March New Music: a Horse of a Different Color Edition

Photo from wikipedia.

Photo from wikipedia.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite scenes in The Wizard of Oz was when Dorothy, wide-eyed and full of wonder, was pulled through Emerald City by the Horse of a Different Color. Not one to bow its shaggy mane to conventional horse ways, this amazing beast would periodically change its color to various vibrant shades to suit its fancy. I see a similarity between Dorothy’s rainbow-hued guide and some of the music we purchase for the library. While it is in the librarian’s nature to try to classify the things she buys in order to make them more findable for our users, sometimes that task feels impossible. We are constantly working on the language we use to make sure that we keep up with changes in music and literature, but it can often be hard to be as accurate as we’d like to be and still remain organized. So this month, I wanted to highlight some of our latest Arrivals of a Different Color to pique your interest. They may defy our ability to apply just one golden label, and might not be placed where you’d expect them (not for lack of trying!), but that doesn’t make them any harder to enjoy. Be sure to place your holds now!

tracker cover imageMark Knopfler – Tracker (Verve). Knopfler, of Dire Straits fame, has returned with his ninth solo album. While this will be placed in the Rock section, it could easily appeal to fans of old-school country, Irish folk music, jazz, and bluegrass. I like to think of this one as sea shanties and ballads for the urban cowboy.

Tego Calderón – El Que Sabe, Sabehttp://wpac.epls.org/polaris/search/title.aspx?ctx=1.1033.0.0.7&cn=550071 (Universal Music Latin Entertainment). El Que Sabe will wind up in our Latin Pop section, but listeners will find a mix of reggaeton, hip-hop, reggae, electronica, bomba, and more. While the overall tone is dark but dancy, there are a couple lighter, more laid-back cuts. ‘La Media’ was a standout track for me; it reminded me of mid-90s hip-hop, to be enjoyed in the sun.

Just Kids Cover ImageMat Kearney – Just Kids (Republic Records). Also bound for our Rock section, Just Kids speaks to a few different interests. At first blush this sounds almost like a Coldplay album, but then Kearney starts rhyming, a little like Macklemore, but with vaguely Christian Contemporary lyrics. Did I mention he has bluegrass overtones but also likes to play around with synths? Christian folk-hop? Sounds about right, and it works.

Panda Bear Cover ImagePanda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (Domino Recording Co.). If we were going to indulge in smaller musical genre sections at the library, I’d place this in ‘chillwave’ – basically synthpop’s grandbaby – but I do not want our catalogers to start hating me. For simplicity’s sake, this album rocks out, so it belongs under that heading. Panda Bear’s sound is psychedelic, synth-driven, and sample heavy, but layered over with vocal harmonies that have often been compared to the Beach Boys.

For those of you who would like some less-complicated notable new arrivals, I also really enjoyed these two:

One-derful Cover ImageVarious Performers – The One-derful! Collection (Secret Stash Records). An outstanding collection of soul and funk classics recorded at One-derful! in Chicago between 1962 and 1971. I can’t recommend this compilation enough. It’s the first of six that will be released over the next few years.

Vestiges and Claws Cover ImageJosé González – Vestiges & Claws (Mute). Straight-up, no-nonsense indie-folk music. This is a really enjoyable album, with beautiful guitar melodies, intriguing lyrics, and dreamy vocals.

Heartwood 5:2 – The Green Child

JacketHerbert Read’s three-part novel, The Green Child, starts out with a bang. In the first paragraph, a South American dictator’s assassination is revealed to have been faked as he, our protagonist Olivero, is on his way now by ship to Europe.

You know, it really might be best to start reading this book without knowing anything more (I’d save the book’s Introduction as well until after you’re done). But if you’re going to disregard this advice, I’ll let you know that this book explores such wide-ranging things as the structure of society and political systems (especially of a Utopian sort), the value of surrendering to wherever your personal destiny will lead you, and the possibility of alternative worlds with their own integrally complex cultural beliefs and practices.

The three sections of the book are distinctly different. The first part of the novel, concerns Olivero’s return home, after thirty years away, only to discover the stream where he once spent so much time is now flowing in the opposite direction. His moonlit investigation into this conundrum is quickly compounded and sidetracked (in ways you will simply have to discover for yourself) before the chapter ends in a most dramatic fashion.

The middle section deals with the protagonist’s stumbling into the role of benevolent autocrat for a small community in inland Argentina. My only quibble with the book is just how smoothly things go for Olivero once he gets to Argentina, but it’s fascinating and fun to watch as he and a few others work to overturn the existing government and institute the ideals of revolutionary Europe which have come down to us from Voltaire, Rousseau, and Volney.

The third part of the book picks up – in a through-the-looking-glass way – where the first left off and shows Read as an effective world-builder. This section places Olivero and the green girl in reversed roles from what we found in the first chapter, only this time the individual’s attempt to adjust and assimilate into an utterly foreign culture is brought to full maturity in a calmly beautiful conclusion.

But stop, I’ve already said too much. Step away from whatever screen you’re reading this on and go treat yourself to a most unusual and thought-provoking reading experience. The Green Child awaits.

Heartwood | About Heartwood

Erik Larson’s New Book

I’ll read anything by certain non-fiction writers. Timothy Egan has gotten me to read about the dust bowl era in The Worst Hard Time and forest fires in The Big Burn. Susan Orlean has fascinated me with orchids in The Orchid Thief and a German Shepherd dog in Rin Tin Tin. It’s not really the subject, but the writing that captivates.

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And hey, you guys, the writing of Seattle author Erik Larson really captivates! I have a hold on his newest book Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania and haven’t read it yet but couldn’t wait to share it with you. When a new Erik Larson book arrives, I drop everything and read it. In my opinion, he’s one of the few authors who can make history positively come alive. And his opening note held forth a big promise: “I give you now the saga of the Lusitania and the myriad forces, large and achingly small, that converged one lovely day in May 1915 to produce a tragedy of monumental scale, whose true character and import have long been obscured in the mists of history.”

The book is filled with questions worth asking: why did the Admiralty not provide an escort to the Lusitania, given that the ship carried nearly 2,000 passengers and a vital cargo of ammunition and artillery shells? Why did British intelligence obsessively protect the HMS Orion and provide no protection to the Lusitania? Why did they not divert the Lusitania to the newer and safer North Channel route? And most of all, “why was the ship left on its own, with a proven killer of men and ships dead ahead in its path?” Did the British deliberately set up the Lusitania to force America’s hand to enter the war? Read Dead Wake and find out!

index (2)If you’re stuck in the hold queue for Dead Wake, why not try one of Larson’s earlier books? The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America reads like a murder mystery, full of suspense, creepy characters and scary settings. It tells the dual tales of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago (mostly through the eyes of lead architect Daniel Burnham), along with the sordid tale of H.H. Holmes, one of the first-ever modern serial killers. Holmes built a block-long hotel across the street from the fair which turned out in reality to be a massive multi-floor torture chamber, including secret passageways, dissection tables, and a body-sized gas oven in the basement. He used this location to kill up to perhaps as many as 200 young good-looking single women before he was finally caught. It’s an utterly fascinating, well-done and easily readable book that deserves its reputation and awards.

index (3)In Thunderstruck Larson again weaves a fascinating story of two men, an inventor named Guglielmo Marconi (who raced other inventors and scientists to be the first to find a way to transmit signals wirelessly) and a doctor and murderer named Hawley Harvey Crippen who married an overbearing gold digger in England and then met his true love. Parts of Crippen’s wife’s body were found buried in his basement and he fled with his mistress by boat to Canada. He was captured due to a trans-Atlantic wireless transmission and was tried and hanged in England. The key connector between these two men comes from the critical use of Marconi’s technology in the pursuit of our murderer on the lam.

index (4)In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin tells the story of Hitler’s consolidation of power in his first year as chancellor of Germany. William E. Dodd was the seventh or eighth choice of candidates FDR proposed for the post of US ambassador to Berlin in 1933. Dodd, in his 64 years, had been a professor of history at the University of Chicago and amateur farmer, and was known for his impeachable integrity and forthrightness, traits that would distance him from the courts of diplomacy. Daughter Martha was 24 years old and estranged from her banker husband. Initially seduced by the resurgence of Germany’s vitality and intellectual and political pursuits, Martha was involved with Rudolph Diels, the first commander of the Gestapo and other Nazi officials who even tried to fix her up with Hitler. Drawing on the diaries of father and daughter, Larson creates what it was like to live in Berlin: to shop, lunch, attend galas and absorb news of Hitler’s maniacal hatred for the Jews and his terrorizing of all who questioned his absolute power.

Larson’s body of work makes for fascinating reading, so don’t hesitate to check out these great books for yourself.

It Came from the 300s

You may have an image of the library, and library workers, as lovers of order and method. While there is definitely some truth in that (it is handy to actually know where a book is located after all) there is also a surprising amount of chaos just underneath the surface.  Take the vaunted Dewey Decimal System for example. The idea is a noble one: assigning all non-fiction work a simple number code based on subject so similar books are grouped together and easy to find on the shelf. Sounds simple, no?

As it turns out (spoiler alert!) it is actually quite difficult to categorize all knowledge into a numbered system. I was reminded of that fact when I recently started ordering for the 300s Dewey range which has the broad subject heading of ‘the Social Sciences.’ While the Dewey Decimal System gets it right more often than not, I was surprised how many times I would scratch my head when faced with a possible purchase and think ‘That book is in the 300s?’ Instead of bemoaning the weirdness, though, it is probably best just to embrace it. Order is great, but chaos can be fun as well. Here are a few of the curious subjects and titles I’ve come across so far.

When History isn’t in History:
Usually history books are safely tucked away in the 900s range. Oddly though, if a book is about a specific ‘group’ it can wind up in the 300s. How or why this distinction is made has never been clear to me, but the important takeaway is for history buffs to keep the 300s in mind. Here are a few examples:

Women’s History & the Suffrage Movement

criminalconversationwheneverythingchangedwomensvotes

African American History & the Civil Rights Movement

redsummerhalfhasneverdowntothecrossroads

Business History

chocolatewarsbeyondthepaledrivinghonda

Military History

lordsoftheskyhistoryofwarlastfullmeasure

History of Crime & Outlaws

tinseltowngentlemenbootleggerslostcause

Spies:
Spies themselves are often out of place in a strange land so maybe it is appropriate that they have a home in the 300s. Whether you like 007 or have been watching The Americans, here are a few titles that might intrigue you.

spyamongfriendslordsofsecrecyspymaster

Recovery from Substance Abuse:
It has always seemed like these titles should be in the health section to me, but hey, the important thing is that we have the books on this important topic.

recoveringbodycleaninsiderehab

Tattoos & Body Art:
Tattoos are a cultural phenomenon so maybe they are now a social science. In any case, we have lots of great books on the subject.

tattootattooartartonskin

Wedding Planning:
Luckily a colleague tipped me off that all things wedding are in the 300s. Who knew? Clearly not me. Keep your eyes peeled for these titles and more to come.

bridalbibleweddingetiquetteweddingceremony

Miscellanea:
No specific topic headings, just a few unique titles that took me off guard.

noiseseveredhowtoreadagraveyard

So, clearly the 300s are more complex and harder to define than I first thought. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Terry Pratchett Remembered

There are plenty of opportunities to read about his life, so I thought I’d share how Terry (as I called him in my head) affected me.

I was raised on Monty Python. Their brand of humor is somewhat unusual, and when they more or less ceased to function as a group there was a hole in my humor reserves. I’m not sure exactly when I discovered Mr. Pratchett (as he required me to call him), late 80s or early 90s, but I do remember the moment of discovery.

WitchesIt was a day like any other day, except that it was unique, and I was making my weekly pilgrimage to the Everett swap meet. There amongst some books I spied Witches Abroad. The cover art was silly and the book’s description was, well, extremely silly, and I was immediately taken by this post-modern fairy tale and the amazing character of Mistress Granny Weatherwax.

Discworld, where many of his books take place, is sort of a sideways version of Earth, mostly focused on a semi-pre-industrial quasi-Europe. The planet’s inhabitants face the same problems that we do, and Pratchett, amongst non-stop wet-your-pants hilarity, offers precious daubs of wisdom. Describing this fantasy world in brief is just not possible, but it is a place I think of fondly, much as one might of Oz or Hogwarts or… well, nowhere else I can think of.

MonstrousIt would be impossible to choose a favorite, but Monstrous Regiment is a Discworld novel that stuck with me. The general premise is that there’s a war, a girl’s brother goes off and does not return so she impersonates a man and enlists (wait, this is sounding familiar…), her regiment of misfits becomes notorious, and, well, read the book! But amidst all the belly laughs and borrowing from Shakespeare, Pratchett makes deep and insightful points about war. And this sums up his best books: gut-wrenchingly funny and poignantly wise.

I will miss anticipating the latest Discworld novel, but I revel in the knowledge that there are over forty of them to read and read and read again. And so I leave you with the final tweet from Sir Terry Pratchett’s Twitter feed, released after his death.

[Death speaks]: “AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER,” it stated. Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night. The End.

Terry Pratchett

 

 

Here There Be Monsters

I have a bedtime ritual. I go to bed, do a little reading, maybe do a little writing (because some stupid part of me, no matter how old I get, still wants to be a writer but I can’t say it out loud because for me, it’s right up there with saying “I want to be a space cowboy when I grow up!”). Then I have to watch a horror movie. I have to.

I told someone my ritual and they nodded knowingly when I said I did a little reading because that’s what normal people do and then their eyes bugged out when I said I watch a horror movie every evening before falling asleep. They screeched “I’d get nightmares! Don’t you get nightmares?” The answer is no. I don’t get nightmares from horror movies or from reading horror books. If I watched a romantic comedy before falling asleep I’m positive I would have nightmares. But hey, that’s just the way my brain is built.

boywhodrewmonstersKeith Donohue is in my top 10 list of writers who I read and think “Damn, I wish I had written that book!” Donohue’s horror writing is subtle, sneaky and cleverly disguised as literature until something monstrous skitters across the road in front a car or something in a desk drawer starts to move around. I recently finished his latest book: The Boy Who Drew Monsters.  

The Keenans live in their dream house by the sea in a coastal town in Maine. Holly Keenan, a tightly wound mother and wife, is a lawyer who works part-time in town. Tim Keenan is a stay at home dad and also the caretaker of the many lavish homes that are only occupied during the summer in their community. Jack Peter, their 10-year-old son, never leaves the house. Both parents know that Jack has been different from birth but what parent wants to believe there’s something ‘wrong’ with their child? Jack shows all the signs of being autistic. He doesn’t like to be touched, hugged, surprised, or looked at. His mom wakes him up one morning and startles him and he hits her in the face. She starts thinking that it might be time to do something more drastic with Jack, that he’s already uncontrollable with his fits of rage. He’s only going to get bigger and stronger and what will they do then? Tim takes a more hands on approach and believes that if they work harder with Jack they’ll be able to manage him and he might become a functioning member of society. This divides them and sends them onto separate paths.

Holly starts going to the town’s little Catholic church. I thought maybe she was looking for an exorcist for the kid because hey, couldn’t hurt. But she’s seeking comfort. The priest serves her cake and tea and talks about God stuff, most of it not really helpful to Holly. There’s a painting of a ship wreck on his wall that Holly becomes obsessed with. After seeing the painting Holly begins to hear strange noises coming from the ocean: children crying, people screaming. The priest’s Japanese maid ends up helping Holly the most, telling her ghost stories and stating that as a child she was considered ‘strange’ like Jack.

Jack’s best and only friend Nick knows to go along with Jack’s fixations. Like most boys, Jack and Nick go through the normal boyhood obsessions: trains, putting together models, marbles. But Jack has moved on to an obsession with drawing elaborate and terrifyingly real monsters. Nick’s parents are a couple of drunks, the kind you have to make sure pass out on their stomachs so they don’t choke on their own vomit. They’re  going away on a cruise for Christmas and dump Nick off at Jack’s house.

The days slowly unwind for the 10-year-olds, like days during Christmas break should. Tim makes them breakfast and lunch and then leaves them to go check on the summer houses of the wealthy. While driving, Tim sees something white and long limbed scuttle across the road. He thinks it was a man but the damn thing was impossibly white (I’m pretty white and I can run across a street very fast if there’s a Ding-Dong waiting for me on the other side). Tim thinks he’s going crazy, especially after he sees the same white long limbed man roaming the sand dunes outside the house.

Meanwhile, Nick is getting frightened by Jack’s macabre preoccupation with drawing monsters. There is something to Jack that wasn’t there before, something sly and cunning. Nick doesn’t want to play with him anymore, doesn’t want him to draw any more monsters because the monsters are coming to life. He can hear them outside the house and sometimes inside the house.

Holly is beginning to see and hear things as well and visits the priest again so she can talk to the maid. This doesn’t sit well with the priest because he wants to throw Bible quotes at her and fill her with the comfort of Catholicism. The last thing he wants is Holly sitting around listening to his maid telling ghost stories. Holy Ghost, yes. Booga, booga ghosts, no. Each person is in their own insular world of terror made worse by a big snow storm moving in.

I read the last few pages and then went back and re-read them again. I did not see the end coming. And I liked it. Because it wasn’t pretty and neatly wrapped up and satisfying.  Do the monsters win? I don’t know. Okay, I do know but can’t tell you because then you wouldn’t read the book.

End of story.

Favorite 65X Series: Plot-Your-Own Stories Edition

Don’t even ask. I know what you’re wondering. “Carol, what the heck is a 65X? And why should I care?” In cataloger-speak, that’s how we code subject headings and genre terms. Generally, 650s are subject headings and 655s are genres. Relax, though. You’re not getting a lesson in cataloging, though I’d be happy to talk your ear off about MARC, RDA, and FRBR.

Wait, come back! I said I wouldn’t be talking about those things, and I intend to prove it. Welcome to a new series I’m trying out here on the blog, where I will explore some of my most favorite headings. Today we’re going to shine a spotlight on the subject heading Plot-your-own stories.

If you grew up in the 80s like I did, you may remember a wonderful series created by the late, great R.A. Montgomery called Choose Your Own Adventure. For me, I remember spending time in the stacks at the Bethalto Public Library exploring life as a ninja, a millionaire, and even an astronaut. I discovered those books when I was twelve and immediately decided that this was the element that my beloved Nancy Drew books were missing: the ability to influence the outcome of the story by making a series of seemingly small decisions.

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I still have a few tattered copies of this awesome series, and yes, I do pull them out occasionally to see if I still remember the correct series of decisions that allow me to keep the $1 million I found after playing baseball in my neighborhood instead of being killed for it. Spoiler alert: I do not remember this perfect sequence, but I do have fun figuring it out all over again. In fact, when I was writing this post I pulled out all my old Choose Your Own Adventure books and discovered my husband’s stash of GI Joe-themed Plot-your-own stories books as well. Even when we were kids we apparently thought alike!

Girl Walks Into a BarRecently I ran across A Girl Walks Into a Bar by Helena S. Paige. It looked like a standard contemporary romance novel with a fun cover. Then I sat down to read it and discovered two fun facts about this book:

  • It’s less a romance and more an erotica.
  • It’s a Plot-your-own stories book, aka Choose Your Own Adventure style.

Does anything get better than that? If you’re me, the answer is definitely, “No. No, it does not get better than that!”

The book begins with you walking into a bar and immediately getting a message from your best friend, standing you up on your girls’ night out. Since you’re already dressed up, why not stay at the bar and see what happens? Not only are there dozens of choices throughout the story, there are several choices of guys to initially approach. With each decision your night changes quite drastically. Don’t like the ending? Then start over and choose again. And again. And again! My favorite part of romances are when the heroine and hero meet for the first time. With books like this you can read a variety of “meet cutes” without having to put down the book and pick up another.

Sure, it’s a frivolous read, but I like to read for enjoyment and, to me, there’s nothing more relaxing than making a life-changing decision simply by turning the page.