Graphic novel review: Special Exits

By , January 31, 2011

Special Exits
by Joyce Farmer

Joyce Farmer was out the comics business a number of years until the death her parents forced her back to the drawing board. The result is Special Exits. The graphic novel chronicles Farmer’s experiences being the primary care giver to her father and mother-in-law during their final years. By interspersing flashbacks of her parents’ lives the book becomes a biography of her parents as much as Farmer’s own memoir. It is an emotional bulldozer.  Special Exits seems a sure bet to enter the small canon of graphic novels whose universal appeal transcends the bias of those who normally avoid the format. Highly recommended.

Book review: Fab

By , January 29, 2011

Paul FabFab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney
By: Howard Sounes

We love you Paul. Oh yes we do-ooo.  We love you Paul and will be tru-ooo…

It is estimated (by me) that over 9,462,587* words have been written about former Beatle. So why does the world need yet another biography about the man who would be Paul?

Because there is still so much more to say, say, say . . . (see what I did there?)

Brought to you by Howard Sounes, the author who also gave us the comprehensive tomes Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan and Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life, Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney delivers on every promise it even thinks about making.

Starting with the birth of Sir Paul, the book discusses, in detail, his school years, the period when the Beatles were just beginning to play together, and their German shows. McCartney fans will enjoy hearing some of the never-before-told stories about his family. The Beatles are done halfway through the narrative, and yet so much more story is still on its way.

After the fall of The Beatles, Sounes transitions into Paul’s life with Linda and the kids. Things are not always pleasant, and the author does not pull any punches, especially when discussing the handful of drug busts and other court cases the McCartneys faced (some self-perpetuated, some brought by outside parties). It was not always a great thing to be (or have been) a Beatle, but the author handles the rougher topics with a professionalism that attempts to be as unbiased as possible.

Sounes’ narrative writing style is easy to read. Instead of feeling like a dry, academic work, the book reads almost like a novel. It is hard to imagine that many of the people in the story are still living, with a few famous notable exceptions. The 500+ pages do not necessarily fly by, but the tale told is worth the time it takes to tell it. If you like Paul, pick this one up and take a gander.

:) Amanda

* So, um…I don’t really do math, and I just kinda picked a number out of the air. Enjoy!

Book review: Can’t Get Enough Mad Men?

By , January 26, 2011

Pull up a chair, mix yourself a Tom Collins, and check out one of these…

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
Sloan Wilson



The Stories of John Cheever
John Cheever



Revolutionary Road
Richard Yates




Book review: Vermeer: The Complete Works

By , January 25, 2011

Vermeer: The Complete Works

By Arthur K. Wheelock

This is a short but beautifully presented volume of Vermeer’s work with detailed descriptions accompanying each large color print.

The text provides the context of the painting along with artistic commentary. Viewing Vermeer’s works as a whole enhances one’s appreciation of this master of the Dutch Golden Age (1632-1675). Obvious themes such as his placement of subjects before open windows along with repeated use of costumes, props and even the paintings which appear within Vermeer’s paintings are all apparent when viewed together. Not one to normally ‘read’ art books, this one was read cover to cover.

- Betsy

Book review: Ordinary Thunderstorms

By , January 22, 2011

Ordinary ThunderstormsOrdinary Thunderstorms
By William Boyd

Why is it that British guys are the best CD book readers?  Is it their deep, sexy voices or just that cute accent?  Either way, Gideon Emery (the delightfully-voiced reader) definately helped sell this book.

Not that he needed to do too much convincing.  I actually had not read anything else by William Boyd, prior to starting Ordinary Thunderstorms.  But, I came across the audio book version while I was working one day, and for some reason it wanted to come home with me.  Two weeks later and here we are.

The book follows climatologist Adam Ketron through the London streets as his life get flipped upside down after witnessing a murder and is subsequently blamed for it.  Raise your hand if you’ve heard that before?  A little cliched right?

But once you get past that somewhat wimpy beginning the book takes off and twists in some unexpected ways.  Be warned this book is NOT about weather, but it still kept my attention across the entire story.  I’m glad I took a chance on an author I’d never read before. Maybe he has something else that I’ll enjoy just as much…
:) Amanda

Book review: Loser Lit

By , January 19, 2011

I first heard about the concept of loser lit in a piece by Kate Christensen at  She subtitled her article: “In praise of the cranky, misanthropic, uncompromising nobodies of literature—may they screw up forever” and then proceeded to list a lot of my favorite books.  They’re all about people (usually men) who sabotage themselves repeatedly and unrepentantly, resulting in a downward spiral that is sometimes hilarious but always disastrously entertaining.  Here are a few of the best of the genre:

Wake Up, Sir!
Jonathan Ames



Work Shirts for Madmen
George Singleton



A Fan’s Notes
Frederick Exley



David Gates



Lucky Jim
Kingsley Amis
(a British classic of the genre)


Dear American Airlines
Jonathan Miles



A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living
Michael Dahlie
(for which the author recently won a $50,000 Whiting Award)


Bridget Jones’s Diary
Helen Fielding
(with one of the few female loser lit protagonists)



Patti Smith Dream of Life a film by Steven Sebring

By , January 18, 2011

Patti Smith Dream of Life

This is a really thoughtful, well put together film by Steven Sebring – kind of a home movie of sorts covering a lot of Patti Smith’s life. (Apparently 11 years in the making with some terrific footage from the early days to the present.) It weaves a rich and interesting tapestry – personal, musical, political, philosophical – of an artist who has had her share of  triumphs and losses.

Shot mostly in black and white (more arty) sometimes scenes drift into focus – from a chat with her son Jackson (now in her band) to a soundcheck to Patti rummaging around in her home base outside of Detroit or visiting with her mom and dad.  She snaps photos, reminisces, visits grave sites  (Allen Ginsberg, Rimbaud in Paris, William Blake, Gregory Corso in Rome) and thinks out loud.  She practices songs on an old Gibson with Sam Shepard, visits her haunts in New York – where she returned in 1996 after a long absence (to tour behind Peace and Noise and in support of  Bob Dylan) and talks about life in general.  I love her observations on art, street life and the way everyone processes things simultaneously (and through the added “jungles of our minds”).

Her views on recent political maneuvers by a certain ex-president are pretty clear cut and she isn’t shy about rallying the troops from the stage.  Despite her numerous personal losses she remains strong in spirit and lives by her philosophy that “everyone has a voice!”.

Intriguing and lyrical, this is a unique and often moving film (she brings herself to tears while reciting a long poem about Tibet at one point) – one I watched twice and recommend highly.

is Life
It flows thru
the death of me
like a river
of becoming
the sea

(One of Patti’s favorites – Beat Poet Corso’s self written epitaph)


Pop Music from Scandinavia

By , January 18, 2011

scandinaviamapAccording to the official tourism board for the region, Scandinavia consists of the countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.    I’ve found some very interesting facts about Scandinavia.  Their cuisine consists of  more than just pickled herring!  Scandinavians experience some of the most breathtaking views of the Northern Lights.  And of particular importance to me, much of the world’s best dance and pop music hails from these countries!

The Danish pop band Alphabeat has reportedly relocated to London, but their cheerfully playful dance-pop tracks remain inspired by fellow Scandinavian band ABBA. ESSENTIAL tracks: Fascination, Public Image.

Although NPL doesn’t own any pop music from Finland, we have plenty recordings of this famous classical composer‘s body of work, known especially for his symphonies.

Bjork became a singing sensation in her native Iceland by age 11, and was in several bands (including the Sugarcubes) before she launched a solo career.   Her famous voice can go from a whisper to a roar  in just a few notes.   ESSENTIAL tracks:  Human Behavior, Hyperballad, Pagan Poetry.

Norway‘s Annie works with some of the scene’s hottest producers to combine her sweet vocals with tasty beats, creating some of the most catchy dance pop on rotation. ESSENTIAL tracks:  Chewing Gum, I Don’t Like Your Band.

Lately all I’ve been listening to is Sweden‘s Robyn.  Already an international pop star, Robyn is fast gaining attention in the U.S.  Tag her music as deeply confessional, danceable, and happily infectious!   ESSENTIAL tracks:  Do You Know (What It Takes) – available as a download on freegal, Dancing On My Own.

And speaking of  dancing, if you aren’t yet, you will be after watching this video.

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Book review: If You Like Jeannette Walls

By , January 12, 2011

If you like the addictive, almost tall-tale quality of The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses, try Catherine Gildiner’s two memoirs: Too Close to the Falls and After the Falls.  The subject matter is different (a girl growing up in 1950’s New York State), but the rapid-fire, whirlwind writing style is the same.

Book review: Drop City

By , January 11, 2011

Drop City
by T.C. Boyle

Considering the on-going cultural paradigm shift from smog to green, processed to whole foods, and suburban super-sizing to frugal back-to-basics living, it seems a perfect time to revisit T.C. Boyle’s 2003 novel Drop City. Inspired by the 1960s intentional community of the same name, Drop City chronicles the relocation of a scatterbrained hippy commune to a tough-as-nails Alaska town. This bout of space cadet v. fur trapper is decidedly not Northern Exposure. There are clash of cultures and exchange of bullets. Positive and negative aspects of man’s attempts to return to nature are explored: the hypocrisy, the reality, the pain of it all. The book features a cavalcade of heart-warming (or heart-wrenching) societal drop outs, each with a different means to the same end: unplugging from the society of the spectacle. Boyle manages to simultaneously explain the rise of both Whole Foods Market and Sarah Palin in popular consciousness. It is best book I’ve read so far in 2011. The bar is now high.

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