Staff Picks: the Music Edition

One of the best things about working in a library is that you can never complain about the lack of new discoveries. Whether it’s an interesting reference question that takes you down a rabbit hole into a topic you’d never thought much about, or chatting with your colleagues about their likes and dislikes, you’re bound to learn something. For that reason, I love talking to people about their favorite music. I enjoy listening to new things, but have to admit I can get stuck in a rut listening only to music that is familiar. So, I decided to reach out to some of my colleagues to ask about their favorite music for the benefit of our dear blog readers.

Carol

Walk the Moon – Walk the Moon (RCA Records)
My husband and I may quite possibly be the oldest people to rock out at their concerts, but Walk the Moon has been my absolute favorite for the last three years. At a WTM concert in 2013 I had a girl tell me, “OMG You know all the words to the songs!” When they were here in March I had an injured foot, so guys, I apologize for having to literally sit the concert out. I swear Kevin was staring holes into my forehead like, “Girl, get moving!” But it allowed me to snap this photo.

Walk the Moon in Seattle

Best known for the oft-played Anna Sun, these four happy-go-lucky guys from Cincinnati are up for an MTV Music Video Award for Shut Up and Dance from their new album Talking is Hard. If you like upbeat rock with fast keyboards and killer guitar riffs, you will love WTM.

Some others that evoke similar upbeat happy feelings with catchy lyrics you’ll be singing in your sleep:
St. Lucia (song: All Eyes on You)
Misterwives (song: Reflections)
Passion Pit (song: Lifted Up)
Big Data (song: The Business of Emotion)
The Paper Towns soundtrack (song: My Type by Saint Motel)

Ron

The Cramps album coverThe Cramps – Songs the Lord Taught Us (A & M Records) is perhaps one of the most innovative rock albums created since the beginning of time and space. Lead singer Lux Interior was a true 50s-style rockabilly crooner emoting over guitar leads from a slightly alternabilly universe, as well as distant buzzsaw chords borrowed from nightmarish experiments. Drums are simple, sounding as if any fill might end with the entire kit falling over. And lush reverb envelops it all. Some label them garage or punk, others as the creators of psychobilly. Labels aside, they are forgers of new territory whilst maintaining solid roots in traditional rock and roll. I recommend their cover of Little Willie John’s Fever as an eye-opening, mind-imploding aural extravaganza.

Kate

Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (Aftermath Records). Just when everyone thought Eminem was washed up, he surprised everyone and dropped this great album. I’ve been heard to say it’s to Eminem what Ray of Light was for Madonna. It doesn’t matter if he never issues anything better; this album solidifies Eminem’s place as one of the very few Kings (with a capital “K”) of hip-hop. Please note: Eminem’s subject matter and content remains socially irresponsible and potentially offensive.

Minor Threat album coverMinor Threat – Complete Discography (Dischord). 1983’s Out of Step is a landmark punk album and all of its songs are included in this collection. In Minor Threat’s short career they didn’t have much opportunity to create a bad song; every song here evokes the time when the gritty east-coast punk sound was just emerging.

X – Los Angeles (Rhino Entertainment). Thanks to The Doors’ Ray Manzarek’s interest in the band, this album sports a high production value that might have seemed contradictory to a seminal west-coast punk album, if it weren’t for X’s inimitable and distinct style and sound. This would be on my deserted island list for sure.

The Antlers album coverThe Antlers – Familiars (Anti-). Most agree Familiars is an intentional follow-up to the soul-crushing but gorgeous death-themed Hospice, and that’s a compliment of the highest order. The Antlers can take you to the deepest depths but their sharp wit and lovely arrangements won’t leave you there for too long. I recommend listening with headphones in order to catch all of the musical and lyrical subtleties.

Perfume Genius – Too Bright (Matador). For me, this record was a happy accidental discovery; I plucked it off of a library display on a whim, and I was immensely rewarded. Described as “Chamber Pop,” the album is rich with raw LGBTQ themes that feel so relevant at this moment in history. As it happens, this album was partially recorded in Everett.

Arcade Fire album coverArcade Fire – Funeral (Merge Records). If you haven’t heard it before, stop what you are doing and immediately go listen to Arcade Fire’s 2004 debut release. It includes (what arguably became) the band’s anthem, “Wake Up”, a song that sparked an entire musical genre’s obsession with large-group vocal harmonizing. This also makes my deserted island list.

Richard

vietcongViet Cong – Viet Cong (Jagjaguwar). If it wasn’t for Lisa’s recommendation, I wouldn’t have stumbled upon this dynamite Canadian four piece group. Their sound is post-punk with a little bit of synth and a lot of angst thrown in. Each song inhabits that great space between carrying a tune and totally falling apart. Plus how can you not love a band with a song titled “Pointless Experience”?

Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe (Glassnote). Be forewarned, this is heavily crafted electronic music with nary a guitar lick in sight. With strong vocals, great hooks and extreme precision their music flirts with going over the top, but the lyrics keep it grounded in the world of break ups and existential ennui. A new album, Every Open Eye, will be coming out in September.

Me (Lisa)

I’ll keep this short since I already spend a lot of time talking about my musical tastes.

Daft Punk – Homework (Virgin) Long before the robot helmets and sold-out massive festival events, there were two gangly French dudes making amazing house and techno in a field somewhere in Wisconsin. Not long after Daft Punk’s first North American appearance at Further 1996, they released their bombshell debut album, Homework. For the first time in the US, tracks that we’d only heard at underground parties were getting a ton of play on mainstream radio channels, and videos in heavy rotation on MTV. Almost 20 years later, I can throw this album on and still want to dance.

Frankie Knuckles cover imageDefected Presents House Masters: Frankie Knuckles (Defected Records) Another trip down electronic music memory lane. For anyone interested in the roots of today’s EDM, this retrospective of the late, great Frankie Knuckles is an absolute must. Take a trip back to the Warehouse days of Chicago, when house music was brand new, and had yet to become a global music phenomena that spawned countless genres of dance music.

Place your holds and listen along with us. For the next couple weeks different staff members will be maintaining a ‘staff picks’ music display at the main library. Keep your eyes peeled for more great recommendations there.

Arts and Crafts at the Library

P1020257Did you know that the library offers many wonderful programs for children and adults? Well, if you missed our arts and crafts series called “Crafternoons” in July, here’s some of the books we used and the projects they inspired.

indexThere are 52 wonderful ideas in Art Lab For Kids by Susan Schwake. We used the ‘Tiny Paintings on Wood’ project but you may be interested in the drawing, printmaking, or mixed media ideas. This is a well-thought-out guide with simple, clear explanations of technique, combined with inspiration from established artists. These projects will enable children to feel successful and encourage them to explore art as a form of expression.

index (1)We used the ‘Watercolor Magic’ project from Art Lab for Little Kids by the same author. This project involved drawing with white crayon on white paper, painting with watercolor, getting the surface really wet and then sprinkling it with salt. The result was many fine abstract paintings.This book was developed for the younger set and begins with an introduction on materials and setting up a space for making art. The lessons that follow are open-ended and to be explored over and over – with different results each time.

h2o color

indexWe made (I think) awesome shopping bags out of old t-shirts. You can get this project and others from DIY T-Shirt Crafts by Adrianne Surian. Creating something useful and stylish doesn’t have to take ages or require expensive supplies. Complete with step-by-step instructions and stunning photographs, each T-shirt craft is simple enough for beginners to recreate and can be finished in 60 minutes or less.

tshirt

 

index (1)Print & Stamp Lab by Traci Bunkers includes 52 ideas (I guess one for each week of the year) for handmade, up-cycled print tools. Learn to create print blocks and stamp tools, all from inexpensive, ordinary, and unexpected materials: string, spools, band-aids, flip-flops, ear plugs, rubber bands, school erasers and a slew of other re-purposed and up-cycled items. We used paper cups to create the music prints below:

P1020260

 

index (2)We plan on using Paper Playhouse: Awesome Art Projects for Kids Using Paper, Boxes and Books by Katrina Rodabaugh for planning our fall craft projects. Focused around surprising and easily accessible materials like shipping boxes, junk mail envelopes, newspapers, maps, found books, and other paper ephemera, it has 22 projects aimed at inspiring children to create amazing paper crafts. I love the tiny Airstream trailer made using duct tape. You will too.

index (3)If you and your kids are not that into crafts, try these other ‘lab’ books. Kitchen Science Lab for Kids by Liz Heinecke includes 52 fun science activities for families to do together. Using everyday ingredients, many of the experiments are safe enough for toddlers and exciting enough for older kids, so families can discover the joy of science together. You can whip up amazing science experiments in your own kitchen.

index (4)The title of Gardening Lab for Kids: 52 Fun Experiments to Learn, Grow, Harvest, Make, Play and Enjoy in Your Garden says it all. It is a refreshing source of ideas to help children of all ages learn to grow their own patch of earth. The lessons in this book are open-ended and can be explored over and over.

 

Our wonderful librarian Elizabeth has also organized a craft table at the Evergreen Branch which is there everyday! Children who visit the branch are able to do awesome, creative crafts each time they visit the library. These crafts provide fun hands-on activities for kids and their parents to do in the library. They also connect art and science with featured books and help develop small motor skills – many kids enter school not knowing how to hold a pencil. Don’t wait for our fall craft programs. Come on down to the library and check out these and other books to unleash your creative spirits!

Spot-Lit for August 2015

Spot-Lit

An embarrassment of riches is coming your way in August (and it’s a shame that many worthy contenders had to be left off this list).

See in particular The Journey by Sergio Pitol, considered by those in the know to be one of the greatest living Spanish language writers (this is the second book in his Trilogy of Memory which is being translated this year into English for the first time).

Adventurous readers might also want to check out the Complete Stories by the great Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector.

Best Boy, by Eli Gottlieb, delivers a moving look at autism in middle age.

Haruki Murakami fans get a pair of early works (long out of print), and new books are on the way by popular authors Alice Hoffman, Louise Penny and Ivan Doig (the novel he completed just before his death earlier this year).

Cozy fans can reconnect with Simon Brett’s Mrs. Pargeter after a sixteen-year absence, and readers of creepier crime fiction might consider Karin Fossum’s The Drowned Boy.

For a dark, cataclysmic fantasy take a look at N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season.

Readers looking for new talent might want to try Drunken Botanist author Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits with Gun, Vu Tran’s thriller Dragonfish, or Lauren Holmes collection of stories about navigating the new adult world, Barbara the Slut.

Of course there’s more I haven’t mentioned – click on the book cover montage below to see all the titles in the list, read reviews or place holds.

montageNotable New Fiction 2015 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

Fear the Banana Man

We didn’t have any urban legends in the neighborhood I grew up in. Not unless you count the story about Timmy eating yellow snow and it ended up being radioactive snow and now there’s a super hero called Pee Boy, but that’s a whole different story. As a kid, we kept our boogeymen where they belonged: in the closet and under the bed. And sometimes in the bathtub behind the shower curtain that flutters when there’s no breeze. Creepy. Where was I? Oh. Urban legends. Which brings me to the book What We Knew by Barbara Stewart.

whatweknew16-year-old Tracy and her best friend Lisa have the entire summer stretching out in front of them. They spend the hot nights drinking wine coolers and smoking pot in the jerk Trent’s bedroom. (Trent’s a jerk because he’d trip a 3-year-old just to watch him fall down and cry.) One night as the group of drunken teenagers walk around town, they start to talk about Banana Man. Banana Man is a boogeyman/pedophile urban legend who supposedly lives in a shack in the woods. He’s called the Banana Man because…..well, what does a banana look like? Yeah. Gross.

All the kids in the town have grown up hearing the legend of Banana Man: that he kidnaps small children and that they’re never seen again. While wandering the town, Trent says he knows where the boogeyman’s house is in the woods. Like a bunch of dumb teens in a horror movie they traipse out into the darkness (the only way you’re going to get me out into the woods at night where there might be some paranormal thing happening is to spike my Captain Crunch with Ketamine). This is the point where I started yelling at the book like I do when I watch horror movies: “Why are you going into the basement? Oh, the basement light doesn’t work? Better go all the way to the bottom of the stairs and call out ‘Who’s there?’ so the killer/monster can find you faster.”

This drunken Scooby Gang find a rambling structure of boards and tarps, not even a shack but a Frankenstein house cobbled together from found parts. Inside, there’s furniture, a piano, and a kitchen with boxed food in it. And a collection of glass eyes. GLASS EYES. People have been dumping stuff in the woods for years and the Banana Man collected it. There’s no sign of the boogeyman himself. The teens set about wrecking the place, breaking dishes, tearing cupboards apart. Trent, being the jerk that he is, pees in a corner. Tracy becomes uneasy and they all begin to freak each other out and run. Lisa loses her necklace and a flip-flop.

This is the beginning of the terror for Tracy and Lisa.

Lisa’s mom works the night shift at a local diner. Her strict stepfather works days so it’s up to Lisa to watch over her 11-year-old sister Katie. After going to the Banana Man’s tarp house in the woods, Lisa becomes obsessed with it. She wants to go back to find her necklace and her lost flip-flop. She also thinks the Banana Man has been coming into her room. She even wakes up one morning to find a glass eye on her dresser. Lisa’s paranoia starts to get to Tracy. Her friend’s fear invades every part of Tracy’s daily life, from her relationship with her boyfriend to her feelings about her deadbeat father and her mother who is struggling to pick up the pieces of her life.

Lisa begins to deteriorate further, pushing Tracy and everyone else away. Other secrets increase the sense of paranoia and fear with dark deeds coming to light. Tracy is sitting on her own secret, something that happened that she hasn’t told Lisa about, something she’s not sure she ever wants to talk about.

I thought What We Knew would be a book about a supernatural entity living in the woods that preys on young people. Actually, it’s more about long hot summer days and nights with your future spread out in front of you, but still not being able to let go of your past. There are secrets that are destroying you on the inside, but you believe it’ll be better to keep everything in. It’s about seeing your parents as something other than parents. It’s about trying to be a best friend and feeling like you’ve failed miserably.

Darkly intense and full of teenage despair and ennui, What We Knew will make you face your fears. And make you think twice about venturing into the woods in the night. Or during the middle of the day. Or any time at all.

I Guess I’ll Grow Up: Adulting for Beginners

Adulting for Beginners

I was born middle-aged. I was always the kid that adults called an “old soul.” I was the responsible, dependable one, even though I was a middle child. Despite all that pressure (thanks, adults!), or maybe because of it, I’ve always prided myself on being hilariously spontaneous and incredibly forgetful when it comes to certain aspects of my life. The pressures and stresses of life have gotten to me recently, and because of that I’m making a pledge to take adulting more seriously.

Adulting, as described by Grammar Girl:

Adulting describes acting like an adult or engaging in activities usually associated with adulthood—often responsible or boring tasks. On Twitter, adulting often follows a sentence as a hashtag (#adulting) and can be used seriously or ironically.

01 - why grow upLet’s start with the philosophical. Why Grow Up?: Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age by Susan Neiman really cuts through to the heart of what my generation is going through right now (the struggle is real, yo). While some people might react to the word philosophy like a curse, I’m always intrigued to think about human existence, thought, and behavior on a macro, rather than a micro level. Details can be great, but the bigger picture is usually more helpful to someone like me, especially when first getting to know a new topic. Even though the author of this book is a philosopher, she peppers her references with humor and understanding, making the reading material more accessible to little jokers like me.

02 - life changing magic of tidying up 03 - keep this toss thatI often have a difficult time finding something specific that I just know I have. Somewhere. Maybe. Hopefully? To the rescue comes The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. This has been one of the most-requested library books of the last year, and I can see why. I have friends who have read this book and swore that it changed their lives. I am holding out hope for myself: if I can train my brain, I can do it! And if that fails (or just takes longer than I want) there’s also the more hands-on book Keep This, Toss That: Unclutter Your Life to Save Time, Money, Space, and Sanity by Jamie Novak. Keep This has the same spirit of choice that’s reminiscent of the Eat This, Not That books. What really appeals to me most about this book is that you know, from the title alone, that you will be able to keep some things. Sure, I know I should probably ditch some junk I’ve been holding onto for who-knows-what reason, but I also don’t think I’m a compulsive hoarder. Some of these sections are no-brainers, like tossing clothes that don’t fit, are in bad repair, or are so out of fashion that I wouldn’t want to wear them anyway. When dealing with the basics of adulting, however, sometimes you gotta start with the obvious stuff and work your way up!

04 - how to archive family photosGoing through “clutter” (aka artifacts of a geeky life well-lived) will definitely bring me back around to the fact that I am the de-facto family archivist. How to Archive Family Photos by Denise S. May-Levenick is a fantastic toolbox of techniques and options for digitizing and organizing all your family photos. I have literally boxes and boxes of old photographs, slides, and memorabilia. Right now I need the most help with photo organization, and ways to give far-flung family members easy access to them. But this book takes it a step further and offers up specific projects for your historic gems, including a photo quilt. A. Photo. Quilt! How awesome would that be?

05 - little book of lunchLet’s not forget food. Eating and adulting really go hand-in-hand. I am guilty of often zapping a frozen meal and calling it my lunch. While I find it filling and fast, I do wonder if I end up depressing my colleagues in the lunch room, who all seem to find beautiful and delicious-looking options they create themselves, including one intrepid genius who makes beautiful mason jar salads. Luckily The Little Book of Lunch by Caroline Craig & Sophie Missing covers everything from salads to sandwiches, from quiches to cupcakes. There’s even a section on choosing the right food containers for the meal you’re cooking, and tips throughout designed to ensure your gorgeous feast doesn’t turn into a soggy mess. Dishes like these call to me: chorizo with couscous, roasted peppers & tomatoes, carrot & lentil soup, whole wheat pasta with broad beans & bacon (BACON!), parma ham & tomato pasta, orzo pasta salad…are you drooling yet? Quick: to the kitchen!

06 - real simple guide to lifeHave I not caught your interest yet? Think this is all child’s play? Looking for the nitty-gritty? Any other adulting topic is covered, at least briefly, in The Real Simple Guide to Real Life. Promising “adulthood made easy,” this book is published by my favorite magazine, Real Simple. It reads like the magazine, too, even including a snappy introduction by editor and adulting expert Kristin van Ogtrop. Everything is covered: health, money, keeping your casa spiffy, and even dealing with emotional dysfunctions that go along with being an adult out in the real world. Side note: if anyone finds passage to the “fake world,” please buy me a ticket.

07 - roadmapJust in case you aren’t happy with the path your life has gone, I offer one more resource. Roadmap: the Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do with Your Life by the folks at Roadtrip Nation. This book is an easy-to-understand guide to figuring it all out–even if, at this point, it might be more honest to say you’re figuring it all out for the second, third, or even fourth time. Along the way you’ll be met with challenges, worksheets, and encouraging graphics such as this one, which I may just hang up over my desk at the library:

action

Since I am still struggling through immaturity on the path to adulting, I have to leave you with this disclaimer: I have not yet read these books. They sit atop my TBR (to-be-read pile), and will soon be read. Promise. Promise! Reading these books will represent my vow of taking adulting seriously.

In the meantime, I want to know: what books can you recommend for making the leap from immature adolescent thirty-something to full-blown (yet still fun) adult? The most helpful responses (or most witty, depending on how much I’ve matured) will be featured in a future blog post here on A Reading Life.

Bang Your Head With The Sonics

Album collage

“The Seattle of the 1980s, in which Nirvana came to life, was a rainy city of lakes, rusty bridges, and more than a few disaffected . . . teenagers. . . . Jimi Hendrix had grown up in the city in the 1950s but had to go to London to get noticed, and not much happened of note musically in Seattle until Nirvana formed in 1987. . . .”

~ Encyclopoedia Britannica

Wrong.

Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.

Recently at EPL we introduced a Local Music CD collection, and in the months to come I’ll be blogging about music in the Northwest from the 50s to the present (as well as cleaning up my cats’ litter box with pages from the Encyclopoedia Britannica). Suffice to say, music has been a happening thing in Seattle and its environs for many decades, from the days of back-alley jazz clubs to the current national success of groups such as The Presidents of the United States of America and Modest Mouse.

The birth of NW rock and roll was greatly influenced by touring R&B acts like James Brown and his Fabulous Flames. The NW circuit became a popular destination for such acts, and the teens who went on to form bands frequented these shows. This R&B influence combined with raw, energetic, and loose musicianship formed that early Seattle sound. Garage rock at its best.

The Sonics, a group of Tacoma teenagers, best exemplified the sound with screaming lyrics and drum fills approaching the speed of sound. Many of their songs were covers, but delivered with a shiny new reckless abandon. And their originals: The Witch (1964), Psycho (1965), and Strychnine (1965) among others, sound as fresh today as they did 50 years ago. Seriously. Word from the bird.

The group released Here Are the Sonics in 1965, Boom in 1966 and (strangely titled for a third album) Introducing the Sonics also in 1966. And that was pretty much it.  Band members drifted their separate ways, occasionally getting together for reunions. And the band’s name, without any of the original members, kept going into the 80s.

So people lived their lives, sold insurance, raised kids, painted houses, what have you, and FIFTY YEARS LATER!!! (2015) the band released another album, This Is The Sonics. So we got musicians in their late 60s and 70s playing in a band known for its hard-driving, aggressive sound. And it’s their best album yet! No one can rock harder than The Sonics do on This Is The Sonics. Check it out. Spin it. Spin it again. Be amazed that vocalist Jerry Roslie, age 71, sings the best hard rocking garage vocals you will ever in your life hear. Stare into the distance in wonder at the slammin’ guitar riffs, up-in-your-business bass lines, and Einstein-defying drumming.

That’s it, babies. Listen! Glory in the heritage of Northwest music, which is also contemporary Northwest music, which is really way confusing…  Just listen.

Crazy Man, Crazy!

As an avid follower of my blog posts you are undoubtedly aware that my 2015 has featured a lamentable dearth of palatable fiction. Yet even now things begin to look upperly. Finally I have achieved literary contentment, finding a tale about which to crow to the heavens: By the gods, read this book!

Bedlam detective

The Bedlam Detective by Stephen Gallagher is everything a book should be. Set in 1912 England, our main character Sebastian Becker, a former police office and Pinkerton agent, works for the British government’s Masters of Lunacy observing men of property (i.e. peers) whose sanity is in question. It’s a low-paying job with no prestige and Becker’s fortunes have fallen rather far.

This decline is due largely to the situation of his son Robert who is autistic but high-functioning. Sebastian and his wife are told that the boy is dull-witted, not suitable for a respectable job. Nothing, however, could be farther from the truth. The boy is brilliant (as he will demonstrate to his father!) but hindered by social limitations. Whilst living in America they hear of a school in England that makes the effort to work with children like Robert, so they quickly return to their homeland. However, the best job Sebastian is able to obtain is that of the “Bedlam detective.”

800px-Bethlem_Royal_Hospital_Main_building_view_1

Our tale opens with Becker looking into the case of a highly-respected peer, Sir Owain Lancaster, who, upon returning from a disastrous South American expedition, has seemingly lost some of the crayons in his box so to speak. During Becker’s investigation, two girls are abused and murdered on the peer’s property, mirroring a similar incident from 15 years previous when two girls survived a comparable attack. One girl (now woman) has no memory of the tragedy and the other will not speak of it. While investigating Sir Owain’s sanity Sebastian also becomes involved in the murder inquiry as he believes Lancaster to be a likely suspect.

Sir Owain, on the other hand, believes that huge, invisible beasts were responsible for the attacks; the same beasts that followed him home from the Amazon jungle; the same beasts that killed hundreds in his entourage. In fact, the only survivors of the expedition were Lancaster and his botanist, a man who is now locked away in a mental institution after attacking his sister. Hmmm. Huge invisible beasts. Alive while everyone else is dead. It begins to seem that Sir Owain’s sanity isn’t really in question, it’s non-existent. But does this mean that he killed the expedition party and/or abused and killed children?

So to summarize: sordid mystery, down-on-luck protagonist, lunacy and a cursed expedition worthy of Lovecraft’s or Conan Doyle’s pen. Add to that a traveling freak show, glimpses into the nascent film industry and a seemingly sane asylum inmate. The mix is stunning. And of course it wouldn’t work were not the writing exquisite. So if you’re ready for a tumble into the world 100 years past and the horrors that it concealed, by the gods, read this book!