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Staff Recommendations – May 2023

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May 2023 Recommendations

Rivers of London: Body Work
by Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel (writers) and Lee Sullivan (artist) (741.5 Aar + Hoopla Comic Books)

Despite enjoying the novels in the “Rivers of London” series by Ben Aaronovitch, I was somehow unaware that a series of several graphic novels (each a compiled collection of multi-issue comic books) set in the same story continuity have been released over the past few years.

Body Work was the first of the graphic novels, compiling a five-part comic book storyline set between the 3rd and 4th books in the series. Young police constable Peter Grant, still relatively new to his position in The Folly (a mysterious department within the British police that focuses on supernatural occurences), is called to offer his expertise on a case in which an automobile seemed to create a fatal accident of its own accord. A bit of investigating by Peter and his boss, Thomas Nightingale (the last authorized British wizard), reveals that a supernatural entity had possessed a car, which was then sold to a junk dealer, who promised to crush it. When he couldn’t bring himself to do so, and instead used parts of the possessed car in repair jobs on other vehicles, those cars also went rogue, endangering lives and property.

Teamed up with a young female constable from the “normal” police force, Grant and Nightingale must use their own magical skills to try to stop the demon car’s reign of terror. The artwork in this story is terrific — capturing the physical essences of the “regular” characters from the novels very well, and introducing new, previously unseen characters as well. The story featured some moments of peril that were well-portrayed, and had me thinking of the novel, Christine, by Stephen King, also featuring a car with supernatural abilities.

Body Work isn’t necessarily the best “jumping on” spot for readers interested in getting started with the Rivers of London series. But for anyone who already knows these characters, this was a terrific short entry in the series and I do recommended it.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the rest of the Rivers of London series, by Ben Aaronovitch, starting with Rivers of London (UK title, US title was Midnight Riot).)

( official Ben Aaronovitch web site )


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

Sit, Stay, Heal: What Dogs Can Teach Us About Living Well
by Renee Alsarraf (Biography Alsarraf)

This book will take you on an emotional journey.

Dr. Alsarraf is a veterinary oncologist helping her clients to the best they can for their pets. When she gets diagnosed with cancer it changes her, and this is her story.

She not only discusses the good and bad outcomes for her clients as she deals with her own cancer treatment, she also has to deal with the diagnosis and treatment of her own beloved Boxer, Newton.

I loved and hated this book, I loved the inspiring stories, but I also cried several times as well. Dr. Alsarraf is an exceptional writer and a wonderful story teller. If you love animals, this book will be one to read.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog by Patricia McConnell or The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My tale of Madness and Recovery by Barbara Lipska.)

( official Sit, Stay, Heal web site )


Recommended by Marcy G.
South and Gere Branch Libraries

Blacula: Return of the King
by Rodney Barnes (writer) and Jason Shawn Alexander (artist) (741.5 Bar)

Many years ago (back in the 1980s), I saw the 1972 film Blacula, starring William Marshall as the titular black vampire…an African prince (Mamuwalde) in the 1800s, who tried appealing to Transylvanian Count Dracula for help in stopping the slave trade, only to be attacked by the vampire and lose his wife. Dracula turned Mamuwalde into a vampire, then imprisoned him in a coffin in Dracula’s own estate. In the film, Mamuwalde’s coffin is moved to Los Angeles in 1972 and opened, and mayhem happens. The name “Blacula” was actually a derogatory slur from Dracula, and the film Blacula was one of a wave of “blaxploitation” films in the early and mid-1970s. It was actually successful enough to inspire a sequel, Scream, Blacula, Scream (1973).

In this brand-new graphic novel sequel, set in contemporary times (2020s), the name “Blacula” has been showing up in urban graffiti all over L.A., but especially in the Watts neighborhood. A paranormal blogger, Tina Thomas, investigating the rumors of the return of a serial killer not heard from since the 1970s, connects with a group of other “vampire hunters” seeking vengeance for lost family members.

Meanwhile, Prince Mamuwalde, in Hell, appeals to Lucifer to be released — he is only there because he was cursed beyond his own control. Though denied by Lucifer, Mamuwalde somehow escapes and returns to the world of humanity, pledging his “undead” existence to finding and destroying Dracula. The bulk of this graphic novel follows Mamuwalde’s quest in search of Dracula, and the actions of the team of amateur vampire hunters who have to decide whether to oppose Mamuwalde or aid him.

The painted artwork in this graphic novel is absolutely gorgeous — atmospheric and haunting. Alexander manages to capture the looks of both the actors William Marshall (Mamuwalde) and Charles McAuley (Dracula) as they appeared in the 1972 film, and all of the new supporting characters are also extremely well-realized. Although the storytelling is done in such a way that you don’t absolutely have to have seen Blacula (1972) or Scream, Blacula, Scream (1973) in order to understand the modern update, I strongly urge readers to see at least the first film before indulging in this excellent sequel — there are many callbacks in the artwork and storytelling to the events and characters of the original film. (*Spoiler alert* — though much of the plot of this graphic novel is brought to an end, it does actually end on a cliffhanger, meaning the creative time intend for Blacula to return!)

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the films Blacula and Scream, Blacula, Scream.)

( official Rodney Barnes web site ) | ( official Jason Shawn Alexander web site )


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

by Morgan Brice (Hoopla Audio)

A hundred years earlier, an evil warlock was betrayed by his 12 witch-disciples. Rhyfel Gremory was hanged by the sheriff and deputies in an old railroad tunnel, but the witches escaped. Every 12 years one of the witches kills the oldest male descendant of the posse to recharge their power and keep themselves virtually immortal.

Seth has just returned home from the military, and he and his brother Jesse go camping near that tunnel. They know the story of the allegedly haunted tunnel, but are unaware of what really happened there, nor that they are descendants of one of the members of the posse. Seth manages to survive and spends the next two years learning about magic, spells, and demons to avenge Jesse’s murder. Along the way he meets Evan, who is also a descendant but unaware he’s in danger.

This is the first book in the Witchbane series as we follow Seth and Evan as their relationship progresses, and we meet others who also battle demons. The well-written stories are not particularly gory – considering the subject matter – but I really enjoyed the supernatural hunting, how they track down the various witches, the friendships they make along the way with others doing the same work, and watch as they settle into their relationship. It’s not clear sailing though, and danger is ever present.

This series is by the same author who gave us the “BadLands” supernatural series (reviewed in March, 2023), which actually I liked better than this one, but I still enjoyed the Witchbane books. Kale Williams, the narrator, does a fine job of creating the voices and emotions. If you like urban fiction, paranormal fantasy, the supernatural, witches, spells, demons, magic, vampires, zombies, ghosts, battles, and MM romance you should enjoy this series. The library has all five novels and the novella on Hoopla audio. Read in order beginning with Witchbane.

( official Morgan Brice web site )

See Charlotte M.’s review of the Hoopla Audiobook version of Badlands by Morgan Brice, in the March 2023 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!


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

Brief Encounters: Conversations, Magic Moments, and Assorted Hijinks
by Dick Cavett (Compact disc Biography Cavett)

Based on his columns in the New York Times, Cavett reads his own essays about his life growing up in Lincoln, behind the scenes in movies, TV, and Broadway, college life at Yale, and general comments on current events. Probably only interesting to those who remember his TV talk show or appreciate the classic stars and celebrities. His stories, over eight hours on seven discs, were humorous, interesting, and poignant, and ended far too quickly.

This recording was a 2015 Grammy nominee for Best Spoken Word Album (losing out to Jimmy Carter reading his own biography). For more Cavett entertainment, the library owns other Cavett books as physical copies and on Hoopla, four various sets of The Dick Cavett Show on DVD, and his interview with John G. Neihardt is on DVD in the Heritage Room.

( official Dick Cavett index on the New York Times web site )

See Scott C.’s earlier review of Brief Encounters in the July 2015 Staff Recommendations here on BookGuide!


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

Artificial Music
edited by Detlef Diederichsen and Arno Raffeiner (Music 781.76 Art)

The notion of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning has been in the news a ton lately. First we had all of those Deep Dream images a few years back, then the latest image generators like DALL-E and Midjourney have made the news for the last year or so. Most recently, it seems like practically every news outlet has multiple articles about potential impacts of the new AI chatbot ChatGPT on society, from education to employment to disinformation propaganda. Those involved with the arts have their own concerns about AI, as evidenced by many visual artists complaining about AI-generated art intentionally done in their unique personal styles.

Of course music is already being made with AI, too. There have been experiments with forms of computer-based generative music back to the 1960s, although those predate our modern conceptions of AI’s machine learning capabilities. Some artists are exploring using AI in their own music, and there are already tons of AI-based music apps out there to play with exhibiting various stages of sophistication. While we’re not yet seeing pop songs generated entirely by AI hit the charts, the possibility already exists. And there are some areas of the music market that will likely become dominated by AI quickly: Billboard reported in March that the “functional music” market (music that’s generally of an ambient nature and marketed to folks as background music for things like concentration, relaxation or sleep) is already seeing lots of AI-generated music. It’s easy to produce with AI apps, and it’s a profitable market for copyright holders that could and probably will be easily leveraged by some entity who uploads millions of AI-generated ambient tracks.

All of this is developing faster than the pace of most book publication schedules, but on our recent arrivals shelf, you’ll find collection of essays called Artificial Music. This little publication is kind of hard to categorize: it’s essentially a little book, but it’s part of what will ultimately become a 25-volume series called “The New Alphabet,” published by HKW in Berlin and Spector Books in Leipzig, Germany. All of the little books in this series are focusing on the variety of new kinds of technologies and philosophies affecting contemporary life, and likely to contribute to changes we can barely even anticipate in the coming years. A few volumes relate to music: we also have Volume 2, “Listen to Lists,” which discusses primarily how new music streaming technologies are changing patterns of music consumption worldwide. Each volume is made up of a series of essays from specialists familiar with the topic at hand. In the case of this “Artificial Music” volume, contributors include George Lewis, whose “Voyager” piece is one of the earliest improvisational interactive pieces between live performers and software, journalist Laura Aha, Professor of Cognitive Science at Indiana University Douglas Hofstadter, and even a pair of AI apps that were used to supply some images and text for the book!

The book starts with an introduction and essay from editor Detlef Diederichsen. The introduction defines the scope of AI activities in our era as those driven by “machine learning and neural networks interacting with big data,” which is a pretty succinct but accurate way of describing the technology as it stands. And the relationship between this volume and the “Listen to Lists” volume is quickly mentioned as well: “In the music industry, algorithms are already the norm, using feedback functions to provide consumers with a range of music increasingly tailored to their specific needs.” Indeed, AI is likely going to play a significant role on the listeners’ side of music consumption as time goes on, but for this volume, the focus will instead be on the creation of music, and how the capabilities of AI may intersect with the activities of composers and musicians.

The essay that follows acts as an introduction to the work of composer David Cope, who started using machine-learning concepts in the 1980s with his Emmy program, providing the music of various composers to the software so that it could learn to compose in the same style as those composers. Even in the 1990s, his system was already robust enough that skilled listeners could only guess between works made by the original composers or generated by Emmy between 40 and 60 percent of the time. It also introduces us to cognitive scientist Douglas R. Hofstadter, who published a Pulitzer prize-winning book about limitations of artificial intelligence in 1980. He had predicted that computers would never beat humans at chess, which of course happened in 1997 with Deep Blue. He had also predicted that computers wouldn’t be able to create emotionally-charged music, because they simply don’t have the kinds of life experience that leads to quality composing. But then he experienced some music composed in the style of Chopin by Emmy, which he found emotionally moving. His response to this was poetry, some of which is reproduced in this book under the title “Staring Emmy Straight in the Eye—And Doing My Best Not to Flinch,” in which he somewhat humorously acknowledges that experiencing music from Emmy has provoked him to reconsider the very essence of what it might mean to compose beautiful, meaningful music.

Laura Aha’s essay discusses the nature of music, and how AI developments relate to it. It’s a fantastic brief history of both issues that could serve as an introduction for anyone curious about where we are today, and where we might go next with all of this. To summarize, since music is relatively easy to boil down to mathematical principles and basic rules of engagement, its circumstances create a pretty optimal environment for machine learning to become very good at making music that we like. She distinguishes between AI approaches that we’ve seen so far in classical music and pop music circles: classical composers have mostly used AI concepts to create self-generative works that sound unusual or surprising, while pop music composers have focused on reproducing the conditions one finds among most hit songs. But issues of ownership begin to arise here: Holly Herndon’s work with creating an AI version of her own voice on her album Proto, for example, point to us living in a time where machine learning can be “trained” on a particular artist’s voice and then used to create new music that sounds just like them. Who owns this music? Who made it? This reminds me of the lawsuit that’s happening right now between stock photography company Getty Images and Stability AI, a company that makes the Stable Diffusion app which produces visual art after being trained on massive amounts of pre-existing images. In a similar situation in February, the US Copyright Office declared that art used in the comic book “Zarya of the Dawn” can’t be copyrighted, as it was produced using the Midjourney image generator, and as such, the images aren’t made by a particular human. We are certainly living in interesting times!

An essay by indigenous artist Tiara Roxanne raises fascinating issues around colonization and AI. She thinks these new technologies, which of course must in some way be extensions of the dominant culture producing them, have the potential to create and further sustain forms of “data colonialism” when they are initially programmed in such a way that certain voices such as those of indigenous people are marginalized. She raises a number of important points here that I haven’t heard in discussions about AI before, and this is probably my favorite takeaway from this book.

Composer George Lewis discusses his work with using computers as improvisation participants, an art that he’s worked on since the 1980s with his “Rainbow Family” and “Voyager” pieces. He reflects on a number of his motivations for working toward having non-human improvising partners that can generate ideas and adapt them in the moment, and he further breaks down the act of improvisation into five aspects (Indeterminacy, agency, analysis, judgement and choice) that can be broadly applicable among humans improvising amongst ourselves as well. And Zola Jesus ends the book with a powerful poem that questions the provenance and nature of art, artificial or otherwise.

As a short book with a lot of important ideas, I’d highly recommend Artificial Music for anyone who is pondering the interesting moment we’re living through, and how it might affect our music.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Listen to Lists edited by Lina Brion or Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music edited by Christopher Cox.)

( publisher’s official Artificial Music web site )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

Revenge of the Librarians
by Tom Gauld (741.5 Gau)

For the past several years, I’ve been seeing the wry, comic art panels of artist Tom Gauld regularly showing up in my Facebook feed, shared by many of my friends…especially those with a love of literary humor. Gauld’s comic strips (frequently seen on the online features of The Guardian) feature simple, uncomplicated art, with “characters” that are often little more than stylized stick figures. His works always appear as variations on the traditional “comic strip” format — long horizontal boxes that can sometimes be just a single box, but can also be subdivided into the traditional 3 or 4 boxes that are reminiscent of newspaper comic strips, but he also frequently uses the space to create a multitude of tiny art boxes.

Gauld’s humor is dry, wry, slightly sarcastic, and pokes fun at tropes and established traditions. This particular book collects dozens of his strips that all share a thematic connection — books, reading, libraries, writers, publishing and more along these lines. I absolutely adored this entire collection, and will be looking to purchase a copy for my own personal library. If you, too, appreciate the ability to have fun with literary traditions, you’ll appreciate this collection as well.

( official Tom Gauld web site )


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

Q’s Legacy
by Helene Hanff (B H1907q)

One of the most memorable books I have ever read is titled 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. Not only did she have a big hit with the release of this book, but it also became a hit play in London, then later went on to Broadway, and finally a film. Helene Hanff was a playwright and writer who took charge of her own education by studying literature and essays recommended by Sir Arthur Quiller-Conch, Professor of English Literature at the University of Cambridge, England. Many of the books she wanted to read from Quiller-Conch’s list were not available in New York City, so she wrote to a small bookshop located in London at the address which became the title of her book. Thus began a long overseas relationship with the people who worked at this bookshop, their families, and Miss Hanff. The story doesn’t end there: Q’s Legacy goes into great detail about what led to the author’s years of self study and how that led to her becoming a well-known writer in her own right. Miss Hanff does eventually get to go to England and meet the people that she had only known through correspondence. Not only does she meet the Marks and Co. families; she also meets the fans who loved her book and want to share their favorite parts of England with her. Hanff gets to be part of the London stage production of her book (behind the scenes) and keeps a diary of her experiences to be made into another book later. This is a wonderful book for anyone who loves England, English literature and bookshops. I recommend that you read 84, Charing Cross Road first. Underfoot in Show Business is also biographical with more background about her attempts to get published.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try 84, Charing Cross Road, Underfoot in Show Business or The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street , all by Helene Hanff.)

( Wikipedia entry for Helene Hanff )


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

Such Sharp Teeth
by Rachel Harrison (Harrison)

Such Sharp Teeth takes the point of view of one identical twin, Rory, who has come back to her hometown to help her sister Scarlett through her first pregnancy. Rory goes to a party and runs into a man who had a one-way crush on her in high school, then — much more literally — runs into something on the road on her way home. When she gets out of her car to investigate: werewolf attack! She survives, heals in hours, but has a whole lot gross things happening to her even before the next full moon.

This book is not at all subtle about drawing comparisons between pregnancy and lycanthropy, but that’s okay because that’s what we’re here for. This is a genre blend that respects the complexity of mundane relationships in realistic fiction while also holding nothing back on the supernatural bits. Content warning for child sexual abuse and, separately, for being an adult with an emotionally immature parent. Also plenty of body horror.

The wolf is also explored as a metaphor for the rage of women who have to contain themselves either for personal safety or for prioritizing the emotional well-being of other people. The idea is: what if you didn’t?

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage or Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder.)

( official Rachel Harrison web site )


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

Song Noir: Tom Waits and the Spirit of Los Angeles
by Alex Harvey (Music 781.66 Waits)

Tom Waits is known primarily as a piano playing singer/songwriter, and his debut album came out in 1973, the same year that a couple of other well-known American singer-songwriters released their first albums (Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel). After starting with a more jazz-inflected style, he went on to invent his own unique brand of Americana in the 1980s, and has continued to release albums in his own unique, quirky style ever since. As a particularly funny fellow known for his unique stage banter and hilarious interviews, it will come as no surprise that he has been the subject of several music books over the years. Mr. Waits has been in a kind of semi-retirement since about 2011, when his last album “Bad As Me” was released, though he has been involved with reissues of his back catalog to vinyl in the last few years. However, there is a great new book called Song Noir: Tom Waits and the Spirit of Los Angeles by Alex Harvey that focuses on the earliest decade of his career, and you can borrow it from Polley.

For most folks in the late Gen-X or early millennial contingent, the Tom Waits albums we generally recognize start around “Swordfishtrombones” onward, with classics like “Rain Dogs,” “Bone Machine,” and “Mule Variations.” His music before that, and the unique scene that nurtured it, remain somewhat of a mystery to many fans, other than knowing that Waits was inspired by jazz and poets like Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski. Alex Harvey’s new book Song Noir perfectly fills this gap, starting with Tom’s debut album “Closing Time” in 1973 and ending at “Swordfishtrombones” in 1983.

Tom Waits cultivated a different kind of vibe in those first 10 years, which Harvey explores on two fronts in his book. In his introductory chapter, he discusses Waits’ interest in examining the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles in the 1970s, which he did both in song and through living at the legendary Tropicana Motel for most of the decade. And he explores how this became a kind of stylistic trap for Waits: “This book charts the way Waits’ LA life became more of a trap than a means of escape; how his stark, melancholy musical portraits of Americana, with its diners and drunks, strippers and shysters, started to feel repetitive and mannered.” The transformation happens around the pivotal Swordfishtrombones album, the final record he recorded in LA, and we’ll get to see how it became a springboard to a new kind of music.

In his younger years, Waits was a notoriously difficult interview subject, often making up answers to serious or even simple questions for his own amusement, and in more recent years, he rarely consents to interviews at all. Based on the references in the back of Song Noir, it appears that Harvey wasn’t able to interview Waits for this book, but instead quotes him from other interviews throughout his career. I’m sure sources were compared and vetted before they reached the final edit of this book, but I would hate to be the person trying to verify Tom Waits’ biography from his tall tales! Nonetheless, in comparing the general information in Song Noir with another book we have in Polley, “Tom Waits on Tom Waits,” edited by Paul Maher Jr, it seems like he has the basic facts correct. In that latter book, Maher selected 50 interviews throughout Waits’ career that seem most representative and sincere, capturing a few of those rare moments when Tom got comfortable enough with a journalist to stretch out and get into the deeper aspects of his writing and himself. So I think that we can trust the details of Waits’ early life found in Song Noir, several of which seem to have had an impact on his career, such as his father walking out on his family when he was 9 years old, causing him to feel like he had to become the “old man” of the house at a young age, or his working at Napoleone’s Pizza House in National City, CA, as a teen, where he starting jotting down fragments of conversations he heard from the customers. And he was a fan of writers Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski from a young age, both of whom had tendencies to draw from the struggles of down & out folks in their writing.

Harvey gets through Waits’ childhood and the early portion of his career fairly quickly in the book, settling down to focus more on the period after his first album came out, and he had settled into the Tropicana Motel when he wasn’t on tour. To briefly summarize the major gist of the narrative here, Harvey follows along with Waits’ career record by record, occasionally pausing to highlight particular songs or lyric fragments and how they tied into his chosen lifestyle as a sort of character in a Bukowski novel himself. Several of his lesser-known friends are mentioned, such as Chuck E. Weiss, who was a musician himself that put out several fun albums in a style not wildly removed from the Tom Waits brand of Americana. Despite the sort of degenerate lifestyle he was leading, however, Waits proved to be a disciplined songwriter throughout his LA period: he released nine albums in the ten years covered in the book. And as we get further into the book, we indeed see him start to become uncomfortable with the way he had chosen to live versus what he was actually doing with his life. He mentioned in the liner notes to the 1976 album “Small Change,” for example, that he lived at the Tropicana, which resulted in an even greater influx of people trying to contact him, either by phone or in person. Some of these fans behaved more like stalkers, and he grew progressively unhappier with staying in the motel.

Although Waits recorded the 1983 album “Swordfishtrombones” in LA, in reality he had already broken from his Tropicana routine several years before that. In 1979, he briefly moved into a house in LA with his girlfriend at the time, Rickie Lee Jones (whose autobiography, “Last Chance Texaco,” is also available at the library). By 1980, he had moved to New York City, though he came back to LA to work on the soundtrack for the film “One for the Heart.” And it was during this period that he met Kathleen Brennan, his future spouse, whose immediate and profound influence on his music is apparent throughout “Swordfishtrombones.” From that album forward, Brennan worked with Waits both on his career in general and on songs in particular, and together they created a whole new style for his music, inclusive of all kinds of American roots music that had come before, but with a kind of surreal and cinematic twist. Lots of world music instruments and junk percussion became a big part of his sound as well, which some have even considered a curious kind of world music.

Song Noir is ultimately an interesting book that tracks the truly unique mid-career transformation of Tom Waits. While there have been lots of books about Waits in general, this is the only one I’m aware of that focuses directly on the beginning of his career up to and through the beginning of his transformation.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Lowside of the Road by Barney Hoskyns or Tom Waits on Tom Waits edited by Paul Maher, Jr.)

( publisher’s official Song Noir web site )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

Bark to the Future
by Spencer Quinn (audiobook-on-cd ordered through InterLibrary Loan — libraries only own in physical book format)

This is the 13th entry in the Chet & Bernie mystery series, by Spencer Quinn, which are told from the point-of-view of Chet the dog, the canine partner of private detective Bernie Little. I particularly enjoy all entries in this series as audiobooks, read by James Frangione (which I have had to order through the libraries’ InterLibrary Loan service since the Lincoln City Libraries haven’t been buying the audiobook versions since the 7th in the series back in 2015).

In this latest installment (another is due in late 2023), an encounter with a homeless man panhandling at a highway off-ramp turns personal for Bernie, who recognizes the man as a former teammate on Bernie’s high school baseball team. “Rocket” has obviously fallen on some hard times, and may also be facing some mental and emotional challenges. But when the troubled man disappears, Bernie and Chet start digging into his background, as well as the history of some of Bernie’s other former classmates. Included in their investigation are several visits to the “slot canyons” in the desert outside the (unnamed) U.S. Southwestern city where Chet and Bernie live.

Frangione once again captures the overly-enthusiastic yet easily distracted voice of Chet’s story narration perfectly. And the unswerving love of Chet for his human “partner” is always appealing in these tales. The fact that this case is so close to Bernie’s own life adds a certain level of poignancy, and even if the ending is a tad bit predictable, the process of getting to that ending is the true joy in reading a Chet & Bernie story.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try all of the Chet & Bernie novels and short stories, by Spencer Quinn, preferably as audiobooks if you can find them!)

( official Spencer Quinn (a.k.a. Peter Abrahams) web site )


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

Overtone Singing: Harmonic Dimensions of the Human Voice
by Mark Van Tongeren (Music 783.092 Ton)

It’s not often that you find a music book that combines music history, ethnomusicology, performance practice and technique suggestions, and inquiries about the spiritual nature of music, but you can find all of those things in the unique book Overtone Singing: Harmonic Dimensions of the Human Voice by Mark von Tongeren. There hasn’t been a lot written about the kinds of voice techniques covered in this volume, but this exhaustive book takes a look at all aspects of the practice, which is often referred to as “throat singing.” Perhaps you’ve seen the old movie “Genghis Blues,” in which bluesman Paul Pena travels to the Russian Republic of Tuva to compete in their annual throat-singing competition. That’s one of the few times that Western culture has been exposed to this unusual singing style, though there are pockets of performers who use similar techniques around the world. Let’s talk a little about the book, and then listen to some music using overtone singing techniques.

At its core, throat singing or overtone singing uses some non-western techniques to create ways to vocalize multiple pitches at once. The lowest tone becomes a sort of droning fundamental note, and using one of several techniques, a singer can then cause overtone notes related to that fundamental pitch to become audible. If you’re not familiar with overtones, imagine holding a trombone or trumpet for a moment, and playing notes by changing your embouchure, or lip position, rather than moving the slide or valves to change notes. This is how “Taps” works, played by bugles at many funerals — all of those notes in that song are overtones. In the case of overtone singing, you can hear those overtones and a lower fundamental note simultaneously, and you can usually change the overtone notes while sustaining the fundamental.

The introduction to Overtone Singing is a fairly personal one, which is probably a necessity in this situation. After all, this is a fairly obscure musical technique, practiced only by a few small societies — how did a professor from the Netherlands come to write a book about it, become an authority on it, and practice these voice techniques himself? Briefly put, the author felt the need to personally explore the intricacies of timbre while studying musicology, and found himself eventually imitating the sounds of other cultures which led to directly studying Tuvan throat singing in the mid-1990s. It’s interesting to consider the implications of this for western music students, though — in the west, our music focuses heavily on melodic and harmonic conceptions, and then rhythm secondarily, and perhaps timbre — the sounds and qualities of particular instruments — a distant tertiary consideration. If you start looking into timbre more directly, and considering variants on it, including the sometimes insect-like sounds involved with throat singing, doors to different kinds of musical approaches start opening up!

The first main part of the book addresses technique, illustrating 7 elementary techniques that the author has studied that all lead to the ability to sing overtones. There are detailed drawings and descriptions of how it should feel, where breath is being directed, tongue and jaw positions and more. Considering that one isn’t likely to bump into a teacher of these techniques in our area, I’m curious if this information is enough to learn how to do this, and I plan on trying this out myself! But do heed the warnings discussed here, too: these techniques can be pretty strenuous on your voice, so if you do try this out, go slow and listen to your body.

Part 2 focuses on Eastern musical traditions where throat singing is common. This part is broadly divided into two sections: Tuvan practices, and everyone else. The people of Tuva have been singing in this style for centuries (perhaps millennia — records of their immediate neighbors to the south in Mongolia mention throat singing during the Han Dynasty, 200 BC), and they’ve arguably developed the most complex expression of the technique, and it’s more a part of everyday life even in contemporary Tuva. Author van Tongeren discusses throat singing in Tuva partially from a personal perspective, as he spent three months there in 1993 as part of his research. He includes biographies for several of the notable throat singing teachers he worked with, highlights the role of this music in the everyday lives of Tuvans from several social strata, and discusses some of the contemporary ensembles carrying on the traditions in a more public-facing manner.

Outside of Tuva, there are several other cultures who have used similar techniques. The Mongolians, immediately south of Tuva, have a similar tradition, as do Tuva’s neighbors to the west in the Altai Republic. Other parts of the world mentioned include the Turkish Bashkirs of the Ural Mountains, the chanting of Tibetan monks, some specialized harmonizing traditions among the citizens of Sardinia, Italy, and the Xhosa people of Cape Province in South Africa. I did find it interesting that the Inuit peoples of Northern Canada and Alaska weren’t mentioned, as they have a throat singing technique somewhat reminiscent of the Xhosa, but perhaps they don’t focus enough on the overtones that can be produced to be included in the author’s definition of overtone singing.

Part 3 of the book addresses the contemporary use of overtone singing, mostly by Westerners who add aspects of these sounds to contemporary classical music. 20th C. composers such as La Monte Young and Karlheinz Stockhausen started incorporating overtone singing into their works for compositional reasons, and this led to some vocalists taking on throat singing techniques as part of their skill sets, such as Demetrio Stratos and Joan La Barbara. For composers and performers in this field, these sounds were (and are) generally treated as special sound effects in the extended-technique category of performance practice, as opposed to the more all-encompassing embrace of throat singing by the various cultures who first started practicing it. Then there were Western artists who approached these sounds from a more spiritual perspective, likening them to sacred practices, such as Michael Vetter or David Hykes. In all of these cases, the techniques are being used for perhaps different reasons than their original inventors had in mind, and though the book doesn’t mention this, there have been times in recent history where ownership of these techniques and their resultant sounds have been called into question by indigenous groups who have long practiced throat singing. In 2019, for example, the well-regarded vocal group Roomfull of Teeth, along with Caroline Shaw, composer of “Partita for 8 Voices” which they were performing, were accused of cultural appropriation by Inuit singer Tanya Tagaq, because some passages of the piece sounded like traditional Inuit music. So if you choose to incorporate some of these techniques into your own music, be sensitive to those issues, too.

The final part of the book, simply called “Metaphysics,” explores the spiritual connections that many performers and listeners experience with overtone singing techniques. I found this portion of the book to be most impactful in describing specific connections to the historical use of such techniques in many cultures, but some of it also treads into New Age musical territory, asserting that such practices have healing or therapeutic properties. One thing that’s worth considering is that throat singing techniques are generally pretty draining on performers: they require intense breathing control, sometimes even circular breathing techniques, and the sounds produced can be loud and resonant, causing performers’ bodies to vibrate with the sounds. These relatively extreme conditions can certainly lead to performers having unusual experiences, especially if they’re performing for extended periods. As to how effective these sounds are on listeners, there is certainly historical precedent for using them with the intent to heal or calm listeners. How effective they are, especially when presented as specific “healing sounds” for particular ailments or organs, though, is probably up for more research and debate.

All told, Overtone Singing is both a fantastic introduction to the history and practice of throat singing techniques, and as thorough a manual and ethnomusicological catalog of music made this way that’s been published so far. If you’re curious about this music and want to know more, you’ll definitely find interesting avenues for further study, practice, and listening in this book.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Genghis Blues by B.B. King or Throat Singing in Tuva by Michael Richardson.)

( publisher’s official Overtone Singing web site )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

Screening Room

formatdvdThe Lost City
(DVD Lost)

I’ll be honest — I wasn’t expecting much from this rather lightweight action-comedy-thriller, so I was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining it turned out to be. Sandra Bullock plays steamy adventure romance author Loretta Sage, who’s gotten into a bit of a rut with her series of novels. When a crazed billionaire (Daniel Radcliffe in an over-the-top performance as Abigail Fairfax) kidnaps her, believing she has the knowledge to lead him a legendary lost city in the jungle, it is up to Loretta’s long-time hunky cover model Alan (Channing Tatum playing against his typical “action hero” role, as a bumbling, frightened yet persistent klutz) to attempt to launch a rescue of his friend and meal-ticket, even though he has no idea what he’s doing. Throw in Brad Pitt as Jack Trainer, a fatalistic mercenary, and you’ve got enough laughs, stunts, explosions and exotic scenery for you to almost overlook how silly the plot is. Bullock and Channing have surprisingly good comedic chemistry. Turn off your brain and just let yourself be entertained for two hours!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile, the two action/romance/comedy films from the 1980s featuring Kathleen Turner as a romance novelist who gets sucked into adventures.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )


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

(DVD Marlowe)

Liam Neeson is not an actor I would have pictured in the titular role of a Philip Marlowe film. I’ve grown up on various filmed versions of the Marlowe stories, and the main character has been embodied by everyone from James Garner and Elliot Gould, to Robert Mitchum and Robert Montgomery. But Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep is still the yardstick by which they’re all measured. Neeson, for whom this was his 100th film appearance, proves to be a quite capable, though somewhat subdued, Marlowe.

Marlowe features both a screenplay and direction by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Michael Collins, Byzantium, The Borgias, etc.), and he does a fair job of trying to capture the style and tone of a “film noir”-era movie, without relying on overly dark tones and tons of shadows. In this film, Los Angeles is shown in muted, sun-strewn tones. The sets are gorgeous, the costumes first rate, and the minimalist score is terrific. But where this new Marlowe succeeds best is in its supporting cast, which features Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Francois Arnauld, Danny Huston, Alan Cumming, Colm Meaney and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in significant roles.

If you’re a fan of classic mysteries, with hard-bitten detectives being misled by clients, but still feeling compelled to solve their cases because it is the right thing to do, this intriguing little entry from 2022 should be right up your alley. There’s nothing groundbreaking about this one — in many ways it is somewhat formulaic for the detective genre — but it is still done in a very stylish way!

Based on the novel The Black-Eyed Blonde by award-winning author John Banville (under the pen name Benjamin Black), which was a 2014 Philip Marlowe novel authorized by the Raymond Chandler estate after Chandler’s passing.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try any of the many previous film incarnations of Philip Marlowe. I personally recommend Marlowe starring James Garner (updated to the 1960s, featuring Bruce Lee the only time he ever played a villain), The Long Goodbye starring Elliot Gould (updated to the 1970s with a wry sense of humor), and the classic The Big Sleep starring Humphrey Bogart.)

(Also available in traditional print format.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )


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

last updated May 2023
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