You will notice that this week there seems to be a lot of listening going on. Not hearing but listening. There is a difference. Even those of us who normally have our nose stuck in a book are out in the world and getting our reading fix by listening. I am not sure what to make of this. It’s funny when you think of it really. We all begin our reading lives by being listeners. No one is born reading, but we are all born listening! I think that maybe this is really about finally getting away from the warmth of our hearths, getting out into the world but still wanting a story even as we create our own. Because sometimes when you are listening, the message you get is not what you were expecting but there is a truth in it just the same that can turn your thinking and your world around. So get out into the world, revel in the warmth and joy of spring, and take a story with you while you create your own. This week we have Zulus, sniveling, squawking, dogs, Italy, some boys, Bed-Stuy and Commitment Issues. Playlist, you ask? But of course!
Let us begin!
Abby is reading Present Darkness by South African writer Malla Nunn. ” Set in the 1950s during the early days of apartheid, Present Darkness reunites us with Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper. Cooper is deeply scarred by his time fighting in Europe and lives with a number of secrets. While I am generally a passionate proponent of reading a mystery series in sequence, it is especially important with this series. Present Darkness finds Cooper investigating the murder of a white couple. When one of the named suspects is the son of his colleague Zulu Detective Samuel Shabalala, Cooper will not let his superiors or brutal racial divides stop him from assisting his friend. Nunn once again treats us to an absorbing mystery and culture while also shedding light upon the toll South Africa’s inhumane apartheid laws took on the nation of South Africa. This is to be released on June 3rd.”
Sue S. Not happy. Not having it. “Truth be told, I am a girl who devours a great chic-lit book when I get one. However, there will be no ramblings about butterflies and rainbows or about how this book should be made into a movie. Instead, I will tell you how much I disliked Chances AreAre by Barbara Delinsky. This book was torture as I was subjected to what should have been a smart, strong female character, but ended up being a sniveling, insecure self-doubting individual who only gains confidence from what I can only describe as a male chauvinistic pig who has never heard of the term ‘No means No’. I would never recommend this book to anyone who has any sort of self-worth. If you are looking for a good chic-lit book I do not recommend this one.”
Miss Elisabeth of the CL is as excited as I have ever seen her this week. “This week I devoured, in one sitting, Elaine Lui’s memoir Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When Mother Knows Best, What’s a Daughter to Do? Elaine, or Lainey, is the purveyor of Laineygossip.com, one of my all-time favorite websites. Lainey is an intelligent, witty, take-no-prisoners kind of writer and from her position at the Canadian version of E, she is able to give first-hand accounts of the hypocrisy of celebrities. Her website could be called a guilty pleasure but you will not feel guilty reading it! The Squawking Chicken in the title refers to her Chinese-immigrant mother, a highly-superstitious woman whose squawks have guided Lainey throughout her life. I tore through the book in a mix of fascination, admiration, and horror. Her mother’s determination that she make something of herself and complete aversion to coddling or praising her daughter is something rarely seen in western parenting. You might think that her mom’s reliance on shame, Feng Shui, blackmail, and horrific storytelling as parenting techniques would backfire, but instead Lui’s love and admiration for her mother shines through every page, even when her mother is forcing her to eat a papaya every morning to keep her luck, disparaging her ‘low classy’ roommate, or asking for ‘no tax! ‘at the Pottery Barn. With chapter titles like, ‘I Should Have Given Birth to a Piece of Barbecue Pork’ ‘Miss Hong Kong is a Whore’ and ‘You Will Be Thanking Me Your Entire Life,’ the book is laugh-out-loud funny in addition to making you really want to call your mom. I loved it, and I’ll never bring home anything I found on the street again!”
Pat T is embracing the season. “Throughout April, we are celebrating National Poetry Month and on Tuesday we celebrated Earth Day, so I thought it fitting to share one of my favorite poets, whose work reflects our connection to nature. Dog Songs: Thirty Five Dog Songs and One Essay by Mary Oliver is her latest book of poems and a particular favorite of mine since I have a great affinity for dogs! Oliver captures the special relationship between dogs and their owners. Two other works by Mary Oliver that are equally wonderful are, A Thousand Mornings and Why I Wake Early.”
The Ever Delightful Pat S has just finished The Secret of Raven Point by Jennifer Vanderbes. Here’s what she is thinking. “While never a fan of book about war, here is one that took me by surprise. Part coming-of-age, part mystery and part wartime saga, The Secret of Raven Point by Jennifer Vanderbes is an illustration of what war does to people both the good and bad. Opening at the start of World War II in a sleepy South Carolina town, Tuck Defresne enlists to the sorrow of his devoted younger sister Juliet. When after a short time, Tuck is declared MIA, Juliet takes a crash course in nursing and gets shipped to Italy where he was last seen. This is where the novel really takes off. In the little covered Italian Front, Juliet is faced with the raw facts of war, the daily insanity littered with broken bodies and broken minds that constitute the Front Lines. In the course of Juliet's search for Tuck, she comes to know a Private brutalized as much by his comrades as by the enemy; a minister who must redefine his moral compass as decreed by the idiotic rules of war; and a doctor who must maintain his faith in his own ability against overwhelming odds. Vanderbes does an excellent job of creating a world where there is no black and white, just the very real and very raw desire to survive.
Jeanne is still just doing one thing, and I cannot deny what a worry this is to me. It should worry you too. “I am listening to The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown. True to the reviews, if you liked Unbroken you will also like The Boys. But the latter stresses the necessity of teamwork more and Joe Rantz came from a very tough background, with nothing and no one, but his own resources and strong will. How can he fit in as a member of an elite crew at the University of Washington? The story moves slowly at first, but Edward Hermann is a terrific narrator with a voice that will keep you listening. “
Steph is also listening this week! “This week on my mini-road trip I listened to the audiobook of P.S. Be Eleven, a middle grade novel written by Rita Williams-Garcia and narrated by Sisi Aisha Johnson. I’ve wanted to read it since it won the Coretta Scott King Award earlier this year, and when I saw the ACD on display I knew the time was right! (See, our displays even work on librarians.) This book is the sequel to One Crazy Summer, which won the Newbery Honor, but it’s not necessary to have read that book to try this one. It is a fantastic historic novel set in Bed-Stuy in the late 60s, and follows the story of sixth-grader Delphine as she settles back into her life after spending a summer with her Black Panther activist mother in Oakland. Her year involves a lot of transitions: becoming a sixth-grader, her first school dance, the introduction of the Jackson 5 and saving money to go to their concert at Madison Square Garden, her pa getting married, and her uncle coming back from Vietnam with a lot of pain. As a result, the book goes back and forth from mundane to serious issues remarkably well, with Delphine’s strong voice at the center of it all. Williams-Garcia’s writing is just spectacular, bringing history to life with simple flourishes. This ought to be required reading for all Brooklyn tweens and teens, because it is such a great snapshot of its time and place. Johnson gives even more vividness to Delphine with great narration and impeccable voice acting that evokes, rather than a cast of characters, a twelve-year-old’s perception of that cast of characters. This was a great acting choice for the book, and the hours of my drive flew by as Delphine told me her story. I can’t recommend it highly enough!
I have to drive once a week. It makes me miserable but it’s something that must be done. Monday’s ride to my Monday night commitment was especially brutal. How does it take a human 40 minutes to get from here to Westport? Happily I had Selected Shorts as my companion. As we discussed last week, I have Commitment Issues. While it is a serious problem where DVDs are concerned, it goes double for Books on CD. My fellow commuters swear by them but I am too scattered to devote attention to a full blown book while I drive. This is the genius of Selected Shorts. For those of you who don’t know what this is, Selected Shorts is a program that is on every Saturday on WSHU at 3:00 and it matches great short stories with great readers who also happen to be great actors. People like William Hurt, Parker Posey, and John Lithgow to name a few. So while I can’t commit to a full blown novel, I can commit to a short story of 20 minutes or so in length. The one that saved my sanity on Monday night was from the collection entitled (what else?) Behaving Badly, specifically the Stephen King story Popsy read by Michael Imperioli. The story line involves a gambling addict named Sheridan whose marker is coming due. How does he pay them off? By abducting young boys and selling them to a man named Mr. Wizard. But this time around Sheridan may have just picked the wrong kid to mess with. This wonderful series is just perfect for those errands around town when you can’t face another minute of commercial radio. I can’t recommend them highly enough.
DJ Jazzy Patty McC is also listening! And as we said at the start, the message that she received was not really what she was expecting, but it was welcome just the same. Here is her take on the week. “I seem to be a bit stuck in my feminist leanings from last week. Might it have something to do with the Paycheck Fairness Act? Or maybe it was the negative media attention given to Hillary Clinton and her impending status as a grandmother? Or maybe it was the lingering negativity directed at United States Senator Feinstein accused of being emotional on issues of torture? I’d say it’s all of the above. During this time of my own angsti-ness, my dear Wunder-Jen asked if I had heard the song ‘Water Fountain’ by tUnE-yArDs. Indeed, I had and I like it. I like it a lot. Merrill Garbus was interviewed recently by Pitchfork and was asked how she came by her new shift in sound. She replied that she walked into a public library and checked out the book, ‘How to Write a Hit Song’ by Molly-Ann Leikin. Well, now this spoke directly to me; musicians, how-to books and public libraries? Stop! The autodidact in me sang with joy. Then I began to reflect on what I considered a disservice to my Sisters by underrepresenting them last week on the playlist. It bothered me, it did. So this week I bring you, Women Who Will Rock Your World! Now let’s get to work on the rest of those misogynistic notions. Note: The entire album ‘Nikki Nack’ by tUnE-yArDs won’t be released until May 6th but you can listen to ‘Water Fountain’ now. Jen and I give it two big thumbs up. I sense a summer hit song/album. “