Book Review: Practicing by Glenn Kurtz

When we get entrenched in something that takes so much of our day, be it work, a significant other, or the curious amalgamation of the two in the form of our “craft” (be it writing, playing music, dancing or whatever), we often fail to see anything else.  As someone who went to school for classical guitar and English, I picked up Glenn Kurtz’s Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music.  I figured “Hey, I lapsed from guitar too and need to return!  I like to write too!”  But even I, in my love of these simple joys have trouble at times delving into the indulgence of Kurtz’s writing.

His tacit statement of genius is part of the affect of the book.  I get that.  His descriptions of the music and practice are excellent, and if nothing else, perhaps that is his true genius, even when he can be bogged down in technical details that only a player could truly appreciate.  “The Inner Game of Tennis” talks about Tennis strokes, but it’s hardly only applicable to that field, right?

Trouble is, Practicing never decides what it wants to be.  Is it a memoir?  Is it really just cataloging a journey (one that gets muddy around his trip to Europe)?  Is it a book about the artist’s challenge as human?  Through the end, one is never clear on what the point is.  In a society so prone to oversharing, it’s hard not to feel as though this is one giant well-written nostalgic blog post.  I’m not knocking Kurtz’s writing–it’s very functional–and hey, I’d read the blog.  I know the pain of losing contact with your instrument.  I understand the constant tension between achieving and faltering and being an artist or a worker trying his art.  I merely wonder if this book helps that understanding along or his instead is merely an affirmation of the sentiment.

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