Listen Up! May New Music

Collage of album covers with "listen up" written over them

Spring is flying by, and it appears that May is giving us a sneak preview of summer as a makeup gift for all the rain we had over the last few months. The timing is just right, because we just received a batch of new releases that would make a great soundtrack for a night of grilling, hanging out on the deck, or taking a walk around the neighborhood. Place your holds now, and check out the latest at the EPL:

Les Amazones d’Afrique – Republique Amazone (Real World Records, 2017) – Les Amazones are an all-star collective of West African songstresses who have united to create music about feminism and gender equality. Each vocalist brings her own unique style to the table, creating a very satisfying mix of rock, trip-hop, dub, blues, electronic, jazz, West African pop, and traditional music. The overall effect is a very dance-floor-friendly approach to protest music.

Feist – Pleasure (Interscope Records, 2017) – This is an album that covers a lot of ground with ease: at times blues rock with very subtle country undertones and others grinding and almost punk. The pace of the album seems very laid back but deliberate; each track follows its own timeline, building to just the right level of complexity to perfectly complement the vocals. I appreciate the contradictions: gritty and lovely – soft vocals and loud riffs. There’s something about the production, imperfect with the pop and hiss of an old mix tape, that makes it feel very intimate.

Mary J. Blige – Strength of a Woman (Capitol Records, 2017) –  Mary J. Blige brings us a classic breakup album with all the anger, pain, strength, and redemption that you’d expect from such a legendary artist going through some pretty intense pain. Cameos by Kanye West, DJ Khaled, Missy Elliott, and Kaytranada only enrich an already strong offering. As in all her music, Blige shares her struggles through her art and uses the medium to pull herself through life’s trials – in Strength it appears she is, once again, emerging from the test on top.

Wale – Shine (Atlantic Urban, 2017) – a deceptively upbeat release with a summer feel, but behind each track lies a little bit of darkness. Wale seems to be emerging from a period of struggle both with other artists and with himself. The arrival of his newborn daughter seems to be a strong driving force for this change and also a reoccurring theme in his music.

Perfume Genius –No Shape (Matador, 2017) – Mike Hadreas’s latest release is an ecstatic celebration of love. Following similar LGBTQ themes from his previous albums, he delves into the facets of his relationship with musical collaborator and long-time partner, Alan Wyffels. No Shape is a collection of dreamy, dramatic recordings, full of bright highs and turbulent lows that explode with layer upon layer of sound.

Brother Ali – All the Beauty in This Whole Life (Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2017) – Veteran Minneapolis MC Brother Ali revisits an old collaborator, Atmosphere producer Ant, for an expansive new collection of beats and rhymes. All the Beauty in This Whole Life touches on familiar themes for Ali, mixing politics, religion, family, race relations, and the artist’s experiences exploring the world all backed by relatively sparse but soulful production.

Jay Som – Everybody Works (Polyvinyl Record Co., 2017) – I have to admit that Jay Som was a bit of an unknown to me. I’d purchased her unofficial debut, Turn Into, last year when her Bandcamp upload of assorted tracks was re-released by Polyvinyl, but it didn’t really register with me. When I first previewed Everybody Works I needed to do a little more research, because I felt like I’d just run into someone I should know – the album had a polished feel of a veteran rocker, full of confidence and sophistication. To my delight, I learned that this was the first ‘official’ release of 22-year-old Melina Duterte – recorded in her bedroom studio and full of the promise of lovely music yet to come. Everybody Works has kind of a soft, sleepy vibe, occasionally amplified by interludes that feel a little bit like 90s alt rock. There’s a lot of depth and variety to Jay Som’s sound, offering a little something for everyone. I’m looking forward to hearing more.

Juanes – Mis Planes Son Amarte (Universal Music Latino, 2017) – Readers of this blog may have noticed that I have a soft spot for albums that tell a story – Mis Planes is no exception. In his latest release, Juanes embarks on an audiovisual saga of love and outer space. Follow along as a Colombian astronaut searches for true love; you have the option of just listening to the CD or popping in the bonus disc to enjoy the videos that go with each track. Juanes’s sound is heavily influenced by the traditional music of his native Guasca region of Colombia but it also features layers of different sounds: a little surf rock, a little electronic music, crooner vocals to pull on your heartstrings, and even a little reggae and reggaeton. Pop this in if you’re looking for something with a very tropical, romantic feel to it.

Happy listening, and enjoy the sunshine!

D-M-U-B, Everyone’s Accusing Me!

Let’s talk about the Ramones, shall we?

Few American bands have made a bigger impact than this group of leather-clad mutants. As early as 1974 their proto-punk cum beach-pop refrains filled the hippest clubs of New York City, poised to influence the next wave of bands. In a way, their music was a return to early rock & roll, simple and short three-chord songs, but with a bit of a buzzsaw edge grafted on for the kids.

RockNRollHighSchoolI don’t know exactly when I first heard the Ramones, but I do know that seeing the movie Rock ‘n’ Roll High School instantly made them one of my favorite groups. They came across as a bad-boy version of the Monkees, riding around in a red 1959 Cadillac with the license plate GABBA-GABBA-HEY. Unlike your typical lead singer, Joey Ramone was a tall, skinny, shall we say less-than-comely example of a man. Leather jackets, long hair, no attempt to be pretty teen idols, low-slung guitars, blisteringly short songs… In short, they created the punk sensibility.

 

Pinhead lyrics

GreatestHitsAs one can see, it doesn’t take much in the way of lyrics to create a Ramones song. Pinhead, from the 1977 album Leave Home, clocks in at 2:42, but the excerpt above contains all of its lyrics except for one sentence. The first line comes from the 1932 movie Freaks, where it’s a phrase used by the sideshow performers. This perhaps is a nutshell view of the Ramones’ appeal to teen me: catchy songs about unusual or disturbing topics. You can find this song at Everett Public Library on a CD that’s an outstanding introduction to the Ramones, Greatest Hits: Hey Ho Let’s Go.

 

Sedated lyrics

RoadToRuinI Wanna Be Sedated, off of 1978’s Road to Ruin, is another strange little pop gem. Apparently focused on an anxiety attack or some other mental issue, beach pop once again melds with a hard and dark edge to create an unholy mixture of proto-punk. I can picture Joey now, unflattering haircut, ugly glasses, ripped jeans, all somehow adding up to charisma and charm. Prepare yourself for 2:29 of leather-clad heaven.

 

Lobotomy
RocketToRussiaThe song that might have forever endeared the Ramones to me is Teenage Lobotomy, featuring the rhyme, “Now I guess I’ll have to tell ‘em, that I got no cerebellum.” And the opening chant of, “Lobotomy! Lobotomy!”? You simply don’t find this kinda lyric in your typical punk rock song. From Rocket to Russia, which was released in 1977, Teenage Lobotomy is one of the Ramones’ most popular songs, and this amuses me highly.

Their long-range influence can be seen in punk bands from the 90s that imitated the Ramones’ sound, and in some cases covered entire Ramones’ albums. Check out the band Screeching Weasel on Physical Fatness: Fat Music Volume III and early Green Day on their 1992 release Kerplunk!.

The Ramones broke up in 1996 after 22 years of practically non-stop touring. In a relatively short time Joey (2001), Dee Dee (2002) and Johnny (2004) died, leaving a gaping hole in the rock and roll world. But fear not! Their music lives on, and you can even see a female Ramones tribute band, The Dee Dees, playing at clubs in Seattle. In the meantime, settle back in a comfy chair, grab a slice of pizza and crank up Teenage Lobotomy. In the immortal words of Johnny Ramone in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, “Things sure have changed since we got kicked out of high school.”

All Over the Place with Geraldine DeRuiter

Dearest Reader, I have a special treat for you today. I caught up with Seattle-based blogger Geraldine DeRuiter, aka The Everywhereist, and asked her all the things. Not only is her first book, All Over the Place, currently making its way through the holds queues, but you’ll have a chance to meet her June 13th at 6pm at the downtown library! As you count down the days to her Everett debut, you can read this interview where she tells me everything from what she’s reading now to what it takes to get published, not to mention some sweet mustache styling tips from her husband, Rand.

You have a lot of fans on staff at the library! When we chat about your blog posts, the ones that keep coming up are deeply personal. How do you tackle writing about such personal things? Which we love. Please never stop!
Honestly, writing about personal things helps me process a lot of what I’m dealing with. Sitting down and typing out those experiences – particularly negative ones – helps me exorcise those demons. The other thing to remember is that I share a lot – but it’s still only what I’m comfortable sharing. I still have some strong boundaries, despite the personal blog posts.

How do you cope with so many strangers knowing so much about your personal life? Was that just a part of blogging you accepted or did you/your family have to get used to it (or can you ever truly get used to it)?
My husband, Rand, is very open about his life online, so I think I became acclimated to the idea long before I was sharing my own stories. Still, it sometimes catches me by surprise when someone knows something personal about me that I shared on the blog. My initial reaction is, “How did you hear about that?” And then I realize: “Oh, yeah. I posted it on the internet.” As for my family, they seem to have accepted it, though they keep threatening to write their own memoirs.

Like all of your readers, we followed your health scares with worried anticipation. What’s it like knowing thousands of people are more curious about your health than their own?
The response to my posts about my brain tumor were incredibly supportive and loving – I’m still in awe at people’s reactions. And while it felt a bit overwhelming to have shared the experience with so many people, it was also a great distraction from the surgery itself. A big part of why I wanted to write about it is that I found a complete lack of material online about what it was actually like to have brain surgery. So I wrote the post that I wish I’d had beforehand – and I’ve found that those posts still get lots of traffic and comments from people facing the same thing.

Obviously, the internet is full of blogs and it takes something special to truly make a blog stand out from the crowd. Do you have any advice for someone thinking about starting a blog?
When starting out, consistency is key. It doesn’t matter if you blog once a day or once a week, just make sure you do it regularly, and that your audience can rely on it. And pick a specific topic. I meet a lot of bloggers who don’t want to tie themselves down to one subject, but doing so really helps you to focus and develop an audience. Once you’ve got regular readers, you can start to branch out into other subject areas.

I always ask authors what the publishing process is like. Did you just decide to start writing a book, were you approached to write it, or did something else start you down the road to publishing?
I knew I wanted to write a book, but I was feeling frustrated with the hunt for an agent (and you need an agent if you are going to go the traditional publishing route) so I just told myself that I’d start working on a manuscript and see what happened. I managed to secure a small publisher who was interested in my book, but they folded, and I was left with a near-completed manuscript and no idea what to do next. So I decided to take a break and get back to freelancing. I wrote an article about my husband dressing me for a week and it caught the attention of my now-agent, Zoe. And it ended up going to auction, with multiple publishers bidding on it. Which still feels sort of miraculous.

One of my favorite things is when a favorite blogger writes a book. Does your new book cover topics similar to those you’ve blogged about or are you taking readers in a totally different direction?
One of the hardest things I had to learn is that writing a book is not the same as writing a blog. And while fans of the blog will [find] the voice, tone, and personality of the book familiar, the content is all new. So I’d say it’s the same Geraldine, but a new format.

Do you have a dedicated office or writing space? Please describe it; I’m obsessed with workspaces and how people work!
I have a little lofted space at the top of the townhouse that we rent, and I have a standing desk (which helps to mitigate my headaches – even after my surgery, I still get them, and spending hours at a computer does not help). While I’m a pretty neat and tidy person about most things, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that my office is constantly a disaster, so I usually avoid showing it to people.

Can you offer any advice for writers aspiring to become published? I bet you get that question a lot but it seems like everyone’s experience is unique.
Build an online platform and audience. I can’t stress this enough. Publishers want to know that you’ll be able to sell your book. They will want to know your Twitter follower count, your blog’s traffic, even how many Instagram followers you have. You can get published without an online following, but as my editor put it, “You’d better be a damn literary genius.” And even then, she noted, it’s still a hard sell.

Let’s talk books. What are some of your favorite authors?
I read a lot of non-fiction, and in particular a lot of non-fiction by women writers. I’ve recently cracked up over Phoebe Robinson’s You Can’t Touch My Hair, Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me? and Negin Farsad’s How to Make White People Laugh. My friend Nora Purmort wrote a beautiful book called It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool, Too.) When it comes to fiction, I really enjoy the work of Tana French, Jeffrey Eugenides, Maria Semple, and Michael Chabon.

What are you reading right now?
I’m actually reading a lot of books by people I know, which is a very new experience for me (being a published author is weird). I just finished Losing the Light, by my friend Andrea Dunlop (I devoured it over the weekend, and I’m a notoriously slow reader, so that says a lot). And I’m about to crack into Jo Piazza’s How to Be Married. She’s hilarious, so I suspect her book will be, too.

Do you have any upcoming projects or adventures you’d like to share with our readers?
I’m talking to my agent about my next book, but that’s a long way off (and I have a lot of research I’ll need to do for it). I’ve got some promoting to do for All Over the Place so I’ve got some travel planned around that, and I’m trying to get back to blogging.

One of our staff bloggers, Jennifer, has a final, burning question: does Rand have any mustache tips for the dapper among us?
Jennifer, are you sitting down? Okay, are you sure you’re sitting down? Because … Rand shaved off the handlebar mustache. I mean, he still has a mustache, but the handlebars are a thing of the past. I know. I know. But honestly, the upkeep was crazy – he spent more time on his ‘stache than anything else. So the advice I’d give anyone who’s considering growing one out: buy some mustache wax, and leave yourself a lot of time.

Thanks, Geraldine!

Reader, if you have burning questions for Geraldine you can bring them Tuesday, June 13th at 6pm at the Everett Public Library Auditorium, 2702 Hoyt Avenue in Everett. She’ll be reading some passages from her book, All Over the Place, and answering questions about writing, travel, and blogging. Copies of her book will be on sale that night, too. Hope to see you there!

To Boldly Go….Remotely

When it comes to space travel, both real and imagined, all the attention tends to focus on human expeditions. We see ourselves in a snazzy space suit, preferably with a laser blaster at our side, exploring and colonizing the moon, the planets, and the galaxies beyond. In reality, except for a brief foray to the moon, we haven’t gotten very far. Robots, on the other hand, have been tooling around the solar system and beyond for many years now, dutifully beaming back invaluable information and images for us to enjoy.

A current and spectacular example of robotic exploration is the Cassini mission to Saturn. Cassini has started the final phase of its almost 20 year mission, which has been dubbed ‘the grand finale.’ The probe will be doing a series of tight orbits of Saturn, being the first probe to go between the famous rings of Saturn and the planet proper before ‘completing’ its mission by plunging directly into the planet itself. I was hoping Cassini would be getting a nice retirement, maybe to a farm upstate somewhere, instead of a fiery death, but science is not big on sentimentality, alas.

After gorging yourself on Cassini information, you might want to take a step back and explore the other missions, the importance, and the history of robotic space exploration. The library, as always, has your back. Here are a few resources to get you started on your journey to the final frontier.

Dreams of Other Worlds: the Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration by Chris Impey and Holly Henry
The number of robotic missions in the past 40 plus years makes for quite a long list. Thankfully the authors of this excellent work don’t simply try to run down that list in telling the tale of unmanned space exploration. Instead, they focus on a few key missions and their importance. The Viking and ongoing MER (Mars Exploration Rover) missions to Mars are each given a chapter as well as the Stardust mission to collect samples from a comet. The less glamorous but scientifically invaluable space telescopes Spitzer, Chandra and Hubble are also covered. Throughout the authors impart a sense of wonder and demonstrate the way these missions continue to change our view of the universe and our place in it.

Red Rover: Inside the Story of Robotic Space Exploration, from Genesis to the Mars Curiosity Rover by Roger Wiens
While the incredible results of robotic missions are rightfully lauded to the skies, the actual nuts and bolts of getting the mechanics to work and the mission to succeed are often glossed over. Red Rover is a great corrective, with the author giving you a fascinating behind the scenes view of several missions that he has worked on. With the shift away from manned missions beginning in the 1990s, primarily due to cost, robotic missions had to be nimbler and rely on more creative engineering to get off the ground. Wien’s experience demonstrates the triumphs and failures of this endeavor and the general DIY spirit of the teams themselves. If this book piques your interest about the Mars Curiosity Rover, definitely check out some of the other works the library has on the mission.

One of the oldest, launched in 1977 no less, but still ongoing robotic mission is the Voyager program. Currently the Voyager 1 & 2 probes are hurtling through the heliosphere in interstellar space sending back invaluable data and pushing the boundaries of human exploration. For a rundown of the mission itself and the team that continues to work on it, take a look at The Interstellar Age: Inside the Forty-Year Mission by Jim Bell. For a wider view of the mission and how it fits into humanity’s continual quest for discovery definitely check out Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery by Stephen Pyne. If you are more visually inclined, take a look at the DVD produced by the BBC titled Voyager: to the Final Frontier. One of the most intriguing aspects of the Voyager mission is the message that was put in it to be discovered  by any extraterrestrial life that might happen upon it. The contents of that gold-coated copper phonograph, it was the 70s after all, can be found in Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record put together by the people who selected the items meant to represent us, including Carl Sagan.

While it is a bummer that most of us will not be heading to the stars anytime soon, it is a great time to enjoy all the great discoveries and images that our robotic proxies are beaming back to Earth. Plus it’s nice not to die of radiation poisoning. Just saying.

May is Jewish American Heritage Month

In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, the Northwest Room—the library’s local history collection—is highlighting two notable Jewish families in Everett’s history and their stories.

The first Jewish settlers arrived in Everett in the early 20th century. The Michelson family was among the first to arrive. Abe Michelson first emigrated from Latvia to Tacoma. In 1906, Abe and his wife, Etta, relocated to Everett. Abe and his brother, Sam, opened a second-hand store on Hewitt Avenue, the Riverside Junk Company.

The Michelson family was active in building Congregation Moses Montefiore, in a house-turned-synagogue on Lombard Street. There were about 60 Jewish families in Everett in the 1920s and 1930s, who participated in Orthodox services and organized religious classes for children. Attendance declined with the construction of Highway 99, which made it easier for Everett’s Jewish community to attend other synagogues in Seattle.

Michelson

(Moe Michelson portrait, Northwest Room Collection, Everett Public Library)

 

Abe and Etta’s eldest son, Moe Michelson (1908-1996) is remembered as an active member of Everett City Council. He served in position #2 from 1968 to 1989. Find more pictures of Councilman Michelson in the Northwest Room Digital Collections.

The Glassberg family was also familiar in Everett and its Jewish community. The Glassbergs—Maurice, Susie, and children Abe and Ruth—moved to Everett from Salt Lake City, Utah, in the early 20th century. They operated a pawnshop at 2905 Hewitt Avenue.

While a student at Everett High School, Abe Glassberg (1898-1994) began writing for the Everett Daily Herald. He became the newspaper’s managing editor in 1937, and held the position until retirement in 1963. In 1975, Glassberg was recorded for a brief interview, which is part of the Northwest Room’s Oral History Collection.

 Recommended reads:

Family of Strangers: Building a Jewish Community in Washington State, by Molly Cone, HoFoSward Droker, and Jacqueline Williams (2003)

Jews of the Pacific Coast: Reinventing Community on America’s Edge
by Ellen JofPCEisenberg, Ava F. Kahn, and William Toll (2009)

The Northwest Room has many resources to help you research and explore your history at your library.

Night Terrors

The internet ruins everything. Sometimes the kinder sites about movies, television shows and books will state in bold letters SPOILERS, meaning if you read ahead be prepared for something to be ruined. Those are the polite ones. Other sites seem to revel in spoiling books and movies for people so that you’re half way through an article and then: boom! You find out one of your favorite TV characters died in last night’s episode that you haven’t even watched yet. The only thing the internet is good for is for looking at pictures of puppies and kittens and dads getting hit in the nards by four-year-olds armed with whiffle bats.

I had heard the hype surrounding Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes: that the book was one hell of a trip and that once you think you have it figured out you’ll find out you don’t. At all. I purposefully ignored reviews about the book because I knew someone would let something slip and that would be it. That’s why my book blogs are frustrating to write because I want to write about everything that happens but without giving anything away. I can write about Behind Her Eyes without giving anything away. Readers, you have GOT to read this book. What? I have to write more about it? I can’t just say “Read this book. You won’t be sorry?” Geez. Okay.

Louise is a single mom to six-year-old Adam. She’s divorced (her husband left her for a younger woman) and works as a secretary in a psychologist’s office. Most nights she drinks wine at home while watching television but one night she decides to go out and meets a man in a bar and they have an instant connection. Or their bodies do. They have a fumbled kiss or two and that’s it. She fully expects to never see him again.

One of the psychologists in her office retires and a new doctor gets hired. You guessed it. The new doctor is the man she met at the bar and made out with. She’s mortified because he’s married. He and his wife come into the office for a tour and Louise hides in the bathroom. Sounds like something I would do. Then again, I often hide in the bathroom for various reasons so there’s that.

David, the new doctor, tells Louise that he made a mistake, that he’s a married man and he and Louise do the adult thing where they decide to just be co-workers. There’s still an undeniable attraction between the two but Louise has talked herself into being okay spending her nights tucking her son in, drinking a bottle of wine, and then falling asleep only to be woken by night terrors.

In case you don’t know what a night terror is, it’s this: extreme fear while still asleep. People scream, throw their arms around, sometimes they feel as if they can’t move but are still aware of everything happening around them. For Louise, night terrors mean waking up in odd places like beside her sleeping son’s bed staring down at him and not knowing how she got there. The terrors exhaust her and the broken sleep (and bottles of wine) are taking a toll on her.

One day after walking her kid to school, Louise runs into a woman and knocks her down. It’s David’s wife Adele whom Louise recognizes from pictures on David’s desk. Adele is an ethereally beautiful woman with a fragile air about her. She and Louise become tight friends although Louise feels guilty, especially when David comes over one night and yep, they both give in and become lovers.

Adele and Louise meet up constantly for lunch or for a workout at the gym. There’s a lot of wine drinking. I mean A LOT. I don’t drink wine but after reading this book I felt like going out and buying a giant bottle and drinking the whole thing. Then again, the people in this book drink good wine whereas I would feel like I’m splurging on Boone’s Farm.

Adele doesn’t want Louise to tell David they’ve become friends and Louise knows there’s no danger of that. Louise confides in Adele about her night terrors and Adele says she has them too and has had them since she was a little girl. 15 years ago when she was 17 a fire destroyed half of her family’s estate house and killed both her parents. David saved her, burning his arm badly in the rescue. Adele had a breakdown after that and was committed to a ritzy mental institution for a month where she met a young boy named Rob who was in for heroin use. They become closer than close and Adele taught him a technique she learned from a dream book about how to control dreams. He can go anywhere his brain tells him to go in his dreams, she says.

Fast forward almost 15 years and Louise is learning how to control her night terrors thanks to Adele. Her affair with David, meanwhile, is still ongoing and both of them are falling in love with each other. But there’s a coldness to David that scares Louise. One day she sees that Adele has a large bruise on her face. She says that she opened a cupboard door and it smacked her. Louise is suspicious of this. It’s obvious it wasn’t a cupboard door. Did David hit Adele? He can be so cold and he has a drinking problem.

And then there’s the weirdness with Adele always having to have the phone nearby when David calls to check up on her. There’s a cupboard in the kitchen full of pills prescribed by David (antipsychotics, antidepressants, anxiety medication). Enough to make Keith Richard’s heart soar. Or stop. Louise is starting to put together a picture of fragile Adele bullied and medicated by David. She berates herself for falling in love with such a man and still being attracted to him.

Louise has managed to direct her dreams to where she wants them and is no longer having night terrors. It gives her an odd boost of confidence. She breaks things off with David deciding to focus on her friendship with Adele but there are times she wishes she could just dump both of them and have that mess out of her life.

Oh you guys, just when you think you can see which direction this story is going and feel disappointed that the rave reviews were all wrong, the novel takes such a sharp turn you feel like you’ve slipped down a muddy embankment into a pool of murky water filled with bobbing skeletons. Sorry. I just watched Poltergeist the other day and that scene is on my mind. I felt a pang of disappointment reading along and thinking “So this book’s about a lonely single mother who gets it on with a married man but befriends his wife and she has no idea which one is insane? That’s the story?” No. That is so NOT the story. One blurb I read about Behind Her Eyes was right: You will not see the ending coming.

Read this book if you want to wake up at 3 AM, haunted by the ending. I haven’t slept in three days and I’m hiding out in a bathroom.

Heartwood 7:3 – The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

About a year ago, New Directions rereleased Helen DeWitt’s long out-of-print novel, The Last Samurai, which was accompanied by quite a bit of publicity, including this post on LitHub featuring glowing testimonials from various booksellers. But the buzz seemed to die down quickly in the months following, at least in the online spaces I haunt, so here’s my small effort to call attention once again to this remarkable book.

The cover of the reissue features an extreme-wide-angle, upside-down-and-tilted photo of subway cars in The Tube. It almost shouts challenging text ahead, which both increased my anticipation and made me a bit nervous, but I breathed a little easier as I flipped the pages of DeWitt’s Prologue which is immediately immersive, intelligent, and a bit snarky – it ends with a bang, promising great things ahead. I challenge anyone to read the Prologue and not be tempted to dive into the rest of the book.

At its most stripped-down, the story is about a single woman (Sibylla) who is raising and educating a genius child (Ludo) in London. She supports them by doing low-wage data entry work at home – work that is frequently interrupted to field the many questions from her precocious son. I don’t think there are many novels out there that could be considered page-turners which also, in the course of the narrative, explore the rudiments of Greek and Japanese, the educational ideas of John Stuart Mill, the artistry and deeper meanings beneath Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, or touch on such subjects as solid state physics, the principles of aerodynamics, or Schoenberg’s Theory of Harmony.

But a page-turner it is. This is one of those books I could hardly wait to get back to every time I had to leave off reading. That’s not to say, however, that it won’t rub any number of readers the wrong way. I was put off at times by Ludo’s extreme braininess, and by Sibylla’s occasional pedantry and condescension. Others, I imagine, will be skimming the lessons in Greek, Kanji, and the “distributive principle of multiplication.” Stylistically, you should be prepared for paragraphs that simply trail off, a variable use of quotation marks to indicate dialogue, and the use of all caps when Sibylla gets worked up (especially against barbarism and the aesthetic excesses of certain writers and painters). And if you respond as I did, you may well come away from this regretting the quality of your own education and feeling that you wasted your youth (though also inspired, somehow, that maybe it’s not too late to catch up).

As Ludo grows up he becomes more obsessed with discovering who his father is, and though Sibylla will not help him with this, he corners her into dropping clues and making slips which he then pursues. With the film Seven Samurai always playing in the background, it may not surprise you to learn that Ludo has narrowed the field down to seven possible candidates. Much of the impetus for Ludo’s wide-ranging study comes from the specialized interests of these seven men, as he prepares himself to potentially encounter his father as a worthy opponent in the spirit of a samurai. The last half of the book includes Ludo hunting down these individuals, and these diverse tales should certainly please readers who enjoy following a character through various adventures and storylines.

I’m not sure how actively I’ll be attempting to teach myself Greek, but you can add my voice to those who found this an ambitious, inspired, unique, and totally successful piece of writing.