Thursday, April 26, 2007

Daisy recently read Heavy Metal And You by Christopher Krovatin and I picked it up because of the paragraph she quoted: "There are certain rules that apply to mixes, of course. Always start them off well - the first couple of songs are incredibly important. I personally preferred starting with a catchy, fun, sometimes softer track, something to draw the listener in. I put a harder, more energetic song as the second track, to really get out some of the meat of the mix. Always go out with a bang, too: Maybe not a hard song, but a powerful one should always close your mix. There are a few other rules usually only applying to anal-retentive mix-makers such as myself (I cannot make a mix with a sketchy or semi-decent track for track six or nine - don't ask me why, they just seem like important track numbers). How did I know all this? Simple: I had a lot of time, a lot of friends, and a lot of music. Therefore, I made a lot of mixes." Which, of course, reminded me of a similar passage from High Fidelity: A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You've got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention... and then you've got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can't have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can't have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you've done the whole thing in pairs, and oh, there are loads of rules."

And that all got me thinking about my own rules for making mixes and how funny it was that I do the whole start out with a "corker" and kick it up a notch thing too. In fact, I probably got that from High Fidelity. I have my own guidelines of course, most of which involve flow and pacing. I like to take an element (e.g. instrumentation, singer's tone, tempo, mood, etc.) from one song and carry it over to the next one, but that next one has to take it in a different direction, giving me another avenue to go down. I especially like it when songs have conversations with each other, like in the last mix I made when I had Honey Cone responding "The Feeling's Gone" to The Chambers Brothers plea of "All Strung Out Over You." More often than not I wind up with a fairly obvious "A" side and "B" side, which is a little odd, but it's all unintentional and seems to occur naturally as I go in search of the flow. This all takes a lot of time, but I enjoy it so much that I think nothing of, say, spending five hours making a twangy country mix for a toddler that parents will like too (true story).

Anyway. The book. It was all right. The writing felt a little amateurish, but I liked how the story played out. I'm not into metal or the narrator's pastime of getting completely wasted, but I definitely identified with that kind of musical obsession - the kind that allows you to effortlessly reel off an in-depth band profile at the drop of a hat. Yeah, I've been known to do that. There was a certain impromptu lecture on alt-country delivered to the astonished clerks at an anarchist bookstore in Philadelphia that I still feel a little embarrassed by. And I'm sure Daisy has been on the receiving end of more than one. I know my family has. (Jeff, I'm sorry for that history of punk music tirade. But you were totally wrong, dude.) Heck, sometimes I don't even realize when I've swung into Matt Pinfield mode. So basically, this one was okay, but if you're looking for a book about a music obsessive, I'd hit High Fidelity or Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist first.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Okay. So. I finished The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian last night in a flurry of pages and tears. I just... I can't even... It wrecked me. I'm talking huge gulping sobs at the end. You know, I don't have enough distance to talk about it right now. Just thinking about parts of it still makes me emotional. I can't seem to get the last page out of my head and the implications of one line in particular are just too overwhelming for me to thing about for a while. Maybe soon I'll be able to tease out all the Biblical allusions and parallels and talk about how Adrian twists them into his vision and why, but I think that's best left to a one on one conversation because that could get awfully personal awfully fast.

I'm not sure if I should even put My Secret compiled by Frank Warren on here because it's more of an art book, really, but it did involve some reading, so there you go. If you've never heard of Post Secret, go check out the blog, and if you have then you already know what the book is like.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

My last day of vacation I spent reading All Tomorrow's Parties by William Gibson, a sort of sequel to Idoru, but one that can be read alone. It's been years since I read Idoru and I was able to follow along without too much hassle, although one of these days I'm going to read all his books in order to better see how they fit together. This one takes place mostly in a future San Francisco, where the Bay Bridge has been condemned and the homeless have taken up residence there, creating a vast shantytown that reaches to its top spires. There a killer, a rich and powerful man trying to put his stamp on history, a former convenience store security guard, his ex-girlfriend, a young silent boy obsessed with watches, the Idoru herself, and others all swirl around, trying to figure out and take advantage of the upcoming sea change in society. As with Gibson's other books, I was struck by how great his writing is - it's not just good by science fiction standards, it's also good by literary standards, which is why he's one of the few science fiction writers I still read.

Last week I finished Dark Dreams: Sexual violence, homicide, and the criminal mind by Roy Hazelwood with Stephen G. Michaud. I actually don't remember many specifics about the book because I read most of it a couple of weeks ago and honestly, all the cases start to blend together into one long stream of horrible, horrible ways people can be assaulted or killed. It was well-written though, not too dry or sensationalistic and I found it interesting, if a little depressing.

The perfect antidote to all that was They Call Me Naughty Lola: Personal ads from the London Review of Books edited by David Rose. In the introduction Rose talks about how from the beginning the LRB's ads were a breed apart from those found in other papers. Those placing ads are "rarely inhibited by positive thinking and they don't tend to suffer the same degree of nervous overstatement found in other lonely-hearts sections... Such a self-denigrating and all too honest approach carries a distinctive note of charm." Charm is a good word for them. Even the pathetic ones have a sense of humor about them that allows one to feel like everyone is laughing together, not at anyone in particular. These are brutally honest ads, true, but at the same time they're very clever and funny, with a kind of gleeful lunacy about them.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Because Daisy knows me all too well, when she gave me Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell for my birthday, she made me give her an exact start date because otherwise it might have sat in my bookcase for years before I got to it. Conveniently though, I was going on vacation a few days later and told her I'd take it with me and start it on the plane. I brought along several other books also because I didn't anticipate actually finishing it (it's over 1000 pages) and thought I'd just read a couple of chapters and then move on. I didn't realize just how much it would suck me in. In fact, my reading it became a running joke during my vacation, with my cousins asking me what page I was on every couple of hours and cheering me on to the finish line. It even sparked an interesting discussion with my aunt on racism. Because make no mistake about it, GWTW is incredibly racist. Black people are repeatedly compared to children and various animals (usually apes or dogs), numerous horrible slurs are used freely, and I couldn't decide if the blatant and outspoken hatred was better or worse than the incredibly condescending part-of-the-family crap the plantation owners peddled. I did appreciate the running Uncle Tom's Cabin joke with the Yankees asking how many bloodhounds every Southerner used to run down escaped slaves, and the book tried valiantly to show the Yankees as just as racist, but in a different way. Which was no doubt close to the truth. Likewise, I'm sure many of the freed slaves were at a loss as to how to manage after the war. It was all pretty uncomfortable though, and I kept thinking back to Beloved and how it illustrated how insidious and damaging even the relatively benign brand of racism on show by Scarlett and her ilk was.

Okay, now that's out of the way, what about the story itself? It's definitely ambitious and grand in scale with the Civil War as its backdrop and the account of the toll the war took on Southern society and culture. We witness the end of an age and a birth of a new one, which most of the characters try to resist by clinging desperately to old forms and ideals. At times it reminded me a little of Vanity Fair, and I found myself comparing Scarlett to Becky Sharpe through the entire book. Both are scheming and manipulative survivors determined to make a way for themselves through whatever means are necessary, but I believe Scarlett lacks Becky's self-awareness, which is one reason why Becky was so delightful and allowed the reader to cheer her on wholeheartedly. Scarlett is rather dense, especially when it comes to herself (she takes 1000 pages to realize she doesn't really love Ashley after all) and that obtuseness prevents the reader from ever fully backing her. Or loving her. Despite all that, she is a fascinating character and I suspect in that regard, the reader is represented by Rhett Butler, quite nearly a mirror image of Scarlett, but with the humor and decency and knowledge she lacks, who is equally as fascinated by her as we are.

All in all, I enjoyed it tremendously and can't believe it only took me about four days to finish it. Whew.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

I'm starting to get dangerously behind. So, Eat, Pray, Love: One woman's search for everything across Italy, India, and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert. I was a little wary of this book at first because it seemed too... too... twee? No, that's not it. I don't know the word I'm looking for. Too something. But I read enough positive reviews to give it a chance when I saw it sitting downstairs and man, I'm glad I did because it was just wonderful. There were one or two moments where I had to tamp down my automatic "oh, you poor privileged wealthy white woman" instinct, which was about, oh, 50 times fewer than I thought I would, so that was good. I mean, the woman spent four months each in Italy, India, and Indonesia. What does she have to complain about, right? Well, most of that time was spent getting over a painful divorce and a subsequent relationship that also ended. Taking that time and building a relationship with God helped her accept her failings and move past them. She and I are vastly different people, in both temperament and status, but she made me sympathetic to her situation, where normally I would react with annoyance or impatience.

Experiencing my own issues with religion lately, it was unbelievably powerful to read about that basic kind of communication with God Liz experiences at the beginning of the book, and remembering that made me miss it. There were so many moments of recognition in there and because the Church, for me, is so linked to memories of my grandpa, I spent much of the book near tears, wishing I could get his insight on what I was reading. There was one passage in particular that reminded me of something he said to me when we were discussing world religions: "The Yogic scriptures say that God responds to the sacred prayers and efforts of human beings in any way whatsoever that mortals choose to worship - just so long as those prayers are sincere. As one line from the Upanishads suggests: 'People follow different paths, straight or crooked, according to their temperament, depending on which they consider best, or most appropriate - and all reach You, just as rivers enter the ocean.'" That's almost exactly what he told me. Really, it's a touching and lovely book, full of humor and sadness and descriptions of fabulous food.


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