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Staff Recommendations

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The Bennett Martin Public Library downtown maintains an ongoing “Staff Recommendations” display – Staff from throughout the library system are encouraged to submit book, audio, CD and DVD/video recommendations for items to be placed onto this display. Items on the display have bookmarks inserted, giving brief descriptions about the item’s appeal factors, and listing similar books, audios or videos that the reader might also enjoy.

This page on BookGuide is used to highlight some of the items that have appeared on our Staff Recommendations displays in the past, including our staff members’ descriptions of the books, plus links to any “official Web sites” for the books, authors or series, if they exist*. Items on both the display and on this webpage may be recent releases, or older titles that deserve another look. Hotlinks on titles or formats (downloadable audio, book-on-CD, Large Print) connect to the appropriate entry in our on-line catalog, so that you may check on the availability of the item.

INDEXES TO PAST STAFF RECOMMENDATIONS: BY TITLE | BY REVIEWER
TV SERIES/SPECIALS ON DVD | AGATHA CHRISTIE | LGBTQ+ | STAR TREK | STAR WARS

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November 2022 Recommendations

Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio
by Derf Backderf (YA 741.5 Der)

Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio is the untold story of the shooting of students by National Guardsmen on a college campus in 1970. Extensively researched, heartbreaking and real. I learned a lot from this book. This graphic novel was released on the 50th anniversary of this event.

( publisher’s official Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio web page ) | ( official Derf Backderf web site )

This was one of dozens of Graphic Novel reviews submitted by library staff during our 2022 In-Service Training day on 9/23, all collected on A Day Full of Graphic Novels

Recommended by Jen J.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


The Haunting of Tram Car 015
by P. Djeli Clark (Clark)

P. Djeli Clark’s 2021 novel, A Master of Djinn was one of the finalists for the Hugo Award this year. I picked up a copy of that full-length novel, and even though it didn’t ultimately win the Hugo, I still look forward to reading that story. But in the meantime, I discovered that there were two novellas that established the background for the novel, which were each acclaimed in the years they came out. A Dead Djinn in Cairo (2016) and The Haunting of Tram Car 015 (2019) both introduce readers to this fabulous alternate history version of Cairo, Egypt, in which the existence and normalization of Djinn and other supernatural/magical forces allow the native Egyptians to throw off British imperialistic rule in the late 1800s and help establish Cairo as one of the most cosmopolitan and progressive cities in the world.

In The Haunting of Tram Car 015, the action takes place in Cairo, 1912, and features two agents of The Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, Hamed Naser (the older, more serious, senior officer) and Onsi Youssef (the young, enthusiastic, but still inexperienced officer), called in to solve the problem of an elevated tram car that appears to be possessed by a malevolent entity. Misunderstandings and a lack of cultural reference points for the agents lead to major complications — all while the city of Cairo is roiling with activists both for and against a referendum giving women the right to vote for the first time.

The world-building is absolutely tremendous, and the characters are engaging and compelling — I loved the geeky agent Onsi, and his tendency to try to provide too much information at all times. This short (140 page) story really whetted my appetite for more stories in this setting, so I know really look forward to reading Master of Djinn. This is a terrific example of how the field of science fiction publishing is truly broadening to provide a more multi-cultural point of view.

I loved The Haunting of Tram Car 015, especially the Steampunk feeling of the setting and time period!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try A Dead Djinn in Cairo and A Master of Djinn , also by P. Djeli Clark.)

( official The Haunting of Tram Car 015 page on the official P. Djeli Clark web site )

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


MusicQuake: The Most Disruptive Moments in Music
by Robert Dimery (Music 781.64 Dim)

MusicQuake is part of a new series being published by British publisher Frances Lincoln. The overall series is called “Culture Quake,” and it looks at pivotal moments in various art forms related to popular culture that stand as signposts of change. There are books devoted to such moments in visual art, fashion, and film, appropriately named “Art Quake,” “Fashion Quake,” and “Film Quake,” and for music buffs, we have Music Quake at the Polley Music Library.

I really enjoyed the layout of this book. On the surface, it’s more or less a modern music history book, looking at roughly the last 100 years (the earliest period documented starts in 1913), but the pages seem to fly by because the overarching concept is to boil our century of evolution and near-constant change down to 50 of the most significant “music quakes.” Great photography is prominently featured throughout the book, there are subtle changes in background page colors between sections, and I love the funky font used for headlines. The book proceeds chronologically, with a brief introduction and timeline at the beginning of each section, and the sections themselves have been carefully selected to highlight particular themes of change most appropriate to the era in question. Instead of the usual decade-by-decade breakdown that so many books like this follow, we have five main sections across the century of significantly different lengths, and in terms of the “music quake” quotient within the chosen time spans, everything feels like it makes sense.

It’s also worth mentioning that this isn’t a book about experimental music, although a few artists who are still considered to be avant-garde or experimental are included. Perhaps in the literal sense of “avant-garde,” or “front line” in French, to describe pioneers in particular fields, a lot of the artists here could be said to be among the first in their particular fields, but many are well-loved by the general public as well. There are lots of genres featured, from classical to jazz to many forms of pop music, and the concept of something that qualifies as a “music quake” is interpreted a few ways throughout the book, from the development of new genres to songs or artists that achieved a kind of social or political milestone to technical changes in music or its recording or presentation. In this sense, this is a great book for music lovers of all kinds to peruse—you might learn about some new artists, but you’ll also read some fresh perspectives on artists or songs you may already love.

A few quick highlights from the different era sections of the book: our journey starts in “This is the Modern World, 1913-1953, the longest time period among the sections in the book. The first musical event covered is the premiere of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” on May 29, 1913, which caused a riot in the audience, as legend has it. As the book rightly points out, though, the piece was in fact received with applause at this premiere performance, although it is true that critics didn’t know what to make of it at the time, and there were moments of audiences jeering the piece during early performances. Lots of other quake-worthy moments happened throughout this span of 40 years, though, including 12-tone music, truly American concert music like Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” the Jazz Age of the 1920s, and significant improvements in recording technology, such as the ability to overdub parts onto tape pioneered by Les Paul. The section ends with the famous John Cage “silent piece” and a kind of bridge-entry to the next section about musical minimalism, which really took shape in the 1960s.

The next section, “The Rise of Rock N Roll,” covers considerably less time, 1954-66, but indeed there were many shifts in musical culture. The book starts with the recorded debut of Elvis Presley in 1954 and traces the early developments in rock music, like the Beatles and the British Invasion. However, there were new ideas afoot in other areas of music, too, including cool jazz and free jazz, electronic and early computer-based classical music (and its commercial equivalent happening with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop), and the beginnings of funk and Motown. Folk music had its rise during this period, too, and Bob Dylan created another “Music Quake” by going electric at the Newport Folk Festival in ’65.

In “Revolution from Studio to Street, 1967-1976,” tons of the subgenres of pop music that are still with us today spung into being: psychedelic, the beginnings of world music, disco, metal, punk, dub, afrobeat! Now that albums had become fully entrenched as the primary method for circulating popular music, several critical albums are highlighted as well, such as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” I was impressed with the choices of international artists’ albums in this section, too, including milestone records from Brigitte Fontaine, Os Mutantes, Serge Gainsbourg, Kraftwerk, and Fela Kuti, assuring the book is looking for global viewpoints. The influence of social and political events from the era, such as the Vietnam War, are addressed as well, and a few of the well-known musical moments of this time are included, like the Jimi Hendrix rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock.

The next section, “Beats and the Beaten Generation,” essentially looks at the youth culture of Gen X and younger Millennials, 1977-1999. By this point in the book, and in music history, so many of the genres already generated in the previous few decades had started to weave into one another in interesting new ways, and analog and digital technologies continued to elevate musical possibilities. The rise of hip-hop is the biggest “music quake” in this era, incorporating new musical mashups and evolving technology. Other important developments covered include the introduction of the CD format, the impact of MTV and music videos, rave culture, new genres like thrash metal, grunge, afropop and industrial, and some just plain interesting albums from artists like Kate Bush, Aphex Twin, Cornelius, and many more.

The final section, “Invention and Dissension,” brings us from the new millennium to the present. It’s a comparatively short section considering the span of time covered, but this also makes sense simply because it’s hard to look at musical influence until considerable time has passed. But here you’ll find a lot of familiar groundbreaking artists, from Radiohead to Daft Punk to Kanye West, along with some lesser-known but influential artists like J Dilla. A few more technical innovations are included, like Beyonce’s first “visual album” and her marketing approach of surprise album “drops” that has become more common, and Bjork’s first album-as-app, “Biophilia.” The influence of social movements like Black Lives Matter and MeToo is mentioned as well.

All told, the unique idea of looking for “disruptive moments in music” makes MusicQuake a fun and engaging read. The balance between well-known and lesser-known artists, and the inclusion of evolving technology and social influences on the music of different eras paints an accurate picture of the sometimes surprising ebb and flow in creative sparks over the decades.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Freak Out: How a Musical Revolution Rocked the World in the Sixties by Tony Wellington or Musical Revolutions: How the Sounds of the Western World Changed by Stuart Isacoff.)

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


Bookburners: The Complete Season 1
by Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty and Brian Francis Slattery (Gladstone)

I stumbled upon a reference to this online serialized novel, and checked to see if the library had it — and lo-and-behold, we do! Bookburners was designed as an online book, co-written by four genre authors and released one chapter at a time. It started in 2015, and five “seasons” were released online. The first “season” of sixteen chapters was subsequently released in this large trade paperback edition (no subsequent seasons have come out in print form).

Sal Brooks is a New York City police detective, but more importantly she’s also the big sister to her screwed-up brother Perry, who she’s had to rescue from various bad situations over the years. But his latest problem is way beyond her experience — he’s been possessed by an actual demon, who had been released from an ancient book that Perry got his hands on. When a team of specialists from the Vatican, including a priest, a computer hacker, a diminutive martial artist, and an archivist show up to claim the book, Sal hitches her wagon to their cause…and is initiated into the Societas Librorum Occultorum’s “Team Three”. That team is assigned to contain outbreaks of supernatural activity, tied to artifacts or ancient texts. Sal joins them, in hopes of learning something that could save her now-comatose brother. But dealing with supernatural threats, both small and massive is a new job, which she pretty much has to learn on the fly.

The central characters — the members of Team Three — are all intriguing and I definitely felt myself invested in their fates. The tone of this story reminded me strongly of Buffy the Vampire Slayer — lots of snappy, snarky dialog, fast-paced action, and serious situations interspersed with the absurd. At the same that I was loving the best of this story, I was also rolling my eyes at the “Oh, really?” moments that made it a bit uneven.

None-the-less, fans of Buffy/Angel, Supernatural, Ghostbusters, The X-Files/Millennium, Shadow Chasers, Warehouse 13 or Friday the 13th: The Series, should enjoy this. In fact, it most closely resembles those last two — Warehouse 13 dealt with a government project to locate, recover and contain artifacts with a paranormal connection in a gigantic hidden warehouse; and Friday the 13th: The Series dealt with representatives of an antique store that specialized in “cursed” items trying to recover many of the objects that accidentally escaped from the store.

And, if you like this print book of Bookburners first season (790 pages!), be aware there are three more “seasons” of this paranormal “show” you can read as E-books.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try any of the TV series mentioned in my review, particularly Warehouse 13, and Friday the 13th: The Series. The libraries own all five seasons of Warehouse 13 on DVD, but you’d have to search elsewhere for Friday the 13th: The Series (2 seasons) — it did come out on DVD, so could be borrowed through InterLibrary Loan.

( official Bookburners page on the official Max Gladstone web site )

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Improve: How I Discovered Improv and Conquered Social Anxiety
by Alex Graudins (YA PB (Graphic Novel) Graudins)

Disclaimer: I love Comedy Improv — the type of Improv most easily recognized by casual viewers as that done on the TV series Whose Line Is It Anyway? In fact, I’ve loved that art form for nearly 30 years, and even organized shows of it and performed it. So, when I saw this graphic novel on the “new books” display in the Teen room of the downtown library, I was immediately interested.

Alex Graudins is a successful young cartoonist. But she has also suffered from crippling social anxiety since she was a child. Placed into situations where she has to interact with others, she constantly found herself questioning and criticizing her own abilities, even when she knew she was fully capable of achieving her own goals. When a therapist encouraged her to join an Improv class as one method of combating her social anxiety, Graudins fondly remembers watching the earliest years of Whose Line is it Anyway? on TV (it first premiered on ABC in 1998, and now after many years airs on the CW network).

Graudins explains how Improv works, with detailed descriptions of how specific Improv games play out. She explains how some of these games actually helped her break out of her cycle of self-defeat. Though Graudins continues to fight against the social anxiety issues that have dogged her for so long, she identifies how implementing Improv into her life has broadening her circle of trusted friends and associates.

I absolutely loved Improve: How I Discovered Improv and Conquered Social Anxiety. I appreciated this for the personal elements (I could identify with much of the social anxiety the Alex suffers), and the detailed descriptions of Improv games. I strongly recommend this read for anyone suffering from the same type of social anxiety as the author, and for fans of Improv acting and Improv comedy. In fact, reading this book may inspire you to wish to get involved in Improv locally. You may not be aware that Southeast Community College has offered both beginning and intermediate Improv classes in recent years, and several of the graduates of that series of courses have formed a Lincoln-based Improv troupe, Occasionally Hilarious, which offers occasional live performances in the area. Another Lincoln Improv troupe is Lyp Schtick, which has been around for several years and has a presence on both Twitter and Facebook, but hasn’t had any local performances since early 2021.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Improv Comedy by Andy Goldberg, Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson, and many E-books on Improv via Hoopla.)

( publisher’s official page for Improve ) | ( official Alex Graudins web site )
( Occasionally Hilarious — Lincoln-based Improv troupe ) | ( Lyp Schtick — Lincoln-based Improv troupe ) | ( Who’s On-Line Anyway? — reviewer Scott C.’s online comedy troupe )

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


The Boy
by Tami Hoag (Compact Disc Hoag)

Don’t let the 14 discs/17 hours of listening scare you away. The listener is pulled into the story immediately and it doesn’t let go. Rich with characters and sense-of-place this mystery unfolds as we learn more about the town folks, the victim, his mother, and what happened and why.

This is the second in Hoag’s series featuring married detectives Nick Fourcade and Anne Broussard set in Cajun country of the fictional small town of Bayou Breaux, Louisiana. They are tasked with solving the murder of KJ, a seven-year-old boy viciously stabbed to death in his home that left his mother wounded and hospitalized. You will not be struggling to figure out the characters and the town. The author provides background on everyone and the reader is not lost when it comes to the interpersonal relationships of everyone. Several subplots are woven together here and everything is interconnected.

I highly recommend listening to The Boy rather than reading it. The narrator gives us southern accents, French Cajun comments sprinkled throughout much of Nick’s conversations, and an excellent feel for all of the characters. But if you do decide to read the book, the author provided a French-English translation of phrases at the back.

( official The Boy page on the official Tami Hoag web site )

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Recommended by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Everybody Fights: So Why Not Get Better At It?
by Kim and Penn Holderness (395.872 Hol)

You may be familiar with the authors from their YouTube and other media presence as the Holderness Family or their recent appearance on The Amazing Race TV series, which they won. They were also both in the television news industry for a number of years. In this 2021 release the married couple give detailed accounts of misunderstandings, assumptions, and outright arguments/fights they have had over the course of their relationship. These events are used to illustrate ways to develop better communication and relationship skills, particularly for partners/spouses. Their sense of humor, as well as their devotion to each other and their family life, shines through.

A lot of the content is based on Penn and Kim’s friendship, and counseling sessions, with their friend and pastor, Dr. Christopher Edmonston. They quote and credit him so frequently that I’m surprised his name isn’t included in the author credits. The book is arranged with a structure that highlights Kim’s and Penn’s sides of a disagreement or other problem they have encountered in their years together and how they, and anyone experiencing similar relationship roadblocks, can resolve it and possibly prevent a recurrence. This personal journal of ‘fighting’, then, is also a workbook for couples who are already experiencing such challenges or are likely to in the future.

( official Everybody Fights page on the official theholdernessfamily.com web site )

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Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


MJ: The Musical
based on the music of Michael Jackson (and others) (Compact Disc 782.14 MJ)

MJ: The Musical is what they call a “jukebox musical” — in which a variety of songs (usually by a single artist or group) are integrated into the plot of an on-stage storyline, often featuring the artist(s) who created or performed the music. But not always, for instance the hit Mamma Mia exclusively featured the music of ABBA but not those performers as characters.

MJ: The Musical, however, really does tell the story of Michael Jackson, from his very earliest days performing with The Jackson Five, up through 1992, and the beginning of his Dangerous World tour. The music doesn’t appear in purely chronological order — in fact, the musical opens with Jackson’s hit Beat It, before segueing backwards to the early years.

MJ: The Musical has a complicated history. It was originally supposed to open on Broadway in 2020, but was one of many shows impacted by the Broadway closures due to COVID-19. After a recasting of the lead role, which lead to Myles Frost playing the adult Michael Jackson, the show did eventually open in February of 2022 (after two months of previews). Critics have not been kind to the show, but it has been popular with audiences. In the 2022 Tony Awards, the show was nominated for 10 Tony Awards and won four: Best Lead Actor for Frost, Best Choreography, Best Lighting Design and Best Sound Design. Obviously, the show’s soundtrack can’t really show up dance, lighting and sound design effective, but it DOES shine a spotlight on Myles Frost’s incredible singing. He truly “becomes” Michael in this show, and the medleys of Jackson music come across beautifully in this production. There are only a few moments in a few of the songs where it sounds like somebody else singing these highly recognizable songs.

I highly recommend listening to this soundtrack, if you’re a Michael Jackson fan, and catch MJ: The Musical when it begins its national tour in 2023 or 2024.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try all the original albums/music by Michael Jackson himself.)

( official MJ: The Musical web site ) | ( MJ: The Musical page on the official Michael Jackson web site ) | ( Wikipedia entry on MJ: The Musical )

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


The Twisted Ones
by T. Kingfisher (Kingfisher)

I picked up this book because I thoroughly enjoyed T. Kingfisher’s novella What Moves the Dead and her fans kept pointing at The Twisted Ones as her must-read title. It was described as exceptionally scary. I have to disagree. Despite the dreary cover and — yes — substantial horror content, I found this to be a cozy read. (Is cozy horror a thing? It is now!) I think one of those contemporary romance covers with flat colors and a sentence title like Mouse Cleans House would be a totally appropriate presentation for this book.

Mouse is an editor whose terrible grandmother has died. Her dad asks if she’ll clean out his mother’s house, knowing she was something of a hoarder. Mouse takes her hound, a pickup truck, and a work laptop to rural North Carolina and gets to work. I’m a sucker for story situations where someone has to organize a big mess and this book does better than any other book in covering details about the organizing throughout the story and having it all be plot relevant. So satisfying!

The reason I’m labeling this “cozy” is that Mouse is almost always accompanied by someone cheery, whether that’s her dog, the barista at the nearest cafe, or the neighbors she meets. Things get intense, but she doesn’t have to face the strangeness and danger alone. There’s also very little explicit violence on the page. Mouse’s character voice fits with the ultra-contemporary heroines of the types of romance novels I mentioned above (but with no romance plot). It’s fun. It’s often funny. It goes totally off-the-rails spooky, then sticks the ending.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes or House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.)

( official The Twisted Ones page on Ursula Vernon (a.k.a. T. Kingfisher)’s web site for her adult writing )

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Recommended by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


The Selected Letters of John Cage
edited by Laura Kuhn (Music 780.92 Cage)

Originally published almost a decade ago, The Selected Letters of John Cage, edited by Laura Kuhn, director of the John Cage Trust, revealed even more personal aspects of the well-published composer’s life over the decades than we’d previously seen in print. Now it’s back in paperback with a new foreword by Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed, and what an interesting book this is!

In addition to his work as a composer, Cage is well-regarded as a writer. Remember that for artists of many disciplines in the post-WWII avant-garde, the ideas that underpinned new directions in the arts were indeed so new and unexplored by audiences (and even other artists) that various kinds of written and oral communication, from manifestos to lectures to in-depth interviews, became part of the job for New Music proponents. And Cage was among the best at articulating his ideas in lectures and articles that were often made into books. I often tell folks that Cage’s books can be a real pleasure to read even if you’re not into his music. His writing style is friendly, gentle and approachable, and often reflects his interests in Buddhist concepts.

But lectures and articles collected into books may not give us the full impression of what kind of a person their writer was. For that, we need more intimate modes of writing, like diaries or letters, where the intent to publish doesn’t lead to guarded thoughts, or prose polished in anticipation of wider audiences. When the John Cage diary of sorts was published around the time of his death in 1992, we got a little glimpse into his inner thoughts on paper—there were more social and political ideas included in these writings than most of his published writings centered around music. But even this material was a kind of personal composition that Cage subjected to formal limitations as he contributed to it over about 16 years. He used the same kinds of chance operations found in much of his music to determine the word count, color and font of the entries before committing them to paper, which is a fascinating creative exercise, but it can’t help but filter the otherwise extemporaneous thoughts one would normally associate with a diary.

Now we can turn to letters. The Selected Letters reveals what’s likely to be the closest we’ll get to Cage’s personal voice, unadorned by his need to write mesostic poetry or control the length of his sentences with the I Ching. Most of the letters selected for the book are correspondence with other composers, performers, promoters, and music critics, and they focus on practical issues: upcoming performances, pitching projects, discussing criticism, and negotiating payments for himself and performers. For a composer who became a kind of legendary figure, there’s something comforting about reading his very ordinary letters around putting together contemporary music events: securing instruments, making sure everyone is paid enough to make travel worthwhile. For all of the well regarded lectures and premieres throughout Cage’s career, here we find some of the evidence of him paying his dues, putting in the grueling and often unpleasant work of arranging contracts and keeping all of the involved parties on the same page without the assistance of a manager. The earlier letters, mostly from the 1940s, include a lot of correspondence with his parents, updating them on significant moments in his career and occasionally having to ask for money to get by. Where the early letters are concerned, I was especially taken by his long December 1940 letter to music writer Peter Yates, who had sent a pre-publication article that Cage apparently found misguided. True to his nature, Cage wrote a patient and lengthy article of his own in return, explaining the historical underpinnings of his percussion music and the context he felt more accurately represented the purpose and place for the music. Later 40s letters include correspondence with his partner Merce Cunningham, including a touching “Song For Merce” included in a July 1944 letter.

In many ways, the 1950s were the most important decade for Cage in terms of becoming a household name. His 4’ 33’’ piece debuted in 1952, and he published lots of articles and gave lectures that were gathered into the book “Silence,” published in 1961. My favorite highlights among letters of this decade are mostly correspondence with pianist David Tudor, for whom Cage wrote most of his work within this span of time. The combination of friendly banter and practical considerations for new works and performances in these letters is fascinating. But perhaps my favorite letter of the period is one written to John Edmunds at the Music Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. In that letter, Cage laments the difficulties of making new experimental music of the era available to the general public. He proposes four methods of disseminating these materials: creating a composers’ cooperative, publishing materials in other countries, publishing through an American university, and simply publishing and distributing materials directly through the network of public libraries throughout the country. Wouldn’t it have been cool if that last idea had panned out?

Letters from the 1960s include those to some of his literary heroes like Buckminster Fuller, Marshall McLuhan and Norman O. Brown, and during this period Cage’s music seemed to take on new dimensions regarding social issues, ecology, and evolving technology in ways that reflect these friendships. But he was still a working fellow trying to pay bills, and practical issues still make up a lot of correspondence. A letter to synthesizer pioneer Robert Moog from July of 1965 illustrates this kind of situation: with support money coming in short, and costs for synth equipment coming in high, Cage writes to lay out the financial shortfall he is facing in straightforward terms. And fundraising remains a critical part of getting new music out to the public, shown in several letters to other composers, gently requesting a manuscript page written in their hand to be donated for a sale to benefit the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts.

The tenor of letters in the 1970s and 80s feel similar to those of the 60s, though Cage had now created his poetic form of “mesostics,” which occasionally appear even in letters. Even fundraising can be represented as a mesostic! In this period, he continued to be very busy composing and traveling, but there are signs of him looking at the end of his career: he writes to Wyman W. Parker in January of 1973 inquiring about leaving his collection of music-related correspondence and manuscripts with the Northwestern University Library. Even though he lived almost 20 years beyond this, he gradually accepted that he was something of an “elder statesman” among composers by this point in his life, and made sure that his past would be looked after while continuing to think forward as a composer. In letters among friends, he starts to mention lifestyle changes often associated with age, such as quitting smoking, reducing his alcohol intake, changing his diet, and receiving chiropractic and acupuncture care. But his persistence as a composer remained impressive to the end. In the final weeks of his life, he was corresponding about a festival of his music to be held in Frankfurt in September of 1992, which ultimately was held in his absence after his died of a stroke the month before.

All told, The Selected Letters of John Cage is a fantastic addition to his legacy. For a composer that is often remembered as a kind of musical sage or philosopher, the nuts and bolts of his daily efforts and the kindness displayed throughout decades of letters reminds us that he was, at his core, a polite and even somewhat shy person whose gentle humanity is sometimes lost in the discussion of his work. Highly recommended, especially for young composers, as a reminder that even those at the pinnacle of fame in new music still made their own phone calls and wrote their own letters for support.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Begin Again: A Biography of John Cage by Kenneth Silverman or CageTalk: Dialogues With and About John Cage by Peter Dickinson.)

( publisher’s official The Selected Letters of John Cage web page ) | ( official John Cage web site )

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


Kafka (a.k.a. Introducing Kafka)
by Zane Mairowitz, with illustrations by R. Crumb (Hoopla)

This graphic novel is a brief, inclusive biography of Franz Kafka and a summary of many of his works, all illustrated by R. Crumb.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the original works by Franz Kafka himself.)

( Wikipedia entry for this Kafka book )

This was one of dozens of Graphic Novel reviews submitted by library staff during our 2022 In-Service Training day on 9/23, all collected on A Day Full of Graphic Novels

Recommended by Matt N.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


The Plot and the Pendulum
by Jenn McKinlay (McKinlay)

The title refers to a human skeleton clutching a book of Edgar Allan Poe tales that is discovered in a vault-style room housing rare books. Rumors start to fly that the victim was a “runaway bride” from 40 years earlier. Lindsey, the local library Director, is one of the women who discover the body and she uses her research skills to help the sheriff figure out what happened. This is a quick and fairly straightforward read. It’s part of the author’s series “A Library Lover’s Mystery” and depicts quite accurately the work of a small-town library. Even though I was 99% sure who the culprit was about half-way through the book, it was still a pleasant time spent to confirm it.

( official Library Lovers Mystery Series page on the official Jenn McKinlay web site )

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Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library


Musician Healer: Transforming Art Into Medicine
by Islene Runningdeer (Music 781.11 Run)

We have a lot of books about music therapy at the Polley Music Library, and there’s a bit of variety within that section, too: within general music therapy, there are books that focus on music therapy for specific conditions, such as autism, dementia, and pain management. Then there is a related section of books on the intersection of music and psychology, some of which have music therapy-related topics. And then there are a few books on historical traditions related to music and healing. Music historian Ted Gioia’s Healing Songs is a great overview of many of these healing traditions. And some such traditions are still being practiced, too. Toward that topic, we have a great new book by Islene Runningdeer called Musician Healer: Transforming Art Into Medicine.

Author Runningdeer has a diverse background that has informed her work with music as medicine, which she describes in the first few chapters of the book. After high school, she attended two music schools, although she had to leave her senior year to be a stay-at-home mom and wife. Ultimately she returned to school, graduating from the University of Vermont with a Masters of Education through a unique multidisciplinary program they offer, combining education, medical, counseling, and music disciplines. Runningdeer’s work combines this background, which in many ways approximates a traditional academic music therapy path, with her experiences with indigenous traditional music healing practices from ancient Egyptian, Native American, French, and East Indian origins. Her primary focus is using musical healing practices with elderly populations, including care for dementia and palliative care situations.

After this introduction to her own unique life path, Runningdeer introduces us to some of the core traditions she draws from throughout the rest of Part One, starting with ancient Egyptian concepts. Although we have lost the music of ancient Egypt to time, we still have the words from many hymns and the framework of many rituals that were performed in their temples. Runningdeer takes us through the life of a “shemayet,” or temple musician, which had some overlaps with ancient medicine practices. This is followed by a chapter on healing practices from the Seneca tribe ancestors of Runningdeer, where again we find that healing practices combined song, dancing, and plants in ceremonial settings. Next, we move to 11th-Century France, and focus particularly on their equivalent of hospice care, which included song and prayer at the deathbed of Benedictine monks. And finally we arrive in modern-day India, where the ancient practice of Raga Chikitsa, or Raga Therapy, continues to be part of a broader system of Ayurveda, the holistic Indian approach to medicine. While each of these approaches is unique, they all share many commonalities across geography and time.

In Part Two, “Techniques and Illuminations,” Runningdeer starts breaking down her particular approach to healing music (which she refers to as a form of “Energy Medicine” in the introduction to this section). The first area of focus she addresses is breathing, in which she explains how she has adapted the yogic pranayama technique of deep breathing for her work, pointing out that musicians focus on their breathing to perform better, and that the phrasing of music has its own breath-like patterns. In working with palliative care patients, she is able to practice deep breathing near them, which often helps their own breathing to relax.

Next, she addresses the heart—not the organ, necessarily, but the idea of expressing a generous, compassionate heart when working with music therapy practices. In this sense, the heart embodies the act of giving, and sharing music with a person in a vulnerable state is more successful with this kind of mindset. She carries this concept into the idea of “the magic of willful intention,” or focusing your work through the power of intention. The deep breathing and a generous heart help contribute to willful intention, creating a state of compassionate care.

To close out the book, Runningdeer discusses her sense that she has “helpers” that work with her during music therapy sessions, and various interpretations of this idea found in spiritual practices worldwide. Then she discusses the effects of this work with the main two populations that she serves. Through palliative or hospice care, she is able to help clients transition more gently. While working with dementia patients, her audiences are more energized, alert and lucid after her visits, sometimes remembering the words to songs from their own distant histories and even breaking into dance. Runningdeer discusses some of her musical selections for dementia patient performances (usually classical music and vintage songs), as well as some ideas she uses for songs to be sung near death (often hymns with references to grand rivers).

All told, it’s a fascinating look into one successful practitioner’s means and methods toward the use of music as a kind of medicine. For this reader, I found Musician Healer to be a fairly even-handed look at practices that sometimes fall outside of the boundaries of modern medicine, with a minimum of “woo woo,” as the author calls it. There was one factual inaccuracy that I noticed in the section on Raga music in India, a reference to Raga Kausi Kanhara as performed by sitarist Ravi Shankar being centered around a C# pitch that’s 432 Hz, or the “Ohm frequency,” but in fact 432 Hz is a detuned concert A pitch around which there has been a lot of controversy in the last decade. Other than that, I found the information presented here to be pretty solid and of a nature that’s not overly mystical for the average musical reader.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Healing Songs by Ted Giola or Waking the Spirit: A Musician’s Journey Healing Body, Mind and Soul by Andrew Schulman.)

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


Rendezvous in Phoenix
by Tony Sandoval (j Biography Sandoval)

An autobiographical tale of the author’s attempts to enter the U.S. from Mexico without permission, for love and career. He is attempting to reunite with his U.S.-born fiance in Phoenix and the visa process is in the way. He is faced with blistering heat, vicious bandits, barbed wire, Border Patrol Agents and “Coyotes” that want to take his money with the promise to get him across the border.

The lives and struggles of several other immigrants he meets during his journey are also interwoven into the story. The author succeeded with his journey and is now a successful graphic novel writer in the U.S. He also witnesses a sexual assault by a Border Patrol Agent.

( publisher’s official Rendezvous in Phoenix web page ) | ( official Tony Sandoval Instagram account )

This was one of dozens of Graphic Novel reviews submitted by library staff during our 2022 In-Service Training day on 9/23, all collected on A Day Full of Graphic Novels

Recommended by Jessica S.
Walt Branch Library


Saga, Volumes 1-9
by Brian K. Vaughn, with illustrator Fiona Staples (741.5 Vau)

The title Saga says it all. This comic series, full of interplanetary beings, love and war is action-packed and vibrantly illustrated. Full of social commentary and deep themes that explore equality and otherness, these volumes explore the story of a interracial family trying to make it in a universe gone mad. The beautiful, emotional art is not for the faint of heart. Expect some vulgarity and mind-bending mature content mixed in with your romance and action.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Monstress by Marjorie Liu or The Interdependency series by John Scalzi.)

( publisher’s official Saga web site ) | ( Wikipedia entry for Brian K. Vaughn ) | ( official Fiona Staples Instagram page )

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Recommended by Meagan M.
Walt Branch Library


A Rover’s Story
by Jasmine Warga (j Warga)

I was unprepared for the emotional journey that this middle-grade novel took me on. I initially checked it out based solely on the charming cover image, and the jacket blurb description: “Meet Resilience, a Mars rover determined to live up to his name. Res was built to explore Mars. He was not built to have human emotions. But as he learns new things from the NASA scientists who assemble him, be begins to develop human-like feelings. Maybe there’s a problem with his programming…”

This story, told from the point of view of Resilience (“Res”), goes from his first moments of awareness as computer software, to the assembly of his highly mobile body, to his journey to Mars, in the company of a flying drove he nicknames “Fly”, and ultimately back to Earth. The characters range from Res, Fly and Guardian (a satellite in orbit around Mars that assists in Res’ mission), to the team of scientists responsible for designed and building Res, which includes music-loving and joke-telling Xander, and super-serious Arabic-speaking Rania. Interspersed among Res’ regular “diary-like” updates are letters written to Resilience by Rania’s young daughter, Sophia.

Though Resilience, Fly, Guardian (and Res’ twin Journey) don’t actually exist, they are so similar to real-life Martian rovers such as Curiosity, Perseverance, Opportunity, Spirit and the Chinese rover Zhurong that the reader really feels the “reality” of Res and its mission. The fact that Res has developed elementary human characteristics and feelings (and doesn’t understand them very well, and is led by other mechanical devices to believe these are flaws), leads to both humor and highly-emotional moments in this story. To say more would be to spoil the reading experience.

Suffice it to say, this was an excellent story, told well, and would be a great addition to a middle schooler’s STEM readings. But even I, an adult nearing 60, enjoyed the storytelling. Of particular note: An author’s afterword talks about the real-life science that inspired this fictional story.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the animated film WALL-E and the live-action film Silent Running (not in library collection…try InterLibrary Loan).)

( official A Rover’s Story page on the official Jasmine Warga web site )

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Hide
by Kiersten White (White)

Hide is a thriller/horror novel about a young woman in her late teens or early 20s who agrees to participate in a weeklong hide-or-seek game for a prize of $50,000. All fourteen contestants are put on a bus and their phones are confiscated while they’re sleeping. Sounds sketchy; is sketchy. When they arrive at the play area, it turns out to be an abandoned amusement park with a fence and watch towers around it.

If you’re getting Battle Royale or Squid Game vibes here, you aren’t far off. An extra twist is that the protagonist, Mack, survived her father killing the rest of her family by hiding in the house when she was a young girl. She has survivor’s guilt and doesn’t want to connect with anyone. Several of the other contestants, however, have great personalities that draw Mack out of her protective shell and give the reader more people to cheer for. This is a highly engaging read, first as the true nature of the contest is revealed and then as the dwindling number of contestants try to change up the game.

Kiersten White is a well-established young adult writer. Hide is her adult debut, or at least that’s how it’s being sold. This is one of those books that could easily pass as upper young adult or lower adult. Either way, it has a wonderful map of the amusement park in the end papers and it’s the same map in front and back so readers borrowing library copies can flip back and forth to see the whole map. Such thoughtful design!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Battle Royale by Koushun Takami or The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.)

( publisher’s official page for Hide ) | ( official Kiersten White web site )

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Recommended by Garren H.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Screening Room

formatdvdCalendar Girl
(DVD Biography Finley)

Normally I am not interested in films that are biographical in nature, but this one caught my eye. Calendar Girl tells the story of Ruth Finley, founder of the Fashion Calendar of New York City, one of the most influential and important newsletters of the century in the fashion world centered in New York. From office assistant to business owner, Ruth’s story shows how she saw a need and produced a calendar to meet the needs of all the top designers wanting to show their fashions in New York City. Ruth continued working through age 95 and is considered to be one of the most influential women in the fashion industry. Although I am not interested in fashion, I was fascinated by the story of Ruth and the empire she helped to create and run for over 70 years. The documentary includes interviews with some of the best-known designers in the business as well as the people who worked with Ruth and her family over the years.

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )

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Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


formatdvdThe Duke
(DVD Duke)

I noticed that this DVD has two of my favorite British actors — Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren — and it is based on a true story, so I thought it would be interesting to view this. The story is set in 1961 England, where Kempton Bunton is trying to get started as a playwright when he isn’t raging war against the British law that requires people to have a license in order to watch the BBC on their television sets. Helen Mirren plays his cranky wife who supports the family through her work as a house cleaner for a well-to-do British family. The family is in the middle of a catastrophe when the painting of the Duke of Wellington by Goya is discovered to be missing from the National Gallery and has been hidden in the wardrobe of the guest bedroom in their house! The storyline is intriguing, but I found the language to be unneccessarily vulgar, particularly for the time that this is set in. What I enjoyed most were the techniques used to make this look like a 1960s film, including the closing credits and side-by-side action shots throughout the movie. The movie was interesting to watch, but it is definitely not for everyone.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the Prime Suspect series, starring Helen Mirren.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official The Duke Facebook page )

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Recommended by Kim J.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


formatdvdDC League of Super-Pets
(DVD j DC League)

In the world of DC Comics, over the decades of established continuity, one “Super-Pet” immediately comes to mind: Krypto, Superman’s super-power canine companion. This animated film is his movie — but he’s not the only pet with powers.

When a maniacal guinea pig from the labs of Lex Luthor, with delusions of grandeur (Lulu, voiced by Kate McKinnon), harnesses the powers of a fragment of orange kryptonite, she not only gives herself tremendous powers, but she also inadvertently gives super powers to a bunch of animals in the local pet shelter, including tough abandoned boxer Ace (voiced by Kevin Hart), PB, a potbellied pig (voiced by Vanessa Bayer), Merton, a nearsighted and elderly turtle (voiced by Natasha Lyonne), and hyperactive Chip, a squirrel. When Superman (voiced by John Krasinski) is incapacitated by green kryptonite, Krypto (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), with his own powers reduced, is forced to team up with the ragtag band of untrained new super-pets to try to rescue The Man of Steel from a fate worse than death at the paws of the mad guinea pig.

This was a witty, funny, sentimental look at both the world of superheroes and the world of human/animal relationships. The voice performances are absolutely terrific and the storyline by writer/director Jared Stern is entertaining and pulls at your heartstrings a bit.

This film should appeal to both kids, who may or may not be familiar with Krypto, and adults who’ve grown up on the stories of the DC comics universe. In fact, familiarity with a lot of DC superhero tropes will definitely add layers to your enjoyment of this one. Strongly recommended.

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official DC League of Super-Pets web site )

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Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


last updated November 2022
* Please Note: The presence of a link on this site does not constitute an endorsement by Lincoln City Libraries.

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