that several of Ray’s experiences are drawn from his own life. Ray’s grandmother and his relationship with her is shaped after Slocumb's. As a musician himself, Slocumb writes about music with such attention to detail that I could almost hear the way Ray played throughout his story.
This novel is intimately personal, captivating, and eye opening. I can’t wait for you to read it for the first time, or to join me in a rereading.
a soundtrack for your reading -
additional reading about the systemic issues of the classical world from The New Yorker -
Marigold & Rose
by Louise Glück
In the early evening of a day in the second week of December 2023, I’m sitting on the bed. A stonefruit and amber candle burning on the nightstand to my right, Erin taking a cat nap to my left. The idea to start a book club came to me the other night when I was pondering the best way to connect with people who may like the music I write, or maybe even just like me. But what book should be the first? The pilot? It didn’t take too long to decide on Marigold & Rose.
The other day I stumbled upon the tragically discontinued and sold out Stella McCartney cotton and silk Knickers of the Week set. If I owned these panties, I would not only wear them every day, I would want to be buried in them. They hold the timeless elegance of a modest pair of underwear, with the interjection of childlike weekday embroidery. I find most things I love wholeheartedly to contain this familiar juxtaposition of womanhood and girlhood. Maybe it’s because I’m 21, halfway between being a newborn and being 42, that I find comfort and beauty in both ends of the spectrum. So, if you understand this, you will understand that Marigold & Rose is to fiction what the Stella McCartney cotton and silk Knickers of the Week set is to lingerie. It’s the perfect inbetween of womanhood and girlhood.
Dwight Garner of The New York Times calls Louise Glück’s Marigold & Rose a “sophisticated children’s bedtime story,” and I can’t think of a better description. Glück writes with such a fairytale tongue. The book offers a look into the first year of life for twin infants Marigold and Rose. The girls have contrasting personalities. Marigold’s narrative consists of a brooding ambition to write a novel, disregarding the fact that she has no linguistic abilities. Rose, on the other hand, simply bats her eyelashes and receives complimenting coos in return. The typical and overdone tropes of sibling dichotomy are heightened and explored in new ways by Glücks characters being babies. Stories written by poets are my favorite because they have so many lyrical lines, so many parts of this book could stand on their own as stanzas. “Her silky skin.” “And she longed, once again, for adulthood with its vast cargo of words.” “Sometimes she thought she might just skip talking altogether, and wait for writing.” The beauty and elegance in vocabulary throughout is no surprise, considering Glück is, according to The Poetry Foundation, “one of America’s most talented contemporary poets, known for her poetry’s technical precision, sensitivity, and insight into loneliness, family relationships, divorce, and death.” She is a highly awarded writer, including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2020.
It’s interesting to me that the first work I will have ever read of Glücks is her first work of fiction, published the year before her passing. How wild that I could read her work from last to first. Regardless of if you’ve been an avid reader of Glück since her first publication in 1968, or you’ve never heard of her before now, Marigold & Rose is a promising read.