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Is your iPod at capacity? Mine is. And when I download songs to my computer, I never do anything with them. Add to that a shed crammed with CDs I can’t bear to part with, and it’s too much music to handle.

Library CDs broke my cycle of pointless song-hoarding. The music they hold is ephemeral, passing through my life like fragrance. Newly liberated, I scaled way back on listening to my iPod. Overuse was making me numb to its charms. These days, I only listen to it while walking on lunch break. Reducing iPod visitation hours has made me fall in love with a few bands all over again.

Like The Misfits and the anthology Static Age. It’s a collection of songs they recorded during graveyard hours in New Jersey, but it plays like tinny transmissions from a cave in outer space. Cruddy recording never sounded so right, and neither did the words “Her omelette of disease awaits your noontime meal/ Her mouth of germicide seducing all your glands.”  It was 1978, and they were young enough to pull off lyrics like that with punky-sincere sneers. In my book, Static Age is all the Misfits you need.

I look like a mom and a library nerd lady who wears knitted ponchos, because I am. But on my walks I am listening to THE MISFITS, and therefore a bad-ass! And no one knows, unless I am pumping my fist and muttering some ridiculous mock-Satanic chant along with Glenn Danzig under my breath.

Today on my awesome bad-ass walk I saw a crusty old dude walking from the opposite direction. He had a puffy coat and a black eye and carried a little boom box like the one our youth librarian has in the meeting room. I paused my Misfits and heard Sam Cooke’s velvety voice blasting out of the boom box. I smiled at the puffy coat guy and he smiled back. And for a happy moment, our private music worlds intersected.

Do you have a case of the winter blahs? The sparkle of the holidays has passed, but the winter weather remains. Spring and summer seem a long way off, know what I mean? Well, never fear. Cue Fred Astaire! You can't go wrong with his singing and dancing charms. Check out the film A Damsel in Distress, based on the novel by P.G. Wodehouse and recently released on DVD. This lighthearted movie is heavy on talent, featuring the music of George & Ira Gershwin and co-starring George Burns and Gracie Allen. You won't find Ginger Rogers in this one, but the story involves the usual plot suspects (romantic complications, mistaken identities, etc). And the musical numbers are fantastic! An Oscar-winning fun house routine features Astaire, Burns, and Allen dancing on and around turntables, tunnels, slides, and distorting mirrors. A Gershwin gem, "Nice Work if You Can Get it", highlights Astaire's incredible rhythm and musicality, both as a dancer and as a drummer.

If you'd like to learn more about Fred Astaire, check out his engaging autobiography Steps in Time. In his conversational, easy-going style, Astaire relates the story of his life and work, at least up to 1959 when the book was first published. In a more recent publication, Music Makes Me: Fred Astaire and Jazz, author Todd Decker describes Astaire's contributions to the art of jazz music and his collaborations with a variety of musicians, arrangers, and performers.

Sit back, relax, and let Fred Astaire tap your troubles away!

Whenever some pundit or book reviewer decries Young Adult or teen books as somehow not as good as books for adults, don't believe them. (This happens regularly, usually when they think they are talking about an exception to the rule.) I find there are many teen books that are complex, extremely well-written, and compelling, and many books aimed at adults that are simplistic and puerile. So if you're looking for a quick but satisfying read, check out that YA section.

I'm sure I'll write about many YA books for adults in the future, but today I will focus on a few historical fiction books.

The Pox Party (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Vol. 1) by M.T. Anderson. A boy raised as a science experiment is given a classical education and sheltered from his status as a slave in New England in the 1760s. Blinders are removed and a pox party changes things. This book is not for the casual reader...you do have to like that 18th century baroque style.

Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. I'm sure you knew our fledgling nation's capitol was in Philadelphia in 1793. Did you also know a yellow fever epidemic claimed around a fifth of the residents? There would have been more if many hadn't fled the city, including George Washington. Protagonist Mattie Cook falls ill despite fleeing, but survives to return to the devastated city.

The Land by Mildred D Taylor. The son of a white landowner and a former slave, Paul Logan is openly acknowledged by his father in post Civil War Georgia. Paul works hard to acquire land of his own. Needless to say, he faces many obstacles. The author draws upon true family stories for her well-crafted books on the Logan family.

A few summers ago, I went to visit some cousins who live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania which is essentially THE place to be if you're Amish. I tried not to stare, but ultimately failed because everything about the Amish was so different from my experience and totally fascinating. We went to a horse auction run by the Amish, parked the minivan next to a horse-drawn wagon, passed horse and buggies and a sort of bicycle/scooter mashup that was one young man's mode of transportation, and shopped at Good's which is kind of like an Amish Wal-Mart. I finally got the inside scoop about these people when I recently read Growing Up Amish by Ira Wagler.

Ira now lives in Lancaster Co, PA, but was born into a large family in an Old Order Amish community in Aylmer, Ontario (who knew there were Amish in Canada? Obviously not me.). Wagler talks about the customs, rules and differences among Amish communities (they can be pretty wide) and what it was like for him growing up in several of them. We're let in on life at an Amish school, we go to an Amish wedding and church services, we see communities work well, and sometimes not so well, and we experience the pain and struggles of Amish youth who don't fit the mold. Wagler was one of those youth. He first left when he was a teenager, and then came back and left several more times before finally leaving for good. The writing is sometimes a bit overwrought, but the feeling of being let in on a secret was certainly worth it.

Never. Never ask for what ought to be offered.

These are the words of sixteen-year-old protagonist Ree Dolly in Daniel Woodrell's book Winter's Bone, giving her younger brother a lesson in conduct. Their father has not been home in days and they are hungry. A family across the way, to whom they are related, has freshly killed carcasses hanging in the trees; he is wondering about requesting some of the meat.

Ree's father cooks crank and the story picks up after he is missing and in danger of skipping a court date; if he does, the family will lose the house and land--their only security, pledged to a bail bond. Ree's mother, mentally ill and a vacant shell of her former self, is a burden Ree carries without question, along with her two younger brothers. They are family, and family is all.  

This novel is atmospheric, darkly lyrical and devastating. While the gritty portrayal of hardscrabble Ozark life is striking, even more compelling is the seeming resignation and acceptance of the status quo by adults, children and the law. The questioning Ree is a lone and exposed nail waiting for the hammer of the system to come down. She is clear-eyed about the risk she is taking but she also knows that without that risk she will sacrifice her life and the futures of her small brothers to the ravenous and self-perpetuating cycle of drugs and poverty.

She knows that searching for her father will take her deeper into darkness than she wants to go, but she also knows it is her only chance of finding the light.

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