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Staff Recommendations – September 2021

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September 2021 Recommendations

Relax Baby Be Cool: The Artistry and Audacity of Serge Gainsbourg
by Jeremy Allen (Music 780.63 Gainsbourg)

Singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg never become a household name on this side of the pond, but he’s regarded as a pivotal artist in French pop, with a career that spanned the 50s to the 80s. Even when he wasn’t working as much in the 80s, he continued to enjoy a kind of star status, appearing frequently on French talk shows in his final years until his death in 1991. Unlike a lot of pop artists, he has somehow continued to rise in popularity posthumously. Some of his 70s albums that only sold copies in the five figures during their initial run ended up going gold in the decades after his death, and there have been lots of tribute albums featuring his work in recent years as well.

What has been lacking is an English-language biography describing his unusual and varied musical career, but that issue has now been addressed with the publication of a great new book by Jeremy Allen called Relax Baby Be Cool: The Artistry and Audacity of Serge Gainsbourg that you can check out from Polley.

In many ways, Gainsbourg’s popularity, even in earlier times within France, is a little surprising: his voice, though one grows to enjoy it, isn’t particularly noteworthy. He doesn’t cut the most handsome figure for a pop star. And it’s said that he wasn’t a remarkable performer, either, seeming a little stiff and uncomfortable on the stage, and struggling with stage fright as well. But he was a phenomenal songwriter, who is said to have raised the modern chanson (or “song” — a chanson in the modern sense is basically any French-language song) to a true art form again. And his lyrics were clever, layered, and sometimes controversial, all of which surely contributed to his reputation.

In Relax Baby Be Cool, we first learn that Gainsbourg came to a music career relatively late as pop artists go. In the mid-1950s, when he would have been in his mid to late 20s, he was making his way as a fairly low-key jazz musician, following in the footsteps of his father. The book doesn’t get into this much, but at the time he still considered himself more of a painter. Then a chance meeting with novelist and songwriter Boris Vian gave him the courage to give performance of his own music a try. He tried out different stage names as a musician: born Lucien Ginsburg and known as Lucien Guimbaud during the Occupation, he first chose Julien Grix as his stage name around 1954. By ’58, he was registering songs and performing as Serge Gainsbourg, when he recorded his first record, “Du Chant a La Une!” This record was followed by three more that all found him working in a very jazz-influenced idiom. None of them were big hits in France upon release, but now some of the songs on them are among his best-regarded.

By the early 1960s, he was transitioning from jazz toward the French style of rock and roll-influenced pop music of the time, known as “ye-ye.” While he still wasn’t seeing a lot of success for his own albums, he was writing songs for other performers that were getting popular. On his own records, he experimented with African percussion on the 1964 album Percussions, and of course lots of his other music, from jazz to rock and roll influences, was heavily inspired by American music, which had already started to dominate international approaches to pop music by that decade. And we learn that 1965 was a pivotal year for Gainsbourg’s popularity as a songwriter, when he wrote “Poupee de cire, Poupee de son,” which won the Eurovision Song Contest as performed by France Gall. He began to write more music for television and movie use, and appeared on French screens as well, which began to raise his level of recognition. The rest of his career featured a combination of music and television appearances — as mentioned earlier, he was a regular guest on French late-night shows into the 80s.

Relax Baby Be Cool starts out more or less chronologically, but by the middle of the book, it becomes divided into a variety of different perspectives for understanding Gainsbourg: the “aesthetics” chapter looks at the very particular form of organized disorder he maintained in his home. “Muses” investigates the three women with whom he spent most of his time, and how they affected his work. Several chapters focus on specific albums throughout his career. And later chapters like “Fame” and “Provocation” investigate his latter-year tendencies, when he created a “Ganesbarre” alter-ego to represent his more boorish tendencies.

Throughout the book, various controversies follow Gainsbourg around: he was a fascinating but very flawed person, and author Jeremy Allen tries to portray that total picture of his work including his sometimes poor behavior. And it’s an interesting time for a fairly thorough biography on Gainsbourg to appear: issues of cultural appropriation, or the inappropriate relationships that many male pop artists had with much younger women in the 60s and 70s are discussed with acknowledgement of the contemporary discussions we’ve all been having. Books about Gainsbourg or 60s pop figures more generally written 10 or 20 years ago often lacked a lot of the more worldly nuance that attempts to bring balance to this book. Perhaps we’ll start to see more books about the icons of those days with more of a broad social conscience in the coming years.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Sounds French: Globalization, Cultural Communities, and Pop Music, 1958-1980 by Jonathyne Briggs or Cult Musicians: 50 Progressive Performers You Need To Know by Robert Dimery.)

( publisher’s official Relax Baby, Be Cool web site ) | ( official Jeremy Allen Twitter feed )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11
by Garrett M. Graff (973.931 Gra)

Pause to consider — It has been 20 years since the terrorist/jihad attacks of September 11, 2001 on the eastern United States. It was one of those moments where time froze as soon as you learned what was happening.

Four jumbo-jet passenger airplane flights were hijacked and then aimed at: the Two Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, which were ultimately completely destroyed; The Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C., heavily damaged; a 4th unrealized target somewhere in that same area, thwarted by brave passengers at the cost of their lives. So many people lost, but tens of thousands of survivors, too.

This painstakingly assembled documentation is at once starkly cognizant of the senselessness of it all while also recognizing the courage, fortitude, and optimism that characterize this still-hard-to-comprehend catastrophe. Heartbreaking and yet hopeful, we journey back to the fateful event in the voices of those who lived through it and a number of those who died, as well as catch up with how some have dealt with it up to now (2019).

The title derives from the eventual fact that Air Force One, with then-President George W. Bush on board, was the only non-fighter airplane traveling in the sky that day after all other air traffic over the U.S. was grounded. Although there are a couple of chapters which focus on this, there is much more of the content that deals with the New York and Pentagon aspects. Nebraska will always be connected to this day as the place where the President came in to Offutt Air Force Base for a couple of hours and video-conferenced with government and military leaders who were hunkered down in the Nation’s Capitol before returning there himself once the threat appeared to be contained.

The book was made possible in large part by the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Many of the survivor narratives can also be accessed in the newly-released 6-part documentary “9/11: One Day in America” on National Geographic television, which I found even more affecting due to also having the visual impact of the narrators’ emotions involved.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero by Michael Hingson, or 102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn.]

( publisher’s official The Only Plane in the Sky web page ) | ( official Garrett Graff web site ) | ( ( National September 11 Memorial and Museum ) | ( 9/11: One Day in America — streaming On-Demand — requires a cable or streaming service, which you must log into )


Recommended by Becky W.C.
Walt Branch Library

The Lord God Made Them All
by James Herriot (B H43551)

This summer I have read every book in our collection by the English author James Herriot (Alf Wight). I had become obsessed with the PBS series All Creatures Great and Small last year and wanted to hear more of the stories about life as a Country Vet in the highlands of Yorkshire. I have enjoyed all of the books written by this author, but I especially enjoyed this one. James gets the opportunity to travel to Russia during the Cold War on a ship with cattle. Sections of the story are written as if you were reading his personal diary, seeing situations from his point of view. There are also stories of events that happened during his tenure as a veterinarian in the small town of Thirsk, referred to as Darrowby in the books. Some of the stories made me laugh out loud, others brought me to tears. I highly recommend any of the books in this series, especially if you love stories about animals.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and Wonderful, and Every Living Thing or James Herriot’s Yorkshire all by James Herriot.)

( official web site ) | ( Wikipedia page about James Herriot )


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

Archivist Wasp
by Nicole Kornher-Stace (eBook)

Archivist Wasp is one of the most ambitious genre blends I’ve encountered. This young adult novel starts with a post apocalyptic Earth, turns into a wonderland journey, and also looks back at a military science fiction past just before the apocalypse. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

Wasp is a town outcast because of her job as, more or less, a ghost buster. Wandering spirits are real troublemakers in this world and it’s her job to capture them and study them for clues about the past. Unfortunately, the ghosts tends to be very dull. One day per year, she has to fight several girls to the death who want her job. She killed her own predecessor with poison blades, which is why she got stuck with “Wasp.” It’s all utterly miserable until she encounters a ghost who not only talks, but wants her to go on a quest to find another ghost. Then it gets far more weird.

If you enjoy the kind of book where the modest hero transforms on a journey and then comes home in a whole different league (e.g. The Lord of the Rings), check this out. I’d also recommend it to teen+ fans of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

( official Nicole Kornher-Stace web site )


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

Planet Wax: Sci-Fi/Fantasy Soundtracks on Vinyl
by Aaron Lupton and Jeff Szpirglas (Music 781.542 Lup)

I have a love/hate relationship with this book. I really want to love it — it covers one of my primary passions — the collecting (and playing) of SF/Fantasy movie soundtracks. But Planet Wax is riddled with so many problems that I have considerable difficulty in allowing myself to recommend it.

But first, the good things: For anyone who grew up on the science fiction and fantasy films of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s (the book sets a cut-off point of films released in 1999), the visuals in Planet Wax will trigger lots of pleasant memories. The authors profile over 180 films whose soundtracks stand out in some way, and over 2/3 of each page of the book is dedicated to a reproduction of the album cover associated with the soundtrack. The authors break their content into some oddly-chosen categories: Epic Sci-Fi, Adult Fantasy, Dark Dystopia, Action/Adventure, Pop, Family Features, Comic Book/Superheroes, Television, and Unidentified Objects.

Unfortunately, the large graphics lead to very short sections of explanatory text — the authors even mention at one point that they limit themselves to 350 or fewer words for their background blurbs about most of the albums. Now, I’ll admit that the title of the book actually refers to the “vinyl” releases of soundtracks, but speaking as someone who’d much rather have the CDs, the constant refrains from the authors of “hopefully this one will have a vinyl re-release soon” got tiresome quickly. The authors do a good job of clearly identifying the many different versions of a film’s soundtrack album releases (both vinyl and CD), and the differences in those (expansions, inclusion of previously unreleased music, etc.) but then they do not clearly identify which version’s art they’ve reproduced on the page above the text.

It is obvious that the authors of Planet Wax are incredibly enthusiastic about their topic — they’ve also previously put out a volume on Horror Movie music. But they do NOT include some major film soundtracks from pre-2000 films that seem like they should be in this book. What they have included seems mainly the authors’ personal favorites, including some very obscure films at the expense of more logical inclusions. And, worst of all, the book is riddled with typos, grammatical errors and simple factual errors (the legendary composer Carl Orff is repeated referred to as Carl Off) — Planet Wax could have really used some heavy editing.

Like I said, I really wanted to love this book…it’s the kind of reference volume that I usually adore. And it DOES have a lot of good stuff in it. But I constantly winced at every error or glitch in the book. Your mileage may vary, especially if you’re willing to overlook the obvious mistakes. And, honestly, if you’re just looking for a great nostalgia fix, you’ll probably love this.

Personally, it gets a positive review from me for two big reasons — the authors include the single “Theme From The Greatest American Hero (Believe It or Not)” (from my all-time favorite TV show) as a significant genre music contribution, in their chapter on genre TV-show music, and because of their detailed descriptions of the history of alternative soundtrack releases for each film included, I’ve been able to identify at least a dozen expanded soundtracks for some of my favorite films, for which I only own the original, apparently incomplete recordings — guess I’ll be doing some soundtrack shopping!

So…consider this a reluctant thumbs up for Planet Wax. Definitely worth exploring, but not with a critical eye.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Blood on Black Wax: Horror Soundtracks On Vinyl, also by Lupton and Szpirglas.)

( Aaron Lupton video interview about Planet Wax ) | ( official Aaron Lupton Twitter feed )


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

Wolf Island: Discovering the Secrets of a Mythic Animal
by L. David Mech, Ph.D. (599.773 Mec)

I was pleased to see Wolf Island on the New Books Display this summer. The book describes the research that L. David Mech did over the course of three years (1958-1961) on Isle Royale in Lake Superior, approximately twenty miles off the Canadian and U.S. border. As a longtime supporter of the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota, I was excited to see that its founder had published a book detailing his graduate research that led to his Ph.D. and lifetime career. As described by Mech, the research team plotted out a multi-year project to better understand how wolves hunted, what they ate, how they tracked with the abundance or scarcity of moose, and how successfully they killed their prey. Isle Royale was the perfect environment to study this subject as moose were in abundance and wolves were new to the island. By studying wolf scat to determine the diet of wolves and observing wolf packs as they hunted and killed moose, Mech was able to accumulate a body of research to help us better understand wolves and their impact on the ecosystem. At the time of this study, wolves were found in northern Minnesota and Alaska with little presence in the lower 48 states. With successful reintroduction programs, wolves are now making a comeback in nearly a dozen states. This is a fascinating book about the research that led to a better understanding of wolves and their place in the wild. I highly recommend this book.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Wolves of Denali by L. David Mech, or The Reign of Wolf 21 : The Saga of Yellowstone’s Legendary Druid Pack by Rick McIntyre.)

( publisher’s official Wolf Island web page ) | ( official L. David Mech web site )


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

A Children’s Bible
by Lydia Millet (Millett)

The teenage narrator of the novel, Evie, is navigating a multi-family vacation gone awry. Between a lack of supervision and a supercharged storm a group of children experience a whirlwind of events. This story is a snarky, at times silly, social commentary that focuses on the climate situation and the ways in which people handle new realities.

It is a timely, entertaining and unique read.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The 2084 Report: A Novel of the Great Warming by James Lawrence Powell, Lord of the Files by William Golding or the movie Moonrise Kingdom directed by Wes Anderson.]

( official Lydia Millett web site (also official website for the book) )


Recommended by Meagan M.
Walt Branch Library

Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of ’80s and ’90s Teen Fiction
by Gabrielle Moss (813.9 Mos)

Paperback Crush is a lively, snarky look at teen fiction from the 80s and 90s. Think of it as a pastel-drenched companion to Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks From Hell. In both cases, simply flipping through the topical sections like Love, Family, School, and Jobs is fun for looking at beautifully reproduced retro covers. The text is a hoot too, as Gabrielle Moss takes you through oh-so-precious books about malt shop dates and oh-so-tawdry tales of blackmail, bullying, and horror that would fit in the Hendrix book. Moss highlights early examples of nontraditional family structures, queer identity, and teens of color leading the story. Essential reading for book professionals, but it’s all written in a welcoming style for anyone in need of a nostalgia trip.

Many of these titles are no longer commonly available in public libraries, but InterLibrary Loan can be your best friend if something catches your eye and you don’t want to start trawling online auction sites.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Larger Than Life: A History of Boy Bands from NKOTB to BTS by Maria Sherman, or Blood on Black Wax: Horror Soundtracks On Vinyl and Planet Wax: Sci-fi/Fantasy Soundtracks on Vinyl by Aaron Lupton and Jeff Szpirglas.)

( publisher’s official Paperback Crush web site ) | ( official Gabrielle Moss web site )


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

Reminded by the Instruments: David Tudor’s Music
by You Nakai (Music 780.92 Tudor)

In the world of classical music, composers often get the lion’s share of attention. Your average person likely knows names like Beethoven, Bach and Mozart, or even John Cage, but who is familiar with the names of the musicians who have worked over centuries to make their music come alive in the air? Conductors sometimes pick up some recognition as the public faces of the ensembles they lead, but relatively rare is the classical musician who breaks out on with public recognition of their own.

Obviously there are some well-known performers, but I raise the general point to shine some light on the many hard working musicians who often work just outside of the limelight to bring the music of well-known artists to the stage where audiences can enjoy it. To some extent, composer and performer roles in the 2nd half of the 20th century started to change a bit, when composers like Phillip Glass or Steve Reich had their own ensembles and worked as composer-performers, participating themselves in the final realization of their works. The composer-performer model became more common among the other members of those ensembles, too, many of whom had their own careers as composers even if they weren’t as well-recognized. And it’s one of those composer-performers, or performer-composers if you’d prefer, that we’ll focus on here: David Tudor. Unless you’re pretty deeply into post-1945 classical music, you may not be familiar with Tudor, but his efforts as a performer were essential to how the works of composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen or John Cage were received by the public. The information available about Tudor and his own work has long been scarce, but that has just changed with the publication of a tremendous overview of his contributions, a comprehensive tome of a book called Reminded by the Instruments: David Tudor’s Music by You Nakai, which you can borrow from the Polley Music Library.

In the introduction to Reminded by the Instruments, Nakai quickly details his motivations for starting what must have been a gargantuan process toward the completion of this book. David Tudor is featured on many recordings, particularly those of the work of John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, but there simply hasn’t been much discussion about his contributions directly. His name comes up in interviews and articles about other composers, but usually he’s mentioned in terms of something specific that he contributed, or a funny anecdote (and from the anecdotes, it sounds like he was generally a very quiet person, and occasionally crabby). But his own career path remained somewhat hidden in the margins of other composer’s more public career arcs. Nakai visited the four major repositories of Tudor’s papers and instruments and strove to find the connections across the span of his career, presenting his findings in accordance with the way that Tudor would have approached his own work. That is to say, for a performer who became known in particular for his ability to interpret graphic scores during the earliest developments of graphic notation, there seemed to be a consistency of approach that allowed Tudor to excel at interpreting such works, and he seems to have applied that kind of philosophy throughout his life’s work. Nakai has distilled this approach down to a 2-step process:

“1. Observe the given material thoroughly in an unbiased way until it reveals its own ‘nature.’
2. Bias the subsequent approach to the material based on this nature.”

This seems abstract at first, but it turns out to be quite practical. Nakai used this approach on the collections and holdings of David Tudor to help focus his research, and we can discover both the hows and the whys of pieces throughout his career following this simple plan. Based on the research materials explored to create this book, it’s fair to say that this isn’t a biography. It really is a document of David Tudor’s music through and through, and to some extent David Tudor as a legendary or somewhat mysterious person will remain elusive as you read this book. But you will likely understand his work and his methods, and to the degree that he seemed so deeply invested in his work, perhaps this is enough.

The book proceeds in a mostly chronological order, starting around 1947, when Tudor is transitioning from the organ to the piano. We immediately discover his penchant for approaching instruments in that “unbiased way until they reveal their own nature” as mentioned earlier: in this case, he has decided to switch to the piano as his primary instrument upon hearing Irma Wolpe’s playing. In her playing, he detected a unique kind of dynamic control that he wasn’t finding himself or in the playing of others, so he went back to the fundamentals of piano, namely the mechanical aspects of piano action. In doing this, he discovered a trick in the escapement mechanism where a player can focus on the precise control of the escapement in such a way that one can play a very loud forte note and then follow it with very clear but quiet articulations — and all of this can happen using roughly the same amount of force on the key, which goes against the usual theories of dynamic production at the piano. It’s this kind of dedication and deep understanding of his craft that he started applying to graphic notation scores.

Since this is such a massive book, I’m not going to be able to follow the chronology here at ground level, but suffice it to say that roughly the first quarter of the book pertains to graphic notation pieces and how Tudor fastidiously interpreted them for piano performance. As Cage and Tudor worked together, both found themselves drawn to electronic music, and in particular methods for creating live electronic music (as opposed to the kinds of electronic music being made then with giant synthesizers that couldn’t find their way to stages except on prerecorded tapes). Much of the balance of the book gets into extreme detail about Tudor’s eventual transition to building electronic musical devices, an area of his work about which little has been publicly discussed before. In building his own sound devices, and creating entire sound systems, Tudor came to the field as a total novice in electronics, but he devoted himself fully to the task. The book is full of descriptions of pieces, photos of his electronic gadgets, and perhaps most importantly, lots of circuit diagrams. If you’re electronically inclined, you’ll be able to make similar devices yourself with some of the diagrams in this book. And as we learn about these devices, we also learn about Tudor’s musical engagement with them.

Take the 1974 piece “Toneburst,” for example. We’re skipping quite a distance ahead, by which time Tudor had been designing and implementing such devices for well over a decade, but he continued to supplement live electronics with pre-recorded materials on tape. Toneburst was a tour de force of achieving the musical effect he desired without the use of any prerecorded materials. Even after the debut of the piece, there are diagrams from several years later where he continues to refine and expand on the set of devices used to realize it in real time. These kinds of systems are sometimes referred to in electronic music circles as no-input systems, meaning that Tudor was able to create sounds through self-oscillation of his devices, and then further processed those sounds through a variety of methods to create his music.

As we learn toward the end of the main text, Tudor was working with principles of neural networks in his final years in the 1990s, which is pretty impressive considering that neural networks and machine learning continue to be cutting-edge music news 30 years later, like the news of Holly Herndon’s AI “digital twin” vocalist from just a few weeks ago. And in his final years, Tudor turned to visual art, which is briefly covered at the end of the book. Appropriately enough, his visual art efforts look a lot like colorized circuit diagrams.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try For the Birds by John Cage, Between Air and Electricity: Microphones and Loudspeakers as Musical Instruments by Cathy van Eck or In Search of a Concrete Music by Pierre Schaeffer.)

( official web site )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

High Rise Stories: Voices From Chicago Public Housing
by Audrey Petty (363.5 Hig)

What do you think of when you hear the words “high-rise public housing”? Broken elevators and gangs? Crowded spaces, limited resources? Vandalism? Graffiti? Boarded up windows? Garbage piling up? Guns and drugs?

Or do you think, Neighbors? Community? Stopping in to an auntie’s apartment for dinner? Playing hopscotch in the halls? Good Times with friends and family?

Sometimes heart-warming, often heart-wrenching, High Rise Stories: Voices From Chicago Public Housing introduces a dozen former residents and shares their stories. For the history minded, it also includes appendices of the timeline of Chicago Public Housing, a glossary, and several essays. A lot to think about and to learn. Originally published in 2010, concurrent with the demolition of the last of the high rise public housing buildings, High Rise Stories lets the people who lived there tell their stories of making public housing their homes, sharing both the good and the bad of their times there.

It seems predictable that large congregations of people living in poverty will manifest in crimes, unhappiness, and untenable living situations, especially when combined with deteriorating buildings and disappearing maintenance. What wasn’t so predictable to me, was the affection so many residents had for their community and their homes. The shared hardships fostered relationships between survivors. In the face of unbearable situations, many of these narratives demonstrate the strength of the human heart to connect, and to hope. Through their stories, we bear witness to unforgettable moments in the residents’ lives. Tragic moments, frustrating moments, and yet, also times of family and friends, good food, and community.

[If you found this book interesting you might also want to check out: High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing by Ben Austen — a similar book to High Rise Stories, including some of the same people. Also available as an ebook and audiobook through Hoopla, The Interrupters — a movie available on Hoopla; it’s a documentary about a group of people who are taking action to control and “interrupt” the cycle of violence in Public Housing, especially in Chicago, Public Housing Myths by (various authors) — another Hoopla ebook, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson or Houser: The Life and Work of Catherine Bauer, 1905-64 by H. Peter Oberlander — available through Interlibrary Loan; recounts the life of one of the U.S.’s early public housing advocates and planners. Her 1934 book “Modern Housing” was groundbreaking in the US. Many more articles are accessible through the library’s EBSCO journal database…)

( official High Rise Stories page on the official Audrey Petty web site )


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

The Rose Code
by Kate Quinn (Quinn)

I’ve been reading a lot of historical fiction recently, especially World War II novels. The Rose Code is another World War II novel, but what sets it apart from the rest is that it takes place at Bletchley Park, a location described by a guard as “the biggest bloody lunatic asylum in Britain.” The book brings to life that very eccentric top-secret world, breaking codes and saving lives.

If you like World War II fiction, you need to add this book to your must-read list.

At Bletchley Park women were often equal to men, which was not the norm in the 1940s. Osla Kendall, not your usual debutante, builds Hurricane planes and eventually takes a job using her fluency in German to help break codes. Osla also gets caught up in a romantic relationship with Prince Philip of Greece — before Queen Elizabeth, of course. Mab Churt is socially climbing her way out of her East End poverty existence, and finds herself working on the code breaking machines while she looks for a husband to make a better life. Beth Finch is the awkward, side-ways thinker who is sheltered and over-protected by her religious mother. But Beth’s side-way thinking and gift for crosswords makes her just the right kind of person for a cryptanalyst. The story details how they lived and loved; overcame obstacles and suffered major losses. Added in the mix is a race against time to uncover a traitor who is using his or her position to sell secrets, no matter what the cost.

Although this is a fiction novel, a lot of The Rose Code is based on what factually happened inside Bletchley Park. Some of the characters are based on real people. The character Osla is based on the true-to-life Osla Benning, a Canadian who built planes and worked at Bletchley Park and did have a relationship with Prince Philip. Several characters are combinations of people. Beth is a combination of an unknown codebreaker who had a breakdown and went to an institution and real life Maris Lever, a star cryptanalyst credited with several major breakthroughs. And some minor characters are real people: Alan Turing, Dilly Knox and even Valerie Glassborow, who would become Kate Middleton’s grandmother. Author Kate Quinn even admits in the Author’s Notes that there was a traitor at Bletchley Park selling secrets to the Russians and he was not exposed until years later when he was living abroad.

I quickly got caught up in the lives of the characters. In fact, I had to put the book down for a few days after a major loss. But then I found myself racing to the end to discover the traitor and see if he or she was brought to justice.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Road to Station X by Sarah Baring, The Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin or The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.)

( official The Rose Code page on the official Kate Quinn web site )


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

Unstrung: Rants and Stories of a Noise Guitarist
by Marc Ribot (Music 781.66 Ribot)

Marc Ribot is one of those guitarists that many people may not know by name, but they’ve probably heard him play. He’s been featured on over 500 recordings, including those by artists like Tom Waits, Marianne Faithfull, Elvis Costello, John Mellancamp, Neko Case, Diana Krall, David Sandborn, Laurie Anderson, and many, many more. For those who do know him by name, he’s led his own bands and solo projects for years as well, crisscrossing many genres of music but always with a lot of soul and a sense of joy and adventure. His very personal yet inclusive approach to the guitar takes him between pop music albums, modern avant-garde works, and all kinds of roots and Americana-based musical forms with ease. And he’s just published his first book, a collection mostly of short essays about his life and music. The book is called Unstrung: Rants and Stories of a Noise Guitarist, and you can borrow it from the Polley Music Library.

Unstrung is an extremely approachable book, and you don’t need to be a musician to follow what’s happening here. Ribot’s style of delivery has similarities to his guitar work: he is direct, he isn’t afraid to let readers peek behind the curtain that often divides artists from their audiences, and he knows how to paint a picture without exhausting every color at his disposal. Novelist Lynne Tillman tells us a bit about Marc Ribot as a writer and thinker in her thoughtful introduction, and then Ribot immediately invites us inside his world with an insightful essay about using guitar amplifiers at high volumes. There are so many memorable observations about the electric guitar and music more broadly in the seven pages of this essay that it feels like its own song, ready to be played back again and again to look for more insight.

The book is divided into four parts, and this first part focuses on music the most. There are discussions of musicians’ rights in the era of streaming music, the difficulties of perceiving rhythms from different musical traditions, and heartfelt remembrances of musicians who have recently departed. Of note, two musicians so eulogized here are the first victims of the COVID-19 pandemic that I’ve seen mentioned in new books: bassist Henry Grimes and producer Hal Willner.

This leaves us three more parts of Unstrung to explore that are more about life experiences: living in New York and watching it change over time, life on the road, childhood memories. There are some music-related scenarios that crop up, of course, but these are fundamentally glimpses at the human experience. Then we get into pieces of short fiction in parts III and IV. In Part III, they’re all called “Film (Mis)Treatments — short, mostly humorous ideas for short films. In Part IV, we have more general short fiction, sometimes very short, approaching flash fiction territory, incorporating the occasional memory from Ribot’s life but presented in fictional form. These are of varying quality, and they move by quickly — if you’re not digging one, you’re only a page or two away from the next. One of these in particular really stuck with me, “The Man With the Fun Job,” which tells the story of an average, moderately successful musician whose life story might look pretty dramatic if told from slightly embellished angles, but in reality is pretty simple, modest and satisfying.

I didn’t go into this book with a lot of expectations, other than having read a couple of Ribot’s musically-focused essays before—that opening essay about loud amplifiers, for example, was first published in the debut edition of John Zorn’s Arcana series of books back in 2001. And I must admit to being a little surprised at first that so much of the book focused on non-musical subject matter. One can’t help but suspect that the pandemic conditions of 2020, the lack of recording sessions happening and the standstill in musical tours, might have led to collecting this material into a single volume. I’m sure that otherwise many parts of this book would have remained strewn about between various magazines, anthologies, and unpublished pieces. But upon sitting with it for a while, I’m glad an opportunity presented itself to collect these writings as a book. The contents are a little mixed up and not altogether stylistically coherent, veering from nonfiction to fiction and back again in a way that folks don’t often behave in print. But in music, that sort of thing is more common, and the coherence of a project comes more from the voices playing the music than the particular stylistic context they’re dressed in at a given moment. And this book is musical in the same rough-and-tumble way as much of Ribot’s music, with an immediately recognizable voice.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try New York Noise: Radical Jewish Music and the Downtown Scene by Tamar Barzel, Arcana: Musicians on Music edited by John Zorn or The History of Bones: A Memoir by John Lurie.)

( publisher’s official Unstrung web site ) | ( official Marc Ribot web site )


Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library

Deal With the Devil
by Kit Rocha (Rocha)

Librarians are sometimes called superheroes, Deal With the Devil answers the question: What if literal superheroes were librarians? Set in post-apocalyptic America, this first book in the “Mercenary Librarians” series focuses on two teams of highly augmented people: three women using their skills to bring supplies and books to regular people in Atlanta, and four men who just went AWOL from corporate military.

The men are dying as their implants degrade and the one person who can fix them has been kidnapped. To free her, they must capture the leader of the librarians, alive. One of the men knows the secret location of a Library of Congress backup collection and there’s no better bait for the librarians than that. But once they hit the road together and start fighting for their lives, the two groups start to inconveniently care about each other.

The primary genre here is science fiction, but erotic romance elements are a strong second. Though the characters are a bit archetypal, I found them all endearing in their own ways with satisfying handling of military SF and romance tropes. Just be sure you’re ready for lots of violence, sex, and coping with trauma.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Burn For Me by Ilona Andrews.)

( official Mercenary Librarians page on the official Kit Rocha web site )


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

Surrender Your Sons
by Adam Sass (YA Sass)

Surrender Your Sons is a thriller for high school readers about a boy, Connor, being kidnapped and taken to a small island near Puerto Rico. He soon realizes this is a secret conversion therapy camp. Conversion therapy is a practice that’s currently (2021) banned for use on minors in almost half of the States and Puerto Rico. It’s legal in Nebraska. The idea is to force queer kids to become straight and/or cisgender through psychological and sometimes physical abuse.

Connor connects the camp to a strange note from a disabled man he took care of and soon finds out the man was once a camper. Was he injured as part of the process? This story is combination escape thriller and cold-case mystery. Things get messy in terms of both bloody violence and, well, people are complicated, including terrible people.

I found it hard to put down.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth or The Grace Year by Kim Liggett.)

( official Adam Sass web site )


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

The Trolley Car Era in Lincoln: Streetcars in Nebraska’s Capital City, 1883-1945
by Richard L. Schmeling, Michael M. Bartels and James L. McKee (398.4 Sch)

This thin, 88-page volume is perfect for anyone curious about Lincoln, Nebraska history. Jam-packed with B&W photographs, it explores the history of streetcars (a.k.a. trolleys) in Lincoln, from the early days of horse-drawn trolleys to the introduction of powered public transportation, all the way through to the elimination of streetcars in favor of the buses that form the modern StarTran system.

Tapping into a veritable wealth of images, particularly those accumulated by the late Dick Rumbolz, as well as Rumbolz’ extensive collection of historical notes, the authors present a meandering look at the types of cars used in Lincoln’s streetcar system, the routes they followed, including out to the remote areas (at the time) of College View, Bethany and Havelock), and the workers who ran the streetcars for multiple decades.

Though there were multiple companies involved in providing early public transportation, ultimately, the streetcars were all consolidated under The Lincoln Traction Company. You’ll find various sidebars with interesting related topics scattered throughout this book. I also appreciated the reproduction of route maps, brochures, and newspaper articles from various eras. Having grown up in the University Place neighborhood, living on Walker Avenue, I remember seeing the remnants of trolley car tracks embedded in the old street surface in the brick street in front of my house in the late 1960s, before it was repaved — seeing the routes reproduced in this book reminds me of how much Lincoln history I missed out on, having been born in the 1960s.

Although full of fascinating information, you’ll probably still find The Trolley Car Era in Lincoln to be a fairly quick read, considering the wealth of photographs included.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Lincoln Memories: The Early Years, A Pictorial History, Lincoln Memories: The 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, A Pictorial History, Volume II and Lincoln Memories: The From the Early Years to the 1970s, A Pictorial History, Volume III all published by The Lincoln Journal Star.)

( publisher’s official The Trolley Car Era in Lincoln web site  — currently unavailable )


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

The Rosie Result
by Graeme Simsion (libraries have as print book under Simsion; I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Dan O’Grady, borrowed through InterLibrary Loan)

This novel brings the trilogy of books focused on Don Tillman to a satisfying conclusion. In The Rosie Project, Australian geneticist Don Tillman (think Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory) takes a scientific approach to finding the perfect woman for him…except the woman who seems to the the right one doesn’t really match his checklist for optimum “mate” material. In The Rosie Effect, Don and Rosie are married, have relocated to New York City, and face a series of life-changing events as they approach parenthood.

In The Rosie Result, over ten years have passed. Don and Rosie, having moved from Australia to New York City in the previous volume, uproot their family and return to the land down under. Don finds himself between jobs and decides to focus his scientific and creative energies on bonding with their 11-year-old son, Hudson, who is facing some educational and interpersonal challenges. Both Don and Hudson are approaching their likely (but not technically diagnosed) places on the Autism spectrum in completely different ways, and Don’s highly-analytical method of studying everything in his life leads to some very funny, but also very touching observations on life.

I found this final volume in the trilogy to be bittersweet but enjoyable, though the ending felt a bit rushed. Hudson is a terrific character, as are the oddballs and misfits he surrounds himself with. Temporarily prevented from working in an academic setting, Don launches a specially-themed cocktail bar called “The Library”, and I’ll have to admit — I want to visit!

I’m sorry to see this series end, but if it had to end, I’m glad that Simsion finally addressed the Autism plotlines that have lingered throughout the earlier volumes. And audiobook narrator Dan O’Grady does another stellar job on this one!

(Obviously, you’ll want to have read or listened to The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect before reading or listening to this book. Although this third volume can stand on its own, the character relationships between Don and most of the other adult characters will make much more sense if read in the context of this being a third in a series.)

( Wikipedia page for The Rosie Result ) | ( official Graeme Simsion Twitter feed )


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

The Last Shadow Warrior
by Sam Subity (j Subity)

I enjoyed this juvenile novel that mixes Viking lore with a little magic to demonstrate that middle school girls can do anything, even save the world. Abby Beckett, age 12, recently lost her mom. If that isn’t enough to shake a sixth grader, it seems an evil shadow creature is following her, bent on destroying not only her family, but the world as we know it.

As the next in line of a family of elite Viking warriors known as the Aesir, Abby cherished that her mom used to call Abby her little Grendel hunter. She loved to practice and play that she was slashing down imaginary evil foes with toy axes and swords. Then one day, home alone, her amulet starts to glow and she hears a creepy voice– it seems a very real shapeless black shadow monster has begun to track her. She and her father pack and leave immediately, but they are attacked on the road and he is left unconscious in the hospital. She’s all alone in a new school in Minnesota called Vale Hale on a knattleikr scholarship, and she’s not even sure what knattleirk is. This new school holds a secret. Vale Hall is also a front for the Viking central command for North America, known as Asgard. She learns about the Grendel research her mother did before she died–research most in the Viking community would like to believe is ancient history. Or is it? And is it the reason for her mother’s death and why Abby faces danger as well? The reader finds themselves engrossed in the story to see if Abby can uncover how to save her father before his time runs out, and if she can defeat whatever monster as possibly the last Viking Aesir.

Filled with references to Asgard, Valkyrie, svefnthorn, Beowulf, and even lutefisk, The Last Shadow Warrior gives readers a taste of Viking life. The story begins with a bang, and never slows down. By the end of the book you are hurrying to the next page to see if Abby will succeed and if anyone will believe a 12-year-old girl.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan, the Wings of Fire series by Tui Sutherland or The Strangeworld Travel Agency by L.D. Lapinski.)

( official Sam Subity web site )


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

Screening Room

directed by Sam Mendes (DVD 1917)

There have been many great movies out this past decade covering events that happened during World War I and World War II, but this movie is among the best war films that I have seen. Set during World War I, a young soldier is given the task to deliver a message to the General on the front lines to stop an attack on German forces that have led them into a trap. Unless the soldier can get through, there will be a massacre of English forces. One of the men preparing to fight the Germans is the soldier’s own brother. The soldier, Blake, and his friend Schofield know that everything depends on them. This is an extremely tense film with scenes that are very bloody and difficult to watch, but the story is excellent. I highly recommend it.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try War Horse, Hacksaw Ridge or Dunkirk)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film ) | ( official 1917 Facebook page )]


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

formatdvdBroadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy
directed by Michael Kantor (DVD 782.14 Bro)

Fascinating episode of PBS’ Great Performances, which explores how the Jewish culture is inextricably connected to the history of the American popular Broadway music tradition. Lots of great mini-interviews and historical footage help us look back at such pioneering Jewish entertainers as Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim. Includes clips of performances by such Broadway stars as Barbara Steisand, Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, Kelli O’Hara, Nathan Lane, Bernadette Peters and many more.

From the earliest days of pre-Broadway Yiddish Theater, through the Broadway heyday of such classics as Funny Lady and Mame, to modern-era hits with Jewish influences, such as Wicked, I found it absolutely fascinating to see both the broad and narrow strokes the Jewish culture paints across musicals. For me, the best part of this documentary are all interviews, particularly with current composers/lyricists like Mark Shaiman, in which they play a little piano refrain from a Jewish folk song or worship song, and show how it could be integrated into a Broadway pop hit. Terrific narration by Broadway legend Joel Grey (Cabaret), and a humorous bookending of the documentary at both the start and end, with David Hyde Pierce singing “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway (if You Don’t Have Any Jews)” which was a showstopping number for him in the Tony-winning Spamalot.

Intriguing viewing — just be aware that although the DVD release of this was just added to the library collection in 2021, it was produced for PBS and aired back in 2012.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try It Happened on Broadway: An Oral History of the Great White Way by Myrna and Harvey Frommer, The Secret Life of the American Musical by Jack Viertel or both Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway and Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway by Michael Reidel.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this documentar)]


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

formatdvdLong Weekend
written and directed by Steve Basilone (DVD Long)

This is a quirky little character study film, with elements of romantic comedy, magical realism and science fiction, written and directed by Steve Basilone, a former writer and producer on the TV series Community, The Goldbergs and the Michael J. Fox Show.

Finn Wittrock plays Bart, a struggling writer who’s also still suffering the aftereffects of a break-up with his longtime girlfriend. He’s basically just going through the motions of life, without actually investing himself in anything. He’s in the process of moving out of the loft apartment he’d shared with the girlfriend, and temporarily moving into the garage of his best friend Doug (Damon Wayans Jr.) and his growing family.

One night, while attending (and falling asleep during) a late movie showing, he encounters Vienna, a quirky yet appealing young woman, Vienna (Zoe Chao) who strikes up an unexpected friendship with him. She’s mysterious…doesn’t want to share too much about her background…but their chemistry is undeniable.

Vienna brings Bart out of depressed funk, but he can’t help but be curious as to her story, and why she won’t share more personal details. But when he forces the issue, the revelations she makes to him make their relationship far more complicated and make Bart question his own reality.

The performances by Wittrock and Chao as the leads are tremendous, and Wayans adds both some outrageous humor and some serious friendly support. This film probably won’t go the way you expected, but that’s okay — in this case it’s not so much the destination that’s important…it’s the journey to get there.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try All My Life, Safety Not Guaranteed or Save Yourselves!)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )


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

last updated March 2023
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