June 01, 2011

"Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life" by Steve Almond - it rocks

 I am not and never have been what Steve Almond calls a Drooling Fanatic. In his estimation, DFs don't play an instrument (I used to play the guitar, though not particularly well).  DFs own "at least 3,000 albums at any given moment, with a core of our collection represented by any three of four configurations (digital, compact disc, vinyl, and cassette)." Sorry; I happily gave all my albums to my ex-husband and haven't seen even a cassette for years. I've never loaned a musician money or worked as a college DJ, other marks of a DF.

Almond And yet, I truly enjoyed Almond's book Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, a series of essays on music and loving music and writing about music and why U2 sucks even if Sunday Bloody Sunday makes you want to toss back a Guinness, throw a brick at a British oppressor and get a shamrock tattoo.

Emma Trelles reviewed the book for the Herald when it first came out and wrote that the book's real delight is "Almond's spiritual and literal travels through the anti-glam life of a music writer, a vocation he endured mostly because of his utter love for the subject." I enjoyed those bits a lot - I'll never regret not getting to cover the Grammys - and chapters about falling in love with Nil Lara at the old South Beach haunt Stephen Talkhouse and the rise of Liberty City hip hop are terrific.

But I also loved Almond's utterly insane defense of Styx's Paradise Theater, his line-by-line breakdown of the dreadful Toto song Africa and his hilarious random lists, such as Ten Things You Can Say to Piss Off a Music Critic ("Sonic Youth - are they the ones that do Pass the Dutchie?") or Rock's Biggest Assholes (U2 clocks in at no. 1, with the Beastie Boys at 4 and Ted Nugent at 9.)

Almond, who worked at the Miami New Times, is a terrific writer, funny and profane, a guy who seems like he might have been kind of a douchebag at times in his past, but he's a self-aware douchebag, at least. I'd read anything he has to write about music (particularly since he apparently shares my enduring love for the Gourds' bordering-on-genius cover of Snoop Dogg's Gin and Juice). If you love music, reading about music or arguing about music, check out this book. It may not save your life, but it's pretty damned entertaining.

Posted by Connie Ogle at 01:34 PM in Nonfiction, Recommendations
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May 31, 2011

"Bossypants" by Tina Fey - get the audiobook

Like anything ever written by David Sedaris, Tina Fey’s Bossypants virtually begs to be listened to instead of read. Hearing the actual wise-ass voice of the former Saturday Night Live writer and creator of the brilliant NBC sitcom 30 Rock enhances the entire experience.

Bossypants Not that Fey can’t write funny; she’s proven she can, and if you choose to read this comic memoir you’ll be well entertained as Fey leads you through her life, from her awkward childhood and adolescence outside Philadelphia to her years doing improv at Second City in Chicago to her first on-screen work on “Weekend Update” at SNL and to her thoughts on why 30 Rock ever got the go-ahead (“Alec Baldwin”). You may also enjoy her opinions on the differences between male and female comedy writers — “Men urinate in cups” — and why other mothers should stop being so damned fascist about breastfeeding.

But listening to Bossypants is about as close to spending five and a half hours with the frazzled, overwhelmingly funny Liz Lemon as you’re going to get (unless you buy the DVD sets, which Fey hawks periodically and humorously here). The audiobook also includes the uproarious original SNL sketch in which Fey appeared as former Alaska governor Sarah Palin with Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton. Fey explains how the sketch came about and how her impression of Palin — though she’d never done impersonations — became a pop cultural phenomenon.

Bossypants is the perfect answer to idiots who claim women aren’t funny. Fey is. Listen and find out for yourself. And never go with a hippie to a second location.

Posted by Connie Ogle at 12:27 PM in Audiobooks, Nonfiction
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May 27, 2011

What are you reading now?

Smith300dpi_BW “I have been just knocked out recently by two new novels about race, racism and denial in the American South. Lyrical and powerful, The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin tells the tale of a Klansman’s daughter in Civil Rights-era Mississippi and what she witnesses one hot summer. In The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew, Jubie Watts, a white teenager, leaves Charlotte, N.C., in 1954 with her family and their black maid for a Florida vacation that turns into tragedy. Both great reads, perfect for book groups.”

Lee Smith, author of Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger, now out in paperback

Posted by Connie Ogle at 01:48 PM in Authors, Recommendations
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"My New American Life" by Francine Prose - a review

Newamerican Lula, the 26-year-old Albanian immigrant dutifully assimilating in Francine Prose’s droll new novel, is fairly clear on what being American means to her.

You get your own bathroom (“How quickly she’d switched from making do with a filthy communal apartment-block latrine to needing her middle-class personal space”). You can reframe your past in intriguing ways (perhaps by implying that your father died a heroic freedom fighter in Kosovo instead of in a car accident while crossing the border in hopes of unloading some tribal muskets). You benefit from the unfamiliar phenomenon known as the “win-win situation” (“The Balkans had no expression for ‘win-win situation.’ In the Balkans they said, No problem, and the translation was, You’re f-----”).

My New American Life is — happily — vintage Prose: cheerfully pessimistic, smart, funny, with characters unnervingly spot-on in their stages of outrage, denial, malaise or disillusionment. After her last novel — the lovely, poignant Goldengrove, about a teenage girl coping with her older sister’s sudden death — Prose has come roaring back to the world of satire, where she is supremely at home. She is welcome here anytime. The author of such brilliant works as the National Book Award finalist Blue Angel, which skewered the pretensions of academia, Prose manages a fabulously cynical world view that never entirely abandons hope or compassion for human flaws, whether the people flaunting them are Lexus-driving criminals, mopey corporate souls who long for more honest work or vampire-obsessed teenagers who wear too much black.

Click here to read the rest of my review.

Posted by Connie Ogle at 01:44 PM in Fiction, Recommendations
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May 26, 2011

Miami no. 6 on Amazon's "most well read cities" list

Next time some jerk from New York (they're always from New York, unless they are from Philadelphia) whines at you about Miami's cultural insignificance and lack of creative brain power, remember this: We're No. 6 on Amazon Top 20 Most Well Read Cities list.

Now, since this honor is based entirely on sales, maybe we're just partial to buying our books on Amazon. But who cares? We're no. 6!

After compiling data on sales of books, ebooks, magazines and newspapers in print and on Kindle since Jan. 1 2011 on a per capita basis in cities with more than 100,000 residents, Amazon came up with this list:

1. Cambridge, Mass

2. Alexandria, Va.

3. Berkeley, Ca.

4. Ann Arbor, Mich.

5. Boulder, Colo.

6. Miami

7. Salt Lake City, Utah    

8. Gainesville (Please note Tallahassee is not on this list; go Gators!)

9. Seattle, Wash.

10. Arlington, Va.

11. Knoxville, Tn.

12. Orlando

13. Pittsburgh, Pa.

14. Washington, D.C.

15. Bellevue, Wash.

16. Columbia, S.C.

17. St Louis, Mo.

18. Cincinnati, Ohio

19. Portland, Oregon

20. Atlanta, Ga. 

Florida boasts three cities on the list (did I mention none were Tallahassee?) You'll also note many cities are college towns. Cambridge, Amazon reports, bought the most nonfiction books, while Alexandria was tops in children's books.

Posted by Connie Ogle at 02:15 PM in Book news
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May 25, 2011

"Him Her Him Again The End of Him" - funny title, funnier book

Him In a rare fit of sanity I decided to take a friend's advice and read (for pleasure!) Patricia Marx's comic novel Him Her Him Again The End of Him, which I've had sitting on my shelf for awhile now (long enough for it to have been out in paperback a few years now).

I took the book home because how could I not be intrigued by that bizarre if unwieldy title? Glad I finally picked it up and read it. Marx, a former Saturday Night Live writer who was the first woman elected to the Harvard Lampoon, has taken the bad boyfriend tale to new levels of comedy, skewering men, women, academia, television and various other deserving targets with what certainly seems to be delight. That knife on the book cover? It ends up in everyone and everything, figuratively speaking.

Here's how the story goes: Girl meets boy at Cambridge. Boy is a pretentious wanker (he's pursuing a degree in Ego Studies). Girl's own academic goals are unclear (she changes her thesis as often as I change my Brita filter - thank you, Parks and Recreation, for that joke). Boy is deeply unreliable. Girl is deeply obsessed. And so it goes, until it doesn't.

Marx is a master of painful, revelatory comedy, the sort that makes you laugh even as you cringe at its all-too-keen perception of human nature (ie, your own personal failings). But that makes Him Her sound a lot less fun than it is. Read it. You'll laugh.


Posted by Connie Ogle at 02:49 PM in Fiction, Recommendations
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Keith Richards memoir wins Audiobook of the Year

Life, the memoir by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, won the Audiobook of the Year award at the 2011 Audie Awards, held Tuesday night in New York.

Life The book, which is read by Richards, Joe Hurley and Johnny Depp, also won in the biography/memoir category.

Other awards:

Fiction: Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone, read by Emma Galvin

Mystery: Michael Connelly's The Reversal, read by Peter Giles

Nonfiction: Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, read by Cassandra Campbell

The distinguished Achievement in Production award went to Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices by Walter Dean Meyers, read by a cast of 13.

Click here to read more about the Audies; it's a good place to find suggestions for what to listen to next.

Posted by Connie Ogle at 12:26 PM in Audiobooks, Awards
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May 24, 2011

Amazon selling more ebooks than books: Apocalypse or no big deal?

Because I am who I am - a writer/editor of little-to-no importance whatsoever who happens to write about and read a fair number of books - over the past couple of days friends have stopped me to lament the fact that Amazon reported last week that it now sells more ebooks than print books.

Books2 "It's awful," they say, shaking their heads. Even if they're not the sort of people I would consider avid readers, they seem saddened by this development.

But is it awful? I can't decide.

Since the beginning of April, Amazon has sold 105 Kindle books for every print book it sells. This doesn't include the books you can get free on your Kindle; if it did, I can only imagine what the number would be. And if rumors about Amazon developing its own tablet are true, well, that number is just going to skyrocket.

"We had high hopes that this would happen eventually, but we never imagined it would happen this quickly - we've been selling print books for 15 years and Kindle books for less than four years," CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement. He may be surprised, but no one else seems to be. They do, however, seem to be ... sad.

I don't own an e-reader and have no plans to buy one anytime soon, but isn't the idea that books are still selling in any form good news? Using an e-reader actually encourages the purchase of books: It's so easy to buy ebooks THE VERY SECOND YOU WANT THEM without getting in the car and going to a bookstore or even ordering a hardback online. Say you finish your first Lee Child thriller. You can immediately download EVERY OTHER BOOK HE EVER WROTE at that very moment. There's something to be said for that, especially if one is an obsessive reader, though it is definitely hazardous to the credit card.

I love book stores. Love them. But I also enjoy instant gratification. I suppose I wish that both alternatives were open to me. Oh, wait, they are! At least for now. So no apocalypse yet...



Posted by Connie Ogle at 02:42 PM in Weblogs
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Barnes & Noble offers new $139 e-reader

Touch2 It's not fancy. But it's cheaper. And sometimes that makes the difference.

Barnes & Noble has announced a new, scaled-down version of its Nook called the Nook Simple Touch, which comes with no apps, no swanky colors, only a few buttons - and a competitive cost of $139. The device features a 6-inch touchscreen and weighs 7.5 ounces, one ounce less than the Kindle (size matters). No 3G, Wi-Fi only; batterly life is allegedly up to two months on just one charge.

You can read more about the Simple Touch here.

Posted by Connie Ogle at 01:21 PM in Web/Tech
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May 02, 2011

"The Tragedy of Arthur" by Arthur Phillips - a review

Arthur Arthur Phillips’ new novel is more triumph than tragedy, a clever, funny literary deceit that skewers everything in its path — scholars, Shakespeare lovers, anti-Stratfordians, family dynamics, the publishing world, bookish pretensions, even the author. It also slyly tackles some pointed questions about what we consider art and why, and if a rose by any other name would indeed smell as sweet. Yes. That’s the sort of wonderful novel this is: It dredges up every familiar line that ever lodged itself in your consciousness.

The Tragedy of Arthur is structured as an introduction to a lost Shakespeare play written by a selfish, wounded, profoundly petty Arthur Phillips who shares many — but hopefully not all — the traits of the actual man. There’s a play, too, at the end; it’s not so interesting or well executed as the rest of the book, but it’s also easy to skip or skim, should you lack curiosity about Phillips’ ability to mimic the greatest playwright of all time.

This narrator Arthur — who, like the real guy, has written four novels entitled Prague, The Egyptologist, Angelica and The Song is You — would disagree with that last sentence. He is not exactly in awe of the Bard; in fact, he sort of hates him. “If it didn’t have his name on it, half his work would be booed off the stage, dismissed by critics as stumbling, run out of print,” he sneers. “Instead we say it’s Shakespeare; he must be doing something profound that we don’t appreciate.” Don’t even get him started on Harold Bloom’s theories.

Click here to read the rest of the review.


Posted by Connie Ogle at 03:01 PM in Fiction
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