Good Booty

Good Booty coverGood Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music
Ann Powers
Dey Street Books (sold by HarperCollins Publishers)
August 15, 2017, 453 pages
Kindle edition $12.99, Amazon hardcover $16.49

One of my guilty pleasures is reading histories of popular culture. Good Booty is such a book. While both “black and white” and “body and soul” of the subtitle form part of the narrative, the book is largely about sex in American music. While you may see reviews of this book stating that it is a rock and roll history, it is far more than that. Powers goes back to the slave population of New Orleans and talks about the suggestive music they supposedly sang in their off hours. She discusses a performer in the early twentieth century whose performance included the words “it’s tight like that.”

For me, the most important part of the book admittedly was the coverage of modern rock, from Elvis on. To get there, however, you have to go through gospel. Powers writes:

quoteGospel gave rock and soul many musical innovations, but its deepest contribution was the conviction that the soul’s erotic fulfillment is a matter of life and death. The same could be said of the blues; but in gospel, there’s more movement and more hope.

In fact she tells us that Elvis was once turned down for membership in a gospel group.

The book is very well researched with copious footnotes. I do love the new Kindle footnote feature that pops the footnote up on the current page rather than taking you to the footnotes at the end of the book or chapter. Very cool.

I thought I saw a couple of glaring errors. In referring to the Carole King hit first made famous by The Shirelles she refers to the song as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”  A little research, however, shows that was in fact the title of the song, even though the lyrics include the word “still.”

However, I think she made one error with respect to Carly Simon. She says the song “Anticipation” was about foreplay. According to Sheila Weller in Girls Like Us, Simon wrote the song when Cat Stevens was three hours late for a planned date.

That small point aside, Good Booty is a fascinating, well-written, thoroughly researched work on popular culture.

Amazon comes through

Amazon Gift CardMy wife knows what to get me for my birthday. This year Terry gave me an Amazon gift card for my birthday back in August. That always works.

But when I went to redeem the gift card several weeks later I ran into problems. I pulled up the tape to get the redeem code and half of the redeem code came up with the tape. That doesn’t work. I submitted a support request to Amazon. They responded saying that they couldn’t find the gift card and to please submit an image of the card. I submitted what you see here. They responded saying that they had updated my account with the gift card balance. And indeed they had.

Thank you, Amazon. All’s well that ends well.

The Outer Beach

The Outer Beach coverThe Outer Beach: A Thousand-Mile Walk on Cape Cod’s Atlantic Shore
Robert Finch
W. W. Norton & Company (May 9, 2017), 328 pages
Kindle edition, $12.99, Amazon Hardcover $17.19

I was looking for a light diversion in my book reading, and this book seemed to fill the bill. It is the compilation of essays that the author has written over decades of a life lived on Cape Cod.

The outer beach is what the locals call the Cape Cod shore. The author has lived there most of his life and the thousand mile reference is his calculation of the number of miles he has walked that beach. Each chapter discusses a particular point on the Cape in a number essays ordered chronologically. The essays go back as far as the 1960’s and are as recent as 2016.

As someone who loves the ocean, I was interested in the differences between his Cape Cod and my Pacific Coast. The main difference I noticed was the erosion threat there is far more severe than it is here. Houses and even lighthouses needed to be moved back to be preserved, or sometimes just let go to the ravages of the sea.

The book was rather on the long side and by the end I had somewhat more of Cape Cod than I really wanted. But that is OK. The book was the diversion that I was looking for and I enjoyed it.

Word by Word

Word by Word coverWord by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries
Kory Stamper
Pantheon (March 14, 2017), 320 pages
Kindle edition $13.99, Amazon hardcover $18.32

I should have been a lexicographer. That was what I thought when I began reading this book. After all, I love words and language. I certainly believe I have “sprachgefühl,” what Stamper say is “a feeling for language.” And I most certainly meet the qualifications:

quoteAt Merriam-Webster, there are only two formal requirements to be a lexicographer: you must have a degree in any field from an accredited four-year college or university, and you must be a native speaker of English.

Stamper says that many people are surprised that a degree in linguistics or English isn’t required. But, she says, “The reality is that a diverse group of drudges will yield better definitions.”

I realized as a made my way through this book, however, that maybe I didn’t want to be a lexicographer. Stamper describes the process she goes through in revising the definition of a word. She may spend weeks on one word. At one point she describes how she put her head down on her desk in frustration.

If you enjoy reading and thinking about words and definitions you will love this book. It is written in a witty, lively manner and is a delight to read. Long before you are finished you will have permanently reinforced in your mind the fact that dictionaries are written by real people sitting in a real office pouring over the evidence of how words are used.

The International Cinema Society

International Cinema Society coverThe International Cinema Society
Craig McLay
Amazon Digital Services (December 5, 2014),  281 pages
Kindle edition $4.99
I received this eBook free in exchange for signing up for the author’s mailing list,
from which I have received nothing to date.

I very much enjoyed the author’s Village Books, and so decided that the price was right when I had the opportunity to read his second book. Like the first book the story is told in the first person by an author who has sold the movie rights to his book. This story, like the first book, takes place in Toronto. However in an amusing passing reference to the first book the narrator tells us that he is not the same person as the narrator of Village Books.

The narrator runs a money-losing online magazine with his best friend since childhood, RT. The narrator has pretty much lost interest in the venture and leaves it to RT, who has brought in an intern, Siobhan, with whom he is physically and emotionally involved. Siobhan’s writing revives interest in the publication, which nonetheless continues to lose money.

So what of the International Cinema Society in the title? The narrator, RT, and their friends get together once a month at someone’s residence to watch a movie of the host’s choice. This becomes the vehicle for exploring the lives of the various characters.

The book moves along at a relatively even pace until the climax, which is much more intense than the rest of the book. As in Village Books, at the end the author gives us a rundown as to where all of the characters have landed, which, as was also the case in Village Books, is mostly on their feet.

The conclusion of the book is something of a surprise, and interestingly leaves the door open for a sequel.

The novel was well worth the price I paid for it. I can’t advise you as to whether it is worth the $4.99 you would need to shell out. I’ll leave that up to you.

The Comet Seekers

Comet Seekers coverThe Comet Seekers: A Novel
by Helen Sedgwick
Kindle edition $1.99, Amazon hardcover $16.55
Harper (October 11, 2016), 306 pages

I thought that this book was a good deal when I saw it was a Book Riot sale book for $2.99. But as of this writing it is $1.99. Oh, well.

This is a story of interlinking lives across centuries. There is Róisín, who is a scientist fascinated with the study of comments. There is her cousin Liam who has inherited the family farm in Ireland. The two have been close since childhood. As adults they are, for a time, closer than they ought to be as cousins. Then there is François, who creates a career as a chef for himself. His mother, Severin, has conversations with ghosts, members of the family who have died and seem to have unfinished business. The ghosts only appear, however, when there is a comet in the sky.

In fact, each chapter is titled for a comet that appears in a specific year. The book opens and closes in 2017 with the flyby of Comet Giacobini. The story stretches as far back as 1066 with the appearance of Halley’s comet. Róisín and François meet in 2017 at an Antarctic research station where she is there to observe Giacobini and he is there to cook for the scientists and staff. In the years immediately preceding, François is concerned that his mother is mentally ill and gives no credence to the idea of  ghosts. At one point we are given a hint that maybe he is correct about his mother’s mental illness.

I don’t think I am giving too much away, however, when I say that at the end of the book the author suggests perhaps Severin was not crazy and the ghosts really were visiting her.

But read the book. Decide for yourself. At the current Kindle price it is more than worth it.

Churchill and Orwell

Churchill and Orwell coverChurchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom
Thomas E. Ricks
Penguin Press (May 23, 2017)
Kindle edition $14.99, Amazon hardcover $18.30

I have long been familiar with George Orwell, having read 1984 and Animal Farm in high school. I really became fascinated with Orwell the man and Orwell the essayist when I was a senior in college and wanted to emulate Orwell as master of the essay. In my Claremont days after graduation I purchased Orwell’s Collected Essays. I still have the set. How many people can claim that those volumes sit on their library shelves?

More than forty years later my interest in Orwell remains, so when I saw a review of this book I knew it had to be next on my list to read. It was well worth my time.

The author ties Churchill and Orwell together by suggesting that while one came from the right and the other from the left, both were fighters for freedom and both believed that individuals were entitled to the truth, unobscured by propaganda. While he follows both men throughout their lives, much of the book focuses on World War II where both were at the height of their careers.

Churchill is, of course, a giant in modern Western history. Orwell, on the other hand, was not highly regarded during his lifetime. It was only in later decades that his reputation for foresight grew. Ricks writes about the times sales of 1984 spiked. Apparently the book went to press before the election of last November, as there is no mention of the huge surge in sales of the book after the unexpected outcome.

Ricks has a style of writing that is highly engaging and the book moves quickly. More importantly, many of the topics he discusses are more relevant than ever today.

Orwell books