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Staff Recommendations – April 2022

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

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April 2022 Recommendations

Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man
by Emmanuel Acho (305.8 AfrYa)

If I could give this book 11 stars, instead of ten, or even 12 or 13, I would! I absolutely LOVE the format of this book!!! I love the way Emmanuel Acho has a formula for each chapter: A brief description of the focus of that chapter; Let’s Rewind; Let’s Get Uncomfortable; Talk It, Walk It. It is so easy to follow, and the way things are explained are extremely clear and simple. I can’t express how much I appreciate Acho putting this book together (and his YouTube channel and episodes, which I didn’t know about until picking up this book). These are crucial topics to discuss and to research and spend some time thinking about, because we MUST work together to improve our current situation!

Acho mentions a TON of resources in his book. In fact, that’s a good portion of why I’ve purchased this book in print, after having listened to the library’s audiobook (streamed via Hoopla). I’m also quite tempted to buy several copies and distribute them to various people. I feel like we ALL could benefit from reading this book!

( official Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man web site ) | ( official Emmanuel Acho Twitter feed )

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Recommended by Tracy T.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


The Stranger in the Lifeboat
by Mitch Albom (Albom)

When bad things happen, some people call out to God for help. What would happen if you cried out and he suddenly appeared in front of you, saying here I am?

In The Stranger in the Lifeboat, a luxury yacht called the Galaxy sinks fifty miles from the West African coast. The Galaxy was owned by a billionaire businessman and suffers a series of “explosions” on its maiden voyage with some of the world’s rich and famous. No survivors are found.

Roughly a year later, a life raft belonging to the Galaxy washes up across the North Atlantic on the shore of the Caribbean island of Montserrat. The raft obviously didn’t inflate itself. Someone must have survived. The island’s chief inspector, a man with his own difficult history, finds a diary onboard, but doesn’t tell anyone about it.

Someone has survived. But that’s not the most remarkable fact Inspector LeFleur discovers.

“When we pulled him from the water, he didn’t have a scratch on him,” the diary begins. Ten survivors from the sinking yacht have gashes and bruises, but when they find another survivor without a life jacket three days later, he is unmarked. “Thank the Lord we found you” the survivors say. “I am the Lord,” he whispers.

The stranger says the life raft occupants called to him for help, and he has answered their prayers. And once all those onboard the life raft believe he is who he says he is, they will be saved. Miraculous things happen. The stranger seems to be responsible. But the occupants of the life raft still are dying, one by one. Is the stranger responsible for the deaths, as well?

I really enjoyed The Stranger in the Lifeboat. The author Mitch Albom also wrote Tuesdays with Morrie, another great book, as well as The Five People You Meet in Heaven. The Stranger in the Lifeboat would be a fantastic book for a book club. The book grabs you from the first chapter with the “I am the Lord” statement. Then the mysteries build until you aren’t sure what you should believe. It’s a short read, but packed with thought-provoking material. Definitely worth checking out if you are looking for a quick, emotional thriller.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom or The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner.)

( official The Stranger in the Lifeboat page on the official Mitch Albom web site )

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Recommended by Cindy K.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter
by Dan Ariely and Jeff Kreisler (332.024 Ari)

Modern life has given us endless financial instruments: credit cards, mortgages, car payments, buy-now-pay-later, and student loans, to name a few. All of these often purposefully obscure our ability to understand how we are spending our money now can affect our future.

This book discusses human economic behaviors in a humorous way, citing many studies and anecdotes that cause one to take a look at their own spending habits. Such as, Why do we pay $4 for a coffee at a cafe when the same basic drink is available for $1 in a convenience store next door? Why would a vacationer who decided to save the money on breakfast by “just having the bagel” in the hotel, then turn around and spend $5 on a soda at the museum gift shop? Why does the man caught in the rainstorm refuse to pay the price when the convenience store has a “rain special” that ups the price of an umbrella from $5 to $10?

Why did the JCPenney shoppers throw a fit when, instead of coupons and discounts off of artificially inflated prices, the new CEO set a “Fair & Square” policy where every item was simply marked with the price to pay? Why is it that in our minds $100 is a greater cost than half off of $200? Are we really the savvy shoppers we think we are?

These topics and more are discussed in an easy to read way. If you are pressed for time, and not so interested in the anecdotes, even though they are engaging, the final chapter is a quick and understandable guide to “tricks of the trade” with many useful hints that one can apply to their own spending habits.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending by Elizabeth Dunn, or The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things With Money by Carl Richards.)

( official Dollars and Sense page on the official Dan Ariely web site )

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Recommended by Carrie K.
Bennett Martin Public Library — Public Service


Dead Silence
by S.A. Barnes (Barnes)

Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes — no relation to the other books, films, and albums using this popular title — is one of my favorite kinds of horror: a small group stumbles across something unexpected and explores it, which turns out to be a terrible idea. (But fun to read about!)

In this case, space communication array technicians pick up a faint distress signal and find an enormous, luxury space ship that went missing years ago. Their leader happens to be the lone survivor of a colony disaster as a child and she has been seeing ghosts ever since. As soon as she steps onto the luxury ship, her visions intensify. The team explores the ship, looking for valuable salvage and trying to solve the mystery of what happened before an inevitable corporate cover-up. Then things turn nightmarish.

Dead Silence has a smartly written story structure and satisfying follow-through on lots of little things brought up along the way.

Recommended for fans of The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling, Blindsight by Peter Watts, and the film Alien.

( official Dead Silence page on the official Stacey Kade/S.A. Barnes web site )

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


Betty Crocker Best 100: Favorite Recipes From America’s Most Trusted Cook
by Betty Crocker (641.5 Cro)

I initially picked up this book from the Nonfiction New Book Display because the colorful cover caught my eye. I was pleased to find large, colorful photos of every recipe (a must have!) and readable print (I don’t like struggling with small fonts and squinting at books).

This is not simply another compilation of recycled, boring recipes. As the introduction reads, “This book gathers the best tried-and-true favorites…”

We first get a history of Betty Crocker and her many faces. Then recipes by category – Favorite Quick Breads; Best Yeast Breads; Celebrated Main Dishes (including holiday recipes); Irresistible Cookies, Bars, and Candies; and Unmatched Desserts. There’s also a dozen gluten-free recipes, and some recipes for the slow-cooker.

There are no weird ingredients you’ll never use again, and the accompanying photos are close-up and mouth-watering. Just flip through the book and via the photos alone you’ll find many recipes to tempt you.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love my air fryer and instant pot, but sometimes I just want to use my favorite pans and let the house become saturated with the scent and anticipation of a cooking meal. I was not disappointed by the selection here.

( official www.bettycrocker.com 100th anniversary web page )

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Recommended by Charlotte M.
Bennett Martin Public Library


Fearless Felines: 30 True Tales of Courageous Cats
by Kimberlie Hamilton and numerous illustrators (j636.8 Ham)

I’ll have to admit, right off, that I’m not a “cat person” — I grew up with dogs as pets, and am actually allergic to cats. But, I still like cats, even if I can’t have them as a regular part of my life. So, when I saw this charmingly illustrated guide to 30 “courageous cats”, I was intrigued enough to give it a try. Even though it’s aimed at a juvenile readership, I still enjoyed this one quite a lot.

Author Hamilton, with the able assistance of 17 different illustrators, shares the tales of 30 different cats who’ve been significant in one way or another — each entry has a single page of descriptive text and a full-page illustration of the cat in question. And then, to fill in between the primary stories, Hamilton has multiple thematic sections in which she shares fascinating historical tidbits, and highlights other noteworthy cats (who didn’t quite get their own full profiles. There’s a terrific bibliography of additional reads, and a glossary of terms that younger readers may not be familiar with. At the back, there’s also a guide to all the illustrators.

A fun read and I feel more educated on feline history after finishing it. Kids will enjoy the colorful illustrations!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen, Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicky Myron, Making Rounds With Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat by David Dosa, or The Cat Who Came For Christmas by Cleveland Amory — all of which are referenced in Fearless Felines.)

( official Kimberlie Hamilton web site )

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


Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians
by Austen Hartke (Downloadable Audio)

I read this book as part of an LGBTQ+ and Allies small group that I’m a part of, at my Church. The point of the group is to be a source of support for each other as well as to better educate ourselves and hopefully those around us.

This book is written by a Trans Man who wants to share his experience not just with transitioning, but with his life as a Lutheran Pastor and the effect his transition had on that role. He interviews several other members of the Trans community, asking them to elaborate on their own spiritual journeys and how Transitioning has played a part in that. There are many, MANY places in this Bible that are supportive of Trans people, which was refreshing, to say the least!

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I found this to be encouraging, enlightening, and very educational. I listened to the audio version provided by my library, but I also obtained a print copy, which I have marked up with highlights and plan to re-read often. It’s got a plethora of resources for the reader. I learned so much while reading this book–not just from the book, but also from the discussions it sparked in my small group.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who is struggling with the correct verbiage with regards to the Trans community; I’d also recommend it to anyone who would like to be a source of support or who simply has questions.

( official Transforming web site ) | ( official Austen Hartke web site )

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Recommended by Tracy T.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family
by Ron Howard and Clint Howard (Compact Disc Biography Howard)

This is an absolutely charming autobiography of the Howard boys — both Ron and Clint — and the influence their parents, Rance and Jean Howard had over their lives. Told roughly in chronological order, after a framing sequence in which Ron and Clint remember going through their parents’ home following the passing of Rance, the Howards share stories about what their lives were like during their childhoods, when Ron was appearing on The Andy Griffith Show and Clint was starring in Gentle Ben. Ron shares memories of the making of Happy Days, and his relationships with his fellow castmates on that legendary sitcom, particular his friendship with Henry Winkler, and Ron’s efforts to move behind the camera to become a director.

But despite all the tales of Hollywood, it is also a very personal chronicle of the very ordinary lives they lived in the Howard family home — a modest suburban tract where actor Rance Howard and his wife Jean were success in imparting a set of good values in their two boys. Rance and Jean both had dreams of striking it big in film and TV, but it was ultimately the boys who found that success. But the elder Howards proved to be the stable rocks in the family, shepherding the boys between film gigs, serving as sharers of worldly wisdom and more.

I particularly enjoyed the audiobook (on CD) version of this, which is personally narrated by Ron and Clint, and has an audio introduction by Ron’s daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard. You can clearly hear the sincerity in both Howard boys’ voices as they recall their formative years, and Clint matter-of-factly addresses his substance abuse issues and the fact that his parents stood by him even in his darkest years. This was a truly special audiobook — I highly recommend it, for anyone wanting a peek behind the scenes on the production of TV series and movies, anyone who grew up on Ron and Clint’s performances, and anyone who loves to hear about close-knit families working together to get through tough times..

(This book will inspire you to re-watch many of the TV shows and films that the Howard boys appeared in. Fortunately, the libraries have many of them, including multiple seasons of The Andy Griffith Show, and most of the films Ron Howard has directed, as well as a few of Clint’s cult movies — and don’t forget his appearance as “Balok” in the season one episode of classic Star Trek!.)

( Publisher’s official The Boys web site ) | ( Ron Howard and Clint Howard Wikipedia entries )

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


The Man in the Black Suit
by Stephen King (Downloadable Audio King)

This is a collection of short stories Stephen King has previously written, and they may or may not have been published elsewhere. However, they were all new to me. It’s hard to say if one was better than another, though I can definitely say with clarity that there were parts of ‘All That You Love Will Be Carried Away’ that really stood out to me and struck me in ways the other stories didn’t.

To be honest, they’re all great stories, and if you’re a fan of King’s, you’d enjoy each of these stories. Stephen King’s epic novels fill me with joy like few other things in the world can; but I am always happy to fill the time between big novels with a short story or two by my favorite author!.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Different Seasons by Stephen King.)

( official The Man in the Black Suit page on the official Stephen King web site )

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Recommended by Tracy T.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


Nothing Has Been Done Before: Seeking the New in 21st Century American Popular Music
by Robert Loss (781.66 Los)

Some of the trickiest criticisms to navigate in the arts relate to originality. I’m sure we’ve all heard variations of this theme before: “That song sounds just like the old song ___ ,” or “Most of this new music is just a bad imitation of ____,” or “This music doesn’t really add anything new to the conversation.” You get the idea. While not all artists and musicians are fixated on the issue, quite a few are, and certainly in the fast-paced, constantly shifting sands of 20th Century music, we saw the idea of originality reach the level of becoming its own kind of value system in some musical circles.

In the 21st century, there is an interesting ahistorical, hyperlinked musical movement rich with freely-associated influences from internet culture, which I often find unassumingly new and refreshing. And of course there are always retrospective trends in the arts, which are represented in music by things like long-lasting popular music idioms, remixes, and institutionalized forms like most classical and jazz music. But the notion that new music must always push boundaries remains an important impulse for many musicians, listeners, and critics.

There is a great recent book by Robert Loss that takes a unique look at the notion of novelty in music, particularly popular music idioms over the course of the last 20 years. It’s called “Nothing Has Been Done Before,” and appropriately enough, I’ve never read a book that uses an approach quite like this before. Using the concept of “newness” itself, Loss examines recent musical history to look for fresh perspectives as well as historical connections.

The author’s background is teaching writing and philosophy, and in the introduction, I must admit that I felt a little hesitant when he made references to postmodernism and Greek philosophy by page 3. An academic take on the subject would be fine, but I was hoping for a fun-loving adventure through recent history. Fortunately, the book proves to be a lot of fun, and the prose is handled with an engaging, very readable style. And you don’t need to be a practicing musician to fully dive into this book. If you’re a music fan or avid listener, I think you’ll love this. Ultimately, aspects of philosophy and contemporary cultural criticism are weaved into the book, but they are handled gently and explained in laypersons’ terms. Loss even has a sense of humor about the process: while introducing some concepts from philosopher Alain Badiou in the prologue, toward an understanding of the transformative magic that can happen on the concert stage, he acknowledges that he’s “bringing a howitzer to a tea party. And I admit: I’m not sure I know how to operate the howitzer.” Fortunately, I think he goes on to prove that he does know how to handle that kind of material without wielding it like a howitzer.

Loss starts the main body of the text right around the year 2000, which I think is a great move when it comes to defining “new” in contemporary culture. If you were around then, I’m sure you’ll remember how the lead-up to the new millennium felt very futuristic, and then the period immediately afterwards was maybe a little bit of a letdown: still no flying cars, for example! Loss points out some popular retro trends in music that took over around that time, a period that grew to encompass 9/11 and accusations of plagiarism against Bob Dylan himself. Seemingly nothing was feeling new.

But is the old the opposite of the new? After looking at a few examples of artists that seem on the surface to be “retro” acts, working with the tropes of Southern Rock or synthwave, garage rock or freak folk, Loss lays out the case that newness in work can be done using these older subgenres and their language as a starting point: critiques of the old can happen this way. Present-day contexts set with older dialects introduce new ideas. By the end of the first Part of the book, it’s clear that “the new” can be a subtle art. The cultural thinker whose ideas seem to best define this section of the book is Douglas Rushkoff and his “presentism,” the sort of cultural downshift we experienced from a more future-focused optimism pre-millennium.

Part 2 focuses on the increased level of multimedia spectacle in pop music as an iteration of newness in music. Here, the philosopher of choice becomes Guy Debord and his “Society of the Spectacle.” He looks at this from the more obvious perspective of glamorous, expensive show productions, but also from the perspective of how music is consumed, with recordings devalued and circulated in lower resolution through streaming, and how audiences are compelled to create their own consumer-spectacle products instead of living in the moment at live performances. I found this section of the book particularly powerful, in that “the new” isn’t always coming from inside the music, and it isn’t always a positive story. There’s also a fascinating chapter within this section where Loss switches to a 2nd person omniscient voice, taking you inside the head of Kanye West. The writing style throughout the book reminds me of the New Journalism movement and writers like Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson, taking chances and engaging with the reader in novel ways, pardon the pun.

Part 3 is the closest to a traditional take on what one might expect from a book about “the new” in contemporary music. Here, the analysis addresses new ways of music making and relating to old themes, such as those often found in folk music, or protest music. Bruce Springsteen’s renaissance period in the last decade and the rise of Kendrick Lamar represent such modern takes on archetypal themes throughout this section. And throughout the book, Prince and Bob Dylan make regular appearances as high-profile artists that always seem to reinvent themselves when the time is right.

In all, this is a book that will not only help you to see the newness in new music, but will also have you questioning the orthodoxies of newness itself. What if nothing is new? What if we’re forever riffing on a relatively small set of themes, musical styles acting like period costume in film, letting us know what era it is, even though the dynamics with our stories could mostly happen at any time? Perhaps it doesn’t matter as long as we can get through to each other. In that sense, every time we make a connection, we’ve done something new.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Song and System: The Making of American Pop Music by Harvey Rachlin, or Switched on Pop: How Pop Music Works, and Why it Matters by Nate Sloan.)

( official Nothing Has Been Done Before page on the official robertloss.org web site )

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


Out of Darkness
by Ashley Hope Perez (YA Perez)

This award-winning story will break your heart. A tragic love story set in East Texas against the backdrop of the 1937 explosion of the New London School.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Romeo and Juliette by William Shakespeare, and If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson.)

( official Out of Darkness page on the official Ashley Hope Perez web site )

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Recommended by Susan S.
Eiseley and Williams Branch Libraries


It’s a Wonderful Woof!
by Spencer Quinn (Quinn)

This is one of the few books that I have checked out based on the cover only. This book is a mystery featuring a wonderful dog, Chet, and his human partner, Bernie, who just happens to be the other half of this detective agency. The story is all told from the point of view of the dog, so as you can imagine, he does get distracted once in a while by squirrels, food, and other dogs. I enjoyed this book very much, mainly due to the point of view. Looking at situations from a dog’s perspective is a creative way to handle a story, even if it is difficult to follow at times. My only complaint with the book is that I felt the mystery was solved a little too quickly. I liked the fact that the book dealt with a missing painting by one of the Grand Masters — a little art history and archaeology thrown with murder and romance!

(Spencer Quinn has another series featuring Bowser and Birdie, written for middle-grade readers.)

( official Chet & Bernie page on the official Peter Abrahams / Spencer Quinn web site )

For more mysteries featuring dogs, check out our The Sleuth Said Woof! booklists here on BookGuide, recently updated and expanded!

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


Transcendent Waves: How Listening Shapes Our Creative Lives
by Lavender Suarez (Music 780.04 Sua)

One of my favorite music-related disciplines is the art of deep listening, a practice that can help you to grow as a musician, and maybe even as a person. There are a couple of related subjects you can read more about at the Polley Music Library, too: music therapy and sound healing. There’s a practical continuum happening between these seemingly broad subjects. Music therapy is a component of generally mainstream psychology and wellness practices, while sound healing trends toward more new age concepts, but both disciplines share a kind of immersion in sound itself that is a focal point of deep listening. And often both function through similar kinds of sound immersion practices like “sound baths” and “sound meditations,” using instruments like gongs, singing bowls, and tongue drums.

Author Lavender Suarez has worked across all of these disciplines. She studied deep listening methods with Pauline Oliveros. She has a degree in psychology, certification teaching Reiki, and is a member of the Sound Healers Association. She hosts sound bath and sound meditation events that dissolve the boundaries between wellness retreats and musical performances. In fact, last year she performed at the Bemis in Omaha. And she releases music as C. Lavender.

Her book, “Transcendent Waves: How Listening Shapes Our Creative Lives,” is a compact and powerful read, and you can now borrow it from Polley. In its way, this is a health and wellness book, as well as an extension of Deep Listening concepts, and I think it’s a fantastic book for both musicians and music lovers to consider as a potential path toward even deeper enjoyment of music, not to mention other aspects of life. While listening provides this path, music isn’t necessarily the only outcome one might be looking for through this material. Instead, Suarez suggests in her introduction that this kind of listening can enrich your creativity more generally, and help you to be more thoughtful and present. These all seem like especially great goals after several years of pandemic uncertainty.

The book is divided into three main sections by color-coding the pages. Suarez starts with mind and body issues, first looking at the physics of sound and how it travels into the body. Then she delves into more complex relationships between music and memory, and how the rhythms of music mirror many cyclical functions of our bodies. Occasionally the narrative is broken up by pages that ask questions to get you thinking—or more appropriately, to get you actively listening. Questions like, “What are the sounds above you?” or “What is a sound that you miss hearing that is no longer in your life?” help you to think about the book’s content in a living, functional way, so that you can start incorporating the concepts immediately.

The next section focuses on creation and expression. The book presumes that readers already have some kind of regular creative practice, and maybe a space set aside for working on that practice. I think in context this could be anything: music, certainly, but writing, painting, knitting, or scrapbooking would all be examples of other kinds of creative acts that would still benefit from taking these auditory considerations into account. In fact, non-musical practices might benefit even more, as sound isn’t normally a focal point. Every sense can contribute to the creative act, and getting some practice in the senses that aren’t always the focus of your work can help you to look at things in new and creative ways. Many of the general processes brought up here are quite applicable to all kinds of creativity: the act of improvisation, responding to your surroundings, the catharsis of deeply experiencing your own feelings, examining your work at different levels of complexity, and so on. This section helps readers to find a creative groove, which Suarez refers to as a “flow state,” and to benefit from staying in that groove.

The final section is a little more abstract on the surface, titled “Internal/external.” It jumps around a bit more in terms of topics than the preceding sections, starting with some observations about the auditory opposites of noise and silence. This expands out in so many directions, from keeping your hearing healthy to finding your own peaceful spaces, your “sonic sanctuary,” amidst all the hustle and bustle and noise of modern day life. Toward the end, there is a little bit of writing about music, both as a motivational force and a device to help focus self-identity, and considerations about different ways of consuming music in terms of physical media versus streaming.

For a short book, there are tons of practical and inspirational ideas collected here. The feel overall is like an updated take on Deep Listening concepts, and this feels like the perfect time to read a book like this and apply its concepts.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice by Pauline Oliveros, Healing Songs by Ted Giola or Music Therapy: An Art Beyond Words by Leslie Bunt and Brynjulf Stige.)

( official Transcendent Waves page on the official Lavender Suarez – Sound Therapy web site )

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


Letters of Note: Music
by Shaun Usher (Music 780.922 Let)

In 2009, Shaun Usher started a website called Letters of Note, celebrating previous eras when so much correspondence was done through letter writing. The authors of these letters came from all kinds of disciplines and covered a wide range of topics. In 2013, Usher published a book compiling some of his favorite letters that had been featured on the website, which proved to be quite popular, and has continued to publish more books of these letters, now up to 14 titles.

Many of these books have featured letters based around themes, such as war, love, mothers, fathers, dogs, cats, and art. And one of the newest books is Letters of Note: Music. This book features 30 letters that travel across time and many styles of music, making for some fascinating reading.
In his brief introduction, Usher points out that the letters contained here span about 200 years, from 1812 to 2019. It’s nice to see some recent letters, too—it may be somewhat of a lost art, but there are still some good letters out there! Then we jump right into the letters, which seem to be organized more by flow than anything—they’re not chronological or alphabetical.

These letters run through a wide range of emotional territory. Early in the book, we get Helen Keller’s 1924 letter to the New York Symphony Orchestra, describing her enjoyment of a radio broadcast of their performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Despite not being able to hear or see, she was able to experience the music by putting her hands on the radio, feeling the vibrations describe the majestic narrative of the piece. Leonard Cohen’s final letter to his muse Marianne Ihlen in 2016 is a heartfelt closing to their chapter together and their time on earth. Also from 2016, Dr. Mark Taubert’s letter to the departed David Bowie is both a celebration of his work, and a celebration of how successful palliative care can be toward making a person’s final months as productive, meaningful and peaceful as possible.

Some letters reflect the social upheaval of recent eras. Composer Florence Price’s letter to conductor Serge Koussevitzky in 1943, for example, tells of her difficulties working in music as a black woman. Musician Angelique Kidjo presents an uplifting open letter to girls all over the world, encouraging them to pursue their dreams. And Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon is included for her letter to the long-departed Karen Carpenter.

Some of the letters are downright funny: for example, the infamous 1969 short memo by Ted Macero at CBS records about Miles Davis’ new proposed album title “Bitches Brew” makes an appearance. Dr. Steven Schlozman writes to CVS pharmacy pleading with them to change their hold music, which he had been subjected to frequently over 20 years at the time of his writing. And musician Rik Mayall’s satirical 1984 letter to producer Bob Geldof about being rejected for recording with the Band Aid project is especially entertaining.

And of course a book like this wouldn’t be complete without some angry letters aimed at music critics. My favorite two of those featured here are written by composer Erik Satie and president Harry S. Truman, the latter of which was quite irritated by a negative review of his daughter’s singing that ran in the Washington Post.

All told, this is a short but very enjoyable romp through a variety of letters by, for, and about musicians. While many musicians prefer to do their communication through music, there’s plenty of evidence here that they can do their work on the printed page, too.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Leonard Bernstein Letters by Leonard Bernstein, or The John Lennon Letters by John Lennon.)

( official Letters of Note: Music web site ) | ( official Shaun Usher: Letter Nerd web site )

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


Sundial
by Catriona Ward (Ward)

I received this book as an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), as a promotion for Readers’ Advisory.

I had never heard of Catriona Ward, though I was intrigued right away when I saw that Stephen King had sung her praises for her previous book. I figured, if my favorite author digs her writing, I will too.

Um, digging it is an understatement! I love the way Ward writes! This story is brilliant, and I was truly on the edge of my seat throughout. I never knew what was coming. Every time I thought I had something figured out, I would be proven wrong. I really enjoyed the dynamic between Rob and her daughter Callie, between Rob and her sister Jack, and I hated Irving! (As I was meant to.)

Pick this one up and give it a read! It’s a bit graphic, a bit dark…. that’s what I love!!!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.)

( publisher’s official Sundial web page ) | ( official Catriona Ward Twitter feed )

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Recommended by Tracy T.
Anderson and Bethany Branch Libraries


Screening Room

formatdvdEncanto
(DVD j Encanto)

This latest Disney animated movie, Encanto (2021), broke outside the typical constraints of a Disney animated film, featuring a soundtrack that incorporates hip-hop-influenced songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda (who also created songs for Moana), and foregoing a typical “villain” in favor of a storyline about familial bonds, both broken and repaired.

Tapping into South American culture (primarily Columbian), Encanto is about the members of the Madrigal family, who live in an enchanted home that imbues each of them with a special magical ability, as a rite of passage. Almost everyone, that is, since the central character is Mirabel Madrigal, a young woman who was seemingly passed over for a special ability, though her sisters and other relatives enjoy super strength, flower growing, healing through cooking, super hearing and other unique skills. But ordinary Mirabel is the normal one, the glue that holds the family together. Until she discovers that the “magical house” (and the village that has grown up to surround it) is losing its magic and cracking apart. Mirabel goes on a quest, to find her missing uncle (whose ability of seeing future events foresaw this very calamity), and to see if there is anything she can do to prevent catastrophe for her family.

The music in Encanto is catchy and memorable, particularly the snappy songs “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”, “Surface Pressure” and “Dos Orugitas”. The musical orchestral score by Germaine Franco is very atmospheric and flavorful, and I strongly recommend checking out the soundtrack CD to supplement your enjoyment of the film itself. As with many Lin-Manuel Miranda songs (see: Hamilton, and In the Heights), many of his rapid lyrics can slip by you on first exposure, but listening to the songs several times allows for greater appreciation of his wordplay.

I missed the typical “villain” to rail against, but the theme of family, forgiveness and perseverance in times of chaos and adversity was a strong one. The many, many colorful characters also gave all viewers someone to identify with and root for. I found Mirabel’s journey of personal growth very fulfilling.

All in all, Encanto is a very strong entry in the Disney animated film catalog, and I highly recommend both the film and the soundtrack album!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Moana, or Raya and the Last Dragon.)

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

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


formatdvdHarvey
(DVD Harvey)

Harvey is the 1950 movie adaptation of the 1944 comedic play by Mary Chase, which went on to win the Pulitizer Prize in 1945. The film starred Jimmy Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd, the genial and innocent-seeming man whose best friend is an invisible 6 1/2 foot tall white rabbit named “Harvey”. That film was a smashing success, and went on to earn Stewart’s co-star Josephine Hull both the Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award as best supporting actress, as Dowd’s prim-and-proper sister, Veta Louise Down Simmons.

The plot, in a nutshell — Veta is stymied in her efforts to debut her young and eligible daughter Myrtle Mae into respectable society, by Elwood’s continual presence and his own efforts to introduce strangers to his large “imaginary friend”. Since the house they share is in Elwood’s name, Veta attempts to have him committed to Chumley’s Rest, a sanitarium, but a comedic mix-up ends up with Veta temporarily committed, and then there’s chase to find Elwood and bring him to the sanitarium. Along the way, various characters’ lives are influenced (positively) by Elwood’s pleasant demeanor and the seemingly supernatural abilities of Harvey, who is a Pooka — an ancient figure from Celtic mythology. The play is a comedy masterpiece, and one that is frequently done in community theaters — I had the pleasure recently to portray the head of the sanitarium, Dr. William Chumley, in a production at the Lofte Community Theatre in Manley, NE.

This movie alters a few things from the play to make them fit the movie’s format, but the essentials are still all there. It, too, is a comedic masterpiece, though definitely “of its time period”. Modern audiences need to be patient with it, and allow it to set up its leisurely pace. By 30 minutes in, though most viewers should be hooked on the story. Jimmy Stewart leads a tremendous cast, and the ultimate message of the film remains pertinent even 70+ years after the film’s release, as stated in one of Elwood’s final speeches: “Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, “In this world, Elwood, you must be” – she always called me Elwood – “In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”

There are two DVD releases out, including a deluxe edition, which has a few additional scenes. Unfortunately, the edition in the libraries’ collection is that standard edition, but it does have a few nice “extra” features, which I recommend viewing after you’ve watched the film.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try any of the many late 1930s to early 1950s film comedies, particularly those starring Jimmy Stewart.)

(The original play is also available from the libraries in traditional print format.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )

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


formatdvdWest Side Story (2021)
(DVD West)

Despite the original West Side Story from 1961 being one of my all-time favorites, I was curious to see what director Steven Spielberg would do in his remake, his first musical film. I, personally, was not disappointed.

Relative unknown Rachel Zegler stars as Maria, and Ansel Elgort is Tony, this film’s Romeo & Juliet (the Shakespearean play which is the basis for the storyline). Ariana Debose is Anita, for which she just won the Academy Award for Supporting Actress, which had also previously been won in 1961 by Rita Moreno in the same role. David Alvarez is Maria’s brother Bernardo, leader of the Puerto Rican street gang the Sharks, and Mike Faist is Riff, Tony’s replacement as the leader of the caucasian street gang the Jets.

This version of this explosively emotional film moves around some of the iconic key songs, such as “Gee, Officer Krupke”, “Cool” and “I Feel Pretty”, placing them in moments that fit better into the story continuity than either the 1961 film or the stage musical. On the other hand, I’ll admit that some of the 1961 performances are more powerful. The performances in the 2021 are all good to great, and I love the fact that Rita Moreno, recast as the widow of the local store owner (Valentina) gets to sing “Somewhere” at the end of the film, while I know other fans were disappointed in this change, feeling that it’s really a Maria/Tony song.

The look of the film is tremendous, with much of it set among urban decay in a neighborhood that’s in the process of being torn down for gentrification (historically, it later becomes the location of The Lincoln Center performing arts facility). The dance sequences are marvelous, and the chemistry among the cast is incredible. And I appreciated that most of the Puerto Rican characters are actually played by Latinx performers, unlike the earlier film, which uses white actors in embarrassingly heavy makeup. But the 1961 film is a classic for very good reasons. I just happen to think that the 2021 holds up equally well, and the new film was one of my favorite movies of last year. Your mileage may vary…

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the original West Side Story (1961), directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, and starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, George Chakiris, Russ Taymbln and Rita Moreno. You should also catch a stage production of this show if you ever have the chance, as the staged version of this musical differs dramatically from both films. I also highly recommend the soundtrack album to this new 2021 film, which does a very respectful job of recreating the music and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, with the addition of “La Borinqueña”, sung in Spanish by the Sharks gang!)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official West Side Story (2021) web site )

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


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

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