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Nov. 3rd, 2016

reading tiger

alive and kicking (and reading)

Still deep into Where Dead Voices Gather, and glad I stuck with it. When you push past Tosches' bluster and some of the blinders of his ethnic-White perspective (Tosches is Italian) -- and his somewhat hilarious constant disparagement of academia whilst actually connecting early 20th century American popular music to Homer, down to quotes rendered in Greek -- he has a lot of interesting things to say. Plus the seriously digressionary structure of the book is oddly compelling. This week, we swung back to Dylan again and Tosches pointed out that Highway 61 isn't just any highway in Minnesota, it's the highway that runs south to New Orleans, i.e. down to the Mississippi Delta, jazz and blues and all that mythology. Tosches also disassembles that mythology quite neatly, by the way. All of this is highly esoteric, I know, and really tangential to my project, but so be it.

Oct. 18th, 2016

reading tiger


I am reading the kids The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters, because it looked like fun -- the Bland sisters, Kale and Jaundice, are kidnapped by pirates, hijinks ensue. It's the first in a series of middle-grade books clearly modeled on A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, etc. etc. But, you know, free ARC (which means unfinished art, boo), of short length, what the heck.

I didn't anticipate the sneaky humor that I am having to attempt to explain, with extra-entertaining results. Some of it is just dumb, like the fact that the Bland sisters' parents are marooned on Gilly Gun Island. Ho Ho. But some of it is a little more eyebrow-raising. I didn't think much of the pirate ship with an all-woman crew being named the Jolly Regina until they ran into a more traditional, all-male pirate ship called the Testostero. Then I cracked up. "What's so funny, Mama?" I don't think my explanation made any sense to them, but I did my best.

Oct. 11th, 2016

reading tiger

(no subject)

As I suspected, once we actually got into the minutiae of researching the faint traces of Emmett Miller's life and career and how they connect, weblike, with a bunch of disparate 20th-century music stuff, Where Dead Voices Gather gets much more tolerable. I am glad I stuck with it, even if it's going to be barely relevant to what I'm ostensibly reading it for.

Oct. 6th, 2016

reading tiger

no arithmetic at this time

I picked up Nick Tosches' Where Dead Voices Gather as part of a woolgathering research jaunt I am on for my next project, but I am not sure that I am going to be able to read it all the way through. I'm kind of hoping that the first chapter is just throat-clearing and it will get better, but. Where Dead Voices Gather is about Emmett Miller, and also about Tosches' pursuit of the details of Emmett Miller's biography. Miller was one of the last blackface minstrel singers; he had an odd, high, nasal, yodely voice (you can hear it here, and see some stills of Miller in blackface too), and he was apparently enormously influential on a wide range of white performers, especially but not exclusively early country and western -- and jazz; Miller's 1920s recording backup band The Georgia Crackers included Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey.

Tosches rightly points out that blackface minstrelry was born and popularized in the North, not the South as we tend to lazily (and all too conveniently) assume, but he also more or less rejects the notion that blackface was any worse than any other form of ethnic caricature. In a similar vein, he makes a lot out of the fact that black performers participated in blackface, too, and that's OK because they got paid and they didn't stay in persona when offstage.

And as he makes his case, he does not neglect to sneer at academics as being all up their own ass, too. All academics, because they're academics. And most other pop commentators on minstrelry, too, because they follow the academics. Only Tosches is going to give you the real lowdown, you know.

And all this before I get to the end of the first chapter. I'm trying to hang in, really. I'm giving it the old college try. (Academics, he sniffs.)

Oct. 3rd, 2016

reading tiger

Still here! Still reading!

You can tell that Tiger had all his stories taken away from him because now, in all the stories, Tiger is the villain. Yes, I am still reading Anansi Boys to the kids, but it's not just that. It's everywhere. I still remember an old silent movie I watched, set in the circus, that quite deliberately juxtaposed the fierce but noble lion against the treacherous killer tiger. And that's just an example off the top of my head. There's also the Jungle Book, of course, which is probably to blame for a lot that followed (including Gaiman, who we know is influenced by Kipling). Nonetheless, the game is rigged, and I'm grumpy about it. I want to write a tiger-as-hero story now because I'm contrary that way. We'll see what develops.

Finished We Gon' Be Alright by Jeff Chang. It's brilliant and just what I needed for this election season. Also short (despite how long it took me to read it). It also afforded me the rare phenomenon this week of selling someone a copy of the book I was in the middle of reading myself.

And in the listening department: we're watching Luke Cage, and I am deeply impressed by the soundtrack choices. I'm usually pretty hard to please in this department, so this is a rare pleasure. Fortunately the rest of the Internet is also all agog and is supplying me endless mp3s to listen to and links to explore further. It's kind of a shame I'm not doing my column any more (at the moment, fingers crossed) because there's some seriously rich ground to cover here.

Sep. 22nd, 2016

reading tiger

Earworm Weekly is defunct (and also reading)

Thanks to an editorial reorganization, this turns out to be my last Earworm Weekly column.


If I'd known, I would have written one on Earth, Wind and Fire's "September." The 21st of September being the last day the column appeared and all (and the day I learned the news). But so it goes.

This week I am reading "We Gon' Be Alright: Notes on Race and Representation" by Jeff Chang. It's a hard book to summarize, so go ahead and just read this Kirkus Review (starred!) and that will give you a good sense of it.

Sep. 14th, 2016

reading tiger

Reading. Listening, Going to School Again

I'm still dithering, reading-wise. I know, I could have read two or three books in this time! My magazine stack is much reduced, though.

We met Daisy in Anansi Boys this week. Daisy comes in, nurses Fat Charlie through his first hangover, and then conveniently vanishes. She is even described as "pixieish." Can't make this shit up, can't roll my eyes any harder. Kids still like it, though. Mostly because in this part of the book, Spider's charm and self-confidence make him fun to read out loud. I should look into volunteering to read at elementary schools again when I'm not taking a serious graded professional certification class for the first time in forever.

Did you see how I buried that lede? I'm starting a TESOL certification program through Berkeley Extension. First class is September 25, same day as my Aqueduct Press reading. Because I am ridiculous this way.

Earworm-wise, this week, like every week, I "Work From Home":


Sep. 8th, 2016

reading tiger

Reading and Listening

I stalled out of the book I was reading, which is a fine book, award-winning, even, but apparently just not to my taste at the moment so I will leave it anonymous.

I am saving room in my schedule for tackling Jeff Chang's "We Gon' Be Alright" as soon as it comes in. Meanwhile, I am reading cookbooks.

I did finally finish "The Real Meaning of Smekday" with the kids. It's delightful and makes the movie even more disappointing. I hear good things about the spin-off TV show, though. We'll have to check it out. We have started on "Anansi Boys" b/c, well, Anansi, which is to say that we have exhausted all children's picture books about Anansi, and all the collections of Anansi stories we could find at the library, too, and the kids still love Anansi stories and I happen to have one on my shelf so why not. So far so good. Gaiman's lazy writing tics irritate me here and there but I can keep that to myself.

But the next book I read to them, whatever it is, is going to be *really short*.

And then maybe I will have to chase down more Dickens...

This week's earworm is more or less about the secret history of K-Tel's "40 Funky Hits."


Last week's was wedding-themed:


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

The Ghost in You

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.


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