An Embarrassment of Riches is a blog about the best the library has to offer. From audio books to movies, from novels to zines, library staff and guest bloggers will tell you about their latest library discoveries. Read. Watch. Listen. Chat.
"FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD"
(New York Daily News Headline, 10.30.1975)
By 1973-74, the US was facing serious economic collapse following a property investment boom and crash - not entirely dissimilar or unrelated to the crash of 2008. New York City, in particular, felt the strains of over-speculation and an inability to make good on massive infrastructural spending debts (for a clear-minded synopsis of this trajectory, check out David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism). In essence, the major banks of NYC refused further loans, pushing one of the largest cities in the world to the brink of near-total shutdown. When the city turned to the executive office for federal assistance, then-President Ford refused to assist (though it turns out the Daily News headline quoted above is kind of apocryphal), essentially placing the city in a hostage situation with the increasingly powerful banks.
Against this tumultuous backdrop, Will Hermes' excellent Love Goes To Buildings On Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever explores the simultaneous explosion of musical cross-pollination, experimentation and invention that emerged from what many in the US were then calling "a cultural dead zone." Hermes scope is impressively broad though he zeroes in on a handful of truly critical players and scenemakers including DJs Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, disco pioneers David Mancuso and Nicky Siano, as well as punk provocateurs the New York Dolls and the Ramones. Hermes's primary focus is on Manhattan but he also touches on the music coming out of the peripheral boroughs - like salsa, disco and rap/hip-hop.
Fellow readers, it's that time. Time for me to sign off from the My Librarian team. It's been a wild ride!
I'm so proud to have been a member of the inaugural My Librarian group. When we started we were nervous, excited, and just a little bit terrified! This was something completely new, and we were doing it.
I have loved everything about the experience (well, except for maybe that photo shoot). The teamwork has been phenomenal, and I could not have asked for a better group of colleagues. But the best part, by far, has been the interaction with you, our living, breathing library visitors. Sharing the joy of books and reading with you has been a highlight of my library career. You all have taught me so much, and I hope in turn I have been able to expand your reading horizons.
So, please keep on keeping on with the My Librarians, thanks for the memories, and so long, farewell!
What is it that makes a rollicking good regency romance? I think it takes more than a crowded ballroom and characters who feel pressure to produce an heir or avoid being a spinster: it takes the tension between love and sexual attraction. It occurred to me recently that if you take the songs Some Enchanted Evening and Fever, you have the perfect formula for great regency romance. You get fated love ("you will see a stranger...your true love across a crowded room") and sexual fervor ("you give me fever when you kiss me").
Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare is on Kirkus Review’s list of best fiction of 2014 and features a feisty heroine matching wits with the duke who refuses to leave the castle she has inherited. No crowded ballrooms, but definitely some sexual fervor.
In Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Courtney Stone wakes up one morning in an unfamiliar bed. Strangers in old-fashioned clothes enter. Who are these people? They all have body odor.
In Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, Jane Mansfield awakens in a room that has bars on the window. There is a strange man in the next room, and she has no chaperone.
To quote Austen (Mansfield Park), I found these companion novels about women who have mysteriously swapped lives and bodies to be “nothing but pleasure from beginning to end.” I appreciated the dialogue, chuckled over the situations, wondered if they’d find love, and found myself prompted by these books to contemplate women’s roles and opportunities in the 19th and 21st centuries.
I'll never forget the first time I watched a horror movie. I was in fifth grade. A bunch of us neighborhood kids met up at a friend's house to watch the first Friday the 13th. One of the kids had snagged the video from their parents' VHS collection. I don't remember much of the movie because a boy that I had a long standing crush on was sitting with his friend on the other side of the living room. Much of my attention was focused on trying figure out how to sit next to him without seeming too obvious. But as the body count started to pile up on screen, my mood went from twitterpated to terrified. When (spoiler alert) Alice cut off Mrs. Voorhees head with a machete, I was done. I quickly excused myself, jumped on my bike and pedaled home as fast as I could, crying all the way. I vowed to never watch another horror movie.
For a decade or so, I kept that vow, convinced that watching horror movies would only lead to months of nightmares. My attitude towards the terror inducing genre was forever changed when I watched the film Shaun of the Dead and realized just how hilarious horror movies can be. The more over the top the better. Copious amounts of fake blood. Awesome! Unrealistic and insane death and dismemberment. Perfect. Bumbling zombies. Of course. Killer clowns. Yes please. My favorite film genre is without question horror-comedies. Check out the list below to see some of my favorites.
If I used one word to describe the comic book Rat Queens by Kurtis Wiebe it would be "bawdy." I might also say that it is my favorite comic of the year. And if you are looking for read alikes for Saga then I suggest to you that Rat Queens might be it.
Rat Queens are a mercenary warrior gang in the fantastical town of Palisade. They are sent off on a troll killing mission and mayhem ensues. Their tale had me rolling with laughter and horror-struck by the gore in the fight scenes. These queens can curse, joke, fight, and party with the best of them. Glad I was invited to this party. And now you are invited too!
How many books are in your stack?
Every week, new books are added to my ever growing "to be read" pile. While it’s a pleasant hazard of the library profession, the looming tower of unread tomes has grown a bit too tall for comfort. However, after a recent search through the new titles joining the collection, I think there's some room left. Here's three I'm excited about.
If a whole cake seems excessive, Dessert for Two is here to rescue your sweet treat emergency
Two musical icons share a roof in Henry and Glenn Forever and Ever.
A man, his aging mother, and Paris Missouri make up the world of Bettyville
"But what¹s underneath it all? What is missing is a surgeon who has the courage to examine the tissue and declare: gentlemen, this is cancer, and it is not benign. What is cancer? It¹s something that changes all the cells, which causes them to grow in a haphazard manner, outside of any previous logic. Is a cancer patient who dreams the same healthy body that he had before nostalgic, even if before he was stupid and unlucky? Before the cancer, I mean. First of all, one would have to make quite an effort to re-establish the same image. I listen to all the politicians and their little formulas, and it drives me insane. They don¹t seem to know what country they are talking about; they are as distant as the Moon. And the same goes for the writers, sociologists and experts of all sorts."
-from Pasolini's final interview, conducted a few hours before he was murdered at the age of 53
Italian poet, filmmaker, essayist, utopian, provocateur and queer libertine, Pier Paolo Pasolini lived relentlessly in his quest to envision and produce a world where art never confirms but always wrenches new ways of living and desiring.
Part of me feels that any attempt to do justice to Pasolini's work would simply and silently replicate the work itself. Perhaps all we can do is situate the films, the poems, the essays, the life itself, in a specific historical conjuncture - 20th century Italy as it staggered from fascism to embattled republic including serious challenges from the PCI (Italian Communist Party) - and then allow them to do the talking. Pasolini brought all of his trenchant intelligence, tenderness, hatred and sincerity to bear on everything and anything that smacked of middle-class quietism. Born into a social milieu that primarily offered despair and isolation, Pasolini kicked against the pricks, staking ground to be abandoned as soon as comfort loomed. In Danger: A Pasolini Anthology is a choice and tight collection - ostensibly zeroed in on Pasolini's political musings and provocations. But to say that everything was political for Pasolini would be cliched and an understatement. If you find In Danger bracing and inspirational, please do yourself a favor and try to check out everything Pasolini touched (there are a decent handful of texts and DVDs in the MCL collection for starters).
“If you’re not ready to go home,
can I get a ‘Hell, no!’?
‘Cause we’re gonna go all night,
‘til we see the sunlight, alright…
And we can’t stop.
And we won’t stop.
Can’t you see it’s we who own the night?”
-Miley Cyrus, "We Can’t Stop"
Of course one can argue that pop/rock music has always contained an inherent resistance to authority and constraints (think "Blackboard Jungle, " Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show, Jim Morrison arrested for indecent exposure, outlaw country anti-heroes like Waylon Jennings, James Brown's various altercations with the law, etc.) and there's a rich genealogy of rock/pop/soul/hip-hop artists explicitly incorporating revolutionary critiques into their aesthetic (Gil Scott-Heron, Public Enemy, Jefferson Airplane, Last Poets).
However, the last few years have seen a profusion of lyrics and postures that appear to echo and reflect this moment's widespread outrage, confusion and disillusionment with party politics. And while past instances of resistance tended to focus on the rebelling individual, post-2010 riot pop often speaks from the point of view of a tenuous "we." In response to an ever-widening class divide and a seemingly endless economic recession, these songs seem to suggest "party=riot" (or vice versa!). This has led to some interesting thinking and conversations about the levels of co-optation (are these songs simply symptoms of culture industry opportunism?) and the ways in which many of these songs have served as soundtracks to riots and occupations in real-time. Below is a list of some post-2010 tunes pushing for good bad times that won't ever stop:
1) Rihanna - We Found Love
2) Miley Cyrus - We Can't Stop
3) Ellie Goulding - Burn
4) Ke$ha - We R Who We R
5) Black Eyed Peas - Party All The Time
6) Britney Spears - Til The World Ends
7) Pitbull - Give Me Everything
8) Jay-Z & Kanye West - No Church in the Wild
9) will.i.am & Britney Spears - Scream and Shout
10) Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - Can't Hold Us
Last summer 13 year old Mo'Ne Davis, whose fastball has been clocked at 71 miles per hour, was the first Little Leaguer to get on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Have you seen her pitch? Amazing!
Did you know that just 42 years ago girls were not allowed to play Little League?
I learned this and more in the book Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX, the law that changed the future of girls in America. The book is well written and full of startling facts, great photos and cartoons. Did you know that U.S. Representative from Oregon Edith Green was the author of Title IX? I didn't.
A few more facts to get you thinking about life for females in the U.S. before Title IX:
- In the 1970's a school district spent $250,000 a year on boys' sports teams and only $970 on the one sport offered to girls.
- In the 1970's University of Michigan spent $2.6 million on men's sports and $0 on women's sports.
- Before Title IX, many law and medical schools limited the numbers of women they would admit.
Oh, the difference Title IX has made in the lives of women and girls in the U.S.
From Freely Espousing
by James Schuyler
"a commingling sky
a semi-tropic night
that cast the blackest shadow
of the easily torn, untrembling banana leaf
or Quebec! what a horrible city
so Steubenville is better?
the sinking sensation
when someone drowns thinking, “This can’t be happening to me!”
the profit of excavating the battlefield where Hannibal whomped the Romans
the sinuous beauty of words like allergy
the tonic resonance of
pill when used as in
“she is a pill”
on the other hand I am not going to espouse any short stories in which lawn mowers clack.
No, it is absolutely forbidden
for words to echo the act described; or try to. Except very directly
bong. And tickle. Oh it is inescapable kiss."
I first encountered - and eventually fell in love with - James Schuyler's poetry in a college bookstore in the late 1980s. Periodically browsing the oh-so tiny "Poetry" section for incoming delights, I found Schuyler's Selected Poems but was initially repelled by the goopy watercolor painting that spanned the entire front cover (the packaging too seemingly reminiscent of some kind of sentimental/inspirational poems collection). I eventually returned to read the author bio and immediately purchased the book as soon as I realized Schuyler was a member of the so-called New York School of Poets (Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery are perhaps the biggest stars of this loose historical/geographical conjuncture). Like O'Hara (a sometime roommate), Schuyler's poetry often comes off as conversational, improvisatory, delicate. And like O'Hara and Ashbery, Schuyler was as influenced by the contemporaneous art world (he was a curator at MOMA for a brief period in the late 1950s and an art critic during much of the first half of his adult life).
What impressed - and continues to impress - me so about Schuyler's poetry is the way straightforward evocations of the quotidian explode and reframe experience, but never fully leave the specific material moment. His work is never simply celebratory or feel-good. A brief encounter with Schuyler's poetry might too easily suggest trivial evocations of simple moments. The attentive reader though is faced with a tendency for things and language to fall apart. I believe that it's always important to historically situate a writer's work and we can see the same kinds of destabilization in Schuyler's poems that are omnipresent in TV's Madmen and the world of white-collar professionals in the late 1950s/early 1960s - the as yet unrealized economic and social rot at the heart of urban white middle-class existence.
Not long ago I went through my collection of family photos and found a very special one of my mother. It was taken during a visit to Mexico. I can see her and my cousin in a small stand of colorful “alebrijes” in the small town of Tepoztlan Morelos. Let me tell you more about the craft of alebrijes.
The origins of these peculiar creations began in 1936 with an artisan, Pedro Linares, who worked at “La Merced” market in Mexico City creating these fantastic characters. Pedro was a “cartonero” (cardboarding maker) who worked mainly with paper mache making piñatas and other pieces. The alebrijes were attributed to a time when he was very sick. During the fever hallucinations he found himself in a forest full of rare creatures that shouted loudly “alebrijes”, “alebrijes!” When he got better he dedicated the rest of his life to recreating those images with cardboard using the papel mache technique. His talent was recognized first by the owner of a gallery and then by the artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera among others. His alebrije technique was passed to new generations of artisans, mainly in Oaxaca. In Oaxaca, Pedro's technique has become popular with wood carvers.
The dream of such a singular person has transcended time and now these magical characters are enjoyed by people around the world. If you have the opportunity to visit an art craft market in Mexico, don’t forget to ask where to find the alebrijes. I’ll always remember how Pedro Linares dignified Mexican creativity with his work when I look at the photo of my mother admiring the magical pieces one rainy fall afternoon.
Allan Karlsson is a self-taught explosives expert and a charming resident of a Swedish nursing home. He has no use for politics nor religion, but will readily accept any reasonable invitation to a fine meal, provided there’s no dull chatter of communism or any other ism. So how did he come to find himself suspected of murder and on the lam with a pair of known criminals, a hot dog vendor, and a runaway elephant?
It’s simple really. He climbed out of his window in pursuit of a good vodka. It’s his 100th birthday after all and after decades spent blowing up bridges and haphazardly falling in and out of favor with world leaders such as Truman, Franco, Mao, and Stalin, doesn’t he deserve as much?
The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson is the perfect faux snow day book. Cuddle up with a quilt, a hot vodka toddy, and share some laughs with this wonderfully irreverent centenarian.
For other amusing titles to keep you entertained when the possibility of wintry weather interrupts your plans, check out this list.
The Metropolitan Opera has just wrapped up its new production of The Death of Klinghoffer. Although controversial since its premiere in 1991, the opera has previously been performed with little incident and is considered by many to be one of composer John Adams' finest works. But this year, the production has been met with protests outside the opera house and even a few boos from within. So what's the big deal and why now?
The opera is based on the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly Jewish passenger on board the ship. But this year, Klinghoffer’s daughters have made a very public objection to it, claiming it is anti-Semitic and glorifies the terrorists who perpetrated the crime. This objection, combined with recent anti-Semitic events in Europe, fighting in Gaza, and the growing threat posed by the Islamic State have combined to whip up a great deal of emotion around the staging of this work.
Still, most of those protesting the performance have probably never seen or heard the work. Check it out and decide for yourself -- is it anti-Semitic or is it a great piece of art that has been unfairly labeled?
I love to travel and when I do I like to feel fairly confident that I will return in one piece. So when I want to do some seriously adventurous travel, I naturally turn to books. Here are a couple of my favorites:
In the spring of 1978, Barbara Savage and her husband hopped on their bikes, leaving their comfortable home in Santa Barbara, California on the first leg of their journey around the world. Along the way, they encountered maniac drivers in south Florida; experienced the extreme poverty, squalor and disease of rural Egypt; and learned that in India what appears to be a toilet could actually be shower. Miles from Nowhere is a really engaging account and one of the few books I have read for a second time.
The Longest Walk Along with his Japanese girlfriend, Englishman George Meegan began walking north from Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America. This was in 1977. By the time he had taken his final step in September of 1983, he had covered over 19,000 miles, married his girlfriend Yoshiko, become a father twice, met an American president, and traveled to the shores of the Beaufort Sea at the northernmost tip of Alaska. Definitely not something I would try to emulate -- but what a story!
I think it was in the late 1980s when I became a Remedios Varo admirer. It might be that her close relationship with Frida Kahlo and Leonora Carrington made me aware of her contextual existence. Born in Spain in 1908, this surrealist artist was strongly influenced by her father, a hydraulic engineer, her second husband Benjamin Beret a French dadaist, and her friend André Breton.
When living in Paris she was forced into exile during WWII and settled down in Mexico City. She found refuge in Mexico until she died in 1963. Graduated from the prestigious San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid, she created around 150 art pieces, 110 of them created in Mexico using oils on masonite panels she prepared herself. Her art is full of ambiguous characters; the elements of her painting are mostly biographical, and her art is allegorical, humorous, fantastic, and oriented to science, the spiritual and the psychological.
From the very beginning I was fascinated and intrigued with her peculiar style and wanted to know who she was. Back in the days before the internet, information was very limited so I couldn't pursue my research; but I held in my mind some images of her artwork that I saw in books and postcards. Then one day, I was reading the newspaper and discovered that the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City would be hosting one of her exhibitions -- what an opportunity! I went and spent and entire afternoon contemplating her creations and trying to digest every single image. Among my favorite paintings were "Celestial Pablum," "Creation of the Birds," and "The Cats Paradise." Her potential and her creative mind were not recognized as she deserved; you probably won't find much information about her. For me, the afternoon I spent in the company of this forgotten surreal artist will always remain in my mind. Learn more about her work in The Magic of Remedios Varo.
When I read Caitlin Moran's 2011 collection of laugh out loud-funny feminist essays, How to be a Woman, I found it wildly inspiring and entertaining. If I was the Queen of the World, all women in their 20s would be required to read this book, which deals with subjects like the Brazilian wax, body image, abortion, porn and princesses with such wit and verve that I alternated between laughing hard and fist-pumping. I should warn you that she's a bit of an opinionated potty-mouth-- but I'm okay with that.
Her new book, How to Build a Girl, is clearly a pretty autobiographical novel about Joanna, a teenager growing up on a council estate (think "projects") in a small nowhere-town in England in the early 1990s. Her father is an unemployed alcoholic, her mother is clinically depressed, and Joanna spends a lot of time providing childcare for her younger siblings and worrying about money. Afraid her family will lose their government benefits, she decides to save the family, get herself out of the trap her mother is stuck in, and invent herself anew-- by becoming a music journalist. She starts sending articles to music magazines, and then, miraculously, gets herself a job. And a lot of eyeliner. And a top hat.
As the title suggests, this book is really about being young, deciding who you're going to be and making it happen. We all have to do it, but Joanna is brave and starts young, and she does it dramatically, making bigger mistakes. Towards the end, she is feeling her way towards considering her own needs and desires, as well as learning to be kind to other people. But in much of this book, she reminded me of one of the bad characters in a Jane Austen novel, if Jane Austen wrote graphic sex scenes and had an indie rock sensibility. If you like coming-of-age stories and books that make you laugh in an unseemly way when you read them in public, you should give How to Build a Girl a try.