Tag Archives: Eric

Life on the Disc

The world lost one of the best recently when Terry Pratchett died. Our own LAF wrote this beautiful piece about it.

I have also written about Pratchett on this blog in the past.

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Fab pic of Terry Pratchett culled form a Google Image Search

Quite recently, the brilliant folks over at Book Riot published a piece by A. J. O’Connell about Pratchett’s daughter announcing that there will be no more Discworld books. She will not write any, and the series will end with the upcoming Tiffany Aching book The Shepherd’s Crown later this summer. In addition, The Long Utopia (co-written by Pratchett and Stephen Baxter) will round out the “Long Earth” series (that featured The Long Earth, The Long War and The Long Mars).

The Shepherd’s Crown marks the 41st Discworld book. That’s a lot. Maybe you’ve read all of them, or maybe you’ve never even heard of them. Might I propose, dear Eleventh Stack reader, that since we know there are not going to be any more, this is the perfect time to discover, or re-discover this excellent series. Starting at the beginning is never a bad idea, and The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic are the first two.

That said, one of my favorite things about the Discworld series is that you can pretty much start anywhere. Might I suggest Feet of Clay, Thud, or Unseen Academicals? They are all brilliant. The Fifth Elephant was the book that got me hooked. I also love Monstrous Regiment and Night Watch. Get into it! They are all wonderful.

Eric

-who is reading both The Long Mars and Raising Steam right now, and thinking about starting Lords and Ladies next!

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All The Truth (n’at)

I’ve mentioned on this blog previously that one of the many perks of working in a library is stumbling on books and movies and music that you might otherwise have been totally oblivious to. Such was the case with me and All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid by Matt Bai. I stumbled across the book one day at work, got it out from the library, and I was very into it from the beginning.

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This is one of the best book covers I’ve seen in ages.

At the risk of betraying my age, I remember the Gary Hart scandal pretty well. At my house, when I was a kid, it was standard dinner time fare to discuss politics. From about the age of 10 or so, I was listening in on, and chiming in on, whatever the topics of the day were. I already had a few years of this under my belt when the Gary Hart scandal hit. Reading Bai’s book brought many of the details back to me.

Whereas political scandal is nothing new, this event had a different element to it. Bai posits that the real reason to look at the Hart affair, especially now, almost 30 years on, is that this event was a very specific moment in terms of how the media worked before this event and after. Indeed, he believes that this was the moment that changed the tone of reporting in the US. The sub title of the book is “The Week Politics Went Tabloid,” and that goes a long way to grasping the author’s take on these events and their ramifications.

It might be worth noting that after, at that point, 7 years of Ronald Reagan, the political landscape in the US had a very particular look. Hart was poised to be the opposing candidate early on in that election, and the events outlined in this book changed all of that.

Another possible aspect of the fallout from this event might be described in the cultural attitudes that people politically coming of age around this time had, and how these events helped shape their view of politics in a larger sense. Many of the folks who would have been looking at these events while formulating a political identity would be considered, by generational standards, Gen X. There is perhaps no real way of quantifying how these events shaped the political consciousness of a generation, but one might speculate.

At any rate (and generationally-charged-political-identity-naval-gazing aside) Bai writes a very well-crafted book that gives a good sense of the time, both before, and after, this watershed moment of the confluence of media and politics. Check it out, if you are so inclined.

Eric

-who is half seriously looking for a “monkey business crew” t-shirt for the summer

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Braggin’

I’ve been a fan of Billy Bragg for years. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him live a number of times as well. He’s one of my favorite artists and I feel lucky to have seen him often. The mix of punk and rock, with folk and soul sensibilities strikes a great balance. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has number of albums by Bragg available and I highly recommend them all. Specifically:

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Talking with the Taxman About Poetry. This album, released in the fall of 1986, is a fantastic snapshot of where Bragg was during this time in his career as a musician (as the bottom of the cover of the album states this is “The Difficult Third Album”) and of the larger world. There are plenty of anthems calling for change in the face of a Thatcher government in the UK (see “Ideology”) and songs that delve into relationships on every level. Some classics from this album that still get time in Bragg’s live sets include “Greetings to the New Brunette”, “Levi Stubb’s Tears” (which, co-incidentally I got to see him perform the day Levi Stubbs died…it was a heart wrenching rendition), and “There Is Power In a Union”. A sleeper hit on this album is “The Home Front”. Beautiful, sad, thought-provoking and wonderful. This album is a classic.

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A newer album in the CLP collection worth checking out is Mr. Love & Justice. Released in 2008, this album is a bit more of a rounded venture, including some full band numbers that are quite worth it. The opening track “I Keep Faith” is a fantastic rally cry for folks who try to change the world. “I Almost Killed You harkens back to Bragg’s punk roots inside of a love song. It’s loud and angular and excellent. “Sing Their Souls Back Home” is a beautiful take on a secular hymn for a hurting world. This album is very different from the early stuff, but it’s still excellent.

Also check out:

Billy Bragg: Volume 1

Must I Paint You a Picture: The Essential Billy Bragg

As one final note, I have to mention the recent death of one of my favorite authors. Eduardo Galeano, who I have written about previously on Eleventh Stack, died on 13 April of this year. Rest in Power.

-Eric

– who is happily ushering spring in with his old-guy soccer team

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The Cozy and The Metal

The New Year started off well enough, but by a week into 2015 I was already in the middle of some difficulties. My beloved feline companion of 17 years got very ill and died. That was bad enough to set me back a while. Added to that, however, we had an ice storm, and my wife slipped on said ice and broke her foot. Later that week I took a series of particularly shady hits in a dek hockey game and ended up with some soft tissue damage and some bruised ribs. With all of these things happening, I wasn’t living my normal routine (including running, which has become like medicine for me). There are a few things that have helped me immensely. Of course, I’m talking about old metal records and cozy mysteries.

 

this is what happens when you do a google image search for 'cozy mysteries'

this is what happens when you do a google image search for “cozy mysteries”

It’s no secret that I love cozy mysteries. See HERE and HERE. The books that I’ve been into early this year are the “kind-of-cozy” books by Jane Langton. They are a bit rougher around the edges than most cozy titles, especially concerning graphic language. That said, the way that Langton tells stories is engaging and entertaining. Emily Dickinson Is Dead is a great example of that. The way that the narrative winds back and forth weaving the lives of the characters together is quite remarkable. Plus, if you have a soft spot for literature (as I do) the book is filled with bits from Dickinson’s poems. A Transcendental Murder didn’t engage me quite as much, but it has a similar approach and a great connection to Emerson and Thoreau.

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I also got into Carol Miller’s Murder and Moonshine. This is an interesting beginning to a series set in rural southwestern Virginia. Daisy is a waitress at the local diner and gets to hear all the local gossip. When a reclusive old man shows up there one day and drops dead a few minutes later, Daisy finds herself in the middle of a case involving local law, moonshiners, the ATF and, of course, her famous peach cobbler.

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What goes well with a nice cozy mystery better than some classic metal? Early Metallica has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. Ride the Lightning has been in rotation. (Listen to “Creeping Death” on repeat you ask? Yes, please!) Likewise, Master of Puppets has been getting some well-deserved attention. (Put on “Disposable Heroes” and try to mosh around your living room – then, if you’re anything like me, you remember you have bruised ribs and ease yourself back to the couch and the heating pad).

 

this is what happens when you do a google image search for "metal music"

this is what happens when you do a google image search for “metal music”

Round it out with a bit of Celtic Frost … To Mega Therion, to be specific. Turn up “(Beyond the) North Winds” as a cold, icy gale blows outside and be reminded that, in the face of broken, busted-up bodies, and the death of our friends, we still woke up today, and have a chance to live, love, read books and listen to music. Add the classic Black Metal by Venom, and you have a fitting soundtrack for anything the winter can throw at you.

 

Eric

who is currently ensconced on his couch, cozy in hand, metal on in the background, and a heating pad on his ribs

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Feeling a Bit Baltimore

I love finding books by accident. I’ve actually written about it on here before.

The particular book that I stumbled onto this time, however, I found in a great little “take-a-book-leave-a-book-mail-it-back” library. All the books have return address stickers on the back! Finding stuff like that brings me great joy.

I kind of absentmindedly picked up a mystery novel, and much to my surprise, I plowed through it quite quickly (I’ve mentioned before, I am a shockingly slow reader). That mystery novel was the excellent Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman. I am a strong believer that finding books, movies, and music that are “better than they have to be” is one of the great joys in life. I struck pay dirt with this book.

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It’s a mystery, and part of a series (And no, before you ask, it’s NOT a cozy this time. I love the cozy mystery – no shame! – but this is much more gritty). The thing about Lippman’s writing is that she knows how to not only tell a good story and move the plot along with good pacing, but she includes literary allusion in the right proportion, and her turns of phrase are interesting and eye-catching.

Tess Monaghan is a human character with shortcomings and flaws, but she’s also interesting and relatable. She has some real moments of self-discovery in this novel that one might not expect. Again, she’s “being better than she has to be.”

I think my favorite part of this book, however, has to be Lippman’s treatment of Baltimore. She writes like someone who truly loves a place, warts and all. She is wonderfully descriptive and engaging without glossing over the really seedy, rough bits. Lippman was born in Georgia, but was raised in Baltimore, and moved back to that city after attending University. She worked as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun for 12 years and looks at the city through a lens that only that kind of history with a place can allow. And, as a fantastic aside, Lippman and her husband (the amazing writer David Simon) were married on the roof of their building in a ceremony by John Waters. Yes, THE John Waters. I mean, how much more Bawlmer can ya get, hon?

A friend of mine once said that the old TV show The Streets of San Francisco was great because “the city was a character.” I think Lippman does the same with Baltimore in the Tess Monaghan books. Having read the first one, I’m eager to get into others. After all, besides keeping up with her budding career as a private investigator, I want to know how her relationship with Crow develops!

Eric (who is currently trying to balance hockey season with the rest of life, including playing dek hockey, and reading as much Tess Monaghan as he can find)

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Tea Cups, Tempests and Sci-Fi

Over the last few months I’ve been reading a bit of science fiction. With the notable exception of the Glory Lane by Alan Dean Foster, I didn’t read much sci-fi growing up (As an aside, having re-read this book recently, I think it holds up remarkably well. If you enjoy lighter sci-fi with a nod to pop-culture, American subcultures, and general weirdness, give it a go!). I suppose I’m making up for lost time getting into a lot of stuff that is considered either New Weird or Sci-Fi. I’m quite taken with much of it. Earlier this summer, however, I found myself revisiting the (possible) origins of the genre.

When I was an English major back in college I remember a very excited Shakespeare professor saying that The Tempest was the first sci-fi work of Western Literature. At the time I seem to remember being entertained by the idea but not giving it much thought. I’m also not sure how true it is! I suppose a lot depends on this particular professor’s definition of science fiction! (Also, as an aside, if you want a great book on Shakespeare, check out Bill Bryson’s book on the bard. It’s well worth reading!) Years later, when post-colonial readings of the classics occurred more widely, I noted that The Tempest was getting more and more life breathed into it and was being staged everywhere from London to Pittsburgh.

So, earlier this summer when I was reading more sci-fi, I thought back to that Shakespeare professor and the idea that The Tempest was the first (or, maybe more accurately, ONE of the first) sci-fi work(s) in Western Literature. I decided to watch the 2010 film adaptation of The Tempest starring Helen Mirren as Prospera, Felicity Jones as Miranda, Reeve Carney as Price Ferdinand, Djimon Hounsou as Caliban and Russell Brand as Trinculo.

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This more recent film adaptation by Julie Taymor is worth watching, if for nothing else the amazing performances of Housou, Mirren and Brand (yes, Russell Brand is excellent). The story, in case you aren’t familiar, consists of a user of the magical arts being cast away from civilization (usurped by a brother) supposedly for practicing said arts, with their child. Living on an island inhabited only by Caliban, the magician and daughter live for years, until the magician’s arts finally shipwreck the usurping brother and his companions. A story of revenge, difference, the “other”, and love comes to the surface.

This particular adaptation isn’t without difficulties. The character of Ariel (who is an other-worldly spirit daemon called into service, and forced to work for Prospera) is a fascinating character that opens the reader (or viewer in this case!) to a whole world of possible interactions and interplay between characters. Especially when one banks this relationship off of the relationship that Prospera has with Caliban, the whole production is ripe for some serious analysis and question asking! What I found a bit underwhelming were some of the special effects that the film-makers used with the Ariel character. Sure, Ariel is a sprite or spirit or demon or whatever, but at times the scenes featuring this other-worldly creation seemed more like a cruddy new-metal music video than a production by the Immortal Bard.

Aside from those scenes, the film is really worth seeing. Maybe it’s just my tastes in visual effects! You might think it looks pretty cool. Either way, I recommend the film highly. Get into some really classic sci-fi.

– Eric (who is reading and watching the New Weird, Old Weird and All Around Weird as fall descends on us here in Pittsburgh, AND who carefully LEFT OUT the part about how seeing this film had a lot to do with his wife demanding to see it because Russell Brand is in it and she has a major thing for Russell Brand)

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Burn and Sand

It’s summer. It’s hot. For whatever reason two of the things that I’m currently obsessed with are heat related. That’s right, you guessed it… the wildly under-rated TV show Burn Notice, and the Sci-Fi trailblazer and classic Dune.

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Do these things really have anything to do with it being hot out? Well, you be the judge: Burn Notice takes place in Miami, Florida. Dune takes place on the water-barren sand planet formerly called Dune, known as Arrakis. Both hostile environments, to be sure (but there is way more water in, and around, Miami…and more Cuban food, too).

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Of course Burn Notice is a TV show about a spy, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. I mean, Bruce Campbell (yes, THAT Bruce Campbell, of Evil Dead fame) is in it. Right there you know it’s a winner.

The famous film adaptation of Dune is something I’ve yet to dig into, but I’m sure it’s worth it. I mean, it was directed by David Lynch and features a young Kyle MacLachlan, so armed with that information you know what you’re getting into. For now, I’m quite happy with Frank Herbert’s book.

So if you want to learn about a yogurt obsessed spy who really, really wants his job back, Burn Notice is right up your street. However, if the political machinations of a far-away sci-fi world is more your taste, check out Dune.

Check out either one (or, like me, both!) of these HOT sounding titles.

Eric (who is currently eating a lot of soy yogurt, or as his wife calls it…”spy food” while wondering if home-made stillsuits will make the scene at the next local handmade arts fest)

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It’s Criminal

Navigating the vicissitudes of modern popular culture can be tricky.

I think it might be fair to say that for a long time I came off as a bit of a snob when it came to a lot of books and TV. (I mean, I used the word ‘vicissitudes’ just now…) I have always appreciated pop culture and how important it can be for reading mass culture at large, but when it came to TV over the last few years I didn’t watch too much of it, and with that limited knowledge, I assumed I never LIKED a lot of it.

That said, maybe some of you read that a while back I got sick and missed a week of work, and in that week I started a bit of an obsession with the early seasons of Law & Order. Well, coming out of that experience, I listened to the many, MANY people who told me that I should probably watch Criminal Minds as well. I tried. My amazing wife was pretty obsessed with this show and for months I tried to watch it with her, but each time I bailed. I would leave the room. I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief quite enough. Then, something happened. I decided that I WOULD watch this show.

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I did, and, for better or worse, the same thing happened to me that happened with Law & Order. I’ve gotten rather obsessed with it. But believe me, I can quit any time. I mean, I know I watched the whole second season as well…

I must say that it takes quite a bit of disbelief suspending to believe that pretty much ever serial killer and mass murderer ever are out there now, doing their worst. It also takes a bit of disbelief suspension to be OK with Garcia’s supercomputer that can do anything/find anything, anywhere on the planet in less than five seconds and immediately send it to a mobile phone.

Even with all of those reservations I have to say, especially the first season (which starred the brilliant Mandy Patinkin as FBI profiler Jason Gideon), has some really interesting moments. Sometimes I run across things that everyone seems to be talking about.  I sometimes shy away from those things. Maybe it’s me being a contrarian. Maybe it’s me being a snob. I don’t want to be a snob! I never want to succumb to the tired old idea that “if it’s good it’s not popular and if it’s popular it isn’t good.” I took the plunge with this show, and it was worth it. Give it a look, if you are so inclined!

–Eric (who is currently on *gasp* Season 3 of Criminal Minds…and has just discovered the brilliance of Burn Notice. Who knew?)

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Keepin’ Cozy in the Library

Over the last few months I’ve stumbled onto a writer of cozy mysteries that I quite like. The particular series that has grabbed my attention is the Library Lover’s Mysteries by Jenn McKinlay. I think the thing that initially drew me to this series (other than it being a cozy, which I unashamedly love, and it being about libraries, which I also unashamedly love), is the sheer amount of books that McKinlay writes. In addition to the Library Lover’s mysteries (which currently has four books in it), Jenn McKinlay also wrote the ‘Good Buy Girls’ series (containing three books) as Josie Belle, the Decoupage Murder mysteries (YES! Decoupage mysteries!!! another three books there) as Lucy Lawrence, the Hat shop Mysteries (two books in this one), and the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries (which includes six books). That’s 18 books over five different series, and STILL COUNTING. McKinlay is still writing and has no plans to stop anytime soon (And just to be clear, this is just her mystery output. Before being a successful mystery writer she was a struggling romance writer who did succeed in getting a few of those published, too!).
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I picked up Books Can be Deceiving, which is the first in the Library Lover’s series and I was hooked. It has many of the hallmarks of a contemporary cozy mystery (it has no blood and gore, no explicit language or explicit sex, it features a sleuth who is an amateur at crime solving and heavily relies on her hobby or profession, and has a great cast of characters to serve the need to character development and quick-paced plots). Before I knew it I was getting into the second book in the series (Due or Die) and I was loving it as well. This is a solid cozy series and I’m getting into the third (Book, Line and Sinker) next.

due cozy

The often maligned cozy mystery can be a really good time. There is a certain escapism to the genre, certainly; however, when it’s coupled with good writing the reading experience is not only fun, but enjoyable on another level as well. I urge you find a cozy that speaks to you! Maybe it’s one that features a job or hobby that you share with the sleuth. It’s a great way to get involved in a genre you might not be familiar with. I never expected to be a fan of these kinds of books, but I am! Try something mystery based. Branch out. You might find you really enjoy it!

Eric (keepin’ it cozy in 2014)

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Missing Books, (by accident)

Working at a library can have some major benefits…especially if you are a book person. One of the many benefits that I’ve found is the exposure to books that I normally wouldn’t hear about in my day-to-day. The plus is also that, being surrounded by books and DVDs and CDs, sometimes these things literally just cross your path by pure happenstance.

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The book! From the Author’s website.

 

One such book for me is The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom. This is a mystery, but it doesn’t really fit into the accepted categories for mysteries. It’s by no means hard-boiled, and it’s not exactly cozy. (In full disclosure, I love cozy mysteries and I’ve even written about them on this blog!) Sansom’s book lives somewhere in between. I like that.

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The Author! From the Publisher’s website. (Harper)

 

As the title indicates, the crime is a heist, not a murder, and the unwilling sleuth is a librarian named Israel Armstrong who is charged by his brand new employers, to find some 15,000 missing library books. (Also in full disclosure, I wanted to read this book after reading the description!) So, we have no murder, no cats, and the sleuth is a man…not exactly cozy fodder. Did I mention that it’s set in Northern Ireland and our librarian sleuth arrives from London for the job? That probably sealed the deal for me wanting to look into this book.

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The Author, a dog, and a VW minibus. (culled from a Google image search)

 

I’m glad I did. It’s funny. VERY funny. Very uncomfortably, awkwardly funny (think the first season of the original BBC series The Office).  It’s also well written. It also reads very quickly. I am, what I believe to be, one of the slowest readers on the planet. That said, I tore through this quickly. Again, I think it’s due to Sansom being quite a good writer.

Add to all of this the fact that Sansom has created a cast of interesting, quirky, memorable characters that are a bit more than you’d expect, and you have a winner. Much like other books that fall into the “better than it needs to be” category, Sansom’s writing and characterizations give the reader much more to work with than one might expect. His ability to balance the elements of his fiction are not lost here. It’s a real pleasure to read a piece of so-called genre fiction that is so well crafted. There are plenty of cases where the skill of the writer is not evident in fiction like this, and it’s a fantastic treat to find a case where it is present.

I devoured the first in this series and I am looking forward to getting into the second. Here’s to finding a new writer by total accident, and here’s to finding a new series by the same wonderful accident.

Eric (who is eagerly awaiting the next book in this series, and the next amazing author and book he’s never  even heard of yet)

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