Band Books Week

Just last night I was thinking how indescribably important music is to me. I started playing organ at age 4, then guitar, viola, trumpet, French horn, mandolin. And along the way I began composing and studied this in college for some 12 years. I’ve played in various rock bands since the early 80’s, currently play in two. Music is the thing that keeps me going. So imagine my joy to hear about an entire week celebrating books about bands:  Band Book Week. Here are but a few of the titles available at Everett Public Library. Bands 1-3 Motley Crüe: The Dirt
Cockroaches, rats, piles of beer cans, Tommy Lee and the boys, alcohol, drugs, music and girls. Everything one could want in a heavy metal band biography.

Jonas Brothers: A Big Buddy Book
Embarrassed to admit that you’re still in love with Kevin, Joe, and Nick? Well my friend, you are not alone. This book is aimed at the younger crowd but will certainly satisfy those more mature Jonas fans as well. The pages are Burnin’ Up with interesting tidbits, so read it Tonight. No need to be Paranoid, just wait A Little Bit Longer and the Jonas juggernaut will come to you!

Fifty Sides of the Beach Boys
Is there anyone who doesn’t love the Beach Boys? No, there is not. This book looks at 50 songs by the seminal California surfer band. As well as the band’s history, its influence on current artists and culture is examined.

Bands 4-6 The Experience: Jimi Hendrix at Mason’s Yard
In Seattle we claim him as our own. No one else has ever played guitar like Jimi, probably no one ever will. Here we find photos from 1967 of Jimi and the lads at the height of their experience, perhaps the finest ever taken. This book is worth a look for any fan.

I and I: Bob Marley
Poems and paintings bring Bob Marley’s biography to life in this children’s book. Some of the Jamaican terminology might prove incomprehensible, but this beautiful book is well worth a look.

The Clash
At the front of the punk rock movement, and then careening around a hairpin turn to create London Calling, considered by many one of the greatest rock albums ever. While many punk groups demonstrated little intelligence or creativity, the Clash brought reggae into their first album, featured thoughtful lyrics, and crafted clever and enjoyable songs. This book is created by the band and includes materials previously unavailable for publication. If you don’t know The Clash, take advantage of this chance to meet them. Bands 7-9U2 by U2
Whenever I think of U2, I recall a Ben Stiller skit where he portrayed Bono saying, “I’m not actually a god, I just play one on TV.” And while the band has become a frequent target of parody, there is no denying their impressive success. I discovered the lads with their first album, Boys, and this remains my favorite, but the remainder of their catalogue reads like a world’s greatest hits list. So read about their origins and rise to fame, praise them, mock them and perhaps learn, like Bono, to be a god.

Hey Ho Let’s Go: The Story of the Ramones
Much to my eternal surprise, this former underground American punk band has grown to be an American icon. Their songs are frequently heard on television commercials and myriad bands imitate their style and cover their songs. This is the no-holds-barred story of the Ramones, filled with bad decisions, in-fighting, drugs, and bad health. Gabba gabba hey, read this one today!

Radiohead and Philosophy:  Fitter Happier More Deductive
I have to admit, Radiohead came into their own sometime after I stopped listening to new bands on a regular basis. So I’ve never thoroughly absorbed their oeuvre. However, I know them to be a creative, innovative band. This heavy-hitting book looks at the influence of big-time philosophers on the band.

Yes indeed, I do love music, so…. What? What do you mean it’s not really Band Books Week? I gotta check this out, dear Reader. I’ll get back to you.

The Best Laid Plans

As you may recall, gentle reader, in June I devised a list of interesting non-fiction titles to guide my summer reading.  Well the good news is that I have been reading non-fiction. The bad news is that none of the titles I’ve chosen so far have been selected from that list. I had hoped to whittle away at my reading list, but sadly I’ve just added to it. Still, in the grand scheme of things, there are worse problems to have than a long list of interesting books to read.  Speaking of the grand scheme of things, the titles I have been reading this summer have had a philosophical bent for some reason. Perhaps sunshine makes a person question their place in the universe. Or it could be sunstroke. In any case, here are few more titles you might want to consider for your summer non-fiction reading.

Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero by James Romm
dyingeverydayWhile this work is definitely chock full of intriguing Roman Imperial history, the book’s central aim is trying to answer a seemingly intractable question: Just what kind of person was Seneca? On the one hand, thanks to many of his surviving philosophical works, we know that he was a dyed in the wool Stoic preaching the rigorous virtues of poverty, morality and the equality of all before fate. On the other we have his career as a shrewd politician and tutor to the young Emperor Nero; Seneca amassed a huge amount of wealth while delicately maneuvering through the deadly and incredibly amoral minefield of the imperial court. The author is a master at examining a tenant of stoicism that Seneca espoused and then contrasting it with the rather seedy political world he found himself in. Romm makes a convincing argument concerning Seneca’s moral character, but ultimately leaves it up to the reader to decide.

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
theswerveThis one is a librarian’s, or book lover’s, dream. In the winter of 1417 the Italian humanist and former Papal secretary Poggio Braccilini was searching for forgotten manuscripts, a popular pastime in that era, in the monasteries of Southern Germany.  What he discovered was a fragile copy of an ancient poem titled On the Nature of Things (De rerum natura). This text, written by Lucretius and promoting the ideas of the philosopher Epicurus, was praised for the beauty of its language, but the ideas it conveyed were definitely not kosher for the time. A few examples: early atomic theory (discovered centuries before the scientific method was invented), the idea of an indifferent universe, and, worst of all, the concept that seeking pleasure was actually a good thing. Greenblatt’s book is not only an examination of the history of these ideas and their influence on our culture, but also the fascinating story of Poggio Braccilini and his time.

The Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman
accidentaluniverseAll the essays in this short work are concerned with the impact of recent scientific discoveries on our view of the universe and our place in it. The author is both a theoretical physicist and a novelist which I found to be a great help when it came to his descriptions of some of the more complicated scientific concepts such as dark matter and the multiverse which he deftly puts in layman’s terms.  The essays are not simply explanations of scientific concepts. Instead, Lightman tries to integrate the scientific ideas with concepts from history, literature, and his own personal experiences.  This creates a balanced approach that is greatly appreciated when it comes to hot button topics like the often uneasy relationship between belief and the scientific method. This book is not a series of rants from a particular perspective, but rather a balanced and humane attempt to genuinely explore the ideas scientific discoveries are bringing to the fore.

A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning by Robert Zaretsky
alifeworthlivingWhile you may associate Albert Camus with past memories of disgruntled youths wearing all black and mumbling the first line from The Stranger (Mother died today. Or was it yesterday; I can’t be sure.) this blend of biography and criticism would argue that there is much more to the man and his ideas for living.  Zaretsky structures the biographical details around a series of concepts that Camus grappled with and that make up the chapter headings: Absurdity, Silence, Measure, Fidelity, Revolt.  What emerges is a set of ideas for understanding the world that are constantly open to exploration and interpretation, far from the static label (existentialism) often ascribed to them. While struggle is definitely a component, Camus finds that there is actually cause for hope and, gasp, happiness in this life:

It was the middle of winter, I finally realized that, within me, summer was inextinguishable.

So, a few suggestions for a little light non-fiction reading this summer. Perhaps I need to get out of the sun.

When History Splashes Off the Page

You may recall I gave myself a list of reading challenges for 2014. They are all self-imposed and they all just randomly fell out of my brain one day in a burst of madness inspiration. Whether this is the first you’re hearing of my reading resolutions or you just want to review, here is the list of my reading inspirations:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular (see below)
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

Up until now I thought of this list as only a clever way for me to have some ready-made books to blog about. However, I really didn’t expect anything mind-blowing to result. Then I decided to tackle number five, the super-popular designation. And guys, I finished reading this book three weeks ago. Three weeks ago. I have been unable to pick up another book since. This book broke me. I am stuck in a rut, afraid to pick up another book because it’s really not fair to that book to have to follow behind one so good as this one.

The boys in the boatUnless you’ve been living under a rock, or just not in the Pacific Northwest, everyone has been buzzing about The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. The library first bought the book last June and I don’t think we’ve ever been successful at keeping a single copy on the shelf. As of this writing there are still twenty-two outstanding holds across all formats. I was lucky enough to snag an eBook copy. Pro tip: if you need a popular book quickly, the holds queues for eBooks tend to be far shorter than physical print copies.

So there I was: sitting curled up on the couch, Saturday morning, fresh-brewed coffee in hand. This was back before that big summer heat wave hit Seattle. It was just me and the title screen on my Kindle. I had no idea what was about to happen, how truly involved in this story I would become. I ended up creating countless highlights in my eBook of passages I thought embodied a person, idea, or event. I didn’t count on how difficult it would be to retrieve said highlights later. So you’ll have to keep with me as I try to put into words how incredibly magnificent this book was, and still is.

Joe Rantz was born in Spokane in 1914. His childhood and early adulthood are detailed throughout the book, juxtaposed with great inventions of the time, and a healthy dose of local, federal, and world history. His father invented as a hobby, but it was never enough to pay the bills. When Joe was still quite young his mother died. His father, heartbroken and searching for work, moved all over the Northwest. Sometimes he took Joe; sometimes he left Joe behind; sometimes he shipped Joe out to a relative’s house. As a result, Joe had a severely unstable childhood but also became extremely self-reliant. Being left behind in a half-built house in the wilderness outside of Sequim, while your father packs up his new family and leaves for parts unknown will do that to you.

By the time he got to the University of Washington in 1933, Joe was always second-guessing his worth. Despite working hard, and during the Great Depression no less, to not only scrape together tuition money but also find a place to live, Joe never really saw his strengths. Joe was used to hard work, but he thought he would finally feel like he fit in with like-minded people in college. Instead his threadbare clothes and deep poverty made him feel like an outcast from the very start of his college career.

Eventually, Joe managed to work his way onto the UW crew team. Despite his aptitude, dedication, and stamina, he saw that his place on the team was not permanent and never guaranteed. Coaches swapped students around on different boats, trying to find the right combination of rowers. This boat-swapping, coupled with his childhood of abandonment put Joe constantly on edge, fearful that he would be let go from the team just when he was starting to feel at home. Knowing that staying on the crew team was his only chance to stay in college, and have a shot at a good future, Joe was constantly worried but always striving to be better.

Over his freshman and sophomore years, his boat had its ups and downs in competitions and teammate personality conflicts. But it wasn’t until his junior year that his teammates became as close as family. In 1932 UW’s west coast rowing rivals, UC “Cal” Berkeley, had won Olympic gold. Entering the 1935 rowing season, everyone at both UW and Cal knew that their coach would be pushing them to fight for the chance at the gold medal at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin. And any team competing against Germany on their home turf during an oppressive time would, if they could win it…well, do I need to go on?

The Dust Bowl. Nazis. The Great Depression. Hitler’s rise to power. All of this is set against our group of farm boys, working hard on the waters of Lake Washington. This is a true underdog story, one made more inspirational because every word of it is true. Pay special attention to the quotes from George Yeoman Pocock at the start of each chapter. He handcrafted all the racing shells at UW during Joe’s tenure, and he was wise beyond his years. I would love to read more about him and his equally humble beginnings and incredible life.

I really did not think I would like The Boys in the Boat, but was curious how a book about rowing could become so popular. I told my dentist I was going to read this book. He, an avid fisherman and happiest, I suspect, when he’s on the open water, said that it was also on his list to read this summer. I feel like I did us both proud. Look at me, reading a book about sports! But it’s so much more than that. If you, too, decide to give it a chance, prepare to be swept away at forty-five strokes per minute. Now that I’ve written this review I hope it releases me from the spell cast by Daniel James Brown. I’m going to crack open a new book tonight and test my theory.

In case you’re wondering, and lest us always remember, the boys in the boat:
Left to right: Don Hume, Joe Rantz, George “Shorty” Hunt, Jim “Stub” McMillin, John “Johnny” White Jr., Gordon “Gordy” Adam, Chuck Day, Roger Morris. Kneeling: Bobby Moch

1936 UW Varsity Crew Team

If I Could Turn Back Time

counterclockwiseExcuse me for inviting you to buy into our youth-obsessed cultural stereotypes, but have you ever wanted to look, feel, or actually be younger? Turns out all of these are possible, although the last may only happen if you lie about your age. Also, they take a lot of work, maybe more than you’re willing to do. Counter Clockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate, and Other Adventures in the World of Anti-Aging by Lauren Kessler will take you along on one woman’s journey to reacquire youthfulness.

The author investigates and personally tries many ways to remain young, some of them expected and some quite surprising or relatively unknown. Of course many of the things she does are behaviors you’ve always been told will keep you healthy: eating unprocessed food, consuming more fruits and vegetables and, of course, exercise. Turns out these will also keep your body young. The goal is to keep your body healthy into old age and then suddenly die quickly, ideally in your sleep (and in bed with your much younger lover). Warning: don’t do it because Madison Avenue tells you to, do it because you want to be healthy.

Kessler learns about many different philosophies of eating with the goal of keeping you young for as long as possible. These include the idea of eating fewer calories than necessary-that is, semi-starving yourself for life. In studies, this practice has been shown to maintain the health and increase the longevity of rodents, but no studies have been done on humans. Guess they can’t find volunteers to be hungry the rest of their lives. No one would want to be around them, they’d always be so crabby.

She speaks with experts about the various food-specific diets that have you eat or avoid certain things. We also visit the big world of supplements. A lot of it seems natural, altruistic (they only want to make you feel better) and kind of hippie-granola-crunchy, but it is a big business with very little oversight.

And we can’t forget detoxification. Apparently we all need to do it, according to the popular press. The scientific community thinks it’s a load of bunk, and questions what it means and whether it is an effective or healthy activity.

Spoiler alert (but not really): Kessler finds that the things that work best to keep you young also keep you healthy and are the things your mother nagged you to do (or she should have). Don’t eat junk food! Get off the couch and get some exercise! Don’t let the TV turn you into a zombie (for real-brain activity and positive thinking can help keep you young and healthy)! Now go call your mom and thank her.

The Quest

With the holiday season already far in the rear-view mirror, and the joys of summer still months off, I’m deep into winter escapist reading. This season I seem to be drawn to books about people on quests. Whether it’s for healing or wild edibles, each writer I’ve engaged with has taken me along on a fascinating journey of discovery. Here are three titles that will set your mind wandering:

The Mushroom Hunters cover imageThe Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of Secrets, Eccentrics, and the American Dream  (Langdon Cook)This title is a great fit for foodies, hikers, lovers of the Pacific Northwest, and those who appreciate investigative journalism that takes you deep inside the story. I enjoyed traveling off the beaten path, literally and sometimes legally, with Cook and his group of wild food foraging contacts. This is a good book to pick up if you’re the type of consumer who is interested in where your food comes from and why it costs what it does. I found it remarkable that items that you can find at any upscale market reach the selling table as a result of so many moving (and potentially unreliable) parts.

Fairyland cover imageFairyland: A Memoir of My Father  (Alysia Abbott). In some cases, quests can be taken without traveling at all. In Fairyland, author Alysia Abbott journeys back into her unorthodox childhood using her father’s prodigious journal archive. Abbott’s path twists and turns through the complexities of being raised by an openly gay single father at a time when the nation was only first awakening to the gay rights movement. Along the way the author pulls no punches describing her father as loving though aloof and herself as too self-involved to be able to see that he needed her as much as she needed him. Despite these and other hurdles, this small family managed to create a home in improbable places. While readers are often left with a sense of regret for opportunities lost, the overall tone of the memoir is one of grace and acceptance.

Wild cover imageWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Cheryl Strayed). Part of my own personal quest this January is to finish this book; I’m currently in the middle of it. Like Alysia Abbott, Cheryl Strayed had an unusual upbringing. After her abusive father exited the picture, her mother barely scraped by raising her small family. When she eventually remarried, the family moved to the wilds of northern Minnesota where they built their own tar-paper cabin and lived off the land. Though this lifestyle may sound difficult, the family was happy. Strayed goes on to marry shortly after high school and seems to have things on track until her mother suddenly dies of lung cancer. Unable to cope with her loss, Strayed spirals out of control and moves out on her own. In order to regain focus after her divorce, she picks up a guide to the Pacific Crest Trail and decides to set off on her own. One part travelogue for the curious traveler, and one part memoir for those working through their own loss, this book has a lot to offer to the questing reader.

History Remembers, History Forgets

Throughout history, there have always been moments that define a generation. For my parents’ generation it was always, “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?”

Wait. Stop. This woman is writing about a topic she never experienced? Well, yes and no.

History Will Prove us RightIt may seem disingenuous for someone not even alive in 1963 to write about the importance of that tragic day in November, whose 50th anniversary we remember this year. But no crime in American history has been as hotly debated as the Kennedy assassination. The idea that the government, or anyone else, could weave an elaborate web to kill someone and then successfully cover it up has always fascinated me.

Luckily for you, public libraries have always prided themselves on being a free resource for information to their citizens. As such we try to collect differing opinions and viewpoints on as many topics as we can. The John F. Kennedy assassination is no different. And since this year marks the 50th anniversary, publishers are flooding the market with books and other materials to feed the need for information of the crime and of the man himself. Here are just a few that caught my attention.

Letters of John F. Kennedy provides a look inside the man who would lead a nation to the moon. No autopsy photographs here, it’s simply JFK’s personal correspondence throughout the years. Beginning with a plea to his parents for a raise in his allowance, the letters are interspersed with historical context to help the reader better understand. Glossy photographs, as well as some facsimile handwritten and typed letters, provide the backdrop for understanding the man who created the Peace Corps and led a nation through the most critical hours of the Cold War.

Kennedy Half CenturyThe Kennedy Half Century by Larry J. Sabato gives a good overview of everything JFK, including the assassination. Again, no graphic autopsy photos, but there are photographs of the funerals of both John and Robert Kennedy. The book also talks about how his not-quite-1,000 day presidency has influenced future generations.

History Will Prove Us Right by Howard P. Willens breaks down the Warren Report and shows that there aren’t as many flaws in it as a conspiracy theorist might hope. Willens is the only living member of the three-person supervisory staff of the Warren Commission and a lot of the source materials are his own journals and notes from his time on the Commission. Included are a plethora of citations and resources that Willens used in researching. If you don’t include the postscript about the staff with whom Willens worked and the notes/index, the book is only 339 pages long. For anyone doubting the conclusions of the Warren Report this shouldn’t be too cumbersome a read.

The Day Kennedy Was Shot by Jim Bishop was originally published in 1968. It’s an uncensored minute-by-minute account of the entirety of November 22, 1963. Part of the reason it’s been such a successful bestseller is that it not only breaks down the time frame, but also gives voice to so many different people’s perspectives on that fateful day. Also worth checking out is When the News Went Live, which illuminates the experience of the press in Dallas that day and the ways they covered the story as it unfolded.

When the News Went LiveThey Killed Our President by Jesse Ventura intrigues me, even though he’s not exactly my favorite person. Ventura has sixty-three reasons to believe there was a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy. Told in his signature confrontational style, Ventura does have a significant amount of footnotes backing up his rants, which I love. Remember those missing pieces of evidence and missing witnesses I mentioned? Ventura goes in-depth with each of them, making a pretty strong case for, if not an actual elaborate conspiracy, then a very long trail of coincidences. And who really believes in that many coincidences, anyway?

The Poison Patriarch by Mark Shaw focuses not on why JFK was killed in 1963, but why his brother Robert wasn’t. This book doesn’t hint, but steadily points its accusing finger toward the Mafia, including Jack Ruby’s attorney Melvin Belli and Mafia don Carlos Marcello. Here’s the real reason I selected this book, though:

“Mark Shaw’s book…changed my perspective about the assassination.”
–Bill Alexander, chief prosecutor of Jack Ruby

Still have questions? Stop by the Main Library at 7pm on Wednesday, November 20th where EVCC history professor Jason Ripper will break down the context and significance of the JFK assassination. And the Evergreen Branch Library has a dynamic display at the checkout desk. It features both newly published and perennial favorites on this, one of the most discussed crimes in American history.

JFK Display

There are countless theories of what really happened that day, who was really behind it all, and what might have been done to cover everything up. While I’m not on board with all theories, I am heavily skeptical that so many inconsistencies should be ignored in favor of a preconceived notion that some guy just went crazy and shot the President. But what do I know? I wasn’t even alive then. Thankfully the library can help steer my fevered brain in the right direction.

So, where were you?

Carol

Free Author Talk Featuring Daniel James Brown

indexMark your calendar for 2 PM Sunday, October 13th for a special visit with Daniel James Brown, author of the New York Times bestseller, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Olympics. We have moved this talk from the library auditorium to the Everett Performing Arts Center as there is sure to be a large crowd in attendance. Books will be available for purchase and signing.

This book is a pleasure to read. It tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal. They were a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans.

The book’s focus on the lives of the crew members makes this much more than a sports book. The team members struggles to make money and stay in school tell a compelling history of the depression in Washington state, and the alternating chapters detailing the Nazi’s preparation for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin make the climatic chapters of the big race even more compelling. At times the book reads like a suspense novel, even though we know the ultimate result from the start of the race, the results of key races leading to the 1936 Olympics are unknown until we read them at the end.

The story of the central character, Joe Rantz, and his battle with personal and family demons brought life to the book. Joe’s story is one of resiliency, and is a testament to how individuals can overcome humble and tragic beginnings. The cast of characters is amazing. The coach Al Ulbrickson and boat builder George Pocock are just as important as the other eight in the boat. You will be pulling for them all.

Here is the official book trailer which is a good synopsis of the story with actual footage of the crew and lots of great still photos.

I hope to see you at this great author event on October 13th!