Archive for the ‘Cultural Criticism’ Category

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A little Fantasy and a little bit of Reality…

August 25, 2009

Example

Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik

Greetings all.

I hope all is well.
This time out I’ll be reviewing the last two books I read (omitting one that I tried to wade into and got stuck)
The first one is ‘Victory of Eagles’, the latest installment in Naomi Novik’s ‘Temeraire’ series, about sentient war dragons during the Napoleonic Wars.
I know, I know, it’s a seemingly insane premise, but I assure you that Novik has, over the course of the five books proven that she is an excellent writer with a unique talent for melding fantasy and alternative history.
In brief, Temeraire, a Chinese born (laid actually, in the first book his egg is obtained by the British Navy and he actually hatches aboard an English Man-o-war.
Colonel Lawrence is Temeraire’s master/partner, and the relationship between the two is absolutely wonderfully written.
For those of you that haven’t read any of the earlier books (which I think you should) I’ll spare you the details, revealing only that Lawrence and Temeraire finally meet Napoleon on the field of battle.
Maybe not the kind of thing that everyone digs, but if you dig the genres above I think you’ll love these books.

Example

Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture 1970-1979 by Tim Lawrence

The second volume we concern ourselves with is Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture 1970-1979 by Tim Lawrence. The book is a weighty historical tome based around New York City DJ culture as it developed through the decade of the 1970s. I – who happen to be a DJ – found it absolutely fascinating (if a little long). The book was full of revelations, technical info, vintage playlists and great pictures.
I can’t imagine that someone without a prior interest in the subject manner would be able to withstand the ‘thoroughness’ of the book, but like I said, if you’re interested in DJ culture, dance culture (disco and house in particular) you will find this book rewarding.

Next up: Last Places: A Journey in the North by Lawrence Millman

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The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music

January 4, 2009

Example

The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music by Ben Ratliff

Greetings all.

It has been an unforgivably long time since I posted here, but I must admit that it’s been just as long since I finished reading a book.

If you follow the goings on over at Funky16Corners you’ve surely encountered my grousing about life and how it happens to be abusing me these past few months. One unfortunate byproduct of that abuse is a collision between a lack of time in which to read and a lack of inclination to do the same.

I’m just not the kind of person that can get any reading done when I’m tired and stressed out, and I have been both of those things – in excess – for quite some time now.

However, sometimes, and this is one of those rare occasions, I reach an intersection in which just the right reading material arrives, as a previously unknown surplus of intellectual energy is discovered, and the reading train is placed back on the rails.

Thanks go out to my Mom and Pop who gave me Ben Ratliff’s ‘The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music’ as a Christmas gift. Ratliff was familiar to me as the jazz columnist for the New York Times, and the format of the book – relatively short chapters devoted to conversations with interesting jazz musicians – seemed like a perfect fit for my damaged attention span.

Best of all, as soon as I started reading I discovered that Ratliff had invited each of these musicians to pick the music they wanted to discuss, and though they are all jazz artists, many of them decided to bring along non-jazz music (which made for some very interesting discussions).

There were lots of personal faves (Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Roy Haynes, Pat Metheny, Andrew Hill, Bob Brookmeyer) as well as many artists who I’m not familiar with. The format is (in some cases) a great window into the thought processes – musical and otherwise – of some very interesting people, and provides food for thought (and listening).

Very cool.

Now reading – Tim & Tom: An American Comedy In Black and White

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Catching Up (sort of…)

November 14, 2008

Greetings all.

It’s been a long time since I posted here due in large part to the fact that in the few, rare moments when I’ve had time to read, I’ve been book-hopping like a sonofabitch.
Thanks to lots of music blog related work (including an upcoming internet radio show), sick kids, various and sundry parental/household responsibilities and a ton of other shit (including a near crippling case of political angst) reading time has – as I said – been at a premium.
I’m one of those folks that can’t read when I’m fatigued. I’ll prop myself up in bed with my book light, and before long, after I’ve dropped my book six or seven times, I pack it in and succumb to sleep.
When last we met, I had begun to read a collection of stories by the 19th century Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. I read four or five of them – which I was enjoying – when I had to get back to some non-recreational reading, and Gogol fell by the wayside (albeit temporarily).
Then, following the whitewater section of my stream of consciousness, I discovered, ordered, received, and then struggled with Jack London’s ‘The Iron Heel’.
I was shocked when I saw the book on a list of dystopian novels (I’d never heard of it before), and after seeing a synopsis I got myself a copy. While the subject matter is incredibly compelling, and both prescient and relevant, London’s style in ‘The Iron Heel’ was a little hard to wade through, and I fought valiantly with it until I completed it a few weeks later.
By that point I had already stockpiled a few other books (some new from the store, some passed along by my always thoughtful and generous in-laws and some left over from days of yore). Fortunately, one of these was a short story anthology, entitled ‘Wastelands’, which collected tales with an apocalyptic (pre/post and during) theme. I was just starting that one when I heard that the mighty John Leonard had passed away.
I watched Leonard for years in his capacity as a cultural critic on CBS Sunday Morning, as well as following his TV writing in New York Magazine. Leonard was possessed of a singular, towering intellect and I admired him greatly.
When I saw his obituary, I wondered why I had never sought out any collections of his essays and criticisms. I remedied the situation immediately and am currently deep into the 1997 collection ‘Smoke and Mirrors: Violence, Television, and Other American Cultures’. Reading John Leonard is like strapping yourself (or at least your brain) into a pop-cult roller coaster. What separates Leonard from so many brilliant – yet boring – thinkers, is an ability to embrace popular culture in an unironic way with an incredibly broad frame of reference that makes reading the thoughts he has applied to paper genuinely exciting.
So, that’s where I’m at.
I suspect that when I complete this Leonard anthology (I have another one on the way) I’ll post a full review.
Until then….
Peace
Larry