Saturday, June 06, 2009

Summer Reading & Listening 2009

Usually I try to read one book at a time. But if my mood changes,or as deadlines approach a book may be put aside for another. Then of course there's also the thrill of finding something you'd wished for and didn't even know existed. So far my reading has encompassed young adult (the British kind, for which I refuse to feel embarrassment), summer/winter mystery, and a book it'll likely take the whole summer to read. Once again Fran Ross's Oreo, was on my summer reading mental list, but I haven't even taken it out of the library (and now I find the only circulating copy has been lost!)...

In no particular order:

1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2008) - Stieg Larsson (trans. Reg Keeland). Intriguing mystery. The late Larsson's work as an investigative reporter publishing exposés of Nazism and publisher of an anti-racism magazine in Sweden. I had to keep myself from reading it in one day. Even though the male protagnist happened to have an easy-going manner that made him the object of desire (misplaced, tragic, and shared) of each of the major female characters in the book which seemed a bit over-the-top, yet Larsson worked this major staple of the genre in a manner that wasn't just about sex, but primarly allowed for character development and some insight into the emotional culture of middle and upper class Swedes.

2. Dead and Gone: A Sookie Stackhouse Mystery (2009) - Charlaine Harris. Yep, I'm addicted to this series. I blame my friend Q who got me started. Harris' narrative capabilities are getting richer. The last installment focused on familial dynamics sacrificing some of the action and hotness that typifies the series. In this installment Harris found a bridge between the two, and wrote what is probably the best of the lot.

3. The Broken Bridge (1995) - Philip Pullman. Who would have imagined that the guy who wrote the His Dark Materials series would have an ear for the inner thoughts of a biracial black girl and aspiring visual artist living in Wales. This is one for any young artist because it gets inside that mindset like few works I've ever read.

4. The World that Made New Orleans (2007) - Ned Sublette. Still reading, so not writing until I've finished.

6. My Life In the Bush of Ghosts (195 ) - Amos Tutuola. I'd been meaning to read this for about 20 years, but it took a new multi-media performance by Mendi + Keith Obadike, 4 Electric Ghosts, based on Tutuola's novel and designer Tōru Iwatani's legendary Pac-Man video game (designed with the help of Shigeo Funaki (programmer) and Toshio Kai (sound design and music), and I believe called Puck-Man in Japan) to get me to finally read it.(Read J's Theater's write up here.) I can see the link between a game set up as a maze of consumption and Tutuola's sometime humorous, often surreally horrifying epic trip or bildungsroman through various towns and countries of ghosts of varying type and character collectively known as the bush of ghosts into which his barely adolescent Yoruba protagonist accidentally stumbles in his attempt to escape the advancing civil war in 1950s Nigeria. I read this mostly on train trips, it somehow seemed appropriate to always be in motion as I was reading, as the protagonist is constantly traveling between towns and some terrifying sensorial experiences (which speak to the incredible imagination of Tutuola and/or some truly inhuman war memories) as he attempts to find his way back to the world of the living, and his own village. Much was made of Tutuola's "Nigerian English" or his "primitive English" both assessments underestimate the rich new meanings, layers of meaning, and simultaneously varied perspectives that Tutuola is able to bring to the fore that wouldn't be otherwise available through an employ of "standard English" in the novel's narrative. I wouldn't hesitate to read it again.

5. Open the Door: The Life and Music of Betty Carter (2002) - William R. Bauer. This is on the 'books that I dreamed of and didn't even know existed' list. Yes, there's a lot to be said for perusing library shelves. Still reading, so not writing until finished.

6. Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love, and Spain (2008) - Lori L. Tharps. This book operates in layers. I think Tharps' sometimes understated writing must be the Midwestern influence emerging as Tharps was born and raised in Wisconsin, though now claims Philly as her home. It was definitely a richer experience reading the book a second time. I do think this understated quality, especially when it comes to issues of race and identity and racism are what has made this memoir a success: no one need feel alienated from or implicated by hurtful episodes in Tharp's narrative if you don't read it too deeply. However, the flipside of this is some people may not readily identify with her experiences, or her response to them. The story amiably follows her development from invisible chameleon into a woman comfortable with herself, and the life she builds with her husband, a Spainard who rediscovers his country through her journey.

6. Goodbye, Little Rock and Roller (2004) - Marshall Chapman. This memoir by prolific songwriter Chapman, a would-be southern debutant gone bad, made clear to me particular aspects of the dynamics of gender, sexuality, race and rock 'n' roll in the southern United States.

7. Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music (2005) - Blair Tindall. I read this in one day, and finally began to comprehend the bitterness I sometimes pick up on from western concert music conservatory trained musicians. Whew!

8. Shadow in the North: A Sally Lockhart Mystery (2008, reprint) - Philip Pullman. (see below)

9. The Tiger in the Well: A Sally Lockhart Mystery (2008, reprint) - Philip Pullman. A "penny-dreadful" romp. This revisit of a bygone era of British-spawned pulp-fiction is enjoyable escapist fare, except--and this is the big exception--the casting of the "strange man from the orient" or the "Chinaman" in the role of evil villian. Oddly, Chinese women come off a lot better, and there is a finely nuanced portrait of socialism and the emerging Jewish immigrant community in London at the turn of the 20th century evidencing Pullman as capable of better than resorting to tired stereotypes to create plot twists and drama.

10. Rythm Oil: A Journey Through the Music of the American South (2000) - Stanley Booth. Another good text for insight into 'particular aspects of the dynamics of gender, sexuality, race and rock 'n' roll in the southern United States.'

10. 2666 (2008) - Roberto Bolaño (trans. Natasha Wimmer). Let's see if I can get through this by the end of the summer. Not sure if I can maintain focus for 912 pages of layered and sometimes experimental narrative, but I'm game to try!

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