The Bounty: the true story of the mutiny on the Bounty,
by Caroline Alexander, narrated by Michael York
Having seen several film versions of the story of the mutiny on the Bounty, I was curious to learn about the event in more detail. Caroline Alexander's expertly researched account paints a broader picture of the whole affair than any single film could. I got the audiobook to listen to during my commute, and was pleasantly surprised to hear acclaimed actor Michael York doing the reading. His skill with dialogue and knack for accents lent an air of authenticity to this salty sea tale.
October 2006 Archives
The Bounty: the true story of the mutiny on the Bounty,
by Caroline Alexander, narrated by Michael York
The Martha Rules,
by Martha Stewart
For all of us who find Martha's improbable decorating schemes the most relaxing thing in the world, this audiobook "rules." I once had her convince me that staple gunning pine boughs to the outside of my house would create an incredibly welcoming holiday treat. Her soporific monotone is the best thing since sliced bread to cure road rage. Listen to it on your way home after a hard day at the office. You will enjoy the anecdotes from Alderson prison, her recounting on the genesis of our own SONO bakery, and her ten rules for business success can't help but inspire.
Northern Exposure has got to be one of my favorite television programs of all time. Quirky and offbeat, with unique characters and stories that could go in any direction but the expected, this show sparked the imagination of the young man I once was. I had been patiently waiting for it to come out on DVD so I could relive that past excitement and see if its hold over me was still there. Imagine my pleasure when I saw it right here on the shelves of our Library! We've got the first 4 seasons, and I'm sure we'll have them all once they are released. I recommend this series to anyone who enjoys excellent television.
Cross of Iron
One of the best anti-war films ever done was ignored upon its initial 1978 American release, in part due to the notoriety of it's director, the legendary Sam Peckinpah. Cross of Iron focuses on the trials of German soldiers at the Russian Front during World War II. Corporal (later Sgt.) Steiner (James Coburn) is more interested in keeping his men alive while his ambitious superior (Maximilian Schell) dreams only of personal glory and winning the coveted Iron Cross. Meanwhile the German High Command (personified by James Mason and David Warner, among others) prefer to run things bureaucratically all the while ignoring their soldiers' ultimately doomed plight. Despite an obvious low budget, this is a well crafted and edited flick, with the typical Peckinpah spotlight on brutal, uncompromising and unglamorized violence. Check it out.
by The Roots
After what some might call a slight mis-step (2004's The Tipping Point) The Roots are back with a record that is just as brilliant as their magnum opus, 2002's Phrenology.
The energy on this record is palpable as the band hustles its way through a stylistically diverse set of songs. Unlike most hip-hop acts, the Roots play their own instruments. The songs are anchored by Ahmir Thompson's tight funky drumming. On Game Theory his snare drum snaps so loudly (how tight is that snare head anyway?), especially on the elbow-throwing "Here I Come", that it nearly overshadows everything else.
This is one heavy album which features more guitar than we've heard from the band before and, it's heavy in a figurative way as well: the hangman on the cover, the anger and paranoia that rapper Black Thought puts forth. And don't forget that beautiful, ultra low end bass. You can feel it.
I think the record reflects perfectly the tailspin that this country finds itself in. My guess is that if Bill Clinton was still in charge, (remember diplomacy? remember $2.00 a gallon gas? remember the good times?) the band may not have as much urgency and fire. But fire and urgency they have to spare and, I guess that is the only thing I can thank the current administration for.
by Scott Walker
Trying to figure out singer Scott Walker's latest CD, The Drift is an exercise in of itself. The performer's first album in nearly a decade, Walker sings (in alternating styles) of 9/11, the execution of Benito Mussolini and other cheery subjects in a grim, almost fatalistic tone, with a stripped-to-the-bone production to match. Not for the faint hearted. (Walker's 1960s output with the faux-British Invasion band the Walker Brothers, who had a big hit here in the states with The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore can be heard on the CD After The Lights Go Out: Best of 1965-67, which also has its grim moments amidst the pop frivolity.)
Return to Cookie Mountain,
by TV on the Radio
This long, ambitious album takes a few listens to entirely digest. What one hears one the surface is just part of the story. What's striking at first is the soulful and often unsettling vocals of Tunde Adempimbe. His voice is the driving force of these songs. It rarely sounds the same and, throughout the course of the album channels both Peter Gabriel and Gavin Friday. He delivers his lyrics with an earnestness one doesn't often hear.
But, the more you listen the more you discover all that the band is up to behind Mr. Adempimbe. Great walls of distant sounding guitars, fractured horns, haunting organs and, wait a second...is that a cello? Great welling masses of sound.
The band has staked out a sonic territory that is theirs alone. It seems to be a complicated and, at times, beautiful place. TV on the Radio have crafted a work of immense, cataclysmic, almost overwhelming power and righteous fire.
by Bob Dylan
Well folks, a new Bob Dylan album has been released and you know what that means: Music critics are cranking up the hyperbole machinery in order to reassure us that a venerable cultural icon has still got it. This usually takes the form of sentiments like "his best work since X", or similar invocations of his storied catalog. Where Modern Times will ultimately end up in the pantheon of Dylan's oeuvre is anybody's guess, but I am tempted to consign it to the mid-to-lower echelon at this point. Especially when compared to its immediate predecessor, 2001's Love and Theft. For a start, the latter had more compelling and varied grooves played by a tighter, more musically adventurous band and more committed (albeit more ragged) vocals by the Man. Lyrically, Bob's as opaque as ever, but his ideas seemed more portentous on "Love and Theft" by virtue of his startling vocal presence on that earlier release. And Modern Times is a L-O-N-G album comprising L-O-N-G songs, that frequently flirt with tedium. On the other hand, lest I seem too negative about the new arrival, I do like several of the album's tunes quite a lot including "Spirit on the Water" which has an interesting chord progression that doesn't wear out its welcome over the song's 7:42 length and Dylan's reinvention of the 19th Century folksong "Nettie Moore", where his singing is drenched in regret. And finally, the album convinces you there is valid reason for its existence and what it has to say, in contrast to most of the self-indulgent, cookie-cutter, singer-songwriter musings of recent memory.
Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq,
by Thomas E. Ricks
Fiasco should be essential reading for anyone interested in the current debate of American involvement in Iraq. Clearly written with detailed and extensive research obvious throughout the book, Ricks masterfully builds his case that the United States is indeed involved in a true military fiasco in Iraq. Army reports, testimony of government officials and army officers and other sources consistently are quoted. Ricks also uses scholarly studies of other counterinsurgency conflicts effectively and gives the reader many historical parallels to the Iraqi conflict. The war that most resembles the current Iraqi situation was the French conflict in Algeria. This puts a wonderful and enlightening perspective on Iraq. This book is enthusiastically and urgently recommended.
Condor: to the brink and back-- the life and times of one giant bird,
by John Nielsen
Condor: to the brink and back-- the life and times of one giant bird by NPR environmental correspondent John Nielsen. This book chronicles the struggle to save the last of the California Condor, which is the largest flying land bird. This bird is unique in that it used to feed with the woolly mammoths, flies as high as 10,000 feet in the air, and has a 10 foot wingspan. In the 1970s, it was almost extinct as there were only 20 known birds in existence. The remaining Condors were taken to zoos for breeding, and today there are more than 200 of the species. However, a new threat is on the horizon as suburban sprawl threatens to eliminate the Condors' habitat. This book chronicles the behind-the-scenes activities to save the Condor. The black and white photos complement this well-written book.
by Timothy Treadwell
Among Grizzlies by Timothy Treadwell is the story of a down-and-out school dropout addicted to alcohol and drugs. A friend saves him from an overdose, and helps him get focused on what he wants to do with his life. Treadwell decides to travel to Alaska to get away from people and study bears. This is what he does for the next 13 summers. He learns to move among the bears without posing a threat, and develops affection for the misunderstood animals. Treadwell even assigns nicknames to his new friends. At one point, he wards off some poachers who seek bear body parts for Asiatic medicines. This book is a tribute to the bears, and Treadwell's attempt to educate people about the true nature of bears. It's a quick read with many interesting black and white photographs. This is a "must read" for those interested in wildlife.
The Year of Magical Thinking,
by Joan Didion
Didion received raves for this book when it was published in 2005 and more are added here. Several days after watching her daughter drift into septic shock, Joan Didion witnessed her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, collapse at their dinner table and die. This book is about the first year after these events and becomes a remembrance of their marriage and her attempt to deal emotionally with this doubly-tragic series of events. Her writing is flawless - clear, concise, descriptive, unsettling and never waivers in her attempt, as a professional writer, to capture her feelings truthfully and honestly. Didion shows it is never easy for anyone to deal with the grief and agony of personal loss, but she does give hope that one can survive. This book is a testimony to the human spirit and to the sheer brilliance of Didion's writing ability.
Piano: The Making of a Steinway Concert Grand,
by James Barron
Surprisingly interesting biography of a Steinway concert grand from raw lumber to its first appearances in a concert hall. The story of its creation over an 11-month period, much by old-fashioned manufacturing methods, is interspersed with a brief history of the piano, significant changes over the years, and stories about the Steinway employees who built this incredibly complex instrument, originally known as K0862 but changed to CD-60 when the decision was made to put it on the concert circuit instead of selling it. Its public debut was made by Jonathan Biss in the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival in Kalamazoo, MI. Currently it spends the concert season at the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium at the Met.
Wobblies!: a graphic history of the Industrial Workers of the World,
by edited by Paul Buhle and Nicole Schulman
This book was hard to resist, as it combines two of my keenest interests - Organized Labor and comic books. The importance of the labor movement, both historically and today, cannot be disregarded. There is a serious danger that the next generation of workers will enter the labor market with the misbegotten notion that the 5 day work week and paid sick days are natural occurrences of the capitalist system, and not social gains that those before us had to fight and die for. This book, with its graphic novel-style makes for a quick read of this too often overlooked part of America's history. Many different artists came together to tell the stories of the Industrial Workers of the World from 1905-2005, hitting all the highlights along the way.
The Ravaging Tide,
by Mike Tidwell
I first encountered Mike Tidwell in The New Yorker magazine with a piece that became his first book Bayou Farewell which described in horrifying detail the destruction of the Louisiana coast. That destruction along with the unconscionable neglect of the levees set the stage for Katrina. But Louisiana is not the only coastal area under the threat of rising seas and gigantic hurricanes. Much of Manhattan is just land fill. Mike's book is a wake up call for all of us to change the energy choices that we have made over the decades.
The Book Of Understanding: Creating Your Own Path To Freedom,
In The Book Of Understanding: Creating Your Own Path To Freedom, Osho explains how one can move beyond the superstition, intolerance and self-denial of organized religion and transcend to a new reality of self-awareness and self-empowerment. By learning to listen to ourselves instead of blindly following the baseless beliefs that most of us have been brainwashed from a young age to accept as "truth", we can discover and explore what it truly means to live a "spiritual" life. Osho's book has been assembled from his series of lectures, and the writing style is therefore very accessible and makes for fast reading. Explanation and description of the various concepts covered are thorough, and though at times it seems he may be belaboring some topics, he is in fact reinforcing important points in the reader's mind and making the effort to explain a given concept in different ways so that there can be little chance of misunderstanding. Perhaps the author's most interesting assertion is that one can change the world simply by changing one's self; everyone should read this book.
Strange Piece of Paradise: A Return to the American West to Investigate My Attempted Murder and Solve the Riddle of Myself,
by Terri Jentz
This is a mesmerizing story about a brutal attack, outside of Bend, Oregon, on Jentz and a friend of hers who were beginning a biking trip across the country in 1977. While both survived this near-deadly assault, no one was ever arrested for the crime against these two women. Fifteen years after this event, Jentz returned to Bend to seek closure for herself as well as trying to find the attacker. Her investigation is the basis of her book. Detail after detail piles up as she tries to gather information about her attacker. An unsettling picture of the Bend community becomes apparent as Jentz probes various leads and sectors of Bend. Her writing, clear and concise, weaves a consistently interesting and powerful story. It is one of Jentz's personal survival as well as her bravery in trying to seek personal and factual resolution to this crime. This book is highly and strongly recommended.
by Gary Jennings, Robert Gleason and Junius Podrug
Aztec Rage is the story of Don Juan de Zavala, one macho hombre of a young caballero living in early 19th century New Spain who learns the hard way that his "pure" Spanish blood may not be as pure as he was raised to believe. This deathbed revelation uttered by a corrupt uncle sets off a chain of events that leads Don Juan on a wild journey over the breadth of the land the Aztecs once ruled, across the Atlantic to the Napoleonic wars of Europe, and back again, as he struggles to outmaneuver those who would see him hang for the crime of being born someone else. All through his travels and travails and Lady Luck's fickle mood swings, Juan comes to grips with who he was, is, and wants to be, and regardless of whose blood runs in his veins or who stands in his way, Juan is determined to win his freedom--even if it means waging a Revolution that will shake the very foundations of New Spain! This story was realized from the notes of the late, great author of historical fiction, Gary Jennings, by Robert Gleason and Junius Podrug, who do a fine job of imbuing their work with all the action and period authenticity that Jennings was known for while maintaining a voice that is compelling without parroting Jennings' own. If you're looking for a story filled with adventure, romance, compassion and humor set within a historical context, this is a book you won't want to set down.
by Monica Ali
Monica Ali's Brick Lane is her first novel and has already generated quite a bit of hype. It is the story of Nazneen, a Bengali woman who is not much educated and who arrives in London, in an arranged marriage, as a bride to Chanu, 20 years her senior. In this new environment, Nazneen is eager to grow up and therefore reacts to the people and the events that she encounters. The plot tracks the process by which Nazneen moves from accepting fate to bending it to her will, from shame to tentative self possession, from a silence both voluntary and culturally conditioned to a yell of liberation. This is a magnificent study of a repressed woman realizing the power of her own identity.
The secondary characters are also richly crafted; they could each be the main character in a novel. The story moves from simple to complex, blending the personal and domestic with the politics of our times which gives it a more vivid and believable picture.
You cannot help but get involved in the detailed journey of all the characters. Truly interesting and engaging! Give it a shot.
On Agate Hill,
by Lee Smith
The story of Molly Petree is given to the reader through many "artifacts" and "documents" found recently in a box on an old plantation. I liked the format, and felt as if I were doing genealogical research, piecing together Molly's life after the Civil War in North Carolina. We are introduced to 13 year-old Molly through her own diary entries and correspondence to her friend Mary White, and understand that she is an orphan on a broken plantation, surrounded by the "ghosts" of those lost in the war. She is a wild youth but aims to rise above the poverty and life she has; she struggles for education, a life of her own, and family. The "documentation" gives a great depiction of life in the south after the Civil War. There are reports during her school years at Gatewood Academy, recipes, prayers, songs and even court documents from a trial where she is accused of murdering her husband at the turn of the century. As when doing research, there are little gaps that one fills in to tie the story together, but On Agate Hill provides great "documentation" for a complete story Molly Petree and her life of hardship, survival, murder and love.
Rise and Shine,
by Anna Quindlen
Anna Quindlen's fifth novel, Rise and Shine, is her best book to date. Using her wry social commentaries which make her magazine and newspaper columns so wonderful, she weaves a story of family and the fleeting nature of fame. Bridget Fitzmaurice is the narrator of the story. She is a social worker in the Bronx and the sister of the most famous woman in America," Megan Fitzmaurice, the host of the preeminent morning show, Rise and Shine. Bridget is the practical, grounded sister who is a second mother to Meghan's son, Leo. Meghan is the media darling who falls from grace after uttering an expletive during the conclusion of an interview when she thought her microphone was off. Bridget is the tether who keeps Meghan grounded while she tries to redeem her image and find out who she has been all her life. The sisters were orphaned at a young age and raised by a loving aunt who taught them to rely on themselves and each other. In dealing with the family and personal complications, both Meghan and Bridget find their way back to each other and to the family they have created. If you've been disappointed in some of Anna Quindlen's previous novels, give this one a try, you won't be disappointed.
The Whistling Season,
by Ivan Doig
"Can't Cook But Doesn't Bite" was the headline on an ad in the local Montana paper. A widower with two sons answers in the hope that, after all, she really can cook, at least better than they can. This brings not only Rose whose talents are exactly as the ad described, but also her brother Morris who is a walking encyclopedia. Rose does major clean-up jobs in the house and Morris takes over when the school teacher runs away with an itinerant preacher. Reminiscences about the events of that momentous year constitute the story told by the older son who is now superintendent of schools for the state and is visiting his old one-room schoolhouse prior to a decision on closing them all and thus ending the way of life they represent.
Fun Home: a family tragicomic,
by Alison Bechdel
It's hard to decide what's the best part of this book, the funny and heartbreaking story that that the author shares or the hundreds of fantastic drawings that accompany that story.
Bechdel shares her story of growing up in a small town funeral home, which is the subject of the book's title. What the reader eventually discovers is a story of family dysfunction of enormous proportions. After her father is killed, run over by a truck, to be exact, Bechdel begins to look back on the man's life. What she discovers is that he led a double life. He was a father and a husband but gay as well. This book is a love letter to this horrifically flawed man.
The thoughtful and insightful way Bechdel shares this with the reader is truly something special. Fun Home is a beautiful, assured piece of work.
The Mercy Room,
by Gilles Rozie
If I had believed the churlish review in Publisher's Weekly, I would have missed this mercifully short but compelling novel. This simple book of survival in occupied France seduces you with the beautiful translation by Anthea Bell of Asterix fame. The story has the attention to detail and the spareness of a screen play but the raw sex and unrelenting dread would be impossible to sit through. A film has to have some underlying thread of hope to succeed. I couldn't have watched the movie, but I couldn't stop reading the book.
The Dharma Bums,
by Jack Kerouac
The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac is a terrific follow-up to the author's classic On The Road. This time the pace is less frantic and more contemplative with Kerouac's stand-in, 'Ray Smith' finding a sense of self-reliance and inner peace as he and friend/muse 'Japhy Ryder' (Zen/Beat poet Gary Snyder in disguise) go mountain climbing. Very much in the spirit of Whitman and Thoreau in its tone and just as reflective. (For a good introduction to Gary Snyder's poems & prose, check out The Gary Snyder Reader.)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,
by J. K. Rowling
The sixth installment of the phenomenally successful Harry Potter series continues to delight and enthrall readers with the further adventures and travails of Harry, his Hogwarts cronies, and the developing showdown with the evil Voldemort. This reviewer found that Rowling has crafted not only another complex and intriguing plot, but also has continued to develop the main characters skillfully. For much of the story, Harry is learning about the early life of Voldemort and why he has become such a dark menace to society. Much has been written about the "darkness" of this story. This reviewer found that it is indeed deeper and far more "adult" than the others, but not in a detracting way. Balancing this aspect, this book shows Rowling adding more fun and entertaining layers to her descriptions of the wizard world and makes its special inhabitants come alive so vibrantly. This reviewer has read the series in order of publication, the recommended way, and looks forward to the seventh and last volume of this brilliantly-written series.
Seeker, by William Nicholson
Seeker After Truth at 16 tries to fulfill his lifelong dream of joining his brother as one of the Nomana, the Noble Warriors, whose lives in the monastery are dedicated to protecting the All and Only god and the monastery from destruction. Rejected by the monks, he joins two other rejects - Morning Star who sees people's colors and can interpret what they mean, and The Wildman, a spiker (homeless outlaw) who desperately wants the power and peace he finds in an encounter with a Nomanan. The three find themselves involved in a desperate attempt to thwart the ambitions of the leaders of Radiance to destroy the Nomana. Radiance is a city of greedy people who sacrifice a human each night to ensure that the sun will rise the next day. The plan is to blow up the monastery using a human bomb. In the process the three young people learn much about themselves, good and evil, and their own destinies as they mature through their adventures.
English August: an Indian story,
by Upamanyu Chatterjee
This was originally published to much acclaim in India in 1988, and recently made available on these shores by the fine folks at the New York Review of Books. Despite its somewhat stuffy title, this is the ultimate slacker novel.
Agastya (August) Sen, the novel's hero (?) is a product of urban, westernized India. Delhi, to be exact. He is aimless, cynical and comes from a privileged family and is not in the least inclined to count his blessings. He has more than a little in common with the hero of John Kennedy Toole's ''A Confederacy of Dunces," in his egotistical alienation. After searching for a meaningful career he decides to enlist in the Indian Administrative Service (the IAS) and is sent to a small town called Madna. What follows is culture shock as August tries to come to terms with the tedium of small town life and the ridiculousness of Civil Service protocol. Not the least of these challenges is coming to terms with his own lack of ambition. Chronic marijuana use, masturbation and insane bouts of exercise help...for awhile.
The novel is rich in details of Indian life and culture; the oppressive heat in Madna, the mosquitoes, the dubious quality of the water. My guess is that the India of today is a bit different than 20 years ago (when this novel takes place) but, this novel has aged gracefully.
The Second Wives Club,
by Jane Moore
Oh, for the irony of the English! After reading this, I had to read all of Jane Moore's dishy novels. You will feel for these women and root for them in all their absurdity. Alas, it isn't an audio book, but if it were I might find myself laughing too hard to drive.
by Scott Smith
I was a big fan of Scott Smith's first book, A Simple Plan, and was eager to read his second book which came out this summer, The Ruins. As Stephen King said, "The Ruins did for Mexican vacations what Jaws did for beach weekends in Long Island." The Ruins is more of a horror thriller and it maintains its intense and unrelenting suspense through every paragraph. Four young tourists from the United States are vacationing in Cancun before beginning jobs and graduate school. They befriend a German tourist whose brother is working on an archaeological dig and they all decide to go visit the archeologist and the ruins where they are working. The events which unfold are unimaginable but you are unable to leave the characters until the last page. Reportedly Ben Stiller's production company has bought the rights to the movie, but as with any good book, the movie won't be able to capture the terror and suspense of this book.