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Staff Recommendations – September 2022

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

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September 2022 Recommendations

They Never Learn
by Layne Fargo (Fargo)

They Never Learn opens with a murder that works out perfectly as planned by the book’s English professor protagonist. Scarlett Clark hunts men who get away with abusing women and girls, and she’s been making these deaths look like accidents or suicides for years in multiple cities.

Meanwhile, a young student is starting her Freshman year on the same university campus. Carly Schiller is swept up in the drama of her classmates and friends, soon discovering dangers below the surface.

This violent thriller rapidly switches between both engaging narratives until the inevitable collision. I enjoyed the sharp, bold, all-too-realistic writing.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass or Getaway by Zoje Stage.)

( official They Never Learn page on the official Layne Fargo web site )

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


Just Desserts Mystery Discussion GroupCamino Island and Camino Winds
both by John Grisham (Grisham)

The libraries’ Just Desserts mystery fiction discussion group read and discussed two connected John Grisham novels for our August 2022 meeting — Camino Island (2017) and Camino Winds (2020). Other than his atypical “Skipping Christmas”, this was the first time I’d actually read a Grisham thriller — and I ended up really enjoying his writing.

Camino Island introduces us to Bruce Cable, owner of a small but thriving independent bookstore on Camino Island, in Florida. But he’s not the “hero” of the story. That’s Mercer Mann, a struggling 30-something young female writer, who is convinced by a shadowy security agent to infiltrate the Camino Island writing community to see if she can spy on Cable and find any evidence that he’s in possession of a set of F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts, stolen not long ago from a university. This first novel spends a lot of time setting up the relationships of the quirky folks living on the island, mostly in orbit around Cable and his bookstore. Mercer is a sympathetic character, if somewhat wishy-washy, but Cable is made out to be a gregarious, dominant and mischievous playboy personality, and even if he’s guilty of what he’s suspected off, I didn’t really want to see him get caught.

Camino Winds brings back most of the same set of characters, a couple of years later, for a more traditional mystery story. During a severe hurricane, which causes the majority of the island’s residents to evacuate, Cable and a few friends remain behind. When one of his friends turns up dead, but from injuries the storm couldn’t have inflicted on him, Cable believes that writer was killed, and continues to investigate what would have inspired such a violent act. Cable is definitely the central hero of this story, though his many friends and allies have major parts to play. And the bad guys in this second novel are truly deadly. A compelling read, and it will be interesting to see if Grisham returns to the Camino setting for a third novel again in the future!

I found Camino Winds to be a much more satisfying read, and it gets an “8” rating from me, while the first novel, Camino Island, gets only a “7”.

(In talking with Grisham fans, I’m told that the two Camino books are not typical of Grisham’s “legal thriller” style of writing. But, none-the-less, you may enjoy John Grisham‘s other books if you like either or both of these!)

( official John Grisham web site )

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


Titans of Bass: The Tactics, Habits and Routines From Over 130 of the World’s Best
by K.J. Jensen (Music 787.878 Jen)

Musical instruments sometimes get associated with certain personality types. This happens in both classical and pop music worlds to some extent, and I don’t know that there’s really that much truth to those stereotypes, but nevertheless they persist. Let’s look at a typical rock band’s instruments by personality, for example: we expect the singer to be charismatic and a leader, of course. Guitar players probably come next in terms of charisma, often expected to play impressive solos. Drummers may be in back, but they have such a full-body physical job that we often notice when they’re flashy. Keyboard players are maybe thought of as kind of nerdy or subdued traditionally, but that’s changing now that so much music is based on laptop electronics.

And then we have bass players: they seem to be associated with a pretty quiet personality, the calm in the center of the proverbial storm. And maybe they go unnoticed by a lot of folks. Again, this is a stereotype, and there are lots of bass players who have been prominent bandleaders, from Les Claypool, Sting and Meshell Ndegeocello in rock and pop, to Charles Mingus, Esperanza Spalding and Stanley Clarke in jazz, and many more. But it’s true that bass players have an all-important focus on keeping time and setting the pulse and feel for the whole bands they’re playing with. Where other instrumentalists get to play with time, pushing and pulling against it, bass players are the foundation making that possible.

Here at the Polley Music Library, we have lots of books on how to play bass, bass technique, approaches for different styles, and biographies of many bass players across lots of genres. But there’s a great book on our new arrivals shelf that I want to highlight today that takes a fresh approach to the instrument. It’s called Titans of Bass: The Tactics, Habits and Routines From Over 130 of the World’s Best by K.J. Jensen, and while it’s a great book for beginners or folks who have just been thinking about playing bass to get started with before they even find an instrument, there are also a lot of great ideas in here for more experienced players to consider.

The book’s structure is kind of unique, building on the system of printed books with online supplementary content that’s starting to become common with instructional books for music. There is a “How to Use This Book” instruction found just after a short foreword by bassist Tony Levin, and it’s pretty simple to follow: the author has created a website (bassguitarbeginner.com), a “Titans of Bass” Facebook group, and a “Titans of Bass” YouTube channel. The premise of the book is that you follow a series of daily prompts that will direct you to these other resources, and the book will take you through two weeks of thinking about and learning about the bass at an elementary level. In Chapter 1, author Jensen explains his intentions with this system: “This journey is not to make you a bass virtuoso like Victor Wooten overnight. I want to see if the bass is for you. I don’t want you to buy thousands of dollars of gear that collects dust and never gets used.”

Some of the supplementary material might not be quite ready, though. I went to the website and there doesn’t seem to be a live registration section yet like the book describes, nor is there a download of the bass part for “Midnight Special,” which would be an important part of following the two week goal laid out in the book. Looking at the Titans of Bass YouTube channel, as of this writing (August 16), several of those videos for the book appear to have been uploaded only yesterday, so maybe the supplementary material rollout is ongoing. The Facebook group referenced in the book exists, but has had no real activity yet, other than a couple of people asking if they’ve made it to the right place.

In general, though, even if all of the web-based material was ready, its focus is entirely on those new to playing bass. Over the course of the two weeks, the goal will be to learn how to play one tune, “Midnight Special,” record yourself playing it along with a backing track, and play a “mini-concert” for friends and family on the 14th day. The tune only requires three notes, so it’s mostly about getting comfortable handling the instrument and trying to groove, which of course are the key elements for being a solid bass player. From this perspective, this is a good book to read if you’ve been thinking about playing bass but haven’t made the commitment yet. A couple of weeks with this book should help you to decide if you’re ready to fully pursue the instrument.

While the structure of the physical book guides readers through this 2-week program, with 15 chapters that correspond to the 15 videos, I think the book has a wider range of appeal than just beginning bass players. If you ignore the online material, this isn’t an instructional book, but more of an inspirational book that celebrates bass playing and some of the greatest living bass players. Jensen’s strength as an interviewer is what makes the book interesting to me. He conducted interviews with 131 of his favorite bassists — organized in groups throughout the book as the “Titans of Bass” — and most of the book’s contents are made by Jensen asking questions in his own narrative, which are answered by a series of quotations from the many bassists interviewed for the book. The “Bass Titans” themselves are featured in blocks throughout the book, with photos and brief biographies for each player, and these sections alone are a great way to find out about some cool bassists you might have missed over the years. It’s a pretty good mix of artists from rock, jazz, blues, pop, folk, and metal genres, though the list is somewhat limited by those the author was able to conduct interviews with. One can find out a little about more bassists in Chapter/Day 11, though, which discusses the “bass heroes of the Titans,” where we can finally read a little bit about folks like Jaco and Bootsy.

While the questions that Jensen has posed to his many interview subjects all tend to be aimed at beginners, discussing things like choosing a first bass, whether or not to use a pick, and the basics of tone and groove, I think these also have an appeal for bass players at any level. And in particular, there’s many pages of quotes in the Day 12 section that address the question, “What’s the best advice anyone has given you regarding learning the bass?” The answers are generally looking at big-picture concepts, but it’s a lot of great advice that has helped many of the best players in the world with their own progress. There are some great ideas in here.

So even if you’re already a skilled bass player, there’s some useful inspiring material in here. It’s like getting to hang out with some of the best players in the world for an afternoon for some mutual support. And for those just thinking about picking up a bass, you’ll get a sense of what it will be like to get started for a two-week trial period. I wish more instruments came with some similar kind of 2-week immersion into the general fundamentals and culture around playing them!

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Beginning Bass for Adults: The Grown-up Approach to Playing Bass by David Overthrow, Bass 101: A Contemporary Approach to Playing Bass by Ron Manus or Play Bass Today! by Chris Kringel.)

( publisher’s official Titans of Bass web page )

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


What Moves the Dead
by T. Kingfisher (Kingfisher)

What Moves the Dead is a novella retelling of “The Fall of the House of Usher” that is a delight for readers every step of the way. You (likely) know how things are ultimately going to go, but both the characterization and the sense of place are brilliantly heightened. For me it felt like reading the actual book Dracula for the first time after seeing spin-offs that mimicked the supernatural lore but gave no hint of just how much fun it is to read that story the way it was written.

Three character stand out in particular. The unnamed narrator from the Poe story has a name — Lieutenant Alex Easton — and origin as a soldier from a small European nation that carves turnips over their windows and has over a dozen sets of pronouns in their language for cases like referring to children differently from adults and for “sworn soldiers.” Easton is one of these soldier who goes by ka/kan, whatever else might have been used outside of professional soldiering. Ka’s a practical person who has seen a lot in war and isn’t given to fancies, even in gloomy places like this. Ka horse, Hob, doesn’t say anything but is quite the expressive character, at least according to Easton’s inner monologue. (This really felt like Geralt and Roach from the Sapkowski books.) Finally for the stand-out characters, there’s Miss Potter. She’s a naturalist, here in this desolate patch of land to paint mushrooms. (Not Beatrix Potter, but her aunt.) Nothing like an unflappable Englishwoman along for uncanny events. Do yourself a favor and peek at the endpaper art if you see this book on a shelf. Really sets the tone.

Recommended for fans of Silvia Moreno-Garcia, or — of course — fans of Edgar Allen Poe.

( official What Moves the Dead page on the official T. Kingfisher web site — T. Kingfisher is the pseudonym used by Ursula Vernon for her works for YA and Adults )

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


Six Wakes
by Mur Lafferty (e-Book)

This 2017 science novel by Mur Lafferty was a nominee for both the Nebula Award (selected by fellow genre writers) and the Hugo Award (selected by fans of the genre), though it did not win either. It was also a finalist for the British Science Fiction Association Award and the Philip K. Dick award. Although clearly a science fiction novel for its settings, technology and character types, it is also a mystery/thriller.

Six Wakes takes place in a futuristic setting where cloning has become commonplace, and those who choose to be cloned can have their memories and identity downloaded into the new adult body. In space, six crew members of a deep-space transport vessel all wake up in newly cloned bodies, with only partial memories from their previous iterations downloaded into the new bodies. There’s a major gap in their timeline, and they quickly discover that five of their six previous bodies died in violent and unexplained ways (and the sixth is in a coma). The race is on to figure out what happened to their previous versions, and see if they can rebuild the technology on their ship that would allow them to grow their own next batch of clones — otherwise they’re all now trapped in their current bodies facing permanent death, one or more of them is apparently a violent killer, and the gaps in their memories mean they have no idea who to trust…not even themselves.

Six Wakes is a mind-bending thriller, with six extremely different characters, who don’t seem to get along well with each other, which causes some interesting friction. The science fiction and mystery elements merge effectively, and you’ll be on the edge of your seat with anticipation as you wait to see what the next twist in the story will be. I have yet to read a Mur Lafferty story I’ve been disappointed with.

( official Six Wakes page on the official Mur Lafferty web site )

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


James Herriot: The Life of a Country Vet
by Graham Lord (B H43551)

The last James Herriot biography that I reviewed was by Herriot’s son, Jim Wight, and titled The Real James Herriot: A Memoir of My Father. Prior to his death, Alf Wight (otherwise known as James Herriot), told his son that he did not plan to write his own autobiography and had turned down several offers from publishers to have a detailed biography written. Alf told his son, Jimmy, that if anyone were to write his biography, he would want it to be written by him — the son who knew his father better than anyone. Jimmy left his job as a veterinarian to commit to the project of writing his father’s biography following Alf’s death in 1995. Prior to the release of that biography, another one was written: James Herriot: The Life of a Country Vet, written by journalist Graham Lord. Graham Lord wrote an excellent review of James Herriot’s book for the London Sunday Express, which really helped to get publicity for the book for an unknown author. Alf was so pleased by this that he wrote a very nice thank you letter to Lord and for many years would give him credit for jump-starting his career as a writer. I decided to read these books simultaneously to see how they compare.

Graham Lord produced a marvelous look at all aspects of the life of Alfred Wight in this biography using meticulous research, scores of interviews with the people who knew him or his family, and his own first-hand knowledge of the author during his years when he was writing about his alter-ego, James Herriot. I found his research into old school records from Alf’s earliest years in Glasgow all the way through his college years to be exceptionally fascinating. Photographs of the schools including Yoker Primary School and Hillhead High School along with photos of classmates and school records are a nice addition to the research that Lord did in looking at those early years. I was impressed that he was able to track down classmates of Alf’s and get interviews with them so that the reader can see what his life was like in Glasgow during that period before World War II.

One of the things that disturbed me the most about Lord’s book is that he dwelt too much on the occupations of Alf’s parents and worried too much about the discrepancies between listed occupations for Jim and Hannah Wight and how they were described by Alf. Many of those discrepancies could have been easily cleared up by asking Alf’s son Jimmy which left me to wonder why he didn’t make the attempt. Also, he seemed to think that Hannah lived “comfortably” on her own means without following up to find out that Alf had been supporting her his entire life, buying his parents’ house for them from his own limited income.

What I did enjoy about Lord’s biography of James Herriot is that he included lots of information from each of the publishers who published the books as well as information about the film versions of Herriot’s life, followed closely by the marvelous BBC production of “All Creatures Great and Small” starring Christopher Timothy and Robert Hardy. The photos included of Yorkshire and the various locations used in the films and television series were fun to see.

I was pleased that Graham Lord mentioned at the end of his book that Jimmy had taken time off from working as a vet to spend time working on his biography of his father. Having read both of these at the same time, I would have to say that Jim Wright’s version is the better of the two, but Lord’s book has more information about the old television series if you are interested in reading about that. If Alf were alive, I know which one he would suggest that you read — the one written by the person who knew him best, working alongside him all those years in Thirsk: his son, Jim Wight.

For those interested in the film versions, the library owns the 1974 film with Simon Ward as James Herriot; also the complete series of the television program starring Christopher Timothy as James, and the newest television series starring Nicholas Ralph as the young James Herriot. I just recently discovered that there is another series in the United Kingdom called “The Yorkshire Vet” looking at the veterinary practice started by James Herriot, currently run by one of his former assistants, Peter Wright. Both of Alf Wight’s children, Jimmy and Rosie, are still living in England.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Real James Herriot: A Memoir of My Father by Jim Wight, James Herriot’s Yorkshire by James Herriot or any of the books or DVDs in the All Creatures Great and Small series by James Herriot.)

( publisher’s official James Herriot: Life of a Country Vet web page ) | ( Wikipedia entry for Graham Lord )

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


Bob
by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, with illustrations by Nicholas Gannon (j Mass)

Livy is a ten year old girl from Massachusetts who travels with her mother and baby sister to visit her grandmother, whom she hasn’t seen in five years. When she arrives and opens the door of the closet in her bedroom, she is greeted by a small, green creature in a chicken costume who says, “You’re back. Took you long enough.”

This is Bob, who has been waiting for five years for Livy to come back and fulfill her promise to help him discover who he is and where he came from — but Livy has no memory of Bob. Together, Livy and Bob piece together clues to these mysteries, find out why Bob wears a chicken costume, and the connection between Bob and the drought that the area has been suffering from.

The story is told in chapters that alternate between Bob’s and Livy’s perspectives. This is an engaging, heart-warming fantasy, that stands out for its unusual storyline and narrative structure. Highly recommended for upper grade school kids.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Borrowers series by Mary Norton or The Spiderwick Chronicles series by Tony DiTerlizzi.)

( publisher’s official Bob web site ) | ( official Wendy Mass web site ) | ( official Rebecca Stead web site ) | ( official Nicholas Gannon web site )

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Recommended by Peter J.
Virtual Services Department


Breathless
by Amy McCulloch (McCulloch)

Breathless is a thriller about climbing Manaslu, the eighth-highest mountain in the world. Journalist Cecily Wong has recently taken up mountaineering and has been promised an exclusive interview with a superstar climber if she makes the summit. The mountain would have been enough of a challenge, but Cecily starts to see and hear things that make her wonder if there’s a human danger on the mountain as well.

What makes Breathless stand out is that the author herself has climbed this mountain. I’ve read several novels on climbing, and this was by far the most informative about technicalities. The sense of place is strong. I rushed off to read more on Wikipedia about mountaineering in Nepal. I’d recommend this book to fans of survival adventures and the sort of murder mysteries where people in an isolated area start to die.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try One by One by Ruth Ware, Getaway by Zoje Stage or All the White Spaces by Ally Wilkes.)

( official Amy McCulloch/Breathless web site )

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


The Musical Human: A History of Life on Earth
by Michael Spitzer (Music 780.9 Spi)

When we talk about music history books, we’re usually not going particularly far back in history. Most general music histories only trace back to the earliest history we have of written music, which is to say western civilization’s written music history, and there just isn’t a lot of written music that’s survived that’s much older than the most recent millennium. Music, which is of course literally made of sound and dissipates immediately after it is played, relied on oral history before that, and although we can find the occasional ancient flute-like instrument, we know almost nothing about the music that might have been played before notation. And written music is lacking, too: the further you go back, the less we understand the notational systems that were used, and there are likely rhythms and ornamentations associated with some of the earliest plainchant music that we simply don’t know about. Yet we know that music is an important part of our society now, and that it seemed to have a similar cultural weight in previous eras, so it’s likely that it played an important role farther back than we can normally look, even if it remains invisible to us, unlike early tools and cave paintings.

If music is anything like other forms of expression, from painting to poetry to sculpture, it seems likely that it played important roles in the lives of early humans, too, but how do we look for it? Professor Michael Spitzer from the University of Liverpool has published a book that attempts to look for signs of music further back in time than other music histories have dared to tread. It’s called The Musical Human: A History of Life on Earth, and you can borrow it from Polley. There’s nothing quite like it, and the writing style keeps things engaging, too, while we search for the musical mysteries in our collective past.

The book is divided into three main parts: “Life,” History,” and “Evolution.” The first chapter, named “Voyager” after the spacecraft carrying a record of sounds from our planet deep into space, acts as somewhat of an introduction to the book and its format. We’re about to take an unusual path into history, dipping further back into time in three stages, rather than the typical history book that starts in ancient times and progresses toward the present. This is because of the problem I mentioned earlier — we simply can’t look very far into music history using our conventional methods of historical research. There is no physical remnant of music other than instruments and music notation in more recent times and mostly western parts of the world, and then the occasional instrument (or what appears to us to be an instrument or two) further into “prehistory,” or the pre-civilization part of our past. In “Voyager,” Spitzer starts by identifying what a person can discern about how our music sounds from looking at music notation, going increasingly further back in time. The further you go, our forms of notation lack descriptions of tempo, dynamics, phrasing, expression, rhythm, and harmony. It’s likely that there were performance practices in place for the music contained in these written documents that accounted for some or all of these missing nuances, but we’ll likely never know. This is going to be a challenging subject.

So Spitzer has chosen three general lines of attack. In Part One, “Life,” he explores the present-day conditions of music, and what we understand about music’s global commonalities and regional particularities. In this section, he stays mostly within the “recording era” of the last century or so to find important principles and associations that we can travel further back in time with in Part Two, “History.” So what are a few of these important principles? In terms of interrelationships between people, he finds that group creativity is generally more common than individual creativity in the creation of music: outside of the Western composer tradition, music generally seems to come from group effort, which we see in various forms of world music and within our own pop bands today. The social implications of music reach farther than composing and performing, of course: he observes the various ways which music accompanies all of us through our days in modern life, whether we are making it ourselves or not. Young folks making music with the latest digital technologies still find it to be a social activity, connecting with people in person and online. Music becomes the soundtrack in our workplaces and stores. In folk traditions of recent history, we had various kinds of songs made to lend themselves to different situations, from religious ceremonies to work songs to songs about romantic relationships or mourning that we can all identify with at different times, and contemporary music still contains these messages and impulses, even if it’s marketed under different kinds of contemporary genre names.

Other parts of Spitzer’s speculations into deeper history will require examining some biological concepts, so he introduces the present-day understanding of some of these ideas, too: Music can influence our emotions, and in doing so it also has measurable effects on things changing the collective heart rates of audiences. We perceive musical pitches as going “up” or “down,” while there isn’t really a physical correlate for the idea, but he looks for one in the development of the Organ of Corti in our ears, which he presents as a functional refinement of the lateral line found in fish. Now we can say that music relates to motion and emotion!

The writing style of the book appeals to me, but it might not be for everyone. In attempting to dive into musical prehistory, the author draws from anecdotes throughout human experience and musical traditions, and in doing so, it can feel like you’re in the narrative equivalent of a street race course. I enjoyed speeding around all of these cultural corners, but if you ever start to feel lost, he occasionally slows down to summarize where we’ve gone so far, and where we’re about to go with what we’ve learned.

Keep this in mind as you dive into the middle part of the book, “History,” where the book travels between different places and eras at breakneck speed. By music history standards, this section starts mostly in prehistory, where we’ve tried to make sense of what music might have been like by looking at remnants of musical instruments (concepts like the harp being developed out of the hunting bow, for example). Here, Spitzer looks for distinctions in the kinds of music that might have been made by different kinds of human societies like hunter-gatherers that traveled versus early agricultural areas that were settled, mostly by looking at the kinds of instruments and literary or pictorial representations of music they left behind. For readers who (like me) have mostly a background in the history of the Western musical tradition, there is a lot of material here about music from the historical record that’s totally new information. From there, we move around a lot, but gradually pull toward present time again, collecting cycles of information that show how music was used by different cultures and conquering empires over time, what changed and what remained the same.

The final section, “Evolution,” is somewhat speculative by nature, but it’s a fascinating look into the truly ancient past of music, when it might not have been “music” in the way we think of it now, but instead a spectrum of useful sounds for various animals. Spitzer attempts to find the point at which early humankind might have embraced music in a manner that would still be recognizable to us. Then he takes us into the speculative future as well, where perhaps machines or artificial intelligences will make music that transcends our current conception of its possibilities.

He ends with a kind of summary of the threads that have come through this whirlwind of a book, “eleven lessons on music’s nature.” If you’ve found yourself occasionally lost amidst the many anecdotes in this book, you’ll find Spitzer’s intended takeaways presented here in a more direct format. I found it fun that he boiled things down to eleven “lessons,” which presumably would start to repeat again at the octave if there were a 12th. Even though I felt like I was comfortably following along throughout, there are so many concepts afoot that this is an effective way to draw out some primary themes for final consideration.

Back to the beginning of the book, Spitzer lays out a “Big Idea” that he intends to argue for throughout the book. This is mostly about the idea of the “nature of music” and humankind’s relationship to — or betrayal of — that nature. And in the end, I don’t know that he successfully makes his case, at least for me. Truth be told, I don’t especially care about a fundamental “nature of music,” and to the extent that music is an extension of the human experience, I don’t think we can betray it, either. But for me, reading through the many historical twists and turns in this book is more satisfying than discovering a unified field theory of music would be, anyway.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try A Million Years of Music: The Emergence of Human Modernity by Gary Tomlinson or Music: A Subversive History by Ted Giola.)

( publisher’s official The Musical Human web page ) | ( Wikipedia entry for Michael Spitzer )

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


Rock Stars on the Record: The Albums That Changed Their Lives
by Eric Spitznagel (Music 781.66 Spi)

Whether you’re a musician or an avid listener, one of the best ways to find out about music that you might enjoy is to look into the favorite music of your own favorite artists. While we find ourselves surrounded by new and relatively asynchronous ways to find music, like the algorithms of Spotify or Apple Music, this old tried and true method has the advantage of helping you to find some historical context for music that you like, which in turn will help you uncover musical eras and scenes that really appeal to you. This is kind of like the old school practice of chatting up record store clerks, who have a deep knowledge of music and often love to connect those historical dots, but even cooler coming directly from your own favorite artists. And there’s something special about getting to know the influences of your own favorite artists more deeply, too — since we already admire their music so much, we can get a sense of what the early building blocks in their own music were like, what aspects of music initially commanded their attention, and make more sense of exactly how they built on their influences. Sometimes this can give us a clearer sense of where our own musical interests come from.

But where does one find this kind of information? Sometimes the subject comes up during interviews, especially longer in-depth interviews, so that’s a place to start. Then of course there are biographies of so many artists, and early influences are a pretty common subject in all of those. But there’s a great recent book by Eric Spitznagel that gets directly to the point of asking various rock and pop musicians about their favorite records. It’s called Rock Stars on the Record: The Albums That Changed Their Lives, and you can borrow it from Polley.

In his brief introduction, Spitznagel reflects on how everyone, not just celebrity artists, tends to have some album that just feels like “home” to them, or represents the beginning of feeling like an adult, or like the album “saved their life,” something along these lines. We may talk about other albums with each other, but these album origin stories are part of us all. It’s a great setup for reading about what first inspired all of the successful musicians that follow in this book, because they were just like all of us when it came to these important early albums.

After the introduction, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious organizational system afoot through the rest of the book. The artists interviewed here don’t appear in alphabetical order or by era, but instead they seem to come together in a way that just makes for an overall pleasant flow, shifting between musical styles and eras. The first featured artist is Angelo Moore of Fishbone, a favorite band of mine growing up. His interview reflects the way many of these interviews go — there is a general discussion about the music he remembers from his youth, some of which is more about the music in his household instead of just music he selected for himself. And of course these early sounds find their way into musical thinking, too: his father was a jazz musician, so there was a lot of jazz in his house, but also rock music like the Doors and Led Zeppelin, and comedy rock like Cheech and Chong. If you think of even just those influences, you start to get a picture of where Fishbone came from. And then he talks about someone handing him the first Bad Brains album at a bus stop, which really blew his mind. And as a black musician starting to work with rock music influences, that early mixture of punk and reggae in Bad Brains makes total sense as a major inspiration for where Fishbone started, since they used a lot of reggae and ska sounds with the energy of punk in their earliest albums.

To name another specific example, Moore’s interview is followed by a chat with Alice Bag, of early LA punk band the Bags. She grew up with ranchera and Mexican pop music around the house from her parents, and soul music and the Beatles from her sister. She describes really getting into music in a more serious way after hearing David Bowie’s “Hunky Dory,” whom she felt that magical bond with immediately through the album. She also talks about being really into Elton John and Bessie Smith, but again, you can hear elements of all of these people somewhere in her music, which still features that kind of punk energy of that era of Bowie with soulful singing and compelling melodies.

These kinds of humanizing stories appear across a decent survey of the modern rock landscape, with interviews featuring folks like Jane’s Addiction singer Perry Farrell, Fugazi’s Ian Mackaye, Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, Weird Al Yankovic, Donnie Osmond, Laura Jane Grace, Verdine White, and many more. There are even musicians from younger generations like Marisa Dabice and James Petralli whose stories demonstrate how this phenomenon of feeling changed or understood by records continues to be an important process for folks of all ages.

When it comes to books like this, I think many readers may be inclined to look up the interviews with their own favorite artists first, but in truth I think even reading about the influences of folks you aren’t familiar with (or aren’t a huge fan of) is still a powerful experience. Taken as a whole, the book is a real celebration of those early moments of inspiration that help to define who we all become as people, regardless of whether we pursue music or not, and just basking in such sacred reminiscences feels good for the soul.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Vinyl Dialogues by Mike Morsch or The Worst Gig by Jon Niccum.)

( publisher’s official Rock Stars on the Record web page ) | ( official Eric Spitznagel Twitter feed )

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Recommended by Scott S.
Polley Music Library


The Nature of Middle Earth: Late Writings on the Lands, Inhabitants, and Metaphysics of Middle Earth
by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Carl Hostetter (823 Tol)

In the years following the publication of The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien continued to explore and develop the concepts in his works, both published and unpublished. His son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien, asked NASA programmer and amateur linguist Carl Hostetter to edit and prepare for publication a set of manuscripts that came out of these explorations. The result is this book that is alternately fascinating and difficult.

The difficulty partly comes from the nature of the material. Even though Tolkien’s texts presented here were mostly hand-written, many of them nonetheless had footnotes accompanying them. Hostetter also often uses footnotes of his own to mention details about the manuscripts, such as emendations Tolkien made on them. The result is that there are places where there are footnotes even within footnotes.

The content itself, though, will either be fascinating or unbearably abstruse, depending on the reader’s level of familiarity with Tolkien’s legendarium. Many of the manuscripts deal more with characters and themes in The Silmarillion than with those from The Lord of the Rings. In fact, an appreciation of this book will depend to a large extent on familiarity not only with those works, but also various posthumous books edited by Tolkien’s son Christopher: Unfinished Tales, the twelve-volume History of Middle-earth series, The Children of Hurin, Beren and Luthien, and The Fall of Gondolin.

About a third of the book is dedicated to Tolkien’s shifting conception of the relative rates of aging between humans and Elves. But some of the more intriguing texts are very brief (one or two pages). Here we see Tolkien’s thoughts on the Elves’ “mental communication,” whether or not Elves reincarnate, and which species have beards, and many other details. Many of these writings grew out of linguistic notes on the Elvish languages, and so this information is spread intermittently throughout the book as well.

Whether this book should be considered an essential read depends on what kind of approach you take to reading Tolkien. If you read Tolkien only for the adventure and your favorite characters, this book may not be for you. But if you are the kind of reader who analyzes the grammar of the Ring inscription, then yes, this book should be considered essential reading.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Tolkien: the Illustrated Encyclopaedia by David Day, The Atlas of Middle-Earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad or The History of The Hobbit (Parts 1 and 2) by John D. Rateliff.)

( Wikipedia entry on The Nature of Middle Earth )

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Recommended by Peter J.
Virtual Services Department


Quick Fixes: Tales of Repairman Jack
by F. Paul Wilson (not in the libraries’ collection — but you can borrow it through InterLibrary Loan!)

This anthology contains every Repairman Jack short story ever written. These short stories originally were published in various other anthologies or horror magazines, but have finally been pulled together into this one edition.

Repairman Jack is a secretive individual who lives off the grid and battles supernatural beings and demons. He has no magical powers himself but is quick-witted, creative (see the story ‘Interlude at Duane’s’ where he battles potential robbers using only what’s available to him in the drug store), and deadly with his skills. Jack doesn’t go out of his way to encounter these creatures, but he doesn’t run from a fight either.

Each of the nine short stories includes an introduction by F. Paul Wilson.

For anyone not familiar with the Repairman Jack series, this would be a good introduction. Once you’re hooked, begin the full-length novels with “The Tomb.” Then move on to the Teen Trilogy with the first book “Secret Histories” and The Early Years Trilogy starting with “Cold City.” All of the novels are available at Lincoln City Libraries, “Quick Fixes” is available through Inter Library Loan for $2.50 to assist with postage.

(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the rest of the Repairman Jack series by F. Paul Wilson.)

( official F. Paul Wilson web site )

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


Screening Room

formatdvdAround the World in 80 Days (2021)
(DVD Around)

Masterpiece Theatre has given us some of the best British drama productions through WGBH Boston on PBS. Around the World in 80 Days (2021) is another fine chapter in the Masterpiece book.  This eight-part adaptation stars David Tennent (Doctor Who, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), as Phileas Fogg.  Tennent is also listed as one of the Executive Producers.  In short, Phileas Fogg makes a bet with a fellow member of The Reform Club in London, that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.  Each episode deals with a section of his trip that is either perilous or hindering his progress.
 
I love the 1956 David Niven film of “Around the World” but mostly because of all the star cameos. I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t speak to how true this current production is to Jules Verne’s novel, but I can tell you I was involved and entertained in this show.  Even though I know the events and outcome this film did a fine job of providing tense action and apprehension for the characters.  I was very nervous at the end as Fogg, his French valet Passepartout, and Fix, his chronicler, are dashing to The Reform Club in a last minute, desperate attempt to meet the deadline.
 
Season One gives us the story of Around the World in 80 Days, while focusing on the personal growth of Fogg.  I really enjoyed this interpretation, and loved the opening graphics and soundtrack.  I highly recommend this series, and if you wish to binge the shows you need to set aside only one eight-hour day to do so.
 
It’s implied that Season Two will place the trio in the world of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea but no official word, trailers, nor release date have been provided yet.

(Also available in traditional print format.)

( Internet Movie Database entry for this film )

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


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

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