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Staff Recommendations – February 2021

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February 2021 Recommendations

The Music of the Future
by Robert Barry (Music 780.9 Bar)

We have lots of music history books in the Polley Music Library, but Robert Barry takes a particularly fresh approach to music history in his The Music of the Future. Despite what the book’s title might suggest, most of the “futures” being explored here aren’t speculations on where music might go from the present, but instead the focus is on historical conceptions of “the future,” how those ideas reflected their own eras, and how musical development met or fell short of those conceptions.

In his “Prelude” (the book is divided into three “Acts” with intervals, Prelude and Coda), Barry immediately suggests that most of his historical survey inevitably documents falling short of futuristic conceptions: “What I want to present is something more like a history of failures — failures to meet the impossible challenge of the music of the future, to summon up a whole world in a verse or a song. But this succession of failures nonetheless left their marks on the way we continue to think and feel about music.”

His “First Act” illustrates probably the most literal failed futuristic movement in music and the arts more generally: the Italian Futurists of the 1910s and 20s. Though they produced some fascinating manifestos toward new forms of art that could incorporate the sounds and sights of then-modern city life (and you can read those in The Art of Noise here in the Polley Music Library), their work was quickly forgotten as they became more interested in fascist politics than art. Their musical ideas were re-discovered decades later by composers like John Cage, who by then were able to use them toward new approaches to art.

You’ll find many more fascinating examples of creativity in various stages of failure and unexpected rebirth throughout The Music of the Future, including evaluations of modern technology and how it might reveal fortuitous directions in music and the arts. While our guesses about the future may often be slightly off the mark, the very notion that we’re anticipating the future at all seems to be an important part of the creative impulse itself.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Art of Noise by Ferruchio Busoni, or Music: A Subversive History by Ted Gioia.)

( publisher’s official The Music of the Future web page )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent
by Marie Brennan (Brennan)

A Natural History of Dragons begins a completed 5 book series in the voice of an old woman correcting the public record on her earlier, world-changing adventures.

Isabella is a girl born to minor nobility in a sort of fantasy world British Empire. She’s obsessed with dragons, which have not been studied thoroughly because they live in harsh environments and their enormous bodies decompose within a matter of hours. Isabella had little hope of even being permitted to discuss dragons until her sympathetic father put together a list of eligible young nobles with the right kind of scholarly bent to at least give her a proximity to her dreams.

Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t stay on the sidelines. When she and her husband accompany an expedition to a fantasy version of Slavic Eastern Europe to study dragons, they find that dragons have recently started seeking out humans for attacks. Isabella is forced into playing amateur detective as much as naturalist to cope with the strange happenings in a town that’s not friendly to outsiders, even as the locals are desperate for an end to the attacks.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.)

( official Memoirs of Lady Trent series page on the official Marie Brennan web site )

Check out more books like this in the Here There Be Dragons booklist on BookGuide!


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

by Susannah Clarke (Clarke)

Piranesi is an odd duck of a book. It opens with a journal entry titled and dated like this:

“When the Moon rose in the Third Northern Hall I went to the Ninth Vestibule


The journal keeper, who knows himself as “Piranesi” because the only other person calls him that, lives in a world composed of enormous rooms going in all directions, plus up into the clouds and down into the ocean in the lower chambers. The main feature of these rooms are stone statues, which Piranesi has been cataloging as he explores the world.

This all seems rather far-fetched even going by the internal consistency standard. And you’d be right about that. Part of the fun is figuring out what could *possibly* be happening. I might have given up early if I didn’t have a great deal of faith in the author from reading her book Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. I’m glad I didn’t quit because the revelations start to hit hard and fast just before 100 pages in, and I was completely swept away at that point.

Instead of recommending similar books, I have to say this reminded most strongly of a genre of video games called “walking simulators.” This term was originally a sneer at how such games didn’t feature traditional action elements, but were instead about exploring an environment and gradually uncovering the story (and, often, the identity of the character you’re playing) through found notes, visions, disordered objects, and the like. I especially recommend the following:

What Remains of Edith Finch
Gone Home
Dear Esther
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

I also recommend viewing Giovanni Piranesi’s 18th century art series Imaginary Prisons to see where this book’s title comes from. This will not spoil the book.

( Wikipedia page for Susannah Clarke )


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

The Invisible Library
by Genevieve Cogman (Cogman)

The Invisible Library is the beginning of a (so far) seven book series about alternate-dimension-hopping librarians. It’s very reminiscent of Doctor Who since the “alternates” are at different time periods and there’s a great deal of running away from and outwitting danger without just shooting things.

This first book opens James Bond style with the action climax of Irene’s just-wrapping-up mission to secure a unique manuscript from a boarding school, followed immediately by a new assignment in a “high chaos” alternate. Here, “chaos” basically means that a world is falling into storybook tropes and increased magical interference. This can be lethal for visiting librarians. She’s also been assigned a newbie, Kai, who claims to have been pressed into service to the dimensional hub library because of street criminal activities, but he’s acting *awfully* aristocratic. And, right on cue, the murders begin in an alternate that’s much like our Victorian England but with more zeppelins and fae folk out in public. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Irene ran into a consulting detective?

I recommend The Invisible Library to fans of Victorian mysteries and generally perilous adventures.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith, or The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.)

( official Invisible Library page on the official Genevieve Cogman web site )


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

Disney Goes Classical
by various artists, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Music has been an integral and unforgettable part of the Walt Disney film experience since the studio’s earliest days, particularly in their animated films. Cinema buffs will certainly recall Mickey Mouse’s second appearance in “Steamboat Willie” — Disney’s first “talkie” — in which Mickey whistles whilst piloting the steamboat. Over the years, dozens of Disney’s films have featured innovative and iconic music, and the soundtracks to films such as Mary Poppins, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid have been huge bestsellers.

Disney Goes Classical features 15 tracks of music from 15 different Disney films, adapted by Dave Arch and Sally Herbert to be performed by a symphony orchestra. You’ll hear well-known songs done in ways you’ve never experienced before. Films whose music are included on this disc are: Mary Poppins, Moana, Aladdin, The Lion King, The Princess and the Frog, Hercules, Pocahontas, Toy Story 2, The Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Tangled, Frozen, Mulan, and Pinocchio.

Personally, I very much enjoyed the majority of these tracks, though I thought the arrangements on a few suffered from some awkward musical choices. None-the-less, the overall collection was very impressive and I’m happy to recommend it. This album will be most appreciated by fans of Disney films, though general classical music aficionados may also find much to appreciate.

(Listening to the “classical music” versions of these tunes may put you in the mood to track down the original soundtracks to many of these films, many of which are in the libraries’ collection.)

( Disney Goes Classical entry on the Disney Wiki )


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

Lon Chaney Speaks
by Pat Dorian (741.5 Dor)

This was a fascinating graphic novel format biography of the legendary silent movie actor Lon Chaney, master of transforming himself into other people via early cinematic make-up effects and the way he held his own body. As the author/artist says, Chaney “chose to keep his personal life hidden, he rarely gave interviews, preferred not to be photographed with [character] makeup”. Therefore, the biographical elements of this short, intriguing work are, in part, supposition on Dorian’s part.

Dorian intersperses chapters in Lon Chaney Speaks dealing with Chaney’s childhood and early vaudeville career, then his superstar motion picture career, with side chapters focused on the films he’s best known for, including Shadows, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the Phantom of the Opera, among others. Each “movie” chapter goes into detail describing the work Chaney had to do to create his distinctive and memorable characters.

This was a fascinating read, and the “cartoon”-like illustrations don’t take away from the serious story of Chaney’s life. I’ll have to admit, I really didn’t know much about him, beyond his famous roles, and this book gave me a good picture of the hard, sometimes difficult and complicated life, he led. Highly recommended!

( Lon Chaney on: Wikipedia & Internet Movie Database ) | ( official Pat Dorian web site )


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

I Killed Zoe Spanos
by Kit Frick (YA Frick)

I Killed Zoe Spanos is a psychological thriller that’s (quite intentionally) a contemporary tribute to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I drank it down in two sessions and that was only because I had to go to work in the middle.

Anna Cicconi has just graduated high school and is going to be a nanny for a wealthy professional couple in the Hamptons for the summer. All very pleasant, except when people around the community see her, they act like they’ve seen a ghost. Anna is almost a dead ringer for a missing girl: Zoe Spanos. Worse, Anna is starting to have scattered memories about the weekend Zoe disappeared and can’t account for her own whereabouts. The book actually opens with Anna confessing to the police that she killed Zoe, before flashing back to the start of her summer.

The secondary protagonist, Martina, is a high school girl who runs a podcast investigating the disappearance of her friend Zoe Spanos. She’s not satisfied that Anna’s confession explains what happened.

If you’re looking for a virtual summer getaway with Gothic suspense vibes — mansions, family secrets, and potentially murderous relationship drama — look no farther.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, I Hope You’re Listening by Tom Ryan, or Mexican Gothic by Silvio Moreno-Garcia.)

( official I Killed Zoe Spanos page on the official Kit Frick web site )


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

by Michael Fry (j Fry)

Larry and Grimm have been best friends since fourth grade. Now they are twelve years old. Grimm was rescuing a cat in a tree during a lightning storm and now he’s a ghost. The boys decide Grimm has unfinished business to attend to before he can move on. They had created a Totally To-Do bucket list they were going to complete together, and now Larry has to tackle these tasks alone on Grimm’s behalf — such as a spaghetti bath; kiss a girl; and feed the scary, mean dog next door just to name a few – but so far, nothing is working.

A hilarious story of friendship, loss, and learning to move on. The illustrations on each page add to the humor though this is neither a comic book like Peanuts or Garfield nor a graphic novel, this book falls in between the two. The drawings complement and advance the text with laugh-out-loud results. And the ending is perfect. Fry’s sense of humor is terrific, and adults will thoroughly enjoy this book.

( official Michael Fry Twitter feed )


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

Ghosted in L.A.: Volume 3
by Sina Grace (writer) and Siobhan Keenan (artist) (YA PB (Graphic Novel) Grace)

The Ghosted in L.A. series comes to an abrupt conclusion in this, the third graphic novel that compiles issues #9 through #12 of the comic-book series. In the earlier two volumes, college student Daphne Walters followed her boyfriend from their small town to Los Angeles, only to discover that that romantic relationship was over. Distraught, and uncertain why she was even in L.A., Daphne ended up stumbling into the grounds of an apparently empty mansion, Rycroft Manor, where she encounters a group of ghosts, all tied to the property. She ultimately became the “eyes and ears” of the ghosts, befriending them and bringing some of the comforts of the modern world into their cloistered existence. But her encounters with the paranormal are often fraught with unexpected dangers, including one of the specters who didn’t appreciate her meddling. In the second volume, the female indie rocker that Daphne has a crush on dies under odd circumstances, and her ghost ends up joining the others at Rycroft Manor.

In this third volume, writer Grace and illustrator Keenan wrap up most of the loose plot threads, in unforeseen ways. One major plotline that is touched on is Daphne’s ultraconservative former college roommate, who becomes a threat to all that Daphne holds dear, and a violent entity that had been entrapped in the Manor’s basement is accidentally released. In many ways, this volume felt a bit rushed, as though the artistic team knew the series was coming to an abrupt end and they needed to bring everything to a conclusion quickly. I liked several of the characters in this series, but, ultimately, volume three left we vaguely unsatisfied. None-the-less, if you’ve read the first two volumes, I do recommend this one so you know how all the storylines conclude. Strong emphasis, especially in this third volume, on LGBTQ relationships between several of the ongoing characters.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the first two volumes of Ghosted in L.A. by Sina Grace and Siobhan Keenan, Heavy Vinyl: Riot on the Radio by Carly Usdin, or Fence by C.S. Pacat.)

( publisher’s official Ghosted in L.A. web site ) | ( official Sina Grace web site ) | ( official Siobhan Keenan Twitter feed )


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

Welcome to the New World
by Jack Halpern and Michael Sloan (741.5 Hal)

Welcome to the New World is a remarkable book! Based on a Pulitzer Prize award-winning newspaper series, in which Halpern and Sloan used graphic illustration to tell the story of one immigrant family and their experiences in fleeing persecution and civil war in Syria to move to the United States, arriving on the same day Donald Trump (notoriously anti-immigration) is elected President.

This graphic novel manages to distill complex and emotional issues down into something very personal. It allows the reader to empathize with the individual members of Ibrahim Aldabaan’s family, uprooted and trying to find a way to fit into a society and culture that is completely foreign to everything they’ve experienced in their lives. Despite Lincoln, Nebraska’s historic reputation as a portal for refugees and immigrants, and despite working for the libraries, where we offer a welcoming environment for all new residents, my own personal experiences with immigrants are somewhat limited. This book really provided an eye-opening look at what many of them may go through as they try to assimilate into our society.

The art, while relatively simplistic, does a good job of capturing the personalities of the myriad characters. The use of blue-toned shadings for contemporary scenes and gray-toned shadings for “flashbacks” helps the story flow well. The book is chock-full of extremely helpful information about the ins-and-outs of procedures, agencies, volunteer organizations and timelines that immigrants are forced to contend with. And I found the epilogue and author notes at the back very helpful to understanding the Albadaan family’s complicated — and yet commonplace — experiences.

Highly recommended!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the biographies of Feynman and Hawking by Jim Ottoviani.)

( publisher’s official Welcome to the New World book web page ) | ( official Jake Halpern web site ) | ( official Michael Sloan web site )


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

by Jordan Ifueko (YA Ifueko)

Raybearer was one of those books with an enormous amount of online hype and a pretty cover. I was hooked from the first chapter, which reads like a little fairy tale in itself. Tarisai is a girl who isn’t allowed to leave her mother’s mansion. She’s to study hard to pass an Imperial test and not ask questions about why or even who her mother is. She sneaks out and meets her father, who is a magic creature who grants wishes. He gives her a vision of how her mother trapped him and tried to wish for the death of someone. That wasn’t allowed, but she forced him to make a child with her whom she could give one command. So Tarisai learns she was conceived by rape to gain a prince’s trust, love him, and then kill him.

This is a fantasy book about an empire that’s based more in Yoruba and other West African cultures than European culture. There’s strong worldbuilding around the magic of the Raybearers: an imperial line of rulers who are nearly — but not quite perfectly — immune to all deaths but old age. A small group of people bound to a Raybearer by love and magic may kill him. Meanwhile, the whole empire is on the verge of renewing its pact with the underworld, where they must send children with a particular birthmark down as sacrifices or else monsters will attack them all. The odd thing is that these birthmarks appeared on children across the empire until a generation or so back when they all began to appear in a single nation.

This is a great read if you like villains who are ruthless, but for good reasons. While there are revelations and resolution at the end of this book, it is clearly the start of a longer adventure with a group of vibrant, relatable characters.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor.)

( official Jordan Ifueko web site )


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

Ludomusicology: Approaches to Video Game Music
edited by Michael Kamp, Tim Summers and Mark Sweeney (Music 781.54 Lud)

Can you hum the theme music to Super Mario Bros from memory? Do you remember the short musical moments in old arcade games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong? These simple melodies have proven to be incredibly memorable, and a wide age range has internalized this music as deeply as the biggest popular music hits in the modern era. As technology has advanced, allowing video games to become even more realistic and immersive, the music for these games has become just as integral to the video game experience, taking on a cinematic depth.

Now that music for video games has developed quite a history and methodology, a new branch of musicology has sprung up to study it, which is called ludomusicology. As this discipline is still in its infancy, much debate remains about how best to study, categorize, and otherwise endeavor to understand this musical field. The Polley Music Library has a few of the early books written on this subject, and a great book for starting your journey into video game music is Ludomusicology: Approaches to Video Game Music, edited by Michiel Kamp, Tim Summers, and Mark Sweeney.

The book is a collection of essays that explore the world of video game music from different perspectives. Some chapters address the formal challenges of analyzing the music: there are unique circumstances presented by video game music in context, such as functional repetition within gameplay being potentially different than what might be presented in a recorded soundtrack separate from the game. The kinds of gameplay triggers that can start, stop, or loop musical cues become part of the music. Much of video game musical repertoire is modular by design, and another essay compares these structures to those of the classical avant-garde movements of the 1950s and 60s. The final essay discusses how classical music has been incorporated into video game sound design, while perhaps the most interesting essay looks at pop musician Bjork’s Biophilia album, itself released as a sort of mobile device game, to analyze how it absorbed influences from video game play toward the creation of a new kind of experience.

It’s interesting to learn more about video game music, and it’s also important to note that if you’re a musician yourself, this is a growing professional field, and perhaps you could become a video game soundtrack composer yourself! We have a few books in the Polley Music Library to help you get started on that path, so if you read this one and you’re excited for more, we can help!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Understanding Video Game Music by Tim Summers, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music by Winifred Phillips, or Unlimited Replays: Video Games and Classical Music by William Gibbons.)

( )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

Life on the Refrigerator Door: Notes Between a Mother and a Daughter: A Novel in Notes
by Alice Kuipers (Kuipers)

Life on the Refrigerator Door is an epistolary story of one year in the life of a single mother and her 15-year-old daughter. They both are busy and we follow their lives as we read the quick notes they leave for each other on the fridge. Then breast cancer makes a visit.

There aren’t notes for each day of the year, rather we see into the segments of their lives yet there are enough notes to follow along with their stories. We watch the self-absorbed teen as she matures, and the mother as she learns to back off.

My favorite quote from the book:


I went to the store. See inside the fridge. I watered the plants. I cleaned out Peter’s cage. I tidied the living room. And the kitchen. And I did the dishes.

I’m going to bed.

Your live-in servant,

A very quick read; have a box of tissues at the end.

([ official Life on the Refrigerator Door page on the official Alice Kuipers web site )


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

One Night Gone
by Tara Laskowski (Laskowski)

This book alternates between Maureen’s story in 1986 and Allison’s in present day.

Maureen is a teenager working at the carnival for the summer. When her life takes an unexpected turn: Her boyfriend and she break up, she quits her job, and then she becomes a little desperate. As events unfold we learn more about Maureen’s destiny.

Allison Simpson, divorcée and, possibly former, meteorologist takes the opportunity to house sit at the wealthy summer resort. Though the off season many residents live their year-round. After several odd happenings in the house, Allison discovers Opal Beach’s secret. 30 some odd years ago a young girl goes missing. Allison wants to ignore the world and revel in her misery, but she can’t ignore the mystery. She begins searching for the answers to what happened to Maureen Haddaway?

A little bit thriller, a lot mystery. You have your many suspects to the mystery of Maureen and when another person is found dead it becomes more important to find out if there’s a murderer on the loose. I read for characters and character development and found that Allison was not very likable. The book’s story was a little slow at the start, but I’m glad I kept reading. One Night Gone is a good first mystery novel by Tara Laskowski.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear, The Searcher by Tana French or The Dry, by Jane Harper.)

( official Tara Laskowski web site )


Recommended by Marcy G.
South Branch Library

H is for Hawk
by Helen Macdonald (Biography Macdonald)

This is Ms. Macdonald’s story of coming to terms with her father’s sudden death and training a Goshawk, one of the most difficult hunting birds to train. Amongst the stories of her father, and of her training Mabel, she explores the book Goshawk by T. H. White, a book she first read when she was a child. She also discusses White’s struggles with life and training his hawk.

I understand Ms. Macdonald’s need to use White as a foil for her training and her bereavement. I looked up a copy of Goshawk and read some of the book, but I felt she spent far too much time on the details of White’s life, almost as if she was trying to excuse his behavior. On the other hand, this book had so much interesting information and experiences. I loved the details of training Mabel. As a dog trainer, I can see how so much of what “old school” dog trainers do is nothing but superstition. Training a hawk takes it down to the bare bones. What will get the animal to do the human’s bidding.

Watching Macdonald deal with the loss of her father is very familiar. The isolation that she craves, but finds unsatisfying is very real to me. Losing oneself in nature or training or any other distraction only delays the reality. You must feel the feelings to get beyond grief.

I was concerned that the book would be depressing, even sad, but this book touched me deeply. I felt a kinship with Macdonald. On the whole I would recommend this book to anyone interested in dealing with grief and, of course, falconry. It’s well written and almost lyrical. I listened to the books, and greatly enjoyed listening to Ms. Macdonald read her own book.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London by Christopher Skaife, Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, or The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.)

( publisher’s official H is for Hawk web site ) | ( official Helen MacDonald Twitter feed)


Recommended by Marcy G.
South Branch Library

1066: The Year That Changed Everything
by Jennifer Paxton (Compact Disc 942.02 Pax)

Part of “The Great Courses” series, this is a 3-CD set of six 30-minute lectures. Paxton covers what led up to the invasion of England by William the Conqueror, what happened during that year, and what changed as a result.

I hadn’t realized what an influence Scandinavia had on that British island, and how that influence was lost, thus altering the direction the United Kingdom would ultimately take. Very interesting — though in her discussion of the history prior to 1066, not being British, I got lost in all those unfamiliar names of the major players. Aside from my confusion in the first lecture, I still enjoyed listening to the intrigue and plots, and who was doing what and why. Only three hours in length, this kept me well-entertained.

( Jennifer Paxton profile on the Great Courses web site )


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

Just Desserts Mystery Discussion GroupThe Missing American
by Kwei Quartey (Quartey)

When the libraries’ Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group decided on a broad theme of “African-American Mystery Authors” for our January 2021 meeting on Zoom, it was a perfect opportunity for me to sample a work by Kwei Quartey, an author I’d read good things about but never tried before.

The Missing American is the first in a new series for Quartey, who is perhaps best known for the five volumes in his Inspector Darko Dawson series (as well as a couple of “stand-alone” novels). Like the Darko Dawson series, this new series, featuring sleuth Emma Djan, is set in Ghana. Emma is removed from the police force after an encounter with a corrupt supervisor, and takes advantage of the opportunity to take a position with a respectable private investigation service in Accra. One of her first cases is to investigate the disappearance of a visiting American, Gordon Tilson, who had come to Ghana to meet a woman he’d had an online relationship with — only to discover after loaning her a great deal of money that he’s been the victim of an online confidence scam.

The story alternates between Gordon’s actions prior to his disappearance, and Emma’s investigation (even after she’s told to drop the case) — it also bounces back and forth in timelines as well. There is a very strong sense of place — Ghana is truly brought to life. And the rich cast of characters, both admirable and deplorable, is impressive — we really learn a lot about the intricate world of online con artists, and the lengths they’ll go to to fleece their victims. I really enjoyed this, and will most likely continue with future volumes in the Emma Djan series, a second of which is due in early 2021.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the rest of Kwei Quartey‘s mysteries.)

( official The Missing American page on the official Kwei Quartey web site )


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

Death Wins a Goldfish: Reflections From a Grim Reaper’s Yearlong Sabbatical
by Brian Rea (741.5 Rea)

Death receives notice from Human Resources that he has scads of vacation time and MUST use it. So he’s forced to take off work for the next year. Death decides to keep a journal of his thoughts and activities while he’s vacationing. This is actually a humor (comic, graphic novel) book about work-life balance — who knew that topic would be funny, poignant, and sweet?

Pay close attention to the illustrations. You’ll find lots of unexpected humor. I loved Death’s rabbit slippers which aren’t really rabbits (or maybe they are?) but are skulls. Be sure to read the author’s introduction, which is equally laugh-out-loud.

Death Wins a Goldfish is a very quick read and I was sorry when it was over.

( official Brian Rea Twitter feed )


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

The House
by Paco Roca (741.5 Roc)

The House by Paco Rosa is a stunning work of graphic storytelling, and a compelling look at how we all deal with significant transitional passages in life. Roca is an award-winning Spanish cartoonist, and The House originally came out in Spanish, before this English translation came out from Fantagraphics in 2019.

This finely-detailed graphic novel tells the story of three adult siblings, all returning to the coastal vacation home they helped build with their father, one year after that father has passed away. The three siblings — Vicente, Jose and Carla — are each having difficulties coming to terms with the death of their father, and their unresolved relationships with him, each for differing reasons. Gathering for a weekend at the old house, they share memories of their family life as they clean up and repair the place for eventual sale.

The emotional impact of their quiet conversations and emotional revelations is profound. The design work by Roca in this horizontally-arranged graphic format is brilliant — he makes challenging use of panel arrangements. His use of a muted colorscape makes for subtle shifts between contemporary scenes and flashbacks to the past. And his minutely-detailed panels are exquisite.

There are no earth-shattering developments, no take-your-breath-away confrontations. This is all quiet conversations and contemplation. And yet, the result is a powerful little exploration of life, family, home and legacy, recognizable and identifiable to anyone who’s lost a parent and suddenly feels incomplete.

I can’t recommend The House highly enough!

( publisher’s official The House web page ) | ( Wikipedia page for Paco Roca )


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

The Courage of Composers and the Tyranny of Taste: Reflections on New Music
by Bálint András Varga (Music 780.922 Var)

Contemporary classical music, often referred to as “New Music,” occupies a curious place in the modern world. The music continues to be studied and composed, but it often stays near the orbit of academia, not being performed as often as “the classics.” At times the music can be “difficult,” it is often said, and falls outside of the tastes of many concertgoers. But it goes on nonetheless, and from this listener’s perspective, there is a world of compelling, evocative music waiting to be found there.

Interviewer Bálint András Varga takes this set of circumstances as a starting point for interviews with 33 living contemporary composers, asking each of them a series of questions about how their creative practices intersect with the world of commercial necessities like concert halls and recordings. He focuses on the concept of “courage” to look at inwardly-focused creative pressures, and “the tyranny of taste” for insight on external pressures on the creative process. In the course of 33 interviews (mostly conducted via email), he receives 33 unique perspectives on how composers have faced these issues. Many notable living composers are included in the book, such as George Crumb, John Adams, Libby Larsen, and Christian Wolff. Varga follows the extensive composer interviews with two smaller sections that focus on music critics and festival directors.

Although Varga structured his book around an agenda—his framing questions around “courage” and “the tyranny of taste,” after all, invite a certain oppositional posture against the public at large—he ultimately lets the interviews go where they may, and the results show far more nuanced and complex relationships. Many of the composers he interviews reject his notion of “courage” outright, and quite a few take umbrage with his framing of the “tyranny of taste” dominating or otherwise hindering their creative lives. A majority of the interview subjects are international composers who reflect more on World War II or Cold War-era political strife affecting their work and lives than other externalities. While some composers answer Varga’s prompts in a manner that extends into lengthier conversational formats, most answer with a simple, direct paragraph or two, succinctly laying out their compositional intentions without getting particularly entangled in the prompts. Ultimately I think Varga fails to make his case for “courage” or “tyranny of taste,” but he captures some worthwhile insights into the featured composers’ approaches nonetheless.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Talking Music by William Duckworth, or Source: Music of the Avant Garde, 1966-1973, edited by Larry Austin and Douglas Kahn.)

( profile of Balint Andras Varga at the time of his passing in 2019 )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

Screening Room

formatdvdThe Gin Game
(DVD Gin)

I picked this film up on DVD from a library display mainly because I was intrigued at seeing Mary Tyler Moore in something other than either The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show or a comedy-variety special. (Sadly, I’ve never seen her Oscar-nominated performance in Ordinary People [1981]). I was familiar with the background of this Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play by D.L. Coburn, knowing that it is most often associated with Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, who performed it on stage for many years, and also appeared in a filmed version in 1981. This made-for-TV film version was from 2003.

Moore plays Fonsia Dorsey, a somewhat repressed, and definitely depressed older woman who is uncomfortably trying to settle into life in a senior care facility. She misses her previous life, and can’t bring herself to participate in the forced social activities at “the home”. One day, avoiding interacting with the group activities, she stumbles into the facility’s sun room and finds Weller Martin (played by her former TV spouse Dick Van Dyke), playing cards by himself at a folding chair. They strike up a conversation, and discover that they both consider themselves “outsiders” to life in the old folks’ home. Against her protestations, Weller convinces Fonsia to join him in playing Gin Rummy.

Over the course of multiple encounters, they play Gin, and Fonsia continually wins, exasperating Weller, who thought he’d found an easy mark. Their congenial conversations become more heated and more personal, as Weller becomes more and more frustrated at losing. Ugly truths are shared with each other, making for major dramatic performances from both of these gifted performers.

This TV-movie version of this story is fairly low-budget but the performances are top notch. I don’t think I’ve ever been more impressed by Mary Tyler Moore’s range. I strongly recommend this film, but can’t score it better than an 8 because of its abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying ending. My recommendation comes with the caveat that these are NOT Rob and Laura Petrie…so don’t be expecting a genial laughter with this film.

(If you can track down the 1981 version of The Gin Game with Cronyn and Tandy, it’s definitely worth seeing as well.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )


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

formatdvdThe Hitman’s Bodyguard
(DVD Hitman’s)

Having been a fan of both Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson in their own individual movies, I was intrigued to find out what a comedy-action film starring both of them would be like. It’s exactly what you’d expect —- raucous, excessively violent, sarcastically humorous, with copious amounts of swearing in practically every scene!

I was curious to see if one actor of the other would dominate the film, but the filmmakers wisely gave them about equal quality screen time. Elodie Yung gets a pretty significant role as Amelia Roussel, and Gary Oldman gets to chew the scenery as bad guy Vladislav Duhkovich. Vladislav is a Eastern European dictator on trial in the Hague for crimes against humanity, but all the witnesses who could testify against him keep disappearing or dying. Except Darius Kincaid (Jackson), a hitman-for-hire who’s currently in custody but has been convinced to testify against Duhkovich in exchange for his girlfriend being released from prison. But Duhkovich has people everywhere, and the first attempt to delivery Kincaid for trial leads to a bunch of dead bodies and Kincaid on the loose. Intelligence operative Roussel brings in her old boyfriend, disgraced personal bodyguard Michael Bryce (Reynolds), to shepherd Kincaid to the Hague, dodging Duhkovich’s thugs the entire way. The only problem is — Kincaid and Bryce have a history, and it ain’t pretty. Can they get to The Hague without killing each other first?

As long as you can stomach the foul language and gratuitous violence, this is a roller coaster of the film, with lots of humor and tons of great stuntwork.

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official The Hitman’s Bodyguard web site )


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

last updated July 2022
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