Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture

Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture [With CD]Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture [With CD] by Paul D. Miller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is probably better in theory than practice. It gathers essays from such a wide range of people that I'm not sure it successfully portrays any one thing. There are DJs, composers, current artists, classical conductors, authors, among others, all contributing to this idea of sampling digital music and culture. Some are academic, some are interview-based, and some are farther out there.

The best essay in the book is The Ecstasy of Influence by Jonathan Lethem, which can also be found in his own book of essays. Keep reading until the punch line.

"Copyright is an ongoing social negotiation, tenuously forged, endlessly revised, and imperfect in its every incarnation."

"Active reading is an impertinent raid on the literary preserve. Readers are like nomads, poaching their way across fields they do not own,"
-Jonathan Lethem

I also really enjoyed "Quantum Improvisation" by Pauline Oliveros. As always, Oliveros focuses on the possibilities. What will be the limitations of technology? She imagines a world where all her improvisational technology dreams could come true.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Other Worlds Than These edited by John Joseph Adams

Other Worlds Than TheseOther Worlds Than These by John Joseph Adams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Because of the theme of this anthology - parallel universes, alternate worlds - there is a very wide range of subgenres from science fiction and fantasy represented, in the best way. I skimmed the military stuff.

A few highlights for me:
Crystal Halloway and the Forgotten Passage by Seanan McGuire.
This was the first story I'd written by McGuire-not-Grant, and it brought me to TEARS. Feeling foolish, I tweeted this, and she responded in under 2 minutes. I was surprised, but it is touching.

Ana's Tag by William Alexander - kind of a combination of graffiti and faerie, great world.
"Both bones broken, and all the music leaked out from the fractures."

Magic for Beginners — Kelly Link - not a new one to me, but Link is a genius.

[A Ghost Samba] — Ian McDonald - oh, my first short story of his, and it is about the great lost record?! <3 data-blogger-escaped-br="br">
Porridge on Islac — Ursula K. Le Guin - genetically modified beings, only not quite what you think. Creative!

The Goat Variations by Jeff Vandermeer - as always, great writing and a good imagination.
"There have always been times when meeting too many people at once has made him feel as if he's somewhere strange, all the mannerisms and gesticulations and varying tones of voice shimmering into babble. But it's only lately that the features of people's faces have changed into a menagerie if he looks at them too long." 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy

Swimming HomeSwimming Home by Deborah Levy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The way this story is told, it is almost as if everything has already happened before it begins, except everyone is still alive. Then little layers of details peel off as the novel moves through the week, with some repeated dialogue and repeated images. Different forms of verbal prowess have to be demonstrated to account for a poet, a possibly crazy poet, a journalist, and a young girl. I enjoyed it as an unusual addition to the Booker shortlist, although I understand this author is highly acclaimed if infrequently published. I liked the writing and would like to read more of her work.

"Early humans had once lived in this mountain forest. They knew the past lived in rocks and trees and they knew desire made them awkward, mad, mysterious, messed up."

"It shouldn't be happening, his search for love in her, but it was. He would go to the ends of the earth to find love. He was trying not to, but the more he tried not to search, the more there was to find...This was more her landscape, a catastrophic poem in itself."

"The tension of waiting to meet each other again had made them do things they did not understand."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

This Child Will Be Great by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman PresidentThis Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I saw President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf speak at the institution where I work a few years ago, and found her story to be incredibly inspiring. I was hoping the book would be more of the same. While inspiration can be found here, it is often bogged down with tedious economic detail (Sirleaf was in banking and economics) and acronyms like you would not believe.

I definitely learned some things, and I think that kept it at 3 stars for me. I don't think I was aware of anything going on in Liberia, ever. Blame my lack of knowledge of the world, blame the lack of American media's focus, but a lot happened that I knew nothing about. Most of the violence is recent and around the same time as Rwanda, but I knew nothing. I also didn't know anything about how Liberia was founded, and was very surprised to find out the connection between the United States and Liberia's original colonies. These connections still have some impact today.

Sirleaf herself was greatly influenced by the United States. This is where she was educated, and she says she learned more about her country from the Harvard library than she'd ever learned while growing up. She was even in the states when JFK was assassinated.

Little factoid and case in point:
"Robert E. Lee, the American Confederate Civil War general, freed most of his slaves before the war and offered to pay their expenses to Liberia."

From the unification of Liberia:
"We are all of us Liberians."

There is some great fodder here about leadership, and that seemed to be what I honed in on.

From Sirleaf's own wisdom:
"So often it is the small decisions in life that end up shaping our future the most."

"I looked around and saw the lives of so many Liberian women, all of these incredibly hardworking market women and housewives and mothers, and what I saw was that their lives were drudgery, a simple trudging from day to day to day. I did not want that; that was not the life for me."

"We always felt that if anything really terrible began to happen, if ever things went seriously awry, America would come to our aid. America was our great father, our patron saint. It would never let us suffer. That's what so many of us in Liberia thought.
But then we found out that everyone has to stand on his own."

"People - usually women - sometimes ask me if, during my long climb up the career ladder, I ever bumped into any glass ceilings or encountered resistance to my taking a seat at the table because I am a woman and African. My answer is that I am sure there have been those who suspected me of being a token or who resented my having the positions I had. But I was usually too busy to worry about them."

"In this global age individuals are sometimes tempted to believe they have no power, not even collectively. This is not true. The public can make a difference if it is willing to take a position and stand up for a cause in which it believes. Against a united and committed public, even the harshest of governments cannot stand."

"This is the way of the world, of human nature, and if you want to lead, you have to accept that there will be conscious attempts to push you into oblivion. You have to be prepared to be very lonely sometimes."

"Progress may be slowed by oppression, but it will not be stopped."

"Men have failed us,' people said over and over again. 'Men are too violent, too prone to make war. Women are less corrupt, less likely to be focused on getting fancy cars and fancy home for themselves."

"Civilized nations must not be indifferent to any conflict - internal or external - regardless of the factors that fuel it."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Unchained Tour

Rachel Kate and Joel T. Hamilton
Last night, I had the good fortune to attend The Unchained Tour at the Showroom in Spartanburg, SC.  Unchained is in its third year on the road, and this time they expanded it beyond its original tour of Georgia into North Carolina, South Carolina, and a bit of Tennessee.  It was founded by George Dawes Green, best-selling author and founder of the internationally acclaimed storytelling network The Moth.

I heard about The Unchained Tour because I follow Hub City Bookshop in Facebook.  One day they posted that this random event would include Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors.  I thought that couldn't be right, but there it was, so I purchased tickets immediately.  The entire tour pairs up with independent book stores, to encourage reading and book purchasing throughout the south.  It also includes musicians and raconteurs for each evening's performance.  (The Unchained Tour's web site also lists circus performers, but I didn't notice any last night!).  

Joel T. Hamilton and Rachel Kate performed several songs, some featuring instruments Joel had made from scratch.  Rachel Kate also acted as timer for the raconteurs, who were limited to 10-12 minute stories. 

The host of the evening was Peter Aguero, who also told a few stories of his own and reminded everyone that Neil Gaiman was just a person.  I imagine that the first night's events had a handful of stalkers, or fangirls, considering how often we were reminded of Neil's humanity.  I slowly put away my stack of Neil Gaiman books and decided not to hang out at the bus.  You know, just in case I was in that category.

Neil, himself.
The raconteurs included Dawn Fraser, Edgar Oliver, and Neil Gaiman.  George Dawes Green came up to plug local bookstores but didn't really tell a story.  There was a chance for audience members to tell 1-minute stories, but I didn't get selected.  Darn, I had a great story to tell!  Who doesn't? 

The theme for this year's tour is "heart-shaped," and most of the stories were about love.  The venue was small enough where everyone there felt like a part of the event, and I had no idea how much time had passed.  Since this was the Spartanburg event, my husband (a Wofford employee) knew at least half of the people in the room, but it was nice to see a mixture of students, faculty, and .... normal people. 

When it comes back around again, I'll be back.  And in the meantime, I've decided that maybe I need to develop a class about storytelling for the May program where we work.  Everyone has a story, after all. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Taste of a Man by Slavenka Drakulić

The Taste of a ManThe Taste of a Man by Slavenka Drakulić
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once I started this book, I couldn't put it down. It is about a relationship between Tereza, a Polish graduate student, and José, a Brazilian anthropolgist, who meet in the New York Public Library. (Bonus points for library-based romance!) His research examines the belief of cannibalism as a sacrament, and the novel is written from her perspective, during a span of four days where she is deep-cleaning her apartment and reflecting on her relationship with José, which has come to a close.

The first 175 pages of the book are compelling - well-written, erotic, highly-charged with emotion, obsession, and desire. The author is obvious about what happens between Tereza and José throughout the novel, but doesn't really spell out the very graphic details until the end. If cannibals and flesh consumption bother you, this is not the book I'd recommend. The last 30-40 pages or so are very hard to read, even knowing what was coming. I guess it is kind of like some sexual fantasies - far better kept in the realm of the imagination than played out in the messy, stinky, reality that will eventually demand a good bleaching.

What follows is an examination of the characters that includes a spoiler.  I think it wouldn't be as disturbing if I felt like José was as much of a party to the cannibalism as Tereza thinks he is. I think his drinking is typical grief about a relationship he can't stay in, and she manages to interpret it as consent to eat him. These are two very different things. Also disturbing is frequent mention of sexual abuse she suffered as a child, which is not presented in a way that condemns it. She clearly never understood it to be abuse, and to me this colors her perspective of the need for flesh toward uncomfortable rather than sexy. [
I think it wouldn't be as disturbing if I felt like José was as much of a party to the cannibalism as Tereza thinks he is. I think his drinking is typical grief about a relationship he can't stay in, and she manages to interpret it as consent to eat him. These are two very different things. Also disturbing is frequent mention of sexual abuse she suffered as a child, which is not presented in a way that condemns it. She clearly never understood it to be abuse, and to me this colors her perspective of the need for flesh toward uncomfortable rather than sexy. (hide spoiler)]

Loved this little bit about words, unrelated to the story:
"It strikes me that in our everyday lives we use words like frozen food from the supermarket. We defrost them quickly in our mouths and they come out ready to serve. It is only different when I write, because then I pick, prepare and cook them myself. Some I use raw, others I sprinkle on the text like marjoram or pepper, like aromatic spices."

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud AtlasCloud Atlas by David Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

1st read (2009): A lovely book of nesting stories, lightly connected to each other in various ways. My favorite was Letters from Zedelghem, because I love how Mitchell writes about music. I haven't found out how he can be so cheeky and reverent about people and life at the same time, but he manages, and it makes me feel so connected to his characters and stories.

2nd read (2012): As usual, I had forgotten quite a bit of this book. This time around, I instigated this as a "renegade read" for the Sword and Laser bookclub, picked it for my LED book club, and joined half the country in reading it before the movie comes out. I don't think I really got the story before, didn't get the 'punchline' of sorts to "An Orison of Somni-451."

I downloaded the audio for this too, even while I re-read most of it in print. Every different section has a different narrator, and the "Sloosha's Crossin'" chapter was far easier to listen to than to read because of the post-apocalyptic Hawaiian dialect.

This book is a masterpiece. I can't believe it didn't win the Booker Prize when it was on the shortlist. Full disclosure - I haven't read the Hollinghurst, but it would have to be really good to impress me.

I'm looking forward to the discussions I'll be having about this book, and here's to hoping that the movie doesn't get it wrong (not banking on it).

Some of the little bits:

"A half-read book is a half-finished love affair."

"I might as well join the avant-garde and throw darts at pieces of paper with notes written on 'em."

"That love loves fidelity, she riposted, is a myth woven by men from their insecurities."

"How vulgar, this hankering after immortality, how vain, how false. Composers are merely scribblers of cave paintings. One writes music because one is eternal and because, if one didn't, the wolves and blizzards would be at one's throat all the sooner."

"We'll dip our toes in a predatory, amoral, godless universe - but only our toes."

"Sometimes the fluffy bunny of incredulity zooms around the bend so rapidly that the greyhound of language is left, agog, in the starting cage."

"Oh, aging is ruddy unbearable! The I's we were yearn to breathe the world's air again, but can they ever break out from these calcified cocoons? Oh, can they hell."

"..As if there could be anything not done a hundred thousand times between Aristophanes and Andrew Void-Webber!...As if Art is the What, not the How!"

"And only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean! Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?"

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Bring Up the Bodies (Wolf Hall, #2)Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is on the longlist for the Booker Prize this year. I didn't read Wolf Hall, but if you know enough about English history, this book doesn't require a precursor. The Wolf Hall books chronicle the Tudor period by focusing on the life of Thomas Cromwell, and Bring Up the Bodies focuses on the time of Anne Boleyn as queen.

The book only gets three stars because it was just nothing new. There were moments of excellent writing, but I know the story. Nothing was surprising or different. Cromwell has always been a central figure and a villain, and having him as the focus wasn't enough of a different take.

I wanted to include a few bits here so you can get a sense of the writing. Honestly if you're not too familiar with the Tudors, these books would probably be five star.

"She looks as if she is seeing him for the first time and considering all sorts of uses for him, all sorts of possibilities, which he has not even thought of himself. To her victim the moment seems to last an age, during which shivers run up his spine. Though in fact the trick is quick, cheap, effective, and repeatable, it seems to the poor fellow that he is now distinguished among all men. He smirks. He preens himself. He grows a little taller. He grows a little more foolish."

"You can be merry with the king, you can share a joke with him. But as Thomas More used to say, it's like sporting with a tamed lion. You tousle its mane and pull its ears, but all the time you're thinking, those claws, those claws, those claws."