Archive for the ‘Nonfiction’ Category

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A little Fantasy and a little bit of Reality…

August 25, 2009

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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.

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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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Always Magic In the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era

July 7, 2009

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Always Magic In the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era

Greetings all.

I said I’d be back, and this time I was (apparently) telling the truth.

About a month ago I was trolling through one of my favorite music related sites and found a couple of books I wanted to read at a steep discount, so I grabbed them.

One of these was today’s selection, ‘Always Magic In the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era’ by Ken Emerson.

Being a huge Leiber and Stoller fan, this book caught my eye when it first came out in hardcover, and at the time it seemed a little slim to be dropping more than twenty bucks, so I passed, figuring I’d grab it in paperback (after which I promptly forgot about it).

So I ordered it, placed it on the “to be read” stack where it sat for a few weeks. I finally finished what I’d been reading, picked it up and didn’t put it down until this afternoon when I finally got to the end.

First off, if you have any interest in American pop music of the 1960s, and the brilliant people that wrote, produced and released it, this book is indispensable. My initial mistake of assuming that the book was insubstantial (it clocks in at around 260 pages) was a huge one, since the tome is well researched and densely packed with musical history. My wife actually asked me why it was taking me so long to read, and my reply was that it was taking that long to ingest all the information.

Emerson is an excellent writer with a real feel for the people he was writing about, mainly the songwriting teams of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Carol King and Gerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, Jeffy Barry and Ellie Greenwich, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

Using those duos as a starting point, Emerson weaves his was through the song publishing and record business of the 1960s, incorporating business wizards like Don Kirshner, various and sundry gangster record label owners and (of course) musicians and performers.

The book is full of revelations about the creative processes of these composers, the ups and downs of their careers and the evolution of American popular music from the early days of rock’n’roll, through the teen pop era and right on into (and past) the psychedelic era.

If you’re a record collecting nut – like myself – you’ve been reading these names on record labels and album covers your entire life, and Emerson gives you a real feel for their lives and their art with tons of detail, laid out in an epic fashion, fitting the subject matter.

‘Always Magic In the Air’ is one of those music books that’s going to go right up on the shelf in my record room to be used a reference.

Next up: Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik

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The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music

January 4, 2009

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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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My Booky Wook

September 13, 2008

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My Booky Wook by Russell Brand

Greetings all.

I know the last time I posted I said I was reading the ‘Fables’ graphic novel series, but volume 1 turned out to be one of those half-an-hour specials, and though interesting, not terribly captivating, so I put volume two on hold and fell right into another book.
Those of you stateside who know the name Russell Brand have either seen ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ – in which he played the rock star Aldous Snow – or saw him tear it up on the otherwise stultifying MTV Video Awards (in which he rightly made light of one of the more plastic, idiotic and ultimately forgettable corners of our current pop culture).
Brand’s a funny guy.
I can’t remember where I read about ‘My Booky Wook’, but I do recall that I was intrigued enough to order a copy from the UK (it has yet to be published stateside). While I can’t explain the hoodoo that got the book here from England in less than a week for under $5 postage (I’m not sure I could reproduce that kind of speed for the same price from one destination to another domestically), I applaud the Royal Postal Service for their efficiency.
‘My Booky Wook’ is an autobiographical volume, which may seem odd for someone who is barely known over here, but we’ll overlook your assumption that if someone is not famous here in the US that they simply cannot be famous anywhere else – and continue with the review.
Brand is actually quite well know (maybe notorious) in the UK where he’s worked for the last several years as a stand up comedian, actor, TV host and renowned libertine. The book is a well written, humorous and – believe it or not – poignant look at Brand’s life, from his childhood, through his first recognition as an actor/comedian, right on through a long period of self destructive debauchery and on to a conclusion that is every bit as satisfying as it is expected.
I found Brand to be the best thing about ‘…Sarah Marshall’, loved his utterly disrespectful approach to the MTV thing (take that you pompous little Republicans. How about a promise ring that symbolizes a pledge to mind your own fucking business???), and the tales of his TV work in the UK made me eager for a time when his star rises enough over here that some of it gets released on DVD (or at least shown on BBC America, where I first encountered the brilliant ‘Little Britain’).
I’ll certainly read anything else he choose to write in the future.
Currently reading: Not sure, really. I have yet to make up my mind between a graphic novel, a sci-fi horror thing or a huge hardcover book on avant garde jazz that I got for my birthday…