Monday 16 April 2007

50 Books...

3. The Piano Shop on the Left Bank - Thad Carhart

There is thus far an imbalance towards modern literature on my '50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About' list, which probably won't continue... but today's entry is chosen because I'm rather hoping the suggestee might materialise in the near future...

A very dear friend of mine, Barbara-from-Ludlow, lent a copy of this book to me in 2004, and I adored it. It achieved what twelve years of piano lessons had not done; I fell in love with the piano. That all rather subsided when I failed my next grade, but time is a great healer - and now I am back to celebrate Carhart's work!

On first reading, I thought this was a novel - but closer inspection reveaks that it is in fact (!) non-fiction - but of the sort which teeters on the edge. The best kind, in my opinion. Quite unusually, the 'blurb' on the back is accurate, and thus you shall be treated to it in full:

T.E. Carhart, an American living in Paris, is intrigued by a piano repair shop hidden down a street near his apartment. When he finally gains admittance to the secretive world of the atelier, he finds himself in an enormous glass-roofed workshop filled with dozens of pianos. His love affair with this most magical of instruments and its music is reawakened. Packed with delicate cameos of Parisians and reflections on how pianos work and their glorious history,
The Piano Shop on the Left Bank is an atmospheric and absorbing journey to an older way of life.

Hmm... tails off a little in the truth stakes towards the end. Delicate cameos? Beg pardon? And I must confess 'their glorious history' is packed into one rather dull chapter which I skipped over. But aside from that, this is a beautiful novel, very much a 'love affair' with the instrument. Do check out Cornflower's comments on this book, around the 7th March 2007. I does rather look like I'm stealing her blog wholesale... honest I'm not, guv!

Having said that, the discussion she started re:music lessons rings a bell. I had a nice teacher - Miss Lylah Goodwin, whose most unintentionally brilliant and far-reaching act MUST be lending me Miss Hargraves; more on soooon - but I HATED practising and lessons for a very, very long time. Our Vicar and Our Vicar's Wife, never ones to overindulge their offspring, proved resistance futile, and I only stopped just before I came to university. Luckily, by then I liked it (my parents were RIGHT? Really?) and this very afternoon I took myself off to one of Magdalen's piano rooms, to hammer out a bit of Bach. Lovely revision break,

I shall add a disclaimer for this book: don't read it if you can't play the piano and really, really wish you could. It'll only frustrate you. Don't get me wrong; I'm not excellent at the ivories by any stretch of the imagination - but if piano-playing is a deepset ambition which has never been fulfilled, this book can only wrankle. Otherwise, you'll love it!

N.B. The cartoon may make no sense to American visitors. Google HSBC and NatWest. It may also make no sense to those with a more sophisticated sense of humour than I...


  1. Hm! Better not read it then.I'd love to play able to play ANY instrument apart from very very very basic recorder and picking out about three melodies (not chords)on the guitar.
    Oh and i can play the first few bars of Beethoven's Fur Elise on th piano as long as I keep going at a fast enough pace... then I get stuck in some sort of manic loop......manic loop... manic loop. And chopsticks!!

  2. Steal away, Simon - what great taste you have!

  3. Do you know, I can't play chopsticks! I have to have sheet music in front of me before I can do anything other than a C major scale, and collapse at the demands of chopsticks... oh dear.

  4. Simon, pleeeeeaaaassssseeee let me read this book, pleeeeeeaaaasssseeee, I know I don't play the piano but pleeeeeeaaassssssse let me read it and see what I'm missing, I'd cope really I would:-)

  5. heehee, since you asked nicely...

  6. This book seems beautiful ! But, it's probably too difficult to read in English for me. Too bad !

  7. I picked up this book after reading your post on it. So glad I did! I recently started blogging and posted my own entry on the book (and gave props to you as well). If you're interested, it's at

  8. I'm currently reading this book :)

    A word about piano practice! I've been teaching piano for 29 years now and i have to say that one thing i have found is that the students who practice regularly tend to be the ones who get paid! sad but true. A bonus for their allowance works well, as does getting kids to choose between chores - you can do the dishes or your piano practice! In families where more than one child learns piano, paying the one who goes first a bonus also works well for the enterprising kids. I know one 6 year old boy who earns one cent per minute of practice ... amazingly, he finds the income worth the effort! :)


I've now moved to, and all my old posts are over there too - do come and say hello :)

I probably won't see your comment here, I'm afraid, but all my archive posts can also be found at