mini-review · Reading Graphically · stuff I read

To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel adapted by Fred Fordham

38359009Summary from Goodreads:
A beautifully crafted graphic novel adaptation of Harper Lee’s beloved, Pulitzer-prize winning American classic.

“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

A haunting portrait of race and class, innocence and injustice, hypocrisy and heroism, tradition and transformation in the Deep South of the 1930s, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird remains as important today as it was upon its initial publication in 1960, during the turbulent years of the Civil Rights movement.

Now, this most beloved and acclaimed novel is reborn for a new age as a gorgeous graphic novel. Scout, Gem, Boo Radley, Atticus Finch, and the small town of Maycomb, Alabama, are all captured in vivid and moving illustrations by artist Fred Fordham.

Enduring in vision, Harper Lee’s timeless novel illuminate the complexities of human nature and the depths of the human heart with humor, unwavering honesty, and a tender, nostalgic beauty. Lifetime admirers and new readers alike will be touched by this special visual edition that joins the ranks of the graphic novel adaptations of A Wrinkle in Time and The Alchemist.

img_0422Fred Fordham has created a very lovely adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel. The colors and art are best when it’s not dark (i.e. the nighttime scenes when the children are sneaking around the Radleys’ house). I snagged a screenshot of part of the page where Jem, Scout, and Dill have met and colors really do pop in the daytime scenes. There are also some sections where certain angles or characters owe a huge debt to the To Kill a Mockingbird movie, like the “mad dog” scene.

What I found missing was all the “local color” that comes through in Scout’s internal monologue about Maycomb and all its goings on, good and bad. It gets shoe-horned in rather awkwardly at times when it’s not cut entirely. For instance, the entire sequence at the end of the book with the pageant (Scout dressed as as ham) and the scary walk home when the children are attacked feel flat. There is so much that Scout thinks about during the pageant, all her funny little-girl thoughts, and then the walk home is much scarier when Scout can only describe the muffled sounds she hears as opposed to several blurry panels.

Definitely worth a read if you are a graphic novel and To Kill a Mockingbird fan.

Dear FTC: I had a paper galley of this book then switched to the digital galley since that was in color and definitely easier to read.

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music notes · stuff I read

Year of Wonder: Classical Music to Enjoy Day by Day by Clemency Burton-Hill

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
‘Year of Wonder is an absolute treat – the most enlightening way to be guided through the year.’ Eddie Redmayne

Classical music for everyone – an inspirational piece of music for every day of the year, celebrating composers from the medieval era to the present day, written by award-winning violinist and BBC Radio 3 presenter Clemency Burton-Hill.

Have you ever heard a piece of music so beautiful it stops you in your tracks? Or wanted to discover more about classical music but had no idea where to begin?

Year of Wonder is a unique celebration of classical music by an author who wants to share its diverse wonders with others and to encourage a love for this genre in all readers, whether complete novices or lifetime enthusiasts.

Clemency chooses one piece of music for each day of the year, with a short explanation about the composer to put it into context, and brings the music alive in a modern and playful way, while also extolling the positive mindfulness element of giving yourself some time every day to listen to something uplifting or beautiful. Thoughtfully curated and expertly researched, this is a book of classical music to keep you company: whoever you are, wherever you’re from.

‘The only requirements for enjoying classical music are open ears and an open mind.’
Clemency Burton-Hill

When one’s mother is a church organist, one grows up with a pretty solid understanding of classical music. I started piano lessons with my mom when I was five and more formal lessons at age eight. I played the oboe and flute in band and sang in choir. And while I no longer perform, I do still practice (occasionally – see also: paraphrasing Elizabeth Bennet and the old saw about not playing as well as I would wish because I don’t actually practice as much as I should). Over the years I’ve amassed a rather sizable classical music collection covering all sorts of genres.

So, obviously I was pretty interested when Clemency Burton-Hill’s new book Year of Wonder came across my radar. A one-piece-per-day devotional, if you will, designed to dive deep into the classical music catalog. Sign me up. How much would be new to me and how much would I already know?

As it turns out, I was familiar with probably 25-30% of Burton-Hill’s recommendations. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, any opera aria except for a few of the very early-genre ones, anything by Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin I already knew. But starting with Hildegard von Bingen on January 3rd (yes, that Hildegard von Bingen who not only was an abbess and philosopher and who knows what all but was also a composer of monophonic songs in early Church music) I found so many “new” composers and less-familiar songs from favorites to track down. I am particularly deficient in late twentieth and twenty-first century composers, especially very new composers in their twenties and thirties such as Max Richter (who I know) and Ólafur Arnalds (who I had not heard, as far as I know, and I really need to).

Now, as with any list like this, a few of my favorites are missing. Some very familiar pieces like Rhapsody in Blue, the Enigma Variations, and any ballet music from Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev do not make an appearance. I was also surprised to Osvaldo Golijov’s Azul left off. However, Burton-Hill has very consciously tried to make an inclusive list to try and get outside the white/male boundaries classical music has tried to keep around itself. The genre has traditionally been very gate-keepy so a conscious effort to shine a light on women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ composers is very welcome. This is also a very wide-ranging selection through all sub-genres of classical music, from early Church mono- and polyphony, to settings of traditional folk songs, to Masses, symphonies, chamber music, jazz, ragtime, atonal, solo instrumental, and on and on and on.

What I do think this list needs are recommendations for which recording to listen to. Some more recent or less popular pieces, such as from Arnalds, will have few or only one recording to choose from but something like “Che gelida manina” from La Bohème will have hundreds available. For instance, when pulling tracks from my own collection I stopped counting versions of “Casta diva” from Norma at six and that was only the traditional recordings. I didn’t count any that had been arranged for instrumental-only or electronica-crossover versions. Although, Burton-Hill has curated playlists by month on Spotify and Apple Music – so if you use either of those services, search for “Clemency” (with the blue tick mark) in Spotify or “Year of Wonder” at Apple Music. I, however, am extra and like making work for myself so I’m pulling multiple versions, favorites, and complete works rather than movements to make my own playlist. It’s kind of exhausting but fun.

Year of Wonder is out October 30.

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book from the publisher.

mini-review · stuff I read

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

42074840Summary from Goodreads:
The Carls just appeared. Coming home from work at three a.m., twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship–like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor–April and her friend Andy make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world–everywhere from Beijing to Buenos Aires–and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the center of an intense international media spotlight.

Now April has to deal with the pressure on her relationships, her identity, and her safety that this new position brings, all while being on the front lines of the quest to find out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.

Compulsively entertaining and powerfully relevant, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing grapples with big themes, including how the social internet is changing fame, rhetoric, and radicalization; how our culture deals with fear and uncertainty; and how vilification and adoration spring from the same dehumanization that follows a life in the public eye.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a really fun and readable debut SF novel (if you follow me at Goodreads, it really didn’t take 3 weeks to read, I read it twice because I lead the Book Club discussion at work).  Hank Green wrote a story which one the surface is about First Contact but far more about how social media “fame” and punditism is a really slippery slope. I enjoyed a lot of the plot call-backs in the novel (Chekhov’s gun got a workout). I did have a few issues with the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” aspect of the main character, April May, i.e. she’s pretty but doesn’t try, thin but also doesn’t try, can hang with the guys, etc, etc. It felt very overdone and also made her seem like Alaska’s sister (if you like John Green, you’ll like Hank’s writing style).  The ending generated the most discussion in the group.

Dear FTC: I had to buy a copy of this one because the review copy didn’t show up by release day and I needed to get it read.

food · mini-review · stuff I read

The Best American Food Writing 2018 edited by Ruth Reichl

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
“Food writing is stepping out,” legendary food writer Ruth Reichl declares at the start of this, the inaugural edition of Best American Food Writing. “It’s about time…Food is, in a very real sense, redesigning the world.” Indeed, the twenty-eight pieces in this volume touch on every pillar of society: from the sense memories that connect a family through food, to the scientific tinkering that gives us new snacks to share, to the intersections of culinary culture with some of our most significant political issues. At times a celebration, at times a critique, at times a wondrous reverie, the Best American Food Writing 2018 is brimming with delights both circumspect and sensuous. Dig in!

Although I was disappointed to see that The Best American Infographics was no longer part of the Best American lineup, I was happy to see that Food Writing replaced it. Both Essays and Science and Nature have featured articles regarding food or food science in the past, by my counting.

The initial volume, edited by Ruth Reichl, is an extremely solid addition to the Best American lineup. Reichl did an excellent job pulling together articles covering a huge range from within the general topic of “food” to craft culture, the tasting experience, #metoo and systemic racism, food science, food celebrity, and on and on.

Definitely one to check out if you’re a foodie.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
Called the work of “a mesmerizing storyteller with deep compassion and memorable prose” (Publishers Weekly) and the book that, “anyone interested in natural history, botany, protecting nature, or Native American culture will love,” by Library Journal, Braiding Sweetgrass is poised to be a classic of nature writing. As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer asks questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces indigenous teachings that consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers. Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take “us on a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise” (Elizabeth Gilbert). Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, a mother, and a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices.

Braiding Sweetgrass is one of the most profound, moving books I have ever read. I read it twice through cover-to-cover. Kimmerer seamlessly twines together the scientific rigor of botany and ecology and the spiritual beliefs and practices of the Potawatomi to make the case that humanity should work in concert with the natural world to be good caretakers of the earth and work to reverse some of the scars we’ve left behind us. Some essays are more fluidly narrative, telling of creation stories or of memories from when her daughters were small (the maple syrup story is a favorite). Others take a more businesslike tone, with Kimmerer as teacher.

If you’ve read Terry Tempest Williams or Annie Dillard, or even Rachel Carson though Kimmerer doesn’t go in for the shock value, then Braiding Sweetgrass is a step along the same path, but with a different way of walking.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
On the morning of April 28, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.

I remember reading about the Los Angeles Central Library fire in other books about libraries, chiefly Patience and Fortitude. The intriguing thing about the fire is that is was never solved – not in ignition and not in culprit, if indeed the fire was deliberately set. So I was really interested in Susan Orlean’s new book, titled The Library Book.

Now, The Library Book is three things:

  1. A reminiscence about books and reading and libraries and how Orlean had been a heavy library user as a child but grew out of it as an adult.
  2. A history of the development of the Los Angeles Central Library as an institution and what the library offers the Los Angeles area in the twenty-first century
  3. An account of the 1986 fire that gutted the Central Library and of the decidedly odd man suspected of setting the fire

Although there are some sections of the book that don’t flow together as well as they might due to the three different themes running through the book, I found Orlean’s work to be fun. The Library Book is a very readable and warm (haha) book from one library lovers to another. Orlean could have written a completely separate book about Harry Peak, the man arrested for setting the fire (never charged due to lack of evidence of arson, or even a conclusive ignition point for the fire – the building was so in need of modernization the fire could have started spontaneously). Peak is both a larger-than-life and an enigmatic character and as such is completely fascinating.

As a little bonus for library nerds, each chapter is headed by titles of several books and their associated call numbers (nerd catnip) pertaining to the subject of the chapter.

The Library Book is out October 16.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Best American · mini-review · stuff I read

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2018 edited by Sam Kean

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
“This is one of the most exciting times in the history of science,” New York Times-bestselling author Sam Kean proclaims in his introduction to The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2018. “Things aren’t perfect by any means. But there are more scientists making more discoveries in more places about more things than ever before.” The twenty-six pieces assembled here chart the full spectrum of those discoveries. From the outer reaches of space, to the mysteries of the human mind, to the changing culture in labs and universities across the nation, we see time and again the sometimes rocky, sometimes revelatory road to understanding, and along the way catch a glimpse of all that’s left to learn.

Hello, hello, it’s Best American time again! *wriggles* (Although, no more Infographics, womp womp.)

I started with my perennial favorite, Science and Nature. I like Kean’s popular science books, so I wasn’t worried about his ability to find good articles for this anthology. But this year’s anthology is another fantastic installment in the series – such a great spread of science writing, with call-backs to other included pieces (whether intentional or not), and all so very relevant to the current world today. AND the pieces are organized by theme using slogans from the March for Science. Yaaaaas. A great way to kick off October reading.

The Best American Series publishes today!

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this when it arrived at the store because I am insufficiently cool enough to get a galley.

Reading Diversely · stuff I read

All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir by Nicole Chung

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
What does it mean to lose your roots—within your culture, within your family—and what happens when you find them?

Nicole Chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. From early childhood, she heard the story of her adoption as a comforting, prepackaged myth. She believed that her biological parents had made the ultimate sacrifice in the hopes of giving her a better life; that forever feeling slightly out of place was simply her fate as a transracial adoptee. But as she grew up—facing prejudice her adoptive family couldn’t see, finding her identity as an Asian American and a writer, becoming ever more curious about where she came from—she wondered if the story she’d been told was the whole truth.

With warmth, candor, and startling insight, Chung tells of her search for the people who gave her up, which coincided with the birth of her own child. All You Can Ever Know is a profound, moving chronicle of surprising connections and the repercussions of unearthing painful family secrets—vital reading for anyone who has ever struggled to figure out where they belong.

I’ve been following Nicole Chung’s work at The Toast (ah, The Toast, loved it) and other places for some time now. When her memoir deal was announced, I (rather) impatiently kept an eyeball on Catapult’s catalogs. When All You Can Ever Know was announced as a BN Discover Fall 2018 selection, I did a little wriggle. And I really savored the galley

Chung opens her memoir about life as an transracial adoptee by juxtaposing “the story of her adoption” with a meeting to talk to a couple in the process of adopting a child. Was she happy? (Well, yes, on the whole, but also it was incredibly lonely.) Was she OK as a Korean child adopted by white parents? (Again, yes, but there was no one else in her town who even looked like her and people can be cruel.) As the book moves forward, she writes about her birth family, her adoptive parents, her birth, and growing up in a small town in Oregon. She experiences overt and covert racism from both children and adults. Her decision to begin searching for her birth family was not an easy one and, to my surprise, weirdly very hard to accomplish (there was an intermediary, which kind of blows my mind). The “story of her adoption” develops layers upon layers as Chung meets each member of her biological family.

This is a beautiful memoir. What I found most poignant was Chung’s writing about learning to be a Korean-American as an adult. What makes one Korean? Knowing the language? The food? The traditions? One’s family? These sections reminded me very much of Tommy Orange’s debut novel, There There, which delves into questions of what connects a person to their Native roots. The questions become more complicated as Chung begins to raise her biracial children.

All You Can Ever Know is definitely one of my “best books” of the year. I loved every sentence. I highly recommend picking this up for basically everyone on the planet.

Incidentally, I started listening to Lisa Ko’s The Leavers on audiobook while reading Chung’s memoir. Sometimes the universe serves up unexpected connections. The two books had an amazing juxtaposition of adoption stories in their similarities and differences, one real story and one imagined.

All You Can Ever Know will be out October 2.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.