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Grand Obsession: A Piano Odyssey Paperback – June 2, 2009

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Grand Obsession: A Piano Odyssey + The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier + Piano Lessons: A Memoir
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (June 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743276396
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743276399
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #816,838 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Embarking on piano lessons in middle age, environmental journalist Knize sets out on an ancillary quest to find the perfect piano on a limited budget. She scours North America's piano outlets, immerses herself in the colorful online subculture of piano aficionados and grows fluent in the language of keyboard connoisseurship (a thin, shrill, brittle treble, she sniffs at a Steinway). Then she falls in love with Marlene, a Grotrian-Steinweg grand with the sultry and seductive tone of Dietrich herself; she's so smitten that she mortgages her house to buy it. Then disaster strikes: when shipped from the New York showroom to her Montana home, the piano sounds weird and echoey, and its glorious treble is dead. Desperate to restore Marlene's voice, Knize mobilizes an army of eccentric piano technicians (these lowly craftsmen emerge as wild-eyed artists in their own right), delves into the subtle intricacies that influence a piano's sound and ponders the haunting evanescence of music. Sometimes the mysticism—music 'is a way of exiting the petty self and entering the Over-soul... [i]t's about existing at a certain vibration' —gets thick enough to cut with a knife. But Knize writes in a wonderfully evocative, lushly romantic style, and music lovers will resonate to her mad pursuit of a gorgeous sound. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Mesmerizing... her gift for sound extends to the printed word."
--The Seattle Times

"Reads at the pace of a mystery and the pitch of a love story.... By the end of the story, when Knize is told she 'fell in love with an illusion,' it has the weight of tragedy."
--The New York Times

"To follow Knize on this crazy-quilt quest is to engage some of the deepest of life's questions... how we respond to beauty, to the world, to each other--and how a soul learns to thrive."
-- The Los Angeles Times

"Lucid yet lyrical, analytical yet deeply affecting."
-- The Washington Post

"Exquisite... those who've never touched the keys will find themselves lost in the poetry of the hammers, the strings... the idea of the Schubert concert tuning."
--The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

"Intimately powerful: It changed the way I look at the world."
--Missoula Independent

"I was hooked from the first page.  Add passionate writing to a long metaphor for self-realization, and this book travels beyond the sphere of mere music."
--The Buffalo News

"Knize writes in a wonderfully evocative, lushly romantic style, and music lovers will resonate to her mad pursuit of a gorgeous sound."
-- Publishers Weekly

"A well-written, heartfelt, classy paean to a singular instrument."
-- Kirkus Reviews

"Knize's writing soars throughout this account.... From first line to last, Grand Obsession maintains a marvelous consistency of tone, never hitting a false note."
--The Freelance Star (Fredericksburg, Virginia)

"Knize has crafted a poetic tribute to the piano... Warmly recommended for all collections."
-- Library Journal

"The book reads like a detective story, one that will totally pull the reader in....  Anyone who doubts the ability of music to touch and enrich the human spirit will have those doubts erased upon reading Grand Obsession."
--American Music Teacher magazine

"So intense, so passionate, so powerfully and cleanly written that it changes the way the reader sees the world."
--Magellan's Log

More About the Author

PERRI KNIZE is an award-winning environmental policy reporter whose articles and essays have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Audubon, Sports Illustrated, Conde Nast Traveler, and Outside. She was educated in philosophy and Russian at the University of Michigan, studied piano at the Mannes College of Music, worked as a poster and book designer in Manhattan, volunteered as a wilderness ranger on the Beaverhead National Forest in Montana, and received her Master's degree in journalism at Columbia University. She has a been a reporter at New York Newsday and Newsweek, a freelancer at The New York Times, and has taught journalism at the University of Montana. She lives with her husband in Montana.

Customer Reviews

I just read it for the second time and still couldn't put it down!
Perri Knize finds the perfect words to describe her obsession for the sound and beauty of her exquisite piano, a Grotian grand she names Marlene.
Robin Meloy Goldsby
Perri's writing style is excellent and immersive, and reading her intense journey is an emotional rollercoaster.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Frank Baxter on December 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been involved in the piano business for over 35 years, and I own a popular piano web site. By now I thought I'd pretty much heard and seen it all. But when I got this book I literally couldn't put it down.

We can all be thankful that Perri's background as a reporter, author, and pianist came together when her "obsession" to find the perfect piano with the perfect sound drove her to write this extraordinary book based on her experiences.

Her adventures reach far beyond the scope of the average piano buyer. In fact, she goes places even those of us "in the business" have never been. Luckily for all of us, she takes us along for the ride.

From the Pacific Northwest to Piano Row in New York, from basement workshops to the Alps of Austria, Perri follows wherever her questions lead her. The more riddles she solves, the more new questions pop into her head, and off she goes again to chase down the answers.

Along the way she meets some of the most interesting and talented characters in the piano business. From each of them she gathers a few more pieces of the puzzle she is trying desperately to solve.

What is it that makes her "Marlene" (yes, she named her piano, and no, that isn't as odd as you might think) sound and play the way she does when everything is right? And more importantly, what caused Marlene to lose her voice, and how will she ever get it back?

Perri will stop at nothing to find these answers, and that is part of the charm and fun of this book.
Read more ›
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Zeitlin on April 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I am profoundly touched by Perri Knize's beautifully written and intensely personal book that simultaneously functions as a riveting detective story, heroic quest, and treatise on the blessings and curses of having an exquisite artistic sensibility.

"Grand Obsession" resonates personally in a number of ways. I grew up on the family Steinway, studying classical piano through grade school, gravitating into jazz in high school, and going on to have an active recording and international touring career for the past 45 years. So I have been chronically immersed in the vicissitudes of pianos, piano manufacturers, technicians, recording studios, and the demands of touring. I'm always hoping the next venue will have an instrument with the magical combination of sound and feel I seek, but so often have to settle for far less, at times having to perform emergency surgery. The handful of encounters with perfection is unforgettable, and Perri's obsession to recapture the treasured sound of her piano is a state of mind many professional musicians know all too well.

Knize vividly describes other states of mind of the performing musician, including the common experience of "stage fright." As a psychiatrist in private practice and a Clinical Professor at the University of California in San Francisco, I have had a particular interest over the years in working with artists and performers who experience creative blocks. In presentations I have attempted to articulate the journey, obstacles, and nature of the territory of deepest creativity, where boundaries dissolve and there is simply pure artistic expression. I have never seen this merger state more poetically described than in "Grand Obsession." This is a deeply engrossing and affecting book.

Denny Zeitlin ( [...] )
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33 of 42 people found the following review helpful By James E. Beckman on February 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful read for anyone with an interest in the piano, or in music in general. For others, perhaps not so great.

The author's search is not so much for a particular piano, but for the particular sound of a piano that she heard once in a showroom just before she bought that particular instrument. Lots of great information about the amazing people that are involved in building, selling, and more than anything else, maintaining pianos. Knize's emotions go over the top to the point of irritation at times, and on about page 273 she descends into physics and metaphysics, which I could have done without, particularly since she gets some of the physics wrong, and the mysticism is just sort of silly.

Let me recommend, as other reviewers have done, another book, The Piano Shop on the Left Bank. That author is searching for a piano, and the book is, if anything, even better than Grand Obsession.
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36 of 46 people found the following review helpful By P. S. Buchanan on February 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Well, I learned more about what makes pianos wonderful and unique than I ever thought I would know. I also discovered that the perfect piano sound is incredibly illusive. And the writing is really spectacular - lots of turns of phrases that made me stop and admire Ms. Knize's literary skills. The number one thing I discovered, however, is that Perri Knize's husband must be a saint, because she's so obsessed with the perfect sound that it seems like nothing else in her life matters. He should get pages and pages of credit for putting up with it. There should be a suffering husband chapter, in fact.
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