Great Danes

If you haven’t noticed lately, Denmark has been taking the publishing industry by storm:  Specifically, the Danes ability to create a ‘quality of coziness’, hygge in Danish, is being lauded and held up as the path to an ideal and happy life. There are several new titles on the topic including How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life, The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, Happy as a Dane: 10 Secrets of the Happiest People in the World and The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident Capable Kids to name but a few. So are the Danes, and their Nordic cousins, the happiest people on earth? For the pro argument, definitely take a look at the titles mentioned above. There are other works by and about the Danes that suggest a more nuanced view however. Here are a few I’ve read and watched that might be of interest.

The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth

Michael Booth has lived and worked in Denmark for many years, even marrying and starting a family there, but he can’t quite let go of his very British wit and outlook. This gives him a unique perspective as he examines the culture of not only Denmark but also the other Nordic countries he travels to including Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland. He finds much to admire (a strong sense of community and egalitarianism) but also sees some contradictions (a distrust of exceptionalism and pressure to fit in). None of his musings are mean-spirited, he clearly loves his adopted culture, but he does enjoying taking a few hilarious jibes at their foibles (Swedes seem incapable of addressing each other, let alone forming a proper queue). This work is a great place to start if you want to examine the Nordic cultures with a more critical eye.

Karate Chop & So Much for that Winter by Dorthe Nors

Nors is an outstanding Danish writer who specializes in brief tales that seem to hover on the surface of things but ultimately expose a deeper and often darker meaning underneath. She likes to experiment with form as well, with her subject often being contemporary culture and an individual’s place in it. Karate Chop is a collection of brief short stories, many just a page or two in length, that exposes the weirdness lurking underneath the seemingly mundane actions of everyday life. Each word is selected with care and to a devastating and darkly humorous effect. So Much for that Winter is more playful and experimental. It consists of two novellas, one told in a series of lists and the other in a series of headlines, which charts the inner lives of two very 21st century women grappling with all that life sends their way.

Unit One & Borgen

Watching popular television shows are another great way to try to understand the Danes. The police procedural series Unit One is a good example. A bit like the Law and Order franchise, Unit One follows the members of an elite mobile task force that travels to different locations in Denmark to help the local police solve crimes. While definitely fiction, it is an interesting way to compare and contrast different cultural attitudes towards crime and punishment. It is also fun to watch Mads Mikkelsen, of Hannibal fame, in a very early and very different role. Borgen is another series that is helpful for trying to understand the Danes, this time in the political arena. Borgen is the fictional story of Birgitte Nyborg, the first female prime minister of Denmark, who has to learn the art of wielding power in a way that will benefit the greater good while, hopefully, doing the least harm. This series is also concerned with the press and how the news gets reported and spun to suit various interests. Even if you aren’t a big fan of political drama, there are plenty of personal and family machinations to keep you hooked.

So are the Danes the happiest people on earth? As with all interesting questions the answer is a bit complicated. Best to come to your own conclusion after checking out all of the great material here at the library.

Narrators of Distinction

I’ve always found choosing a good audiobook to be complicated. Not only do I want the title to be interesting and compelling, there is also the added layer of the quality of the narration. It can be the greatest book in the world, but if I find the narrator’s delivery dull, grating or outright annoying I won’t touch it. On the flip side, if I discover a narrator I really like I will often give a book a listen even if the narrator is reading a title I wouldn’t normally touch with a ten foot pole. So clearly the narrator is key, but how exactly do you choose a good narrator?

One of the easier ways is to take a look at the Audie awards. The Audies are awarded annually by the Audio Publishers Association to titles deemed to have excellent narrators in a wide variety of categories. While this year’s awards won’t be until May 31st, the APA has just come out with all the titles that have been nominated. This list is an easy way to look for titles with potentially great narrators. Listed below is a partial list of the categories and titles that have been nominated for the 2017 awards. Feel free to look at the full list of all the titles and categories, via this link, as well.

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Autobiography/Memoir

Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded by Hannah Hart, narrated by Hannah Hart and Judy Young

The Rainbow Comes and Goes written and narrated by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt

Best Female Narrator

Another Brooklyn: A Novel by Jacqueline Woodson, narrated by Robin Miles

The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien, narrated by Juliet Stevenson

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, narrated by Bahni Turpin

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Best Male Narrator

End of Watch by Stephen King, narrated by Will Patton

Jerusalem by Alan Moore, narrated by Simon Vance

Fantasy

The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Michael Kramer

Fiction

America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, narrated by Cassandra Campbell

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes, narrated by Juliet Stevenson

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History/Biography

Paul McCartney: The Life by Philip Norman, narrated by Jonathan Keeble

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick, narrated by Scott Brick

Humor

The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy written and narrated by Rainn Wilson

Black Man, White House: An Oral History of the Obama Years by D.L. Hughley, narrated by Keith Szarabajka, John Reynolds, Fran Tunno, Cherise Boothe, Dan Woren, P.J. Ochlan, Gregory Itzin, Paula Jai Parker-Martin, Mia Barron, Ron Butler, and James Shippy

You’ll Grow out of It written and narrated by Jessi Klein

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Multi-Voiced Performance

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom, narrated by Mitch Albom, Roger McGuinn, Ingrid Michaelson, John Pizzarelli, Paul Stanley, George Guidall, and more

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, narrated by Audra McDonald, Cassandra Campbell and Ari Fliakos

Mystery

Crimson Shore by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, narrated by Rene Auberjonois

The Crossing by Michael Connelly, narrated by Titus Welliver

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny, narrated by Robert Bathurst

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Narration By The Author or Authors

Dear Mr. You written and narrated by Mary-Louise Parker

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo written and narrated by Amy Schumer

The View from the Cheap Seats written and narrated by Neil Gaiman

Non-Fiction

Hillbilly Elegy written and narrated by J.D. Vance

Romance

First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, narrated by Nicole Poole

The Obsession by Nora Roberts, narrated by Shannon McManus

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Science Fiction

Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster, narrated by Marc Thompson

Thriller/Suspense

Cross Justice by James Patterson, narrated by Ruben Santiago Hudson and Jefferson Mays

Home by Harlan Coben, narrated by Steven Weber

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Young Adult

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, narrated by Carla Corvo, Steve West and various

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco and James Patterson, narrated by Nicola Barber

Winter by Marissa Meyer, narrated by Rebecca Soler

Funny Strange or Funny Ha-Ha

I’ve always had a weakness for stories that live at the intersection of funny and weird. Straight up hilarious or bizarre is great in a story, but when you combine the two it produces a strange feeling of unease that I find oddly gratifying. If you have ever laughed at a situation or occurrence while reading a story and simultaneously thought ‘why the heck am I laughing at this’ then you know what I mean. Luckily, I’ve recently read three short story collections that are chock full of stories that fit the bill. Some veer a little more toward the strange and others toward the funny, but many of the stories are smack dab at the rarefied intersection of weird and funny. If you enjoy these types of stories as well, or just want to try something new, the short story collections listed below will definitely be worth your limited reading time.

American Housewife by Helen Ellis

americanhousewifeThis collection definitely brings on the funny as the author sets out to wittily skewer contemporary domestic mores and the traditional roles of women in the 21st century. She does so by taking a seemingly ‘normal’ situation and ramping it up to absurd levels with the story veering off into the truly bizarre: ‘The Wainscoting War’ records the email war between two neighbors as they try to claim the right to decorate their shared hallway with deadly results. ‘Hello! Welcome to Book Club’ is the story of the initiation of a new book club member who begins to realize that the book club wants to control more than just what she reads. ‘My Book is Brought to You by the Good People at Tampax’ is a standout and details an author’s subjugation to her book’s sponsor as it takes over every aspect of her life. While these stories are consistently funny, most head toward strange with pleasing results.

Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh

homesickThe stories in this collection are more somber, but still provide some outstanding tales blending the humorous and the strange. The author has a knack for creating characters that are at once obsessive, slightly neurotic, and definitely odd but still sympathetic. You may just end up chuckling at their life situations in spite of yourself: ‘Bettering Myself’ is the story of an alcoholic teacher at a Catholic school who ensures her employment by fudging her student’s test scores. ‘Malibu’ introduces you to an odd nephew and uncle who spend their days in front of the TV, except to go out to find the perfect place to deposit the uncle’s ashes when he dies. ‘The Weirdos’ details a woman’s breakup, sort of, with her truly bizarre aspiring actor boyfriend who is convinced aliens exist and that the local crows are after him. The emphasis is more on the strange in these stories, but the funny is definitely there as well.

Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein

childrenA near future where technology has taken a disquieting and frighteningly plausible turn is the setting for most of the stories in this work. The author is great at creating a sense of unease, but is also capable of creating a strong sense of sympathy for his characters and their predicaments. While strangeness abounds in this collection, there is definitely a lot humor-but be warned that it is mostly of the dark kind:  ‘Children of the New World’ details an infertile couple’s anxiety at having to delete their virtual children due to a computer virus. ‘The Cartographers’ is the story of a programmer who has developed a program that can beam other people’s memories into his own brain, causing him to not know what is real and what isn’t. ‘Rocket Night’ introduces us to an elementary school where parents gather annually to decide which of their children is least liked and then launch the unfortunate student into space. If you don’t mind your dystopian strangeness mixed with a little dark humor, this is the collection for you.

Enjoy these short story collections and free yourself from having to determine whether they are funny strange or funny ha-ha. Happily they are both.

Brains from the Deep

Everyone seems to have a favorite nominee for ‘smartest animal.’ Many prefer the much-lauded chimpanzee or dolphin, but crows, elephants, parrots, pigs, dogs, cats, rats and many other species all have their supporters. Recently, there have been studies that champion a somewhat less relatable animal: the octopus. Unlike some of the other nominees, the octopus is truly an alien-looking creature that lives for only a few years. How then can it be intelligent? Luckily for those wanting to understand, a few great new books have come out that answer that question and raise even more interesting ones about the nature of intelligence, consciousness and the limits of human understanding.

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

soulofoctopusSy Montgomery really loves octopuses. Specifically she develops an admiration and affection for Athena, Octavia, Kali and Karma, the four individual cephalopods she interacts with at the New England Aquarium. She also expands her quest beyond the aquarium and goes out into the wild to encounter more octopuses in their natural habitat. She becomes convinced of their intelligence: An intelligence that goes beyond the scientifically measurable, such as puzzle solving and the like, to also include feelings of playfulness, friendship, happiness and tenderness on their part. While Montgomery’s utter devotion can produce a risk of ascribing human traits to her subjects a little too easily, it is hard to deny that there seems to be some sort of consciousness in the octopus mind after reading this book.

Other Minds: the Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith

othermindsWhile no less a devotee of the octopus, Godfrey-Smith takes the long view when examining the intelligence of this fascinating creature. As a philosopher of science, he is well placed to delve into the evolutionary history of cephalopods and the octopus in particular. While mammals and birds are closely related on the tree of life, the cephalopods deviated very early on in our evolutionary history, so much so that they are almost a separate evolutionary ‘experiment’ in intelligence. The author isn’t afraid to ask difficult questions: What kind of intelligence do octopuses possess? Is it alien from our own? Can we understand it? While doing this, Godfrey-Smith is no armchair philosopher, however. The book is also full of real world examples of his dives and encounters with these intelligent creatures that drive home his arguments.

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? By F.B.M. de Waal

smartenoughDe Waal’s goal, in this well written and engaging book, is nothing short of toppling humankind from its lofty, and self-appointed perch at the top of the intelligence and cognition scale. In fact, he argues we shouldn’t think of intelligence as a scale at all, but rather as a bush with cognition taking different forms in each branch, none necessarily higher than the other but always unique. It is an intriguing argument, which he backs up with many observations of the animal world that he has gleaned in his role as an animal behaviorist at Emory University. He is quick to point out the cases of wishful thinking and pure chance (Paul the octopus did not actually know anything about soccer despite his correct predictions during the 2010 World Cup alas) but he does provide convincing examples of animal intelligence using scientific and rational methods.

So is the mysterious and alien looking octopus conscious and intelligent? Based on these excellent books and in the words of the Magic 8-Ball: As I see it, yes.

Titles of Intrigue

Here at the library, we really appreciate a good book title. Whether we are selecting, shelving, weeding or checking them out, we deal with a lot of library items throughout our careers. When you come across a title that you find intriguing, it is hard not to have admiration for its ability to stand out in a very large crowd. This is especially true when it comes to ordering books. While selecting, I scan many lists of books from several sources and have to admit that sometimes it is hard to keep my eyes from glazing over while trying to determine if titles like Algebra I for Dummies are a good fit for the collection.

But thankfully there are exceptions. Here are a number of new and on-order books with titles that might pique your interest as they have mine. While I can’t guarantee they will deliver on the promise of their intriguing titles, they are definitely worth a look. I’ve also taken a page from our Spot-Lit posts and have presented the covers in a slideshow so you can enjoy the titles in all their glory. Simply click on a book cover to view the show. Enjoy!

Unmentionable: the Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben

The Sick Bag Song by Nick Cave

Against Everything: Essays by Mark Greif

The Aliens Are Coming!: The Extraordinary Science Behind Our Search for Life in the Universe by Ben Miller

Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson

The Wasp that Brainwashed the Caterpillar: Evolutions Most Unbelievable Solutions to Life’s Biggest Problems by Matt Simon

Void: The Strange Physics of Nothing by James Weatherall

The Thieves of Threadneedle Street: the Incredible True Story of the American Forgers Who Nearly Broke the Bank of England by Nicholas Booth

Star Wars Propaganda : A History of Persuasive Art in the Galaxy by Pablo Hidalgo

Sad Animal Facts by Brooke Barker

Not Dead Yet: the Memoir by Phil Collins

Murder & Mayhem in Seattle by Teresa Nordheim

Grizzlyshark by Ryan Ottley

Cattail Moonshine & Milkweed Medicine: the Curious Stories of 43 Amazing North American Native Plants by Tammi Hartung

Beethoven’s Skull: Dark, Strange, and Fascinating Tales from the World of Classical Music and Beyond by Tim Rayborn

 

Mind Your Ps & Qs

Is there a little bit of a grumpy old man or woman in you? You know the type. A person prone to saying things like: “In my day we were polite”, “Does no one know how to write a sentence anymore?”, “I would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for you meddling kids” (o.k. that one is from Scooby Doo, but you get the idea). If your inner grumpy person thinks things like proper etiquette, good grammar and an appreciation for an obscure typeface are a thing of the past, you are in for a surprise. There are actually a large number of new(ish) books that advocate for an appreciation of just these things. Clearly ‘kids today’ are going retro, with a new twist on things, of course. Don’t believe me? Take a gander at these tomes, all available at EPL.

You could be forgiven for thinking that concern about how to ‘act properly’ was reserved for state dinners, debutante dances and the filming of Downton Abbey. Etiquette, however, is making a surprising comeback with new takes on old manners.

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Emily Post’s Etiquette: Manners for a New World
This classic etiquette tome has been adapted for the modern age with advice on texting, tweeting, whether to cover up your tattoo for an interview, and advice on the ever elusive work dress code. If you find yourself walking down the aisle, there is also a new edition of Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette to shield you from making a dreaded faux pas.

Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck by Amy Alkon
Realizing that worrying about which fork to use is not high on many people’s priority list, the author instead addresses many of the conundrums that we currently face: When do you actually phone someone instead of texting or emailing? How do you tactfully tell the person in line to put their cellphone off speaker? And of course, when to friend and unfriend on Facebook.

Works Well with Others by Ross McCammon
This is a guide to successfully navigating workplace etiquette from a unique perspective: Those who feel ill at ease in the workplace to begin with. Drawing on his own experiences, the author gives helpful guidance on key work etiquette issues such as proper eye contact, when to interrupt and how to make successful small talk.

The idea of standard proper grammar is definitely alive and well and if you simply want to correct people, we have several traditional guides that will give you all the ammunition you need. If you want to delve a little deeper though, take a look at these more forgiving takes on grammar and its purpose.

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You’re Saying it Wrong: A Pronunciation Guide to the 150 Most Commonly Mispronounced Words and Their Tangled Histories of Misuse by Ross & Kathryn Petras
From ‘buck naked’ to ‘Uranus’ the authors not only let you know the correct pronunciation of each word or phrase, but they also give a fascinating backstory and context to its use. In addition, there are several funny and useful chapters on faking it like “How to Sound Philosophical” and “How to Sound Like a Fashionista” that can always come in handy.

Accidence Will Happen: A Recovering Pendant’s Guide to English Language and Style by Oliver Kamm
Once a grammar purist, the author persuasively argues that English is a language largely learned by instinct, ever-changing, and not confined to a set of absolutist rules. He cleverly proves his point in the second half of the book with an A to Z guide of ‘Usage Conundrums.’

Founding Grammars: How Early America’s War Over Words Shaped Today’s Language by Rosemarie Ostler
If you really want to get into the nitty-gritty of why we speak as we do in the United States, then this is the book for you. From the revolutionary war to the present, the author chronicles the constant tension between ‘proper’ and ‘common’ English usage in the United States and how that usage is used to define individuals and groups.

Now that you know how to behave and speak properly, it is time to consider the letters you use to express yourself. While it might be surprising to some, there are actually a dedicated number of aficionados who enjoy exploring different typographies. Here at the library we have the books to please them.

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The Evolution of Type by Tony Seddon
Type historian, yes there is such a thing, Seddon examines 100 significant typefaces from Gutenberg all the way up to the latest digital typefaces. Each typeface gets a detailed history including its origins and the new features it introduced. Lots of helpful illustrations and definitions are included to encourage those new to the subject.

Typography: the Annual of the Type Directors Club
Jam packed with examples from books, magazines, logos, posters, web graphics and pretty much anything that is written on, this book presents the winning designs from the Type Directors Club annual competition which seeks out the best graphic design work in a given year. Even if graphic design and typography isn’t your thing, this is a beautiful book to browse through and enjoy.

Grafica della Strada: the Signs of Italy by Louise Fili
Another beautiful book in and of itself, this work brings together the author’s three decade-long project of photographing the unique and stylish signs of Italy. Whether made from stone tiles or gleaming chrome, the signs, advertising everything from restaurants to the way to the bathroom, are mesmerizing and a reflection of the many stylistic changes in the country itself.

So clearly, there is no reason to repress your inner grumpus. Everything old is new again when it comes to minding your Ps and Qs.

Audio for Every Occasion

I’m not sure why, but when it comes to reading vs. listening tastes, I’ve got a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde thing going on. When I look for a good audiobook I always end up choosing one that I probably wouldn’t give a second thought to if I was actually going to read it. It could be the activities I’m doing while listening require more distraction than my usual reading tastes provide. Or maybe I have a repressed desire for space opera, contemporary social issues, and 80s nostalgia that comes bubbling up to the surface when I select an audiobook. In any case, here are a few recent favorites paired with the activity that I’ve found matches them perfectly.

Activity: Yard work, yard work and more yard work
Preferred audio genre: Science fiction adventures

I love science fiction, but I normally watch it rather than read it. That all changes when it comes to selecting audiobook titles for working in the yard.

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Illuminae by Amie Kaufman
This one has a grand plot involving dueling space ships, teen romance, weaponized infectious disease and a rogue AI to boot. The story is ingeniously told through a series of found documents that lends itself well to audio format. A large voice cast brings the characters to life with the female lead Kady and the disturbed but sympathetic AI, AIDAN, being standouts. This is definitely a YA novel, with lots of adolescent angst, but it maintains a great sense of humor and will definitely make the weed pulling pass by quickly.

Alien: Out of the Shadows
Sadly, this one is not available via the library, being an ‘Audible Original Drama’, but I couldn’t resist mentioning it. It is based on a book by Tim LeBron but this version is a radio drama with a full audio cast, including Rutger Hauer no less.  Admittedly this is fan boy stuff, continuing the story of Ellen Ripley after her encounter with the Alien in the first film, but it was really fun and a great listen. So fire up the flame thrower, pay heed to the motion tracker and whatever you do, do not place your face directly over a large leathery egg as it slowly opens.

Activity: Exercise
Preferred audio genre: Social injustice

I usually avoid reading about contemporary political issues like the plague, but I’ve found that the outrage produced by a well-crafted audio book can not only make the time fly by while I exercise, but probably gets my heart pumping faster as my rage increases.

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Ghettoside by Jill Leovy
Ostensibly this work is about the murder of eighteen year old Bryant Tennelle in South Los Angeles and the subsequent police investigation. The author does definitely follow the case, which provides a good narrative structure and drama, but in fact this book is a searing indictment of society’s long indifference to urban enclaves where crimes against primarily African American men are criminally neglected and rarely result in a conviction. The audiobook is expertly narrated by Rebecca Lowman who makes every word count.

Missoula by Jon Krakauer
This work is an impassioned, rage-inducing examination of a disturbingly large number of rapes at the University of Montana in Missoula from 2010 to 2012 and the police’s and university’s response to them. Krakauer meticulously documents the events and creates a great deal of suspense as you follow the individual cases. This is top quality non-fiction that draws you in and keeps your attention even when you want to look away. The narration is expertly done by Mozhan Marno who brings the often disturbing material to life.

Activity: Long car trips
Preferred Audio Genre: 80s entertainment nostalgia

It is probably because my traveling companion is ‘of a certain age’ like me, but memoirs of entertainment figures from the 80s are always a big hit on our long distance road trips.

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As You Wish by Cary Elwes
If you have even the smallest desire to learn more about the creation of the film The Princess Bride, this is the audiobook for you. Written and narrated by Cary Elwes, you get a blow by blow account of the creation, filming and reception of this iconic film. Elwes also enlists an all-star cast, including Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal and Mandy Patinkin, who narrate their own accounts of filming. It really is a fun listen, if for no other reason than finding out the origins of all the catch phrases that the movie produced. Inconceivable!

So That Happened by Jon Cryer
Cryer has had some notable hits, including Pretty in Pink and Two and Half Men, but the fun of this audiobook is in how he details some of his less successful projects (Superman IV anyone?). He narrates the audiobook and has great sense of humor about himself and the nature of his work. Best of all, he isn’t afraid to ‘go negative’ at times. Do you want to know what it is actually like to work with both Molly Ringwald and Charlie Sheen? Of course you do.

So I still don’t know why there is such a big difference between what I choose to read and what I choose to listen to. Perhaps it’s just best to accept my dual nature. It worked for Dr. Jekyll right?