Posts Tagged ‘Music’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Sarah K’s Picks

December 23, 2014

These five books were the ones that stuck in my mind during 2014. They reveal truths about our shared humanity while introducing readers to new places and new forms of style. Take a moment to try these out; they are well worth your time.

Claire of the Sea LightClaire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
On the night of Claire Limyè Lanmè’s seventh birthday, she disappears. Motherless, her fisherman father Nozias has decided to give Claire away to Madame Gaëlle, a shopkeeper who lost her daughter in an accident years earlier, to ensure Claire greater opportunities. As the members of the seaside Haitian town of Ville Rose, search for her, their interconnected stories, secrets, and losses emerge. Danticat creates vivid characters and her writing captures the beauty and sorrow of daily life.

The CommitmentsThe Commitments by Roddy Doyle
Put together a group of Dublin working class misfits with the soul sounds of the 1960s and you have Roddy Doyle’s punchy and charming novel about the joys of rock and roll. The book follows the escapades of the band as they combat over practice, get through their first gig, cut their first single and run into inevitable creative differences. Doyle’s free-flowing bawdy dialogue is exhilarating. So, if you are looking for some fun, introduce yourself to the Hardest Working Soul Band in Dublin: The Commitments.

My Struggle Book OneMy Struggle Book One by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Karl Ove Knausgaard blurs the lines between fiction and memoir in the first volume of his novelistic autobiography. The book begins with a meditation on death and then proceeds to explore Knausgaard’s childhood and fraught relationship with his troubled father. This expansion and contraction of universal ideas and the minute details of Knausgaard’s life creates a fascinating tension between the author and the reader. Knausgaard lays his life out on the table with unflinching directness for the reader to examine. My Struggle is probably not for every reader, but it is something strange and new.

AusterlitzAusterlitz by W. G. Sebald
Traveling across Europe, the unnamed narrator meets and befriends Jacques Austerlitz an architectural historian. As their relationship develops, he gradually learns of Austerlitz’s search for his lost history. As a small child, Austerlitz’s mother placed him a Kindertransport to Britain where an aged Welsh couple adopted him and gave him a new identity. After learning of his birth family after their deaths, Austerlitz begins to discover his past and how the Holocaust severed his past life from his present. Uncanny, hypnotic, and dreamlike, Austerlitz conveys the incompleteness of memories with their ragged and hazy qualities, while capturing the devastation of the Holocaust.

The Patrick Melrose NovelsThe Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn
Edward St. Aubyn pillories the excesses and absurdities of the British upper class with elegant prose and vicious wit in this cycle of four novels. He begins with Patrick’s childhood relationships to his sadistic father and neglectful mother, and following him into a ravenous drug addiction, recovery, marriage and fatherhood. His character eventually reaches a form of uneasy redemption. Patrick and the world he inhabits aren’t likable, but there’s a level of truth to St. Aubyn’s storytelling, as Patrick struggles to place himself beyond his lifelong demons. Despite some of their grim subject matter, the novels are deeply, darkly funny.

Best New Books of 2014: Sarah K’s Picks

December 5, 2014

Identity and struggle are the themes of five of my favorite books from 2014. How does adversity shape who we are? How much do we control our identities and how much are we shaped by external forces? I invite you to check out these following titles

An Untamed StateAn Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Kidnapped by an armed street gang in Haiti, Mireille trusts her wealthy father to pay ransom to return her to her fairy tale existence with her husband and baby. When Mireille’s father refuses to capitulate to her captors, she must find the strength to endure days of torment while trying to maintain a connection to the woman she was. Gay’s frank treatment of rape and its aftermath with clean understated writing adds to the intensity of this book.

On the RunOn the Run by Alice Goffman
As an undergraduate, Alice Goffman moved into a neighborhood in Philadelphia and began taking field notes as she fully immersed herself in the lives of the families living there. The War on Drugs had created a culture of constant police surveillance of the lives of the residents there, especially among the young men, many of whom were in some sort of entanglement with the legal system. Goffman witnessed arrests, escapes from the police and how police use employment and familial relationships as leverage against suspects. Goffman has written an insightful and sobering critique of the policing of poor neighborhoods and the human toll that it takes on the individuals living there.

The Empathy ExamsThe Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
From the confinement of illness to the traps of poverty and prison, Leslie Jamison’s clear-eyed and far-ranging essays explore the intersection between empathy and pain. If you only have time for one essay, read “Fog Count,” which begins with a prison visit, but then expands to include the larger picture of the prison-industrial complex, strip mining and the economy of West Virginia.  Her curiosity about the human condition brings into sharp focus the capacity and limitations of compassion. She deftly weaves personal experience with the universal to create a collection that rivals early Joan Didion.

The Other LanguageThe Other Language by Francesca Marciano
A woman writes about the ideal Italy while homesick in New York. Another seeks out an old companion on an isolated island in the Indian Ocean; while a third buys a Chanel gown on a frivolous whim. In this collection of nine stories, Marciano travels across countries and cultures with a knack for capturing settings and tone. She vividly captures the lives of her characters at moments of transformation with lovely and fluid storytelling that keeps the pages turning.

How to Build a GirlHow to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
Eager to escape her lackluster existence as a working-class teenager in the Midlands of England, and her unfortunate Scooby-Doo impersonation on local television, Johanna Morrigan decides to reinvent herself as Dolly Wilde, music journalist. After gaining the attention of a London-based music magazine, Johanna/Dolly embarks on a series of professional and sexual misadventures as she tries to figure out how to build her new life. If you were a teenager in the early 1990s, or enjoy bold raucous humor, chances are you will love this book as much as I did.

Ticket to Ride: Inside the Beatles’ 1964 Tour that Changed the World by Larry Kane

August 28, 2013

In 1964 there were four visitors to the United States, and the music world would never be the same. Their names were Paul, John, George and Ringo, and they may well be the greatest rock group to ever inhabit this planet. Larry Kane, an American journalist out of Miami and station WFUN, was lucky enough to be part of the official press group, and this is his story of the Fab Four’s American adventure in 1964 and ’65.

Kane was a 21-year-old reporter when he was selected to become part of the official press group assigned to follow the Beatles as they performed across the country. Each stop became it’s own adventure, whether it was Chicago, Seattle, Vancouver,Detroit, Montreal,New York, Atlantic City, Philadelphia or Hollywood. Kane was the same age as the group, and maybe this enabled him to get close to them. The tour was unreal, exciting, pulsating, and dangerous! Fans, mostly young women, attempted to do anything to break through security to get close to the group. One young woman broke through the ceiling tiles at a hotel and crashed near Kane. Some women swore that they were destined to marry Paul or John. The world had never seen anything like this, and maybe never would again. Security became a real problem because local authorities had no concept of the effect that the Beatles were having on the world.

This book is the delightful tale of a ‘brave’ reporter, and his tour and rapport with John, Paul, George and Ringo. Besides the Beatles you will meet Elvis ,Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, the Beach Boys and other stars of that era. Fifty years later, I still love the Beatles! And so does Larry Kane. A bonus CD allows you to listen to some of the interviews. For a while you will be transferred to another era, a more innocent time.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2012: Lynn W.’s Picks

December 31, 2012

Today’s blog talks about five audio books I’ve enjoyed during 2012. I listen to fiction and memoirs, and if read by the author, all the better. Each year, I stumble onto a children’s book title and find juvenile fiction altogether as engaging as adult fiction, so one is included here. — Lynn W.

This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection by Carol Burnett
Carol presents a series of short vignettes from her private and performing life. Some feature her grandmother, Nanny, a real character, who loved show business and the contacts she made through Carol and capitalized on them. There are funny stories, like how her adoration of Jimmy Stewart panned out the first time they met on a set when she got her foot stuck in a pail of whitewash and walked out with it still attached, too tongue-tied to say a word. The author reads this collection, adding to the emotional depth and also the comic moments.

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels – a Love Story by Ree Drummond
If ever there was a mismatch, it was Ree and Marlboro Man. Ree, a native Oklahoman, went to southern California for college and never looked back towards Tulsa except for holidays. Now in her mid-twenties, home is a pit stop on her way to the big time in Chicago. While there she hits a bar with friends and meets Marlboro Man, a tall, strong, real-life cowboy. Their story, read by the author in her authentic and charming Oklahoma voice, is a true love story. We never learn Marlboro Man’s name, but we sure feel the heat develop between them.

The Forgotten Affairs of Youth by Alexander McCall Smith
This eighth Isabel Dalhousie mystery set in Edinburgh, Scotland pleases the ear with soft Scottish accents and descriptions of the gray city and green countryside. Isabel Dalhousie, a philosopher, is approached by a visiting Australian philosopher seeking her biological father’s identity. This is the “mystery.” Isabel and her fiancé Jamie are planning their wedding, all the while watching their beautiful son grow from day to day. This series is a leisurely walk through Scotland’s capital, meeting along the way fascinating people and places and everyday concerns.

The Night Train by Clyde Edgerton
Two teenage boys in 1960s small town North Carolina form a friendship over their love of jazz, a relationship not exactly accepted in this segregated community. Dwayne absolutely loves James Brown’s Live at the Apollo album, while Larry Lime is a pianist wanting to learn Thelonious Monk’s style from a jazz musician called the Bleeder. Their story and shenanigans will entertain while showing music is truly one of the ways humans unite and move beyond their differences. This audio is well-read, giving voice to accents and origins with accuracy.

Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath
If your parents disappeared one stormy night and your fishing village neighbors were forced to take you in, how would you feel? Especially if almost everyone is sure your parents were drowned at sea and you are absolutely certain they are merely delayed returning? Primrose Squarp tells her own story; her twelve-year-old point of view of friends (does she have any left?) and neighbors (including Miss Perfidy, who is paid by the town to care for Primrose) is fresh and rings true. Over the months, Primrose rediscovers her uncle, goes into foster care, and begins work on a cookbook while she awaits her parents’ return. This is a delightful mood lifter.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

August 15, 2012

People have been recommending this book to me for the last three years and I have been completely resistant to its charms, mostly because of how it has been described to me – something along the lines of “it’s about a hostage situation, but also about opera.” Bo-ring. Or so I thought.

After having any book recommended to me often enough, I’ll eventually try it, which is how I wound up with a copy of Bel Canto on my nightstand, waiting to be read. The story is loosely based on the Japanese embassy hostage crisis that occurred in Lima, Peru in 1996 when the terrorist group the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement took hundreds of government officials hostage, some for as long as 126 days. In Patchett’s fictionalized retelling, a Japanese businessman, Mr. Hosokawa, visits an undisclosed location in South America for a party honoring his birthday. Although invited in the hopes that he would bring business to the area, Hosokawa’s sole reason for attending is the evening’s entertainment – opera singer Roxane Coss. An avid opera-goer, Hosokawa is enchanted by her voice and jumps at the chance for a semi-private performance.

As Roxane and her accompanist finish their recital, armed terrorists descend upon the party in an attempt to make demands of the President, who was presumed to be in attendance (though was in fact at home, watching his soap opera.) What follows is the story of a group of disparate people from different cultures, speaking different languages, and how they help each other survive, hostages and terrorists alike. Some people might say that music becomes the common language for the characters in this book, but I don’t really think that’s true – it gives people something to do with their days, and something to occupy their minds, but the common language is perhaps time; how much of it they have left, and how to best spend what they do have.

The narrative weaves together different characters’ stories and shows how they build a life together over the several months that the hostage situation lasts. The book ends in much the same way that the Japanese Embassy hostage crisis did (so, sorry if I just ruined it for you) and a brief epilogue gives the reader a glimpse into what life after the event looks like for two couples.

This was my first Ann Patchett novel, and I’ll definitely come back for more.

For another perspective on this book, take a look at Brandy H.’s review of it on our blog two years ago.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood

August 1, 2012

This book had me at “Part Secret History, part Brideshead Revisited.” The Secret History by Donna Tartt is hands down one of my favorite books – it has the perfect blend of academia, creepy siblings, and the elite. With that kind of review, I immediately snagged an e-galley of Bellwether Revivals, but didn’t get a chance to actually read it until it had hit the shelves of the library and the cover art caught my eye, leading me back to my copy.

Debut novelist Benjamin Wood sets the scene in picturesque Cambridge, moving between the spires and cobbled pathways of King’s College and the lush surrounding countryside that holds the family home of the Bellwethers. The book starts near the end of the story, an ending marked with a cold wind blowing through the grounds of the Bellwether Estate, flashing police lights, and bodies, though we don’t know whose.

And then, as if we had never been a part of that scene, we’re brought back to some previous time, when Oscar, a bookish but working class nurse’s assistant stumbles into the lives of the Bellwethers. Lulled into the college chapel by the melodies of an organ unlike any Oscar has ever heard, he meets Iris Bellwether, sister to the organist, Eden. The Bellwethers exist in a world that Oscar has only glimpsed — one of privilege and academia and, above all, music. The siblings and their small but tight-knit group of friends are similarly intrigued by Oscar’s life in all its job-holding, bill-paying, apartment-dwelling glory.

It is music that brings them together, and music that separates the six. Eden falls deeper and deeper into his own obsessions, believing that his organ gives him the ability to perform miracles. I don’t want to spoil the ending by revealing much more, but as Eden began his downward spiral, I kept thinking back to the opening scene of the book, wondering when and where those bodies would pop back up.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Greatest Hits: Exile on Main Street: a Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield

July 4, 2012

*Note: All Wake County Public Libraries are closed today for the Independence Day holiday. In the mean time, enjoy this book review:

This week we’re featuring some of our “greatest hits” – the most popular Book-a-Day blog posts since we started this almost three years ago. Today’s is Exile on Main Street: a Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield, reviewed by Erik S.

It was the summer of 1981. There was a little boy named Erik who played little league for a team called the “Green Yankees.” As an outfielder, Erik was more prone to birdwatching than catching pop-flies. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before both Erik, and his parents, decided it was time for him to end his baseball pursuits.

Fast forward 20 years. It is the summer of 2001, and Erik is visiting his parents and going through some of the old childhood artifacts they have saved. He comes across an old Green Yankees roster with little mini bios for each of the team’s young players.  Most of the kids’ bios had details about their playing positions and their power plays throughout the season.  For Erik, it simply said, “Erik likes rock and roll.  His favorite band is Kiss.”  Point of the story, this kid was not born to play sports.  He was born to rock, (and read ;) )  And with a book like Exile on Main Street : a Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones, you can certainly do both.  You will find yourselves intrigued and shocked with all of the carnal, cutthroat excess that occurs in this book; and more than likely, you’ll want to bust out of all of your Stones records and turn ‘em on up.

It was the summer of 1971 in the South of France; “a sunny place for shady people,” as described by the book’s author, Robert Greenfield.  The Rolling Stones had rented the lavish Villa Nellcote on the French Riviera to record their latest masterpiece, a double record called Exile on Main Street.  The Stones, surprisingly, were broke and had to leave England to avoid paying British income tax, (hence the “Exile” status for the record’s title).  What occurred during the time of this masterpiece’s making was a hodge-podge of sex, drugs, crime, and ultimately, untimely deaths for many of the party-goers during that very debauched summer.  Everyone wanted to party with the Rolling Stones.  They were kings; loved and worshiped by nearly everyone, impervious to the long arm of the law, and more or less untouchable.  If one could be remotely in the presence of these young British kings, it was truly a gift.  Therefore, the cast of characters at Nellcote that summer ranged from actors, rock stars, daughters and wives of royalty, and other grandiose hangers-on.  What this meant for the Rolling Stones was that they were granted the opportunity to live like emperors of ancient Rome.

The stories within this outstanding book range from orgiastic celebrating, to life-threatening drug habits, back-stabbing friends, affairs gone awry, close encounters with the law, and sadly, the inevitable deaths as a result of all the reckless abandon.  Some of the women, who at one time were high society debutantes who could simply snap their fingers and get anything they desired, ended up dead in back alley streets less than a year later; reduced to nothing more than anonymous, homeless junkies.  The book is a baffling one because it greatly romanticizes rock mythology, (which is hard not to do when discussing a group as decadent as the Rolling Stones), but as the title suggests, it does not shy away from the hell that surrounded this extravagant era.  Exile on Main Street is still considered one of the best rock and roll albums of all time.  Needless to say, you will never listen to it in the same manner ever again.  All of the love, death, and celebration that went into it’s creation are now a permanent testimony to one of the most mythical and dangerous times in the history of rock and roll.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

 

Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

May 7, 2012

This book caught my eye immediately. The format is somewhere between a photographic coffee table book and a graphic novel; the story is told in words and pictures, but also through instant messages, you tube videos, and drawings. The result is a beautiful finished product to leaf through leisurely or to tackle as a quick read (I was able to plow through the entire book on my lunch break one day.)

The story starts with the main character, Glory, missing. She has escaped from a mental institution and hasn’t been heard from since. Rewind eighteen months, and the events leading up to her disappearance are revealed:

Glory is a teenaged piano prodigy about to embark on a worldwide tour. She’s known for her skill of mixing classical pieces with modern scores in a cohesive and innovative manner (think Bach alongside Madonna). Her father is demanding and her schedule grueling. Between lessons, practice, and keeping up with her schoolwork, Glory doesn’t have a lot of time to be a normal teenager. And then she meets Frank, and her whole world turns upside down.

Glory’s deteriorating mental state is shown through clipped articles, postcards to Frank from her tour, and other documents, placed together to form a sort of scrapbook. She becomes incapable of performing the pieces that she is known for (and expected to play) and instead only plays (you guessed it) Chopsticks.

For a peek at the type of imagery you’ll see throughout this book, check out the video preview of the book or take a peek inside the book online.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Bells by Richard Harvell

January 25, 2012

I first learned of the castrati while reading Anne Rice’s novel, Cry to Heaven, in the late ’90s.  The castrati were pre-pubescent boys that were purposely castrated so that they would retain their singing voice into adulthood.  The sheer horror of the practice caused that little historical nugget to stay in my mind, so that when I read a blurb about Richard Harvell’s debut novel, The Bells, it jumped out at me again.  I decided to try it and I wasn’t disappointed.

Presented as a letter to his adopted son, The Bells is the story of Moses Froben – a poor, uneducated boy born to a deaf-mute mother that lived in isolation, high in the belfry of a small-town church in the Swiss Alps and how he grows into one of the most celebrated opera singers of the time, known only as Lo Svissero.

Most of the villagers believe Moses is also deaf-mute, so after he witnesses a crime and they discover that he can in fact hear and speak, he flees for his life.  He receives help from two traveling monks, who hearing his situation, take pity on him and bring him to the Abbey of St. Gall.  Growing up in a belfry, Moses has developed a gift for music and his ears soon lead him to the boys’ choir at the Abbey.  The choirmaster, Ulrich, recognizes his gift and trains him.  Ulrich can’t bear for this gift to go away as Moses ages and has Moses castrated against his will.  At that time, the Swiss Confederation had outlawed castration and so Moses is forced, once again, to flee.  He chooses to follow a young woman of the upper class that he has fallen in love with to Vienna, where she will be married.

The rest of Moses’ journey and transformation into a father and into Lo Svissero is full of all the elements that make up a good opera – love, tragedy and passion.

Find and request this book in our online catalog.

Just Kids by Patti Smith

September 20, 2011

It is difficult for me to think of an artist who illuminates pure positive affect in the way that Patti Smith does. For someone who always had a special place in his heart for Patti’s “Horses” record, I can safely say there are moments where her music and her words have taken my mind and my heart to places I would have never imagined. For me, the record has a similar effect to Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” and Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” The passion, the energy, the blood-racing anticipation between her vocal crescendos… It is absolutely on fire. However, I have found that “Horses” is a rather polarizing record. People who are into rock and roll either like it or hate it. I love it. My brain chemistry gets perfectly locked into Patti’s grooves, and I’m happy to know that I can revisit this amazing album throughout my life anytime I feel the need.

When Just Kids came out, I realized that it had been quite some time since I had last thought of Patti Smith. My reading habits have changed a lot throughout the years, and I’m generally not a fan of biographies. However, I knew I would enjoy this one. I was simply waiting for the right time to read it. One of the many things that fascinate me about Patti Smith is that she was simply a naive and innocent child full of so much wonderful curiosity, a perpetual outsider who had no misgivings over the fact that life would be an uphill battle. Unlike many artists whose early lives were subject to torment and desperation, Patti came from a humble and loving home. Patti was not abused by her family, (she actually spoke very tenderly of her parents and siblings), nor did she express any excessive disdain towards those she encountered during her early struggles, (not even towards her factory coworkers who dehumanized her; thus providing the impetus for her song, “Piss Factory,” nor the prying and judgmental eyes during her teenage pregnancy.) And even though she arrived in New York homeless and hungry and would generally fare no better until the latter end of the ’70s, Patti’s enthusiasm and diligence completely outshined her hardships.

Patti was in love with life. She was intoxicated with the freedom that came with being a young artist in a city of the world; finding inspiration and friendship during the unlikeliest moments, and holding onto these moments until they became the core of her being. One of the things I adore most about Patti Smith is her ability to live simultaneously inside her own head, completely losing herself within a sanctimonious inner world of books, dead poets, and philosophers, while also living very much in the moment. All of her encounters with ’60s rockers like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Grace Slick, along with her introductions to future celebrity artists, like Jim Carroll, Sam Shepard, and Tom Verlaine among many others, excited her, energized her, and gave her a great sense of fortune. She never took any of these encounters for granted and she continues to keep these people close to her heart to this day. Patti also never denied nor shied away from the influence of those who came before her, (particularly Jim Morrison and Arthur Rimbaud). I particularly enjoyed the passage in the book where she visited both of these young men’s graves in Paris.

The only thing I haven’t mentioned yet is Patti’s friendship to Robert Mapplethorpe. What a sweet, sweet thing. Their bond was beyond friendship, beyond physical love. These two were soul mates in the classic sense. Robert and Patti completed one another, challenged one another, and guided one another throughout every course in their lives. Even her descriptions of their simplest outings and everyday musings came across as life-changing journeys. She pulls this off without being overly dramatic or grandiose because the love these two had for one another was complete, endless, and beautiful, and it was perfectly captured in this book.

I was a little surprised that Patti didn’t delve more into the lives of her bandmates, her children, or her husband, the late, great Fred “Sonic” Smith. But then again, as she firmly stated, this was she and Robert’s story, and she promised him that one day she would write it and share it with the world. That’s precisely what she has done, and I’m very thankful for her doing so. This book was a glorious experience for me.

Find and request this book in our catalog.


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