Archive for May, 2015

[LISTENED TO: May 24, 2015] The Penderwicks at Point Mouette

penderwicmouMy family loved the first Penderwicks book.  We listened to the second one but I missed a large part of it so I didn’t write about it.

In this third book, which is set but one year after the events of the first book, quite a lot has changed.  And the main characters are somewhat different in this book.

It is summer time and the Penderwicks are headed to Point Mouette, Maine for a vacation.  Except that Mr Penderwick is away in England [I won’t say why, I don’t want to spoil the part I know from book two] and Rosalind is vacationing in New Jersey with friends.  We don’t get to see Rosalind at all (I’d like to hear a bit more about her time in Ocean City), and we only get occasional phone calls from her (it’s as if Rosalind grew up and didn’t want to be part of the show anymore, so she was “written out” of the script).

That means that 12-year-old Skye is the O.A.P. (Oldest Available Penderwick) and she will look after 11-year-old Jane and 6-year-old Batty.  Fear not, they will have some adult help–Aunt Claire will be there too.  Although she is quickly taken out of the action when she twists her ankle and is on crutches for most of the book.

The one major problem I had with this book is that as O.A.P., Skye is annoyingly insecure in this book.  In general, Skye is a major bad ass.  She’s tough, she takes no guff from her sisters (even though she loves them dearly) or from boys.  And yet for this whole book she is petrified of being O.A.P.  And she comes across as a bit whiny.  While this does work to humanize her a bit, it also seems excessive.  Of course, this may also be the decision of audio book reader Susan Deneker to make her sound quite so frantic, but it’s weird to think of Skye as being so insecure.

On the other hand, she is the one who is mostly in charge of everyone and she is only 12, for crying out loud.  So her concern is understandable, it’s just that her reaction seems out of character.  Indeed, the whole premise of these books–that these kids make pretty big decisions on their own–is just crazy (but that does it give it a cool retro feel too). (more…)


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may11SOUNDTRACK: WYE OAK-Tiny Desk Concert #52 (March 29, 2010).

wye oakI don’t know Wye Oak that well, except for some shows from NPR.  So this Tiny Desk Concert is a good closeup look at what they’re all about.

Wye Oak is just two people: Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack.  Wasner plays a wonderfully loud acoustic guitar.  She has great fingerpicking skills and there’s something about the way she uses her open low strings that adds a great percussive quality–she really wails on those chords!  It’s fun to watch her hands fly along the fretboard.

Stack plays a couple of drums with a mallet and bare hands (the percussion is subdued but effective), although evidently they are generally much louder in concert. But Stack also sings, plays keyboards and guitar.

“My Neighbor” comes from their then new EP My Neighbor/My Creator.  It’s a great song that showcases all of Wasner’s skills.  She has a great voice and I love the way she sings along to her playing. 

“Civilian” was, at the time, unreleased.  It is minor key and a bit darker.  Stack plays keyboard and drums simultaneously (something he evidently does in concert to amazing effect).

“Regret” comes from their first album. For this song, Stack takes over guitar (and the seat where the guitar is played) while Wasner sits behind the drums (to play keyboards).  This song is about not having health insurance.  It is a much more somber song and I don’t like it as much, even though it is pretty and Stack a has a nice voice.  I just like Wasner’s stuff better.

For the final song, they switch positions back.  It also comes from My Neighbor/My Creator and is called “I Hope You Die” (which she promises isn’t as dark as the title suggests).

I really enjoyed this show.  You can check it out here.

[READ: May 11, 2015] “My Life is a Joke”

I simply don’t get Sheila Heti.  And I assume that’s my fault.  But everything I read by her seems just so nebulous that I feel like I’m, missing something.

I liked the way this story started out: “When I died, there was no one around to see it.”  So the narrator is dead. Cool.

She says that her high school boyfriend wanted to marry her because he wanted to have a witness to his life (he eventually got married so he wound up okay).  The narrator never married and was hit by a car–she was not witnessed by anyone.  Well, at any rate the driver didn’t get there before she took her last breath, “So I can say I died alone.”

I even liked that the next paragraph started, “Now you can probably tell that I’m lying.”  About what?  Everything?  No, “If I really am O.K. with the fact that no one I loved witnessed my death, why did I come all he way back here from the dead?” (more…)

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may4SOUNDTRACK: THE ANTLERS- Tiny Desk Concert #51 (March 15, 2010).

antlersThe Antlers is one of those bands that is critically lauded and whom many people really like but whom I just can’t get into.  (I always think I do, but I believe it’s because I’m thinking of other similarly named bands, because when I listen to a Antlers song, I immediately think, oh it’s that band.)

The band, to be blunt, sings really depressing songs.  (Their then new album was called Hospice, for god’s sake).  And that’s just not my thing.  The music is beautiful, it’s just not for me.

The songs (elegies to a dying friend full of grief and longing) are quite lovely and singer Peter Silberman has a pretty amazing falsetto and the songs feel so fragile that they may fall apart at any minute (and they nearly do a few times at the Tiny Desk).

They play three songs: “Bear,” “Atrophy,” and “Sylvia.”  It’s just three of them.  Silberman on super quiet atmospheric guitar and Michael Lerner and Darby Cicci on drums and keys (not sure who is who).   The drums are simply a snare and a shaker.  And the keyboard is one of those hilariously tiny Korg two octave jobs that is basically like a laptop (I love that he can make so many different sounds with that).

This Tiny Desk is very nice.  The songs are really pretty (I like “Bear” especially with the lyric: “All the while I’ll know we’re fucked and not getting unfucked soon”).   “Atrophy” is similarly fragile with keening falsettos and lyrics like “I’d happily take all those bullets inside you and put them inside of myself.”  When Silberman starts actually playing the guitar at the end the sound is nearly broken.  The final song “Sylvia” is also delicate.  Although the drum is played with mallets (and is rather martial) the song is not any louder.  Indeed, with lyrics like, “Sylvia, get your head out of the oven. Go back to screaming, and cursing, remind me again how everyone betrayed you,” it’s not going to get too crazy.

The band doesn’t talk to the audience.  They play their three songs, seemingly wrapped in a cocoon of their own making.  It’s really quite lovely, just something I wouldn’t want to get involved in too often.

In the notes, it says that the band can really rock out live.  These songs are pretty mellow, so I can’t exactly imagine them rocking out, but I’d be curious to hear what they do as a rocking band.  And, I will admit that after listening to the show twice, I did start to like it a lot more. I’m just not sure I need more music that’s going to make me cry.

[READ: May 10, 2015] “The Apologizer”

I’m not sure why I surprised to see Kundera in the New Yorker.  I guess I don’t think of him as writing much anymore (based on utterly nothing, although I see that his last novel was in 1999) or maybe of not writing short stories (he has but one collection).  So it was a surprise for me  to see his name here.

Regardless, I really enjoyed the way this story was set up.  There were many different small sections that seemed unrelated but then united in a rather unusual way.

The first section: “Alain Meditates on the Navel” was wonderful itself.  Alain notices how all the young girls walk around with their navels showing and he wonders about the seductiveness of the navel.  He compares the navel to the thighs as a center of desire (long thighs indicate the long road towards pleasure) or the buttocks (signifying brutality, the shortest road to the goal) or breasts (the center of female seductive power).  But what of the navel?

Then he reflects back on the last time he saw his mother.  He was ten years old, she touched his navel, maybe gave him a kiss and was gone. (more…)

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nySOUNDTRACK: OMARA PORTUONDO-Tiny Desk Concert #50 (March 8, 2010).

omaraThe only thing I know about Omara Portuondo is what I’ve read in the NPR blurb about her.  She was part of the musical scene in Cuba in the 1950s–a scene full of innovators and pioneers.  And while she is certainly an elder statesperson, she still sounds great.

She sings two boleros: “Duerme Negrita” and “Dos Gardenias.”  She has a classic voice (in the vein of Ella Fitzgerald).  She really holds the final note of “Dos Gardenias” for quite a while.

The keyboards are dreamy. I know that the first song is about dreams (she seems to be cradling a baby as she sings) and the second is titled about a flower (although it doesn’t sound like she’s singing about a flower).  The songs are tender and sweet.

It really does feel like you are transported to another time.

[READ: May 7, 2015] “Peacetime”

I have never read anything by Mogelson before.  This story is an interesting one both for setting (which is unusual in itself) and for the characters.

The story is told by a guy known as Papadopoulos.  He is living in the armory on Lexington Avenue in New York City.  He was given the keys by First Sergeant Diaz.  (The story about Diaz’ limp and how he uses it to pick up women is quite funny).  He assumed it would be for a couple of weeks (his wife kicked him out), but as months have gone by, he is still there.  He sleeps in the medical supply closet.  This means that when he gets drunk at night he can hook himself up to an IV drip and never wake up hungover.

Papadopoulos was in the National Guard.  But since it is peacetime (more or less), he works as a paramedic for a hospital in Queens.  His partner, Karen, has just taken the civil service exam and is on her way to becoming a police officer.  This makes Papadopoulos nervous because he has a habit of taking a “souvenir” from every emergency visit that he goes on.  And she has been giving him the eye recently.

His souvenirs are never big or important things–a spoon or a refrigerator magnet or something like that–but he can’t stop himself. (more…)

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houseSOUNDTRACK: LAURA VEIRS-Tiny Desk Concert #49 (March 1, 2010).

lauraI have decided to contradict myself.  I simply cannot keep up with the regular release of Tiny Desk Concerts (sometimes 3 a week), so I’m going to focus on these older recordings for a while and occasionally devote a week or two to new ones.  we’ll see how that works out.

I only know Laura Veirs’ name, but not really anything she’s done.  So I wasn’t really sure what her “solo” work would sound like.  Well, she has a delightful voice and she writes really pretty songs.

She also offers one of the most dramatic screw ups I’ve seen in a live performance. She opens her song “Carol Kaye” with this lovely melody–just her and her guitar.  And then after about a minute, her band comes in with a beautiful harmony–in the wrong key!  The introduction of their voices is so dramatic (to go from her gentle voice to this huge chorus) was really amazing.  So much so that I didn’t quite realize they were in the wrong key at first.  Turns out that Laura put her capo on the wrong fret and it wasn’t until the keyboardist played the right note that they all sounded off.  And his mouth drops opens as he stares at Laura.  She laughs and says “you looked like this terrified Muppet.”

They play the song again, this time perfectly–and the harmonies are truly lovely.  As is the violin that swirls throughout the song.

“When You Give Your Heart” is another lovely song in which Viers’ voice and the violin play the same lilting melody.

“Sun is King” has some more lovely (that’s the word to describe her, clearly) harmonies–she has picked a tremendous backing band.  And they sound great in this small setting.

It’s hard to believe that the whole set (miscue and all) is only ten minutes long.

[READ: May 1, 2015] House of Leaves

I read this book when it came out in 2000.  I had the “2 Color” edition which the t.p,. verso explains has as features: “either house appears in blue or struck passages and the word minotaur appear in red (I had the blue version).  No Braille.  Color or black & white plates.”

The Full Color edition (which is the same price, amazingly) differs in this way:

  • The word house in blue, minotaur and all struck passages in red
  • The only struck line in Chapter XXI appears in purple
  • XXXXXX and color plates

So basically the full color edition isn’t really that big a deal although the three or four full color plates are much nicer.

Why do I have both?  Well, I bought the two color when it came out and then I won a free book at the library and there was this full color edition, so I brought it home.  I was amused to find that the previous owner had deciphered a clue in the back of the book (the first letters of sentences spell out a secret message).  She (it looks like woman’s handwriting) wrote out the secret message, which I appreciated as I didn’t feel like figuring it out.


This book had a huge impact on me when I read it.  Although I forgot a lot of the details, the overwhelming effect of the book has stayed with me an I never forgot the central conceit of a house that opened secret passages and expanded or contracted at will.  For, make no mistake about all of the accolades, this is a horror story.  One accolade, from Bret Easton Ellis: “One can imagine Thomas Pynchon, J.G. Ballard. Stephen King and David Foster Wallace bowing at Danielewski’s feet, choking with astonishment, surprise, laughter awe.” [Ellis will not be bowing apparently, and actually I can’t imagine Pynchon bowing before anyone].  It’s a very cool horror story with all kind of textual experimentation and twists and turns, but it’s still a pretty damned scary story.

The experiments are many and varied and they begin right from the start, as the title page lists Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves by Zampanò with an introduction and notes by Johnny Truant. The forward from the editors notes: “The first edition of House of Leaves was privately distributed and did not contain Chapter 21, Appendix II, Appendix III or the index.

This is all nonsense of course. (more…)

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harp septSOUNDTRACK: DIEGO EL CIGALA-Tiny Desk Concert #437 (May 1, 2015).

diegoDiego El Cigala has a beautiful voice which sounds to my ear like the strained/aching style of the Gipsy Kings’ singer.  It is just him and his accompanist (Jaime Calabuch) on piano–which sounds very clear and pretty.

It amuses me that through the whole show he keeps playing with his long beard—an almost nonchalant reaction for someone who seems to be singing so passionately.

In the write up Felix Contreras says that El Cigala (Spanish for ‘Norway Lobster’),  is a game changer in the world of flamenco music.  I have literally no experience with this and can’t comment on it.  But Contreras says that he uses his voice for boleros, copla, tangos, jazz and combinations of the above.  I can hear all that in the music he has chosen, I just can’t comment on why it’s a game changer.

The three songs he sings are “Soledad,” “Vete de Mi” and ”Voda Loca.”  And they all sound really beautiful.

[READ: April 15, 2015] “They Were Awake

This brief story is an interesting one.  Nothing actually happens in it–a group of ladies eat a potluk and share their dreams (actual dreams, not pie in the sky dreams).  Then they head home.

Nothing’s worse than hearing someone else’s dreams, but since this is a story, the dreams are interesting.  And indeed, they are quite telling.

They each talk about how their dreams have been anxious as of late.

Becca says she dreamed she owed money to the gas company.

Emma says she dreamed her ex-lover demanded that she appraise his art and he locked her in his flat until she did so.  When they ask if she was raped, she says, “Of course not.” (more…)

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harp septSOUNDTRACK: JOSÉ GONZÁLEZ-Tiny Desk Concert #436 (April 29, 2015).

joseI really like José González.  The Swedish singer is one of the most soft-spoken singers I know.  His guitar playing is gentle and quiet (although more complex than it seems at first) and most of his songs sound, well, kind of the same.  But it’s more of a “I know what I’m getting” from him rather than an ”all his songs sound the same” vibe.

It’s fun watching his sing these songs because he barely moves, he barely even seems to raise his voice.  He is so mellow.

For the first song, “Open Book” he is accompanied on (lovely) backing harmonies by just one fellow (sometimes NPR forgets to include the band members in the credits).

On the second song, “With The Ink Of A Ghost,” three more guys come in and add more beautiful harmonies and a xylophone and a clarinet solo.

The final song, “Every Age” features the percussion of a tambourine and the clarinet player slapping his thigh and snapping his fingers…that’s the kind of raucousness you get from José González.

It’s a delight.

[READ: April 16, 2015] “The Weight”

This is an excerpt from 10:04 Lerner’s latest novel.

As with many excerpts, it’s not clear if the entire novel is about what the excerpt is about or if there’s a lot more going on.

This excerpt focuses on the narrator (in first person) as he welcomes an Occupy Wall Street protester into his house. The protestor has been in Zucotti park for a few weeks.  We learn that “civilians” have been offering protestors showers and food via Craigslist.  The protester took the narrator up on his offer.

The story stays in the apartment.  It begins in the kitchen with the narrator musing that he has never actually made food for another human being before (he’s making the guy some tofu and veg stir fry as a warm meal).  He realizes that people have made him food a lot, but he has never reciprocated. He gets mixed feeling about his–not helping people in the past but doing something good now (even if it is nothing compared to what this guy is doing). (more…)

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