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Aug. 26th, 2016

reading tiger

reading and listening, no-caps style

Sorry for the delay, got married in the middle there.

I am currently reading Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die! by Mark Binelli, because Mark Binelli is my favorite writer of the moment (although I am about to exhaust his body of work) and because S&VMD is aimed right at my sensibilities. When it begins, Sacco and Vanzetti are not the S&V of our world, but rather a pre-WW2 comedy duo, a la Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, etc. The text consists of narrative descriptions of scenes from their movies as if the scenes had actually happened in real life; critical material about said movies; and other "supplementary material" of various sorts, from interviews to diary pages to footnotes. Then things get weirder and the story of the other S&V, the ones we know, starts to bleed through. In the meantime, lots of stuff touching on knife-sharpening (Binelli's family were knife-sharpeners who emigrated from Italy to Detroit, fwiw), pre-war radical politics, pre-war Hollywood (S&V are pallbearers at Valentino's funeral, for example), pre-war Italy and America, theories of comedy and tragedy, and so on. I love this book so hard. It's Binelli's first novel, pre-dating both the Detroit book and the Screamin' Jay Hawkins book I read earlier this year, but so far it's not showing any signs of first-novel awkwardness. Here's hoping it stays the course.

This week's earworm, and the week before's:

The Girl from Ipanema
http://www.sfweekly.com/music/all-shook-down/earworm-weekly-girl-ipanema-stan-getz-astrud-gilberto/

The Ghost in You
http://www.sfweekly.com/music/all-shook-down/earworm-weekly/earworm-weekly-psychedelic-furs-ghost/

Aug. 10th, 2016

reading tiger

Reading and Listening (and Watching)

I read nihilistic_kid's "I am Providence" this week. Speedily, because I am not good at enduring the suspense of whodunits. It was sharply funny, chewier than your usual detective book, and pretty accurate about the seamier side of con culture, indeed.

What's next? No idea!

I watched "Home," the movie based off the book "The True Meaning of Smekday," and was disappointed. Too bad; I'd heard it was possibly an overlooked gem, but in fact it's pretty blah, and (as far as I can tell so far) not very true to the book. Also, please forgive me but I hated the voice work of Jim Parsons.

Earworm Weekly this time around is on Robyn Hitchcock.

http://www.sfweekly.com/shookdown/2016/08/09/earworm-weekly-i-feel-beautiful-by-robyn-hitchcock

Aug. 3rd, 2016

reading tiger

Reading, Listening

I finally ditched Planet for Rent. The reasons were plentiful: thin characters, too much undifferentiated first-person narration, three chapters with the exact same plot structure of "human interacts with much more powerful alien patron/adversary, realizes their utter puniness in the grand scheme of things, then -- a twist! Usually involving selling out to the aliens for capital gain and further loss of autonomy." Also, he sunk the continent of Africa, an unbearable cliche.

Smekday, on the other hand, remains highly entertaining.

This week's earworm is Seals and Crofts' "Get Closer." Ray Parker Jr. of Ghostbusters fame plays guitar on this track, though it may take multiple listens to notice it beneath the spackle of strings and piano.

http://www.sfweekly.com/shookdown/2016/08/02/earworm-weekly-seals-and-crofts-get-closer

Jul. 28th, 2016

reading tiger

reading and listening

I am back to reading Yoss' "Planet for Rent" and also, for the kids, "The True Meaning of Smekday." Thus it is that I am immersed in anxiety about aliens colonizing the Earth and the effects thereof, which of course is really just thinly-disguised anxiety about either a) what we did to the people we colonized right here historically without leaving the planet, and/or b) what said people we colonized might do to us if the tables were turned. Compare and contrast! I guess the main difference is that Yoss is, so far, filled with sexual obsessions, while "Smekday," being a kids' book, not so much. But actually the sexual fixations get a little old so I'm enjoying "Smekday" a little bit more. It might just be that reading the Boov dialog out loud is awesome, while Yoss' broken English is actually broken Spanish, translated, and may as a result have lost some of its subtle charms.

I wrote about the song "Bad Day" for my column this week.

http://www.sfweekly.com/shookdown/2016/07/26/earworm-weekly-daniel-powters-bad-day

Jul. 22nd, 2016

reading tiger

still reading, still listening

I started "Between the World and Me" this week, coincidentally aligning with the Republican National Convention spectacle. It was kind of disturbing, actually, to read Coates' discussion of The [American] Dream and its costs while all that was going on. Exhibit A on display.

I had some drama around my column this week. But it got posted. Tagged and Tweeted and everything too.

http://www.sfweekly.com/shookdown/2016/07/19/earworm-weekly-ghostbusters-by-ray-parker-jr

Jul. 14th, 2016

reading tiger

It Happens When It Happens: Reading and Writing

I just started "Planet for Rent" by Yoss, a Cuban science fiction writer who is also in a heavy metal band. (Awesome author photo. Gold star.) This his is older novel; his newer one, just released, is "Super Extra Grande" but I wanted to read this one first. So far, it's interesting in concept and a little clunky in execution, which is about what I expected. I mean, it's no clunkier than a lot of other contemporary SF.

The last two chapters of "Detroit City is the Place to Be" (before the double afterwords) are about "ruin porn" and the high art world's engagement with the Detroit landscape (sometimes versus its people, who are still there, as many people seem to conveniently forget). There is a lot to grapple with, and Binelli does it more justice than I have seen elsewhere. Man, it's some bleak shit in the end, though.

Earworm is here: http://www.sfweekly.com/shookdown/2016/07/12/earworm-weekly-she-drives-me-crazy-by-fine-young-cannibals

Jul. 5th, 2016

reading tiger

Reading/Listening -- On Vacation But On Schedule!

(well, if you take into account the three-hour time shift, anyway.)

Reading and listening are the same this week: I just finished Mark Binelli's second novel, "Screamin' Jay Hawkins' Greatest Hits." As I note in my music column (see below), the title is a joke, since technically Hawkins had zero hits, and only one song he's really known for. But "I Put a Spell On You" is a pretty big signature tune, man.

Binelli, you may notice, is also the author of "Detroit City Is The Place To Be," the book I have been reading up to this point. I was impressed enough by his nonfiction to give his fiction a spin. And I liked this book enough that I am going to check out his first novel, "Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die." Binelli is "experimental" to mainstream reading audiences and only mildly odd to indie readers; sure, "Greatest Hits" is not entirely linear and features a ghost, a theatrical monologue and a re-imagining of "Jailhouse Rock" starring Hawkins instead of Elvis (not all in one scene, though), taking care to note that Hawkins actually went to jail. But the writing itself is pretty straightforward, which I appreciate. It's a surprisingly subtle and thoughtful novel. Don't put too much stock into the cover blurbs about how it's talking about race in surprising new ways, though. All it really means is that Binelli is a white guy who doesn't collapse the complexities of a black man who loved opera, fathered dozens of illegitimate children, performed wearing a bone in his nose, and titled one of his albums "Black Music For White People." Which does make it a cut above the rest, I suppose.

The ending chapter is perfect.

The earworm is here:

http://www.sfweekly.com/shookdown/2016/07/05/earworm-weekly-the-many-versions-of-screamin-jay-hawkins-i-put-a-spell-on-you

Jun. 29th, 2016

reading tiger

We're back on track! (Reading/Listening)

But don't expect it to last, b/c next week I will be in Hawaii (!).

Still reading Detroit City, which is still a fine book. I should be finished with it soon. As far as chapter books with the kids go, I'm currently reading them a charming little YA mystery called Enchantment Lake.: A Northwoods Mystery. (https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/enchantment-lake) It's set in a small lakeside community in northern Minnesota, one that can only be reached by boat and only intermittently possesses electricity and is full of aging, eccentric residents. But the demographics are changing, someone's building a road and maybe a golf course, and suddenly a lot of "accidents" are claiming the lives of the older generation. Francie, an aspiring actress who briefly played a teenage detective on TV, comes back to help her elderly aunts discover what's really going on.

Published by University of Minnesota Press, this was written by someone who, you can tell, is intimately familiar with the northern Midwestern landscape. I've never been up to northern Minnesota, but my family used to have a house on a lake in southern Michigan (near Cassopolis). Not a vacation house; my own elderly relations lived there year-round -- the whole Filley family, whom the Selkes intermarried with, had 3-4 houses all next to each other, if I recall correctly, and the local access road is still named after them -- and we'd go to visit on weekends. So all the little details keep making me shiver with delight. (The peat bog! The midnight fishing for walleye, using leeches as bait! Jigsaw puzzles you've done so many times before that you try it without the reference photo to make it more challenging! Birch trees!) I am not entirely sure the kids are as entertained as I am, but they seem to enjoy Francie and her dotty aunts (are they sisters? a couple? does it matter?), and the writing is sprightly enough to keep their attention. It's too bad this book didn't get more attention -- I plucked it from the returns cart at work -- because it's really quite well-crafted and more satisfying than the usual YA mystery fluff. At least so far.

Meanwhile, I wrote about Prince again: http://www.sfweekly.com/shookdown/2016/06/28/earworm-weekly-lets-pretend-were-married-by-prince

Jun. 23rd, 2016

reading tiger

reading and listening

Detroit City: I had forgotten how colorful Coleman Young was. "Swearing is an art form. You can express yourself much more exactly, much more succinctly, with properly used curse words."



Earworms:

Queen: http://www.sfweekly.com/shookdown/2016/06/14/earworm-weekly-we-will-rock-you-by-queen

Katy Perry: http://www.sfweekly.com/shookdown/2016/06/21/earworm-weekly-firework-by-katy-perry

Jun. 17th, 2016

reading tiger

we were doing so well there for a moment!

Still reading Detroit City is The Place to Be. It's still great. More soon.

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