From the Shelf
"Light" & National Poetry Day in the U.K.
"What does it mean, to see the world as a poet does?" That was one of the questions posed yesterday in the U.K. on National Poetry Day, the "annual mass celebration of poetry and all things poetical." Participants were invited to "join in, breaking with the tyranny of prose by thinking of a poem and sharing it imaginative ways, with the hashtags #nationalpoetryday and #thinkofapoem." The Forward Arts Foundation coordinated with Macmillan Childrens Books to nominate 11 poets as NPD Ambassadors, "with special responsibility for igniting enthusiasm nationwide."
This year's theme was Light. In Bristol, National Poetry Day ambassador Liz Brownlee rounded up the city's light workers--including an astronomer, a firefighter, a cosmologist, a fire-eater and many more--to read poems about light for films to be displayed on the Big Screen in the city center. Videos from Guardian readers dedicated poems to babies, partners, friends and goats.
Physicist Stephen Hawking, along with actors Samantha Morton and Sean Bean, "joined forces with leading artists to make a series of short films encouraging people to dispense with prose for a day and make like a poet." In a film created by the artist Bridget Smith, Hawking recites a poem called "Relativity," which was written for him by the Forward prize-shortlisted poet Sarah Howe: "They say/ a flash seen from on and off a hurtling train/ will explain why time dilates like a perfect/ afternoon.../ If we can think/ this far, might not our eyes adjust to the dark?"
Across the pond, I celebrated National Poetry Day by re-reading something old (Philip Larkin's Collected Poems) and something new (John Burnside's Black Cat Bone). I also have an NPD gift for you in these lines from "Elegy: In Coherent Light" by the American/British poet Anne Stevenson: "My brains a film, I'm made of timed exposures,/ And pounding my ears and eyes with waves of light--/ These animate flakes, these pictures I call sight." --Robert Gray, contributing editor
In this Issue...
by John Seabrook
A superb, thoroughly researched and entertaining account of the music industry's transformation into a hit factory.
by Elke Vogelsang
Noodles, Scout and Ioli are photographer Elke Vogelsang's rescue dogs, models and family members.
by Kenneth Oppel
In Kenneth Oppel's haunting novel, a boy grapples with some nightmarish wasps who offer to replace his sickly baby brother with a healthy one.
Review by Subjects:
Books and Coffee
"The fresh smell of coffee soon wafted through the apartment, the smell that separates night from day." Haruki Murakami was just one of the authors quoted by the Guardian to celebrate International Coffee Day earlier this week.
Attention muggles: You can have a Harry Potter Christmas dinner at the Great Hall "like a real wizard this year," Bustle reported.
Noting that we are "a different breed of people," iDiva shared "11 embarrassing things all book lovers have done,"
Describing it as a "wardrobe fit for a bookworm," Buzzfeed showcased "33 impossibly cute ways to cover your body in books."
Showcasing Ellen Cantor's "series of composite photos, titled Prior Pleasures," Flavorwire featured "exhilarating photos [that] capture the pleasures of classic children's books."
The Writer's Life
Tracey Stewart: Transformed by a Cow
|photo: Taea Thale|
Tracey Stewart is the editor-in-chief of the website Moomah, which provides parents and kids with ways to contribute to nonprofits. A passionate animal advocate and expert (she's a former veterinary technician), she lives on a farm in New Jersey with her husband, Jon Stewart, two kids, four dogs, two pigs, one hamster, two fish, three rabbits, two guinea pigs and one parrot--all rescues except for the kids. Do Unto Animals, her first book, focuses on changing how we value and interact with animals. See our review below.
The story about Miss Eyebrows--the downed cow that the veterinarian offered to turn into hamburger--which instead recovered and gave birth to a healthy calf within days, was compelling. Your reflection on this experience includes the following: "I was hooked on cows and on the beauty of the relationship between animals and humans, and this was by far my next happiest day." How can we shift people's perspective from viewing animals as a commodity to creatures whose lives have value apart from our own needs?
Everyone has those transformative moments. For some it's discovering Crossfit, for others it's finding religion. For me, it was cows. Coming face to face with a cow that needed my help busted open my heart. I truly believe the easiest and most pleasurable way to shift people's perspectives on animals is to provide as many people with as many interactions with these animals as possible. Most people are compassionate and don't want to inflict pain and suffering on animals. People are also busy and hungry and distracted, so they end up compartmentalizing certain animals as food rather than as sentient creatures. But when you meet animals, you have the opportunity to see them as individuals.
You begin Do Unto Animals with dogs and cats--the companion animals we treasure the most. However, you eventually consider many members of the animal kingdom--from bats and earthworms to birds and bees--and explain their vital function in the ecosystem. How can parents teach the next generation to value even the least appealing creatures?
Well, we all can't be pretty. Some us have to be scaly or slimy. Some of us even have to eat poo. The next generation is already born with curiosity and tenderness about other living creatures. As adults, we inadvertently lessen that sense of wonder. We get caught up in the day to day. The more we, as adults, talk about and experience the marvelous creatures around us and celebrate what they give us and what we can give them, the more we keep that innate gift alive in our children.
You write, "If we start thinking about farm animals as sentient creatures, we may have to change the way we live. Human nature usually rails against this.... I will ask you to be brave and keep reading, not because you'll learn things you don't want to know, but because you might fall in love--and we all know that falling in love can sometimes be a lot scarier." How did you decide on your approach in this section, knowing that humans objectify animals and ignore the cruelty and death that preceded their Saturday morning bacon?
I believe that, deep down, most people don't prefer to objectify animals even when the end result of their actions does just that. I think most people's motivation comes from self-preservation of habits, culture, health and avoidance of sadness and guilt. Once you really let these animals into your heart, though, you can begin to see that choosing to eat and shop differently brings not deprivation but abundance. For me, choosing to eat according to my values certainly required a period of transition, and it required some investigating, but in the end the payoff of feeling better emotionally and physically was all well worth it. I'm fortunate to be surrounded by people who--even though they may be at a different point in that journey--are still very supportive and respectful of my choices.
Rather than providing off-putting details about CAFOs [concentrated animal feeding operations] or puppy mills, you emphasize the distinct personalities and language of animals, which makes your book wonderfully appropriate for all ages. Did you have a target audience in mind while writing this?
I very much did have a target audience in mind, but it wasn't an age group or specific demographic. My goal was to cast a net large enough to catch as many reasonable, curious and compassionate people as I could.
|Tracey Stewart with Pugsley (photo: Vyolet Michaels)|
Throughout Do Unto Animals, you describe Stewart family traditions, including making a donation to the Farm Sanctuary's Adopt a Farm Animal Program for every Thanksgiving guest. How did you decide to start this? Has any of your guests ever resisted?
At my family's Thanksgiving table, there are still many people I love dearly who eat animals. There isn't one guest, though, who doesn't delight in the adoption of their new friend from Farm Sanctuary. My cousin even cries when she sees her new buddy. The family table is where a lot of our most important and interesting conversations happen. You don't want your own personal beliefs to keep you from being at that table. Am I saddened by the turkey carcass on the table? Absolutely! To me good food, good company and good conversation make for the perfect holiday celebration. I'm not so sure where the turkey fits into all that. If I'm going to inspire change, though, I believe I have to be at that table. I subscribe to the school of catching more flies with honey.
You describe your marriage as "mixed": your husband ate meat and you did not. How did you approach the eating of animals with your children? Do you have any advice for other families in the same situation?
I think it's really important to teach children that people can have different ideas, habits and traditions and that doesn't make one lesser or better than. We try to teach our kids to question but also to listen. Even in strong partnerships there are differences. If my kids came into this world never consuming animal products, certainly their palates wouldn't have been dumbed down and I believe they'd be healthier for it. But I think the trade-off is that now they will come to their own decisions, which will feel more innate to who they are as individuals. I know their palates and minds are only expanding and I believe they'll get there all on their own. I don't want that decision to come from guilt or wanting approval. I want it to come from their own hearts. They have HUGE hearts. They'll get there. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics
Bats of the Republic: An Illuminated Novel
by Zachary Thomas Dodson
Zachary Thomas Dodson's first novel feels destined to make a splash with its sprawling combination of science fiction and mysticism, art and text, western and dystopia.
In the year 2143, Americans live in city-states divided by life stages. The government records all conversation. Paper is forbidden, although "carbons" of paper documents are housed in a vast archive called the Vault of Records, a supposed safe house for history and culture. Zeke and his girlfriend, Eliza Gray, live in the Republic of Texas, where young adults meet their spouses. Zeke's grandfather Zadock has recently passed away in Chicago-Land, where senior citizens reside, and Zeke stands to inherit his grandfather's seat in the Senate. However, he also inherits an ancient, sealed envelope. By law, he must turn it in to the Vault for copying without opening it, but when he hesitates, everything he holds dear comes under threat.
Dodson should find plenty of fans among readers who prefer stories that challenge them to think deeply and keep up, even if their adventures require a bit of stumbling along darkened paths. His future Republic of Texas is imagined clearly enough to make it seem as real as the bat caves and yawning deserts of the 1843 Texan landscape. While he delves into the realm of steampunk, Dodson leaves out many of the Victorian fripperies common to the genre and focuses on the implications of a society powered at least partly on steam.
He has filled a puzzle box of a novel with beautiful art and astounding breadth of imagination, and the result begs to be opened. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: In this illuminated novel, a young man in a future dystopian version of Texas grapples with draconian law enforcement over a sealed letter that may belong to his ancestor in 1843 Texas.
Gold Fame Citrus
by Claire Vaye Watkins
Gold Fame Citrus, Claire Vaye Watkins's debut novel (following her much-acclaimed short story collection, Battleborn), introduces readers to Southern California in the near future--a region in which extensive drought has permanently altered both the physical and social landscape. The land is mostly deserted but for a handful of holdouts: those unable to afford evacuation and those unwelcome in the more fertile areas of the United States. In this barren, empty place live Luz and Ray, camping out in the abandoned mansion of a former starlet. When the two encounter a strange young girl on a foraging trip, their lives--and their love--shifts in unexpected ways, sending the two on a journey across the hostile, hardened lands of the southwestern United States.
Watkins writes in prose that borders on poetry, capturing both the hardness and the beauty of her imagined landscape in ways that make each page of her novel sing with a sense of place. "Clear--whatever color you want it to be. The color of diamonds kissed by light. Bathe in it, fling it into the air, carpet the desert in Bermuda and Buffalo and Kentucky blue." These powerful, flowing descriptions prove even more compelling as a mirror for a series of nuanced, flawed and fascinating characters--ones who struggle through an apocalyptic world both external and internal. Gold Fame Citrus builds in intensity and emotion as it progresses, creating a moving American epic that explores the role stories, place and our closest relationships serve in shaping our selves. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: A sweeping American epic set in a near-future California transformed by drought.
The Gap of Time
by Jeanette Winterson
The Hogarth Shakespeare project undertakes to reinvent the Bard's classic works in novel form; the first installment is The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson (Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?), a "cover version" of The Winter's Tale. In Shakespeare's original, the kings of Sicily and Bohemia are great friends until one accuses the other of sleeping with his wife.
The Gap of Time is set both in London, just following the 2008 economic crisis, and the fictional American city of New Bohemia. Londoners Leo and Xeno were childhood friends and, for a time, lovers; as adults, despite very different values, the bohemian Xeno and the materialistic Leo have become business partners in Sicilia, a high-tech gaming company. Leo's wife, MiMi, son, Milo, and his uber-capable assistant, Pauline, round out a highly functional, loving family of sorts, until Leo becomes obsessed with the idea that MiMi and Xeno are sleeping together. Leo reacts violently, and loses his son and wife. When he tries to ship MiMi's baby daughter overseas to Xeno, whom he wrongly believes to be her father, the little girl goes missing.
As the title indicates, Winterson's version of The Winter's Tale plays with the concept of time even more than the original did, asking questions about what is changeable about our pasts and our futures. This is a stirring tale filled with waste, simple mistakes and regrets. But as in the original, it also offers hope, young love and the possibility of new beginnings. --Julia Jenkins
Discover: The Hogarth Shakespeare project reinvents the Bard's classics in novel form; in the first installment, Jeanette Winterson brilliantly reimagines The Winter's Tale.
Early One Morning
by Virginia Baily
In October of 1943, Chiara Ravello makes eye contact with a stranger, a Jewish mother being forced by the Nazis into a truck with her family and other Jews. Giving almost no thought to her actions, Chiara cries out that the woman's seven-year-old son, Daniele, is her nephew. He should be released to her.
Once he is, Chiara realizes she's saddled herself with the responsibility of a little boy in the midst of a devastatingly dangerous war.
Thirty years later, Chiara receives a letter from a Welsh teenager claiming to be Daniele's daughter. The girl's mother hid her father's identity until recently, and now she's desperate to learn what she can about her biological parent. The contact is jarring to Chiara, who has not seen Daniele in many years. She doesn't know if the man she once took in as her own child is even alive. Chiara locked away her love for Daniele, forced by circumstances to accept its agonizing conditions of disappointment and betrayal. But his daughter is unrelenting, so Chiara decides the time is right to face that love and all of its baggage once again.
Virginia Baily (Africa Junction) tells Chiara and Daniele's heartbreaking story by alternating between the fall of 1943 and the spring of 1973. She doles it out in small doses, allowing the reader to digest slowly the individual struggles at a time when the world seemed to be falling apart around them.
A complex exploration of identity, a tribute to love in its many shapes and sizes, Early One Morning shapes beauty from pain while compassionately touching its readers' hearts. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts
Discover: A woman's journey into the recesses of her past unearths the blinding love and tragic devastation that resulted from her selfless choice to save a little boy.
Psychology & Self-Help
Super You: Release Your Inner Superhero
by Emily V. Gordon
Every hero has an origin story, whether it's witnessing a parent's murder (Batman) or leaving the safety of home for love and justice (Wonder Woman). It is survival of that traumatic event that gives superheroes their strength to battle on, and it is a metaphor that former couples' and family therapist, stand-up comic and writer Emily V. Gordon uses to create a "Super You," the best version of self that a person can achieve at any given moment.
Using her experience treating self-esteem issues in adolescents, Gordon distills the myth of the superhero into tools and techniques that the average Joe can apply toward his or her own personal transformation. Rather than abstract goals that get ignored, she advises readers to create narrower "secret missions," baby steps of achievable goals that turn weaknesses into weapons "to fight internal crime, and be on the side of justice and well-being." Once she lays the foundations of personal responsibilities and choices, Gordon provides a "utility belt" of tricks to help readers boost and build positive self-esteem.
Gordon never comes across as too clinical or condescending in her advice; instead, she adopts a humorous, empathetic and sisterly tone in conveying her message, using her own insecurities and neuroses to demonstrate how even less-than-desirable qualities can be harnessed as superpowers.
"Creating a Super You isn't about eradicating all weaknesses," writes Gordon. "Some weaknesses deserve to be cradled and considered part of the charming package that is you, some weaknesses can be improved upon for your overall health, and some weaknesses can be reframed and made more useful to you." --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: A therapist showcases tricks and techniques for self-improvement using the myths of superheroes.
The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychotherapy
by J.M. Coetzee , Arabella Kurtz
In his novels, J.M. Coetzee (The Childhood of Jesus) regularly explores how characters might invent and reinvent themselves in their social classes, their politics and their religions. With The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychotherapy, Coetzee has decided to lift the curtain of fiction and attack questions of identity head on.
Through transcribed conversations with noted clinical psychologist Arabella Kurtz, the two begin to piece together an argument for fiction's place in the human psyche. Coetzee turns the tables on himself and asks of Kurtz whether or not everyone--award-winning novelist or not--is a writer of fiction. What starts as Coetzee corresponding with a friend about his own interest in using psychology to build characters quickly expands to include long-debated theoretical concepts.
A patient will see a therapist like Kurtz, Coetzee says, with deeply held ideas about themselves. Is it the job of the therapist to reveal their self-deceptions or to validate them? Is objective truth even possible if memory is so faulty?
"My inclination," Coetzee writes to Kurtz, "is to regard the stories that artists tell about themselves as much like the stories the rest of us tell about ourselves: they serve our own interests." Kurtz responds, "The stories we tell about our lives may not be an accurate reflection of what really happened, indeed they may be more remarkable for their inaccuracies than anything else.... But they are simply all we have to work with."
In the course of the book, the two giants of their respective field leave no stone unturned when it comes to fiction, psychology and philosophy. --Josh Potter
Discover: Two influential thinkers correspond about fiction and the mind.
Nature & Environment
Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide to How Animals Live, and How We Can Make Their Lives Better
by Tracey Stewart , illust. by Lisel Ashlock
Tracey Stewart was born to love animals: "There are pictures of my mother pregnant with me, a bird on her head, a rabbit in her arms, and a dog at her feet." Her heart yearned to become a veterinarian, but a talent for art led to a variety of design jobs, including architecture and lingerie. Eventually she followed her passion for animals and became a veterinary technician, and she and her children volunteered at the local animal shelter helping homeless pets find "forever homes." Then she and her husband, Jon Stewart, set up a farm animal rehabilitation center in rural New Jersey. In Do Unto Animals, Stewart hopes the spirit of the Golden Rule will "inspire all animal lovers to learn a little more and do a little more."
Stewart demonstrates how to understand domesticated animals' body language by using beautiful illustrations to help readers interpret and identify calming signals (for example, an averted gaze, lip licking and yawning indicate a dog's desire to appease). She explains why docking a dog's ears and tail and removing a cat's claws are misguided, and provides concrete suggestions for discouraging the practice. Do Unto Animals highlights why a diverse gene pool is healthy, and convincingly explains why shelter animals can be the very best pets, clarifying why pitbulls and black cats are over-represented in shelters. In addition to the practical information, she offers fun DIY toys and beds as well as interactive games. Do Unto Animals is a wonderful hands-on resource for animal lovers of all ages. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics
Discover: Animal advocate and Moomah.com editor Tracey Stewart offers loving advice on taking in and caring for pets found in animal shelters.
Children's & Young Adult
by Kenneth Oppel , illust. by Jon Klassen
"Nest" is supposed to be a cozy sort of word, but not in The Nest, a chilling nailbiter from Printz Honor author Kenneth Oppel (Airborn).
Steven is an anxious boy. He worries about everything, most of all his sickly baby brother, Theo, who has a congenital disease no one can quite figure out. At first, Steven thinks he's being visited in his sleep by gossamer-winged angels, haloed by light. But these are no angels. They materialize to Steven as silvery human-sized wasps, announcing that they've decided to replace the sickly Theo with a perfect, healthy baby, and that they need his help. Steven is confused as to what to do, because his family is a wreck, but it doesn't take long for him to realize that perfection isn't real, nor even desirable. Could the wasps "fix" him, too, then? Make him less compulsive and fearful? If they did that, would he still be himself? What would be the cost? The wasps pull Steven into a world that goes even deeper than DNA, burrowing into human existence on a mitochondria-level. But manufacturing "perfection" starts to look sinister indeed, and readers are challenged to examine questions about what "normal" is and, indirectly, the ethics of genetic engineering, all in the guise of a fantastical thriller.
Caldecott artist Jon Klassen's (This Is Not My Hat, Sam & Dave Dig a Hole) moody graphite illustrations help build the sense of horror, and wasps hover over chapter openers in disturbingly larger numbers as Steven's internal struggle escalates to a full-on, real-life battle for survival. --Karin Snelson, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: In Kenneth Oppel's haunting novel, a boy grapples with some nightmarish wasps who offer to replace his sickly baby brother with a healthy one.
Last in a Long Line of Rebels
by Lisa Lewis Tyre
Lisa Lewis Tyre's debut novel, Last in a Long Line of Rebels, skillfully combines Civil War history and a modern-day mystery.
Twelve-year-old Lou Mayhew's 175-year-old family home in Tennessee is much loved, but looks "like something out of an R.L. Stine story." When Lou discovers it might be torn down, she works with three friends to save it, possibly by registering it as a "Historic Place." After all, the house may have been inhabited by gold thieves and, according to visiting historian George Neely, a murderer. Worst of all for Lou, she learns there are old slave quarters in her own backyard. "Try to look at it as a puzzle," Mr. Neely tells Lou. "Your ancestors left you a great mystery to solve." Puzzle pieces keep popping up, including an old box containing the Civil War-era diary of Lou's namesake, Louise Duncan. In it, Lou reads that Louise was proud of her beau, Walter Mayhew, for guarding gold for the Confederacy. But gradually, Louise realized the cost of the war to the community and became opposed to slavery. Meanwhile, Lou sees first-hand that prejudice is still alive in 1999 Tennessee when her friend Isaac, a talented athlete, is denied a university scholarship because he is black.
Lou decides that if Isaac is brave enough to fight that, and her namesake was brave enough to fight slavery, she's not going to give up on trying to save her family's house. Thanks to Lou's lively, first-person narration and her entertaining, loyal team of friends, readers will be glad to be along for the ride. --Cathy Berner, Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, Tex.
Discover: A 12-year-old Tennessee girl sets her mind to saving her family's Civil War-era house, and solves a generations-old mystery in the process.
Human Body Theater: A Nonfiction Revue
by Maris Wicks
Human Body Theater is an ambitious, impressively substantive primer in human anatomy by Maris Wicks (Science Comics; Primates), a comic book-style "nonfiction revue" in 11 acts, hosted by a female human skeleton (and shameless punster).
On a curtained stage, this energetic revue begins as the skeleton reveals that it's really the cells, molecules and atoms that run the show, but Act One is the skeletal system, starring "BONES!" Quick... how many bones are in the adult human body? 206! What's the largest bone? Femur! Smallest? The stapes. (It's in the ear.) Straightforward, labeled anatomical diagrams abound, as do happy-faced body components and cartoon-bubble groaners, such as "Socket to me!" near the eye socket.
Act Two is the muscular system, and the master of ceremonies now looks like she's wearing a meat suit, which she removes to reveal her lungs for Act Three, the respiratory system. With just the right blend of silliness and scholarship, the skeleton marches readers through the rest of the body's essential systems: cardiovascular ("Beep! Beep! All aboard the blood bus!"), digestive, excretory--intermission here after all the bladder talk--endocrine, reproductive (all fairly clinical, as fertilization is illustrated on the cartoon sperm to egg level), immune and nervous systems, with Act Eleven as "Smell, Taste, Hearing, Sight and Touch." Along the way, Wicks sheds light on sneezing, yawning, hiccups, headaches, scabs, nutrition, allergies, hand-washing, hydration, burping, manners!, exercise, immunizations, asthma, puberty, colds and much, much more.
Like a pancreas to sugars, Human Body Theater breaks down a vast amount of information to make it more... digestible. --Karin Snelson, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A colorful, graphic primer in human anatomy, presented as a theatrical "nonfiction revue" hosted by a giddy skeleton.
Reference & Writing
The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building
by David J. Peterson
What do Star Trek's Klingon, J.R.R. Tolkien's Elvish and Game of Thrones' Dothraki have in common? They are fully functioning languages constructed by humans for fictional purposes, each imbued with a complex system of sounds, words, grammar and an evolving linguistic history. How these conlangs (constructed languages) came to exist on the page and on both the small and big screens is the topic of linguist and master language creator David J. Peterson's (Living Language Dothraki) book The Art of Language Invention, a layperson's crash course on the science and art of linguistics.
Peterson analyzes and discusses the elements critical to the creation of natural languages--sound structures and syllabaries, words and word units, grammar, language growth and written structure. He uses examples drawn from his own invented conlangs--Irathient (SyFy's Defiance), Shiväisith (Marvel's Thor: The Dark World), Dothraki and Valyrian (HBO's Game of Thrones)--to illustrate important linguistic concepts and provide concrete tools for those interested in pursuing conlang development. Peterson talks about the difficulties inherent in such an endeavor, and discusses the culture of conlangers and the compromises they must make in order to please studio bosses who want something recognizable and pleasing to viewers.
The Art of Language Creation is by no means light reading. While Peterson does an admirable job simplifying linguistic principles for the average Joe, creating a credible, working and breathing language requires the mastery of key fundamentals, and this demands serious study by readers.
"Once you know the science," writes Peterson, "then you can apply your knowledge of language to the being you've created and build on top of it." --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: The genius behind the fictional languages of Game of Thrones and Defiance provides a crash-course guide to language creation.
The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory
by John Seabrook
New Yorker writer John Seabrook (Flash of Genius) provides an eminently readable and important inside look at how the pop music industry developed strategies to manufacture no-fail hit songs.
Seabrook's in-depth interviews with an army of songwriters, producers, performers and others make for series of profiles that document a revolution in the music business. He chronicles everything from the emergence of new business models to the deliberate interjection of hooks meant to re-engage listeners every seven seconds, the average amount of time people listen to a song before they change the station. Including optimal chord progressions and the most effective camera angles for videos, these strategies exploit the brain's reflexive attraction to repetition, rhythm and melody. Hit factories now create formula-driven, synthetic tracks with near-universal appeal, producing songs that combine beat-driven dance music with the pop that people enjoy on the radio.
The Song Machine is a superbly written, textured account of a creative industry still in flux, one where an artist's creative vision is no match for a deadly effective business machine. As streaming replaces CD sales and contemporary hits replace album-oriented music, and 1% of artists now generate 80% of the industry's profit, the role of the singer and writer has radically changed. Seabrook acknowledges the addictive appeal of such music while remaining troubled by the cost: music that can be performed by anyone is inherently soulless, even if it can foster brief moments of connection between Seabrook and his children when they are captured by a song's seductive hooks. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: A superb, thoroughly researched and entertaining account of the music industry's transformation into a hit factory.
Art & Photography
Nice Nosing You: For the Love of Life, Dogs and Photography
by Elke Vogelsang
While dog books litter bookstore shelves--cute, poignant or educational--Nice Nosing You stands apart. "A declaration of love for three rescue dogs who became life-savers, beloved family members and photo models," German photographer Elke Vogelsang's first book is a thank-you to the two of the family's three rescue dogs who saved her husband's life on Christmas Day, 2009. (Ioli, the one-eyed smallest one, joined the family as a foster dog two years later, and was invited to stay.)
Noodles (a Spanish sighthound, in the cover's center) and Scout (the buff-colored sighthound mix) were barking and agitated. When Vogelsang followed them, she found her husband, Carsten, unconscious. Doctors declared him "moribund," and for months he struggled to recover from a brain aneurysm and resulting strokes. "To have a creative outlet to cope with the nerve-wracking pressure" of Carsten's uncertain future, Vogelsang began a "picture a day" project.
Carsten eventually recovered fully, and Vogelsang's photo diary prompted a career change, from translator to photographer. Nice Nosing You, in a comfortable 10" x 7" format, sandwiches technically stunning photos with dog-centric quotes from famous people. Noodles, Scout and Ioli are posed in the studio, captured in nature, and shot in playful drapes of clothing. "Nosing" shots, featuring their distinctive black schnozzes, add humor. A final image is a lovely portrait of a hardy-looking Carsten with the dogs.
An index of thumbnails of each photo includes whimsical captions and specifics of cameras and parameters Vogelsang used, intended to be "helpful with your own photography work." Other photographers might hope for her eye and heart, as well. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: Noodles, Scout and Ioli are photographer Elke Vogelsang's rescue dogs, models and family members.