Spot-Lit for April 2017

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors (along with some previously unpublished stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald) – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm. Those of you on the lookout for new writers might want to consider the much-buzzed debuts Marlena and American War.

But don’t stop there, click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2017 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

Video Games, Seriously

Don’t tell anyone, but I’m pushing 50 and I play video games. There I said it. For those in a younger age cohort there is no shame in admitting and even championing the fact that they play.  But for those of us who remember playing Galaga at the arcade when it first came out, there tends to be a strange self-imposed stigma of seeing video games as childish or a waste of time. Also, back in the day it was definitely NOT an activity you mentioned if you wanted to hang out with the cool kids. If you suffer from this ancient malady as well, you will be happy to learn that nowadays there are plenty of people who take video games seriously and even write about them. Here at the library we have a great collection of books that examine the history, meaning and impact of video games on society and the people who play them. Here are a few to get you started.

Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade by Carly Kocurek

Part history and part cultural critique, Coin-Operated Americans is the story of the rise and fall of the video game arcade phenomenon in the late 1970s and early 80s. The author is particularly interested in how the early arcades and games came to be seen as the almost exclusive domain of young men despite ample evidence that girls and women participated as well. She leaves no cultural stone unturned, examining the games and films of the era that came to shape people’s perceptions of video games and those who played them. She makes a particularly convincing argument that these attitudes persist today not only in the realm of gaming but also in the larger digital culture created by the likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell

This work is no paean to video games as the ‘next great thing’ that will usher in a shining future with benefits for all. Instead the author, an admitted video game addict, boldly tries to apply critical tools often reserved for traditional art forms (plot, characterization, dialog, meaning) to video games. The results tend to raise more questions than they answer, but they are stronger for it. While video games are visual, they aren’t passive like watching a film, with the player’s participation altering the outcome. While many video games rely on plot, characterization and dialogue, it is undeniably a fact that some games lack almost all three and are still very popular and fun to play. Despite there being no easy answers, Bissell isn’t afraid to wade into the fray and look at video games with a critical eye. After reading this book, you might as well.

Death by Video Game: Danger, Pleasure, and Obsession on the Virtual Frontline by Simon Parkin

As you can probably guess from the title, Parkin isn’t afraid to deal with the obsessive, and sometimes lethal, fascination people can have with video games. Starting with an investigation into how an individual literally played an online video game for so long that he died, the author then begins to ask questions that examine the impact games have on individuals and society as a whole: What is it about video games that can produce such obsessive fascination? Are virtual worlds more appealing than the real? If so, what does that say about the way ‘real life’ is structured? While examining these issues, the author intersperses his personal experiences with interviews with game designers who are trying to push the medium into new areas. The result is a work that is much more than a simple pro or con argument about video games and it is all the better for it.

Gamelife: A Memoir by Michael Clune

This affecting and intimate memoir chronicles the impact of video games on the author’s childhood and early young adulthood. Each of the seven chapters is devoted to a specific game Clune was obsessed with from the second grade to the eighth and how it affected his emotional development. Clune’s formative years were in the 70’s and 80’s so the games described are definitely old school and mostly text based. This work could have easily been swamped by nostalgia and become an overly technical explanation of the games he played. Instead it is a genuine examination of how the game experience helped the author navigate the treacherous waters of gym class hazing, cafeteria politics and all the other ‘joys’ of early adolescence. By focusing on his emotions and experiences, Clune gives his memoir a much broader appeal and relevance. No knowledge of how a Commodore 64 worked is necessary to enjoy this book.

If you want to continue to explore the topic, definitely check out the many other titles we have about video games and their impact. It is far from game over.

Listen Up! Spring New Music Arrivals

It’s been a little while since I’ve been able to highlight some of our new music, so let’s quickly get you all up to speed. Some of these releases are from the last part of 2016, but I wanted to make sure our readers didn’t miss out! Place your holds now:

The XX – I See You – an energizing blend of RnB and rock that brings a lot of emotion to the table. Each track is packed with layers of sound that build as the album progresses. The XX really doesn’t leave the listener wanting for much on this album.

Childish Gambino – Awaken my Love – gritty funk that’s infectious. At times this album runs the risk of feeling like a nostalgic throwback, but the strength of the lyrics and vocals carry it though. At times a slow burn, and at others a furious, grinding work of dystopian sci-fi soul, Awaken my Love  covers a lot of ground.

Bob Moses – Days Gone By – a low key fusion of rock and dance music that hints at blues roots and dark smoky back room dance floors. This debut album is a deviation from the duo’s live act, which tends to have more of a DJ set feel, and develops each track as a stand-alone statement.

Tycho –Epoch – very laid back down tempo electronic music. Totally instrumental with no vocals, but a very bright vibe. I could see this being a great album to practice yoga to (it picks up the pace now and then, so maybe Vinyasa!), or get your read on.

Lera Lynn – Resistor – dark, melancholy, and mysterious. Down tempo rock with haunting vocals. This title may be a little bit older, but it’s a welcome addition to our collections.

Ty Segall – Ty Segall – this album is a powerhouse mix of Segall’s many musical interests. You can feel the solid garage-punk roots that underpin his stylistic wanderings, that can range from acoustic to glam rock, to metal in a matter of minutes.

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears – Backlash – a solid mix of garage rock, soul, blues, funk with a heavy horn section and screaming hot vocals.

Crystal Fairy – Crystal Fairy – rising to the challenge of making a supergroup gel, Melvins members Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover team up with Teri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes and her colleague Omar Rodríguez-López of Mars Volta and At the Drive In fame. Combining established musicians with such strong, established personal styles is often a very difficult feat, but Crystal Fairy strikes a balance that lets each player amplify the best that the others have to offer.  The result: a gritty, anxious, driving playlist that has a lot on offer.

Kehlani – SweetSexySavage – this album feels like a declaration of triumph. It’s clear from the unflinching lyrics that RnB singer Kehlani Parrish went through a great many struggles before arriving at this new artistic high. Kehlani pays obvious homage to musical heroines, such as TLC, but she manages to do so in a way that remains distinctly her own style. Strong vocal talent coupled with tight production makes this an infectious listen.

Ibibio Sound Machine – Uyai – part dance music part world, it’s hard to remain unmoved by the eclectic rhythms of this album. The overall sound is a captivating mix of Nigerian brass, techno, African jazz, rock, and so much more. Uyai, meaning “beauty” in Ibibio, is very much a feminist album, tackling topics of women’s liberation and the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014, many of whom are still missing. Listeners can journey through a musical landscape that is often frenetic, sometimes remarkably tranquil, but always beautifully harmonious.

Vancouver, the Canadian One

There is a saying: Nothing good ever comes out of Canada.

I might be paraphrasing.

Irregardless, other than currency that can easily be altered to look like Mr. Spock and curling, nothing good ever comes out of Canada.

Except poutine. And Canadian bands like the New Pornographers.

Hailing from Vancouver B.C., the New Pornographers fall somewhere in the power pop/indie pop continuum. From the release of their first album, Mass Romantic (2000), to the present, the band has garnered respect and accolades: Mass Romantic was chosen the 24th best indie album ever by Blender magazine, Electric Version (their second album) was voted the 79th best album of the decade by Rolling Stone magazine and Brill Bruisers (2014) charted at #13 in the U.S. Yet I’m guessing that many of us have never heard of this successful band. As a proper introduction, let us look at their fifth album, Together, from 2010.

NPTogetherSugar-sweet pop, tight harmonies and a happy mood dominate the songs on Together. A distinct ELO influence is heard in the vocal harmonies as well as in the use of strings and classical-oriented interludes. Many songs are driven by guitars, but keyboards also play a significant role. Unlike typical pop music, Together’s songs unfold in a variety of complex ways, often with introductions that starkly contrast the bodies of the songs. Unusual time signatures and accents combine with frequent texture changes to create intriguing musical palettes. In short, Together could easily become one of my favorite albums.

Perhaps what I like best about this album is that songs do not go where expected. Or start where expected. Take for example Your Hands (Together). At the start of this song the music starts and stops frequently until finally the drums enter playing triplets, which creates a strange rhythmic juxtaposition. Later, instrumental breaks which in most songs would be filled with solos are here filled with space – making them seem like anti-solos. Throughout the song textures change often, for example drums coming in and out rather than playing continuously. Overall, this song is a pleasant surprise that keeps the listener guessing.

Together is one of those unexpected gems that one finds every now and again. If you like catchy music that’s a bit on the different side, give this one a spin.

White Lung is another noteworthy Vancouver band. When they started out in 2006, the group played primarily punk and hardcore. Recently their music has evolved to a slightly more poppish sensibility. Deep Fantasy (2014), however, fits squarely into the hardcore category.

WLDeepIf I had to pick a single word to describe Deep Fantasy, it would be dense. Vocals, guitar and drums are astonishingly busy, the band’s sound palette tends to be bright and distorted, tempos are fast, songs are very short. As we say in the recording biz, they saturate the tape. Lyrics deal with heavy life issues: addiction, dysmorphia, rape culture. Coupled with the aggressive music, these lyrics are quite compelling.

The first song, Drown with the Monster, is an excellent introduction to this impenetrable wall of sound. The listener is immediately hit with urban assault guitar and rapid-fire drums. These are quickly joined by harpy-inflected (in a good way) vocals. Though there are relatively peaceful moments, the song is a 2:04 blitzkrieg of the senses. With its abrupt ending, one cannot help but feel relief. And then to cue it up again.

So yes, Regina, good things do come out of Canada on occasion. The Vancouver music scene is filled with impressive performers who make albums that can be found at EPL. As always, check them out.

The Princess and the Page by Christina Farley

Keira, the heroine of The Princess and the Page by Christina Farley, uses a magic pen to write a story for a contest and ends up winning a trip to France. She takes her best friend Bella and her mom. It ends up that the story she wrote is actually set in the castle they are staying in. The problem is: Keira didn’t know she used a magic pen to write her story or her family’s history of being word weavers.

Keira and Bella meet Chet at the castle and end up having adventures that weren’t on the girls’ itinerary as Keira keeps getting pulled into the story. When she wrote the story she had been angry at her mom and gave it an “unhappy ever after” ending. Now she has to discover a way to change the story to save her life, and that of her Mom and Bella.

I really like fantasy and fairy tale types of stories, so this was a fun book for me. It had just enough twists and turns to keep me wondering what was going to happen next!

Book and an Album: Identity and Otherness

If you want to excite a Librarian, tell them that a book award is being announced. Seriously, try it. We love these prize/honor lists because we get to see incredible authors and illustrators get the recognition they deserve, but also because it is a surefire way to find remarkable books to read and share with others. I discovered Watched by Marina Budhos when it was named an honor book for the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. A short plot summary was enough to convince me I had to read this book.

Naeem is a young man caught between expectations and desires. As a first generation Bangladeshi immigrant, he is aware of the sacrifices that his parents make for him, and feels the pressure to succeed. As a Muslim, he knows that he is expected to be respectful and pious even while he questions his faith. And finally, as an older brother he knows that he is a role model to a young boy who reveres him.

Watched-CoverYet Naeem has his own ideas. He goes to school in Queens and his experiences are far different from his parents and other elders. And because Naeem is a teenager, his brain is hardwired to make some rash decisions (really – it’s science). After making a string of poor choices, it isn’t too surprising when Naeem finds himself in an interrogation room facing accusations and likely arrest by the NYPD. Instead, the police offer Naeem an alternative – watch his neighborhood and its mosques, report on “suspicious” activity, and make some decent money in the process.

Naeem desperately agrees to this offer and things start off fairly well. Naeem feels like a hero. He believes that by watching his neighborhood he can keep trouble makers from ruining the reputation of the hard-working majority of his community. It doesn’t hurt that he is also earning enough money to help his parents make ends meet. But as the pressure to produce actionable intelligence increases, and the police turn their focus to people close to Naeem, he faces difficult choices about his identity, his community and his sense of right and wrong.

While Watched deals with heavily politicized topics, the book has few outright heroes or villains. Watched works largely in the gray, giving complex motives to characters whether they are exploitative police officers, terror suspects, misunderstanding parents or troubled teenagers. The ideas in this novel are as nuanced as the characters and Budhos uses Naeem’s trials to explore difficult questions. Among the most significant concepts in Watched is that of the “good immigrant,” a nebulous phrase that can serve as a disservice to both those it includes and excludes. Watched is a compelling story that left me unsettled, challenged my assumptions, and rewarded my time.

a0908914594_16Need an album to pair with Watched? Try the Swet Shop Boys’ debut album, Cashmere. Swet Shop Boys are the rappers Heems and Riz MC, better known as the actor Riz Ahmed. Together, they make music that is both pointedly political and raucously hilarious, with gorgeous production that leans heavily on South Asian samples. Heems and Riz MC trade rhymes exploring identity, race, inequality and otherness with dexterity, refusing to shy away from controversy and pushing the comfort boundaries of the listener. Given that Heems first broke out as part of the group Das Racist, with the song Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, it should come as no surprise that this album has plenty of lighter moments and more than a few explicit references. Make no mistake; this is an album that provokes. Several of the songs tell stories from perspectives that may offend. Yet these are also stories that feel real and urgent, presenting perspectives that are underrepresented in both popular music and hip-hop.

Spring Cleaning Reading List

Confession time: I am the absolute worst at keeping everything clean and neat. Some people are extremely organized, and I’ve never been able to understand how they got that way. Other people turn to cleaning and organizing precisely when they feel stressed, as it gives them a measure of control over their environment and gives them something else to focus on for a while. Then there are people like me whose homes and work spaces always seem to be in chaos, as other priorities always seem to trump cleaning and organizing. Whether you’re extreme like me or fall somewhere else on the neatness Bell curve, here are some books that will help us out.

First, let’s talk about clutter. There’s no point in cleaning if there’s stuff to be put away, purged, or repaired, right? This logic is usually what keeps me from progressing with any home organizing or cleaning project. Fortunately The Home Decluttering Diet: Organize Your Way to a Clean and Lean Home by Jennifer Lifford exists. A rare combination of visual appeal and useful information, this book takes you through each room of your house and helps you make those tough decisions about what to keep and what to send away. Within each room, Lifford breaks the work down into smaller projects that are easier to chip away at so that procrastinators like me can’t use the “I don’t have time to do the whole room tonight” line. Every. Single. Night.

If this book doesn’t appeal, try the more direct Unf*ck your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess by Rachel Hoffman. While the title is eye-catching, the blurbs on the back by personal heroes Kelly Sue DeConnick and Cory Doctorow are what sold me. It’s based on a 20/10 system where you clean for 20 minutes and then take a 10 minute break. While this might sound completely obvious to the Martha Stewarts of the world, I need this actually written down so that I can give myself some breathing room when it comes to tackling what is already going to be an unpleasant or at least not fun project. If you’re a professional procrastinator or are really good about ignoring random junk piling up in your entryway, this book might be for you (and it’s definitely for me.)

However, if you think reading a how-to manual on decluttering is too remedial or an insult to your intelligence (seriously, there is no judgement here!) you may find inspiration from someone else’s journey to live a clutter-free life. Year of No Clutter by Eve O. Schaub shows the psychological side of clutter and hoarding. While she spends a year tackling her “Hell Room” where stuff has just piled up in overwhelming chaos, she also explores hoarding in general through some of the recognizable media out there: the TV show Hoarders and the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. As Schaub conquers her psychological clutter, you may find yourself inspired to roll up your sleeves and tackle your own “Hell Room.”

Now let’s talk about cleaning. I think you can learn a lot about them just from their titles: The Cleaning Ninja: How to Clean Your Home in 8 Minutes Flat and Other Clever Housekeeping Techniques by Courtenay Hartford and Clean My Space: the Secret to Cleaning Better, Faster–and Loving Your Home Every Day by Melissa Maker. Both books break down cleaning challenges into smaller tasks, explaining the more difficult ones in detail while also not talking down to you. There are tips for the best kinds of cleaning equipment to own (I bet my cats would love a feather duster!) and professional advice for every level of cleaner (let’s call it slacker–like me– to pro).

Finally, I turn my gaze to organization. After all, it’s the last hurdle after conquering clutter and busting those dust bunnies. And I’ve found the perfect-for-me book: Organized Enough: the Anti-Perfectionist’s Guide to Getting–and Staying–Organized by Amanda Sullivan. There’s some overlap here with decluttering, but the sections on which types of paperwork to keep and for how long really shine. The book is divided into two sections. The first part helps you learn to think differently about your stuff and your habitat. The second part cultivates specific skills that will aid you in staying organized for good. That’s great news for people like me who want to put in the work once and just be done with it.

If you don’t want to spend tons of precious time dealing with the stress and emotional work of decluttering, cleaning, and organization, join me in my spring cleaning quest that all starts with the right book.