Summer weather arrived in Pittsburgh this past week, dramatically muscling spring weather out of the way with a flourish, flipping its ponytail over its shoulder and flopping down on a beach towel with a good book. Your stalwart Eleventh Stack crew has done likewise; here are a few of the library materials we’re enjoying at the turn of the season.
This book will mess you up.
I know that everyone and their grandmother is reading The Hunger Games right now, but I don’t feel that I need to, as I’ve already read Lord of the Flies, Battle Royale, and The Long Walk. As a matter of fact, I’m rereading The Long Walk for the fifth or sixth time right now. It’s a Stephen King short novel, written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, from back in the days before King started selling novels by the pound. Basically, every year one hundred teenage boys start at the Maine-Canada border and walk south until there is only one boy left. There are rules, of course. And penalties. And insanity. And death. If you read this one, you’ll never forget it.
Recently I visited some family in Illinois. One of the folks there is a big reader of sci-fi and fantasy, and so I waxed on to him over a couple of beers about a recent title, Embassytown, by China Miéville, that I thought one of the best science fiction titles in years. He told me that I had to read The City and the City, another Miéville title he insisted was equally fantastic.
And right he was. The basic plot has a noir feel: a dead body is found, a hard-boiled Eastern European detective is investigating. But there’s a twist. The city where the murder takes place (Besz) happens to share contiguous space with another, just barely visible, city (Ul Qoman), where a different population and a very different–though related–language is spoken. And, oh yeah, where the murderer perhaps came from. I’ve just started this one and once again Miéville is pushing–literally, this time–the boundaries of speculative fiction.
It seems I ought to go to Peoria more often.
The following two CDs have been in heavy rotation during my daily commute:
The Hunger Games: Songs From District 12 and Beyond. First things first: contemporary country music mostly makes my brain hurt. However, for some inexplicable reason, I love the current wave of bluegrass/folk-alt-country stuff that’s out there (Avett Brothers, anyone?). Thankfully the music producers went that route for most of this soundtrack, which fits the tone of Katniss and Peeta’s District 12 perfectly. I especially like the tracks from Neko Case (“Nothing to Remember”) and Kid Cudi (“The Rule and the Killer”).
Say Anything’s Anarchy, My Dear. I’ve always admired SA leader and primary lyricist, Max Bemis, for his smart, brutally honest songwriting. Though he’s mellowed a bit with age and marriage, he’s still telling it like it is. Standout tracks include “Overbiter,” which includes backing vocals from his wife, Sherri DuPree of the band Eisley, and describes their long-distance courtship; “Admit it Again,” a sequel of sorts to the “Admit It!!!” track on the …Is A Real Boy album (completely worth tracking down to dissect the lyrics); and the title track, “Anarchy, My Dear,” an almost ballad-y ode to rebellion.
I’d like to be able to tell you I’m reading something incredibly literate, deliciously witty, or professionally advantageous. However, I am forced to confess that, in this unseasonable heat, the best I can do is leaf through magazines. Super Girl Scout Niece #1 was selling subscriptions, and I’m a huge fan of The Girl Scouts, so I’m happily parked in front of a fan with Oprah, yoga, and some warm-weather recipe ideas.
In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic, by Professor X. This eye-opening and provocative treatise caught my eye in a review journal. It’s an expansion of an article originally published in The Atlantic magazine, and deals with the unprepared students colleges recruit and the status and treatment of professors (especially adjunct professors like the author), with a bit of the author’s life story mixed in. I was intrigued because the author is an English professor, and he writes extremely well, so the book is interesting, illuminating, and readable. He writes anonymously because he’s worried he’ll lose his job.
For my birthday I received a Kindle Fire from my awesome husband , who always buys me things I think I don’t want until I get them. To my eternal (but not blushing) chagrin, the first thing I did was purchase the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy from Amazon. In case you live under a rock, Fifty Shades is a self-published “erotic BDSM” e-book by a little-known British author named E. L. James. I zipped through Fifty Shades of Grey and Fifty Shades Darker in two days. I was ready to run out and buy some grey ties and an Audi.
For over a week now I’ve malingered on the final book, Fifty Shades Freed. I have simply stopped caring about the characters, the story, and the sex. The controversy surrounding this book reminds me of a quote from Fear of Flying author Erica Jong: “My reaction to porn films is as follows: after the first ten minutes, I want to go home and screw. After the first twenty minutes, I never want to screw again as long as I live.”
Sublime Frequencies re-issues strange and wonderful music from all over the world, everything from Bollywood steel guitar to what’s playing on the radio in Morocco. It’s perfect music to listen to while cooking or porch-sitting, and we have quite a few albums available for check-out here at the library.
I’ve also just watched a recently re-released gem on DVD called A Thousand Clowns. Fans of films about eccentric and lovable iconoclasts (and the films of Wes Anderson) should check this one out immediately.
I’m not enjoying this “nice” weather because it’s disturbing to have 80 degree weather in mid-March. And you know what else doesn’t like it? Spinach. Or radishes. Or any of the other cool weather crops that only grow well when temperatures are in the 60s and 70s.
So I’ll be forced to enjoy such books as The Gardener’s Weather Bible: How to Predict and Prepare for Garden Success in Any Kind of Weather by Sally Roth or The Weather-resilient Garden : a Defensive Approach to Planning & Landscaping by Charles W.G. Smith.
Your turn. Hot enough for you? What are you reading / watching / listening to this spring?