Tag Archives: music

Books Acquired Recently

Metres, Philip. Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront Since 1941. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2007.

I’ve been reading a lot about poetry’s role in society lately because of the pandemic and came across a citation of this book, which looks fascinating, so I decided to buy it.

Pollack, Rachel. Seventy-eight Degrees of Wisdom: A Tarot Journey to Self-Awareness. Newburyport, MA: Weiser Books, 2019.

I received this and Warner’s book as anniversary gifts from my partner. I’ve read some of Pollack’s tarot poetry and enjoyed it, so I look forward to reading her classic volume about interpreting the cards.

Swarstad Johnson, Julie. Orchard Light: Poems. Lewisburg, PA: Seven Kitchens Press, 2020.

I first encountered Swarstad Johnson’s poetry earlier this year at the Mennonite Arts Festival and became an immediate fan of it. I bought this chapbook as soon as it was released.

Warner, Andrea. Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2018.

I had not heard of Sainte-Marie before receiving this book, but the dust jacket makes her sound quite interesting, and I look forward to learning more about her.

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Mike Piazza’s Long Shot

Mike Piazza’s autobiography Long Shot is a fascinating, candid, at times disturbing book. It is a true autobiography, covering his entire life up through the publication of the book in detail. Here are a few thoughts on what stood out to me.

I found the first part of the book boring because I was reading it for the details about Piazza’s baseball career, not his childhood, but I was intrigued to find that as a result of his upbringing Piazza is a staunch Catholic, which helps to explain his conservative political views.

The center of the book about Piazza’s time as a major leaguer is its strength. He writes knowledgeably about the game and gives the inside story of such famous events as his beaning by Roger Clemens and his feud with Guillermo Mota. He admits that he should have charged Clemens when Clemens threw a bat fragment at him in game 2 of the 2000 World Series, but he was worried about getting suspended (238).

Piazza also discusses the steroids issue, remaining adamant that he never took them and offering a number of reasons aside from PEDs that there was a home run boom in the 1990s. I view Piazza as a sort of canary down the mineshaft in terms of how Hall of Fame voters will treat power hitters from the steroid era. He is suspect because everyone from that era is suspect, but if he gets elected it will show that voters are willing to consider each player on an individual basis rather than painting the entire era with a wide brush.

Piazza reiterates his desire to wear a Mets cap on his Hall of Fame plaque should he be elected, saying that he would rather wear no logo than the Dodgers logo because of the acrimonious ending to his time with the team (344). One could make a case for either team, but the combination of the facts that he played more games for the Mets than Dodgers, went to his only World Series as a Met, had more home runs and RBI as a Met, and prefers to be enshrined as a Met is a compelling argument that he should go in with an NY on his cap. I was surprised at how genuinely reflective Piazza is about his place in baseball history. He makes a compelling case for himself as the best offensive catcher in history and as an underrated defender. He is at his best when talking about baseball.

But there are two places in the book where Piazza’s conservative views cause him to come off as an idiot. The first is in his treatment of questions that were raised about his sexual orientation. While he never actually says that this kerfuffle bothered him because he viewed being gay as an insult, it is clear in the way he spends so much time protesting about it that this is how he feels. He says that he was bothered by the idea that people viewed him as dishonest because he claims he would never hide a part of himself (which, judging from the honest tone throughout the book, is fair), but doesn’t ever make the necessary statement that it is okay for people to be gay, or that he wouldn’t mind having a gay teammate (262). Also, when he mentions Belle and Sebastian’s song “Piazza, New York Catcher,” which asks at one point “Piazza, New York catcher, are you straight or are you gay?,” he does not seem to realize that the song is actually a paean to him (263). For instance, the line “the catcher bats .318 and catches every day,” an incredible statistic, and one that is made even more incredible by the fact that Piazza hit higher than .318 in seven different seasons (he hit .318 in his first full season when he won the Rookie of the Year), shows that the song is interested in examining all of Piazza, not just the controversies that surrounded him.

Piazza’s second objectionable stance is his dislike of Latino players. Aside from the culturally insensitive argument that Spanish-speaking players should all learn English (which he argues Asian players are exempt from, and in this inconsistency shows his specific bias toward Latinos), he goes so far as to claim that Latino players actively conspired against him throughout his career (307-8)! This is racist paranoia, plain and simple. Piazza makes the mistake of projecting his dislike of a few individual Latino players (e.g., Mota) onto the entire group as a whole. He complains about negative Italian stereotypes earlier in the book (94), but doesn’t see that he is guilty of perpetuating the same offense toward Latinos.

Overall, the book is worth reading for all serious baseball fans because it attempts to be thoughtful about a number of important baseball-related issues and, aside from the two major, major failures at this which I have just mentioned, generally succeeds. There is a generous section of photos in the middle of the book, and also a thorough index, which is rare for sports autobiographies. As a Mets fan, I have always been a Piazza fan. Reading this book made me even more convinced of his greatness as a player, while at the same time making me like him a lot less as a person. Before I thought that I would definitely attend his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but now I am not so sure.

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Books Acquired Recently: Last Names Beginning With K Edition

Keogh, Theodora. The Other Girl. 1962. N.P.: Olympia, 2009.

I read a number of Keogh’s books last summer and have been wanting to read more of them, but hadn’t had the time. I plan to rectify that this summer.

Klosterman, Chuck. I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling With Villains (Real and Imagined). New York: Scribner, 2013.

Klosterman is one of my favorite writers because he thinks in ways that I have never encountered before about a wide range of subjects, including sports and all facets of pop culture. He’s one of the few authors whose books I buy automatically whether they sound interesting to me or not because they inevitably are, and this one sounds quite fascinating. Klosterman writes essays considering a long list of villains, mostly men. Some of the ones I am most excited to read are those on Nancy Botwin (from Weeds), Michael Stipe, Ice Cube, Al Davis, Darth Vader, and Patrick Bateman (from Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho). You can read an excerpt from the book here.

Both books bought on amazon.com.

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The Environmental Issue With Digital Media

Steven Hyden has a fascinating article on grantland.com today about how digital downloads of music are quickly becoming a thing of the past as they are replaced by services such as Spotify. He notes that, while record aficionados will continue to buy physical objects (and one could also make this argument for those of us who prefer real books to their bastardized e-book cousins), no one will be nostalgic about downloading songs because no physical object changes hands. As Hyden writes, “[p]eople continue to buy vinyl records because they enjoy the process of buying and playing vinyl records;” there is no equivalent of this experience with digital files. Or, to put it in Marxist terms, buying a record (or a book!) is one of the most prominent examples of a commodity fetish.

Hyden’s explanation of the changing way we consume recorded music makes sense, but what his article (and similarly, all of the articles extolling the virtues of e-readers) fails to discuss are the consequences of having all of one’s music in digital form when we run out of fossil fuels in twenty or thirty years. All of that data becomes meaningless if there is no electricity (or so little that it is needed for more basic tasks such as cooking or heating the home) to run the computer or charge the iPod. I suppose this might also be a problem when trying to run a CD player (though it won’t when trying to read a real book as long as there is a window nearby!). But my point is that, while the Digital Age is an exciting one, we do not talk nearly enough about its environmental impact and how we will adjust when the energy that powers it is no longer as available as it is now. This is why physical libraries/archives are so important.

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Books Acquired Recently: MLA Edition

Today I made my long-anticipated visit to the MLA Convention book fair. I acquired five books and ordered several more that will be shipped to me, which I will write about once I receive them. All of the books interest me, but the fact that I got several of them at a discount made them irresistable. I noticed that the majority of the publisher representatives at the fair were women, and especially younger women who looked to be in their twenties. This trend was especially pronounced in representatives from commercial publishers. My perhaps cynical thought upon making this observation was “this is where excess English majors end up.” But that’s not quite fair. I suppose that the job would be a fascinating and even enjoyable one. On the one hand it’s just being a cashier, but on the other, it involves travel and the opportunity to meet lots of people.

The books that I acquired at MLA with the view of downtown Boston from my hotel room window in the background.

The books that I acquired at MLA with the view of downtown Boston from my hotel room window in the background.

Barnes, Julian. The Sense of an Ending. 2011. New York: Vintage, 2012.

I’ve heard good things about Barnes’s work and read a laudatory review of this novel when it was published in hardcover, thus I was happy to buy the paperback for only $3.00.

Holland, Sharon Patricia. The Erotic Life of Racism. Durham: Duke UP, 2012.

This book’s blurb begins “A major intervention in the fields of critical race theory, black feminism, and queer theory….” Boom. I was sold right there. (Yes, I realize that I am a total nerd.) Duke University Press publishes so many yummy books about queerness and about race that it was very difficult to restrain myself from buying many more of their books. There was a history of the concept of the orgasm that was especially tempting to me, but I was able to resist.

Iversen, Kristen. Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats. New York: Crown, 2012.

The publisher was giving hardcover copies away for free, and Iversen was there to sign them, so I picked one up. It looks somewhat interesting–it is about her childhood growing up in one of the classified towns the U.S. government set up in the 1940s and 1950s for nuclear weapons research and development. I’m not sure how I as an author would feel about my publisher giving my books away for free while making me sit there and watch. Does the publisher think no one will buy them, and so this is a PR-friendly way of getting rid of them? Do they think the book is so good that they can give it away to professors because we’ll all want to assign it in our classes? I admit to being confused by this promotion.

Olds, Sharon. Stag’s Leap. New York: Knopf, 2012.

I love Olds’s poetry and was able to buy her latest collection for only $3.00. This price makes me happy, but it is also a shame to pay so little for something so valuable as poetry.

Scott-Heron, Gil. The Last Holiday: A Memoir. New York: Grove, 2012.

I’ve been fascinated by Scott-Heron since I heard his two most famous songs/poems, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and “Whitey on the Moon” back in high school. His art is so wise, and yet he struggled with an addiction to heroin up until the time of his death. Getting the opportunity to learn more about this paradox alone makes the book worth the $5.00 I paid for it.


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Zadie Smith on Music and Obsession

Zadie Smith has an article in the 17 December 2012 issue of the New Yorker about her journey to appreciating Joni Mitchell’s work in which she also offers some thoughts on being a connoisseur of various art forms. Smith writes that she distrusts those who claim to be true connoisseurs of more than one form, noting that the novel is her obsession and that she can’t imagine having an equal affinity for another genre even though she enjoys music. She offers her ignorance of Mitchell’s oeuvre as an example of how devotion to one form results in what may seem to be embarrassing blind spots in one’s knowledge of another.

This article resonated with me because I have had a similar relationship with literature and music. Books are my obsession, but another smaller obsession is my fascination with people who have obsessions about something, especially music. I have always been a little jealous of them. Smith describes coming across a Talking Heads album in a record store and being “gripped by melancholy, similar perhaps to the feeling a certain kind of man gets while sitting with his wife on a train platform as a beautiful girl–different in all aspects from his wife–walks by. There goes my other life” (33, Smith’s italics). This passage expresses my feelings about music perfectly. One of my favorite fictional/movie characters is Rob from High Fidelity because of how obsessed he is with both music itself and its physical manifestation in records (though unlike Rob, who owns a record store, I could never run a bookstore because getting rid of the books would be too painful even though they would only nominally be “mine”).  I enjoy music, but I rarely listen to it because I have little time to do so. I am unable to listen to it while multitasking except for when I wash dishes or, sometimes, cook, and the vast majority of my free time is spent reading.

My version of Smith’s ignorance of Mitchell (whom I, too, have little experience with, though I like the work of hers that I’ve heard, and have had “River” [the title of which, I admit, I had to look up online] in my head for the past few days) is my lack of interest in Prince. I know everyone thinks he is great, and I have tried to listen to his music, but it just doesn’t click for me. I suppose this would be an argument against the idea that there is a universal standard of aesthetic quality.

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Books Acquired Recently: Rocky Mountain MLA Edition II

Today I walked around downtown Boulder, Colorado with a colleague and several new friends as Rocky Mountain MLA wound down. We visited two excellent bookstores, Red Letter Secondhand Books (where they gave me my books in a recycled Borders bag! Independent bookstores forever!) and Left Hand Book Collective, a fantastic all-volunteer leftist bookstore (though I’d like to think that their name is inspired in part by Simon and Garfunkel’s “A Simple Desultory Philippic”: “I been Ayn Randed, nearly branded Communist, ’cause I’m left-handed. That’s the hand I use… well, never mind.”). I bought the Atwood and Whitman at the former and the Marable and Hugo (half-price!) at the latter.

Atwood, Margaret. Dancing Girls and Other Stories. 1977. New York: Anchor, 1998.

I have an essay coming out on one of the stories from this collection, “Rape Fantasies,” but did not actually own the collection itself. I’ve been looking for a copy of it for a while, and this one is in good condition and was only $6.00.

Hugo, Richard. Selected Poems. New York: Norton, 1979.

I’ve enjoyed the Hugo that I’ve read in anthologies, and have almost bought his Collected Poems several times. I haven’t bought or read any poetry in quite a while, so I decided to finally break down and buy one of Hugo’s books since both the vendor and the price were right.

Marable, Manning. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. New York: Penguin, 2011.

Marable’s book has gotten excellent reviews (in fact, it won the Pulitzer) and I’ve been meaning to pick it up for a while.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass and Democratic Vistas. London: Everyman’s, 1912.

Whitman is one of my literary obsessions, and as such I own numerous printings of Leaves of Grass. This Everyman’s Library edition is aesthetically pleasing and includes an introduction by one of Whitman’s friends, Horace Traubel. It’s interesting to note that Whitman died in relative obscurity in 1892, but twenty years later he was already canonical enough for the Library to reprint his work.

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Shaking the Rust Off

I haven’t written anything other than emails and lesson outlines in almost a week. The new semester is kicking my butt! I need to find a way to budget time into my schedule for writing so that I don’t get too out of practice and lose my edge. Luckily, today is the first meeting of a faculty writing group on campus, which should help me keep on task. There’s nothing like potential failure in front of your peers for motivation!

Anyway, the week has been an interesting one even though I haven’t had time to write about it here. I had good discussions with my classes about George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Amiri Baraka’s work (Dutchman and some poems), and read Stephen Beachy’s novel Distortion. It’s not as good as his latest novel Boneyard, but it was still enjoyable and even beautiful at times. Every time I saw the cover, I thought of the South Park episode with The Cure’s Robert Smith where Stan yells at the end that “Distortion is the best album ever!” Then I realized that I was misremembering the album title, which is actually Disintegration. Ah, well. The other significant event this week was that I got a new office computer with a HUGE monitor. It is burning my eyes out as I type. But it’s much faster than the old one, which is exciting.

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The Best YouTube Sing-Along Ever

This is a video of Swedish Olympic handball star Isabelle Gullden (driving) and some other woman singing along (well, sort of–maybe “riffing on” is a better term) to Jason Derulo’s “Whatcha Say” in the car, and it is hilarious:


The video raises so many questions (perhaps all of which would be answered if I knew Swedish):

1. This is obviously premeditated. Whose idea was it? Is it some sort of weird marketing gimmick?

2. Why this song?

3. Who is the other woman, and shouldn’t she be driving her famous Olympian friend around instead of vice versa?

4. What does the hand motion that the women make every time they sing the chorus signify in Sweden? If it’s the same thing it signifies in the U.S., an additional question arises (pun intended!): Why are these women so dirty? (not that I have a problem with it)

5. Not a question, but an observation: the way Gullden is torn between totally rocking out like her friend and being a responsible  driver cracks me up! If this video is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

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Some Thoughts on Edgar Allan Poe

Yesterday a friend of mine posted this hilarious cartoon on Facebook: http://i.imgur.com/rlEZr.png. Any time you can combine Edgar Allan Poe and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” you have to do it. I’ve been thinking about the cartoon and chuckling all day, which in turn got me thinking about Poe in general, and how he keeps inserting himself into my life at random intervals. I enjoy his work, though I would not consider him one of my “favorite” authors, but my history with him is longer than my history with any other non-children’s author aside from C.S. Lewis. Here is a brief recounting of some of that history.

My first encounter with Poe was via his famous poem “The Raven.” I don’t remember when I discovered this poem—presumably in school—but I knew it by 1989 when it featured in the first Simpsons Halloween special, with James Earl Jones narrating and the Bart-headed raven saying “eat my shorts” instead of “nevermore.”

The second encounter with Poe which comes to mind is reading a book of his short stories for eighth-grade English. The stories were cool because of their creepiness, but I got a 72 (or maybe a 74? Anyway, pretty abysmal) percent on the exam that covered them, so didn’t revisit the book for years afterward because it was associated with bad memories. However, I still have it, and just now noticed that it is edited by Vincent Price! Classic. And only $4.95 new.

A third strong Poe memory comes from the tail end of my sophomore year of high school. I was in Stratford, Ontario on a school trip to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (which was a surreal experience, but that is a story for another post). The plays were in the evening, thus we were spending the day browsing Stratford’s shops. I came across a small bookstore and decided to go inside and look for a collection of Poe’s poetry. (Why Poe? Why poetry? I don’t remember my reasons; it was like an unexplainable craving.) This is the earliest instance I can remember of that lovely phenomenon of going into a bookstore wanting a specific book and finding it when you were not sure that you would (Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street and Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited are two other examples of this happy synchronicity that I have experienced). In this case, I didn’t even know whether the book I wanted even existed, but there it was, “The Raven” and Other Favorite Poems, for only $1.00.

My fourth major Poe memory, and really the last time I thought about him extensively until this weekend (I taught “Annabel Lee” this past semester, but made my students do the thinking about it), is from three or four years ago when I was playing chess with a friend and he observed that in successful attacks the threat of a crushing move is often stronger and more decisive than its actual execution. He compared this to the threat present in “The Purloined Letter,” where the threat of blackmail resulting from the stolen letter is so strong that those who look for it are out of their heads to the point where they miss that it is on the desk, out in the open. I suppose I must add Poe to that ever-increasing mental list of authors that I need to re-read.

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