« January 2016 | Main | March 2016 »

Irish March

I've gotten a one-day headstart on this year's Irish March, starting Anne Enright's The Green Road just this morning. (Technically, I started even earlier, with my most recent book being William Trevor's The Love Department - but like much of that great Irishman's early fiction, the setting is England and the characters English. So maybe that one doesn't really count as Irish fiction?) I've heard great things about Enright, and this (her latest novel) is the first I've read of hers. If the reading goes swiftly** (the book is 300 pages with an unusually large font, though there's no indication that this is a large-print edition*), I hope to have enough time in March to also read Edna O'Brien. I've had my eye on a very affordable used copy of Wild Decembers at Open Books, which is just a few blocks from my office.

As I mentioned earlier, one of my reading resolutions for this year is to read ten works of fiction by female writers. I also wanted to revive Irish March, which I let lapse last year. Reading Enright and O'Brien this March will help accomplish both goals.

(*Frugal as I am, most of the books I read are low-end paperbacks that I've picked up at used bookstores and library sales. But this edition is a hardcover from the Joliet Public Library, so maybe all good hardcovers these days have larger fonts, and this is just par for the course and not the large-print edition.)

(**No, the use of that adverb was not intended as an Irish literary pun. Though it might have turned out that way.)

February 29, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Long Ryders, Two Fisted Tales


This week's vinyl digitization is another roots rock finale, the Long Ryders' Two Fisted Tales. Like the Blasters, the Long Ryders didn't last long (three full-length LPs and one EP between 1983 and 1987), but to me they were an even more essential band. They really bridged the gap between early 1970s country/folk rock (Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers) and the early 1990s alt-country revival (Uncle Tupelo, Jayhawks), and their mix of Byrds jangle and garage rock sounds as fresh today as it did when it first came out, almost thirty years ago. My favorite here is "Spectacular Fall", but there really isn't a weak song on the entire album. I've been playing guitar since last September, and have been fiddling around with two Long Ryders songs, "Wreck of the 809" (from an earlier album) and "Spectacular Fall."

From the price sticker on the back of the LP, I'm reminded that is bought this (for $3.50) at Full Cyrkle Records in Crystal Lake, Illinois. After I moved home from college, I went to Full Cyrkle almost every Saturday morning, buying dozens of rock and blues albums with what little spare cash I could find. Once a year, the store even had a Midnight Madness sale - they stayed open all night, and the later you got there, the lower the prices were. I think I went there around 2:00 in the morning - I did buy something, but I don't remember what it was. Probably not this Long Ryders album - at $3.50, it was cheap enough to buy any time - but probably some new, imported blues LP that was probably too pricey for me otherwise. But ironically, I probably haven't listened to or even thought about that blues album in years, while Two Fisted Tales has stayed with me, enough to finally convert it to digital.

February 28, 2016 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...as a favor to you..."

James Baldwin followed up his successful debut, Go Tell It On the Mountain, with Giovanni's Room which, to the consternation of his publisher Knopf, had nothing but white characters. The publisher wanted another "black novel."
"So they told me, 'You cannot afford to alienate that audience. This new book will ruin your career, because you’re not writing about the same things and in the same manner as you were before, and we won’t publish this book as a favor to you.'"
What an astoundingly paternalistic, condescending thing for a publisher to say, especially to a young writer. Baldwin ultimately did quite for himself, writing what he wanted to write.

My Baldwin experience has been mixed. I loved Go Tell It On the Mountain, was underwhelmed by Notes of a Native Son and remember nothing about Another Country other than the sex scenes. But I do want to read Giovanni.

February 27, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...a ghostly cosiness..."

In William Trevor's The Love Department, Edward Blakeston-Smith observes the urban renewal of southwest London.
All Jubilee Road was levelled, and Dunfarnham Avenue, and the corner of Crimea Road, and Fetty Crescent, and almost all of Gleethorpe Lane. Edward watched the work of destruction and building, and felt sad to see it all, although he knew, for he had read it in a newspaper, that new houses were necessary to keep pace with the increasing population. Occasionally, he saw a single wall, all that remained of some old house, with different wallpapers still adhering to the plaster, indicating the rooms that had once been lived in. High up on such a wall there was often a fire-grate with a mantelshelf still above it, seeming strange and surrealist without a floor or a ceiling. After a time, Edward used to look out for those fireplaces, and even developed a fantasy in which he came by night with a ladder and climbed up with kindling and coal. In his bed in Clapham he wandered in his fantasy all over the area of SW17, and Wandsworth and Putney, climbing up the ladders and lighting fires in the fire-grates in the sky, causing a mystery that interested the newspapers and the nation. Before he dropped off to sleep the fires were blazing heartily, throwing a light on to the wallpaper that surrounded them, creating a ghostly cosiness.
With Edward having frequent, disabling flights of fancy such as this, it will come as no surprise that he's not terribly effective in his job as a private investigator - most of the time, he doesn't even know what his quarry looks like. Interesting early novel from Trevor, though admittedly not one of my favorites of his.

February 25, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lee Dorsey, Holy Cow!: The Best of Lee Dorsey


This week's LP digitization is another best-of, this time Holy Cow!: The Best of Lee Dorsey, an out-of-print Arista Records collection of songs first recorded between 1961 and 1970. I've been thinking about Dorsey a lot lately, ever since the death of Allen Toussaint. Toussaint was the songwriter and producer of most of Dorsey's hits, and was even something of a mentor to the singer, despite the fact that Dorsey was fourteen years older than Toussaint. Their collaborations were nothing less than wonderful - Dorsey's warm, soulful tenor, the steady groove of the backing band (often the Meters, and Toussaint himself) and Toussaint's clean, rich studio production. Everything here is great, though my favorite is "Sneaking Sally Through the Alley", written by Toussaint and backed by the Meters.

I picked up this LP years ago from a cutout bin (you can see the telltale notch at the lower left corner of the cover, just below the C) at some record store I've forgotten. Safe to say that the store probably no longer exists.

February 21, 2016 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

"A day in which I don’t read or write, I have trouble falling asleep."

At The New Yorker, Karan Mahajan writes a fine profile of Michael Orthofer and his long-running (16 years!) literary site The Complete Review. Most of the literary sites I started following in the early- to mid-2000s have gone away (with the bloggers either becoming mainstream literary journalists, or abandoning blogging in favor of Twitter), which makes me appreciate the constancy of Orthofer and The Complete Review even more. His reviews are deeply thoughtful and plainspoken, and his knowledge of world literature highly enviable. (I won't even fault him for declining my offer of Wheatyard for him to review.) I'm looking forward to his upcoming book, The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction.

Oh, and despite that quote above, I doubt he ever loses much sleep - with nearly 3,700 books under review (nearly 250 per year), there can't be very many days that he goes without reading.

February 17, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (4)

Dave Edmunds, The Best of Dave Edmunds


This week's vinyl digitization is The Best of Dave Edmunds, a 1981 collection of Edmunds' best work for Swan Song Records, for whom he recorded from 1977 to 1981. The title is definitely a misnomer - a better title would have been The Swan Song Years - especially since it doesn't include his biggest hit, "I Hear You Knocking." Title aside, this is a great collection of Edmunds at his roots-rocking best, when he was still working with Nick Lowe and his other Rockpile bandmates, and before his 1980s misstep into synth-heavy pop. Everything here is strong, with my favorite being "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)", a Lowe tune that I was briefly tempted to sing with the band at my sister's wedding. (I refrained, as the song isn't terribly kind to the groom.)

It's interesting to note that of the thirteen songs on this album, Edmunds only got songwriter credit on one song (and a half-credit, at that). Edmunds has always been much better known as a guitarist, singer and interpreter of other songwriters' work. He obviously has excellent taste, especially with the covers here of songs by Lowe, Elvis Costello, John Fogerty, Graham Parker and others.

February 14, 2016 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)


"There is a kind of corn whiskey bred in Florida which the natives declare is potent in the proportion of seven fights to a drink." - Stephen Crane

February 13, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"It's a goddamn pączki!"

Mike Czyzniejewski (a Chicago native who now teaches in Missouri) prefaces his review of the Stuart Dybek story "Tosca" with this anecdote about yesterday's holiday:
One Walmart in town — of the nine (not a typo) — carries them, but I have to get there a day or two before, because they sell out early (something I found out in the dark, dark February of 2014). Then, if a colleague says, “Thanks for the donuts, Mike!” I go completely apeshit, throwing whatever I have in my hands against the wall, exclaiming, “It’s not a fucking donut! It’s a goddamn pączki!” So far, I think I’m winning the battle, getting the word out, but every year, I spend the day after Pączki Day with my Human Resources rep, discussing better ways to channel the rage I feel in the workplace.
Mike is doing great work with his new blog, Story366, in which he's reviewing a different story each day of this year. Writing that many reviews would already be enough of a challenge, but he takes it a step further - he only reviews a story that he's just read for the first time. The reviews have been great, and the personal asides even better.

February 10, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

R.E.M., Dead Letter Office


My second vinyl LP to be digitized is R.E.M.'s Dead Letter Office, a 1987 collection B-sides and outtakes. The album has both band originals (including the great "Bandwagon") and covers of the Velvet Underground, Pylon, Aerosmith and Roger Miller. It's probably the most fun album they ever did - with no concerns about great art or commercial success, but just letting loose and rocking out. And for such a meticulous band, it's particularly refreshing to hear their drunken version of Miller's "King of the Road", with Michael Stipe butchering lyrics and Peter Buck and Mike Mills shouting chord changes back and forth.

I upgraded my LPs of Murmur and Reckoning to CD quite a few years ago, and more recently bought their debut EP, Chronic Town, on iTunes. I've owned the Dead Letter Office LP for nearly as long as the others (according to the price sticker, I bought it at Second Hand Tunes in Evanston, where I used to sneak off to during my work lunch hour), and I'm glad to finally have it in digital.

February 7, 2016 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)