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Monday, December 31, 2018

Best Of 2018

Please share with me and others some of your highlights from the past year; use my headings or create your own. Publishing a post like this every year since 2012 has been a great way to remind myself how fortunate I am.

1.) Best discovery: Burlington, Vermont. If not for the potentially harsh winters, my wife and I could move to this very cool city - which neither had ever visited before this past summer - tomorrow.

2.) Best musical documentary: Still On The Run. Jeff Beck has been a favorite guitarist for as long as I can remember. This documentary, loaded with explosive performance footage demonstrating Beck's total command of his instrument, is a revelation.

3.) Best time away: Our two Road Scholars trips to Hawaii (in the winter) and the San Juan Islands (in the fall). Three more National Parks, indescribable natural beauty, exceptional companionship.

4.) Best concert:  Karrin Allyson at Birdland. An evening of musical magic. The highlight: Allyson's understated delivery of "Something Wonderful".

5.) Best surprise: Tickets to see King Hedley III at the River Theater in Red Bank. A wonderful birthday gift. Seeing all of August Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle has been on my life list for quite some time. Eight more plays to go.

Happy new year!      

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Good Start At The Finish

So far, my recent birthday pledge to read only authors new to me over the next year has been a mixed bag. But with several non-fiction books already started and more waiting in the near-future queue, it appears the last novel I'll finish in 2018 - "Last Night At The Lobster" (2007) - was a good start with author Stewart O' Nan.

Joan Didion once remarked that she didn't know her opinion about anything until she began writing about it. The fundamental truth of Didion's statement really landed with me as I composed a book journal entry about "Last Night …" Side-by-side, my writing about and processing of O' Nan's short book proceeded in tandem. Until midway through my entry, I hadn't realized how skillfully O' Nan captured the hand-to-mouth lives of his working class characters by limiting his narrative to a single twelve hour block of time. A world in microcosm; crowding up the novel with back story would have been superfluous.

" .. a line of salted cars takes a left into the mall entrance, splitting as they sniff for parking spaces."

From page one of "Last Night..." and O' Nan's use of that caressing verb "sniff", I knew I was in good hands. Anyone else ever been similarly transported by other another O' Nan book? If yes, give me the title and tell me what moved you. But remember: It will likely be sometime after November 23, 2019 before I'll even begin a second book by him. A pledge is a pledge.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Before The Ball Drops But, 2019 Somewhere

So, are you one of those people who look forward to ringing in the new year? Or, do you avoid or perhaps even dread the one evening of the year when folks are most likely to be celebrating?

Probably because of all those years I spent as a teenager and young adult playing music at parties, bars, etc. as people reveled, I still prefer being part of the action on the last evening of the year. My wife has always preferred the opposite. What to do?

At 4:00 EST on December 31 it will be midnight, i.e. 2019, in Madagascar. At 5:00, the Finnish will finish 2018. It's new year in Nigeria at 6:00 p.m. And so on. So, beginning each hour at 4:00, we will enjoy a food or drink specialty from a country - including those three - that we haven't yet sampled in our almost eight-year-old "Eat The World" project. Our house is open for friends and family to join us, right up to midnight. Live music, food and drink from around the world, trivia.
   
Just forty one new years for us to find common ground. Better late than never.  
 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Notes From My Eighth Musical Life

I'm close; really, I am.

"Til There Were Two", a recording of original compositions - with my daughter as vocalist - was completed a year ago. Many thanks to faithful readers, friends, students who have since asked about it several times, prompted by my late 2017 announcement that it would be released "soon". Most of those folks have since given up asking, understandably. The long delay - made worse by a premature promise - has been tied to procrastination, mild paranoia re intellectual property theft, and a hefty dose of technological incompetence. I'm hoping a good friend who assisted in the recording process will be coming to my final rescue (dare I say?) soon.

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/11/goal-for-year-62.html

Under the same heading - i.e. musical accountability - I'm now just seventeen jazz standards away from arriving at the first significant milestone for the goal announced in the post directly above from November, 2011. That early-in-my-blogging-life goal - also wildly over-ambitious - has no readers or friends or students checking in with me. But checking in with myself as the finish line nears, I've recently begun doing what any respectable goal-obsessed geek would do - sketching out Phase Two of the project. I'll spare you the details and more significantly, refrain from any more promises.

P.S. Had the most promising musical meeting of my post full time work life a few weeks ago. If things work out, there'll be some really cool musical stuff coming in 2019. Stay tuned, if you still trust me.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Reading Re-Cap: 2018

I realize there are still ten days left. Still, considering the volume of my reading in 2018, especially when combined with the reduction in my published blog posts, I decided this first ever reading re-cap - even if it is little early - might be a good way to ensure some of the gems I read this past year made it onto the lists of at least a few regular readers.

Novel most likely to be recommended to casual readers: "Standard Deviation" (2017) by Katherine Heiny. Please note: The word casual is NOT used as a sly elitist put down; this is a well written book that happens to be enjoyable on several levels and frequently laugh out loud funny.

Novel most likely to be recommended to discerning readers: "Tortilla Curtain" (1995) by TC Boyle.

Novel and non-fiction book that most deepened my experience of living: "Flight Behavior" (2012) by Barbara Kingsolver and "We Were Eight Years in Power" (2017) by Ta Nehisi-Coates.

Most worthwhile re-read: "Disgrace" (1999) by JM Coetzee.

Most intriguing: "Alias Shakespeare" (1997) - Shakespeare scholar Joseph Sobran's accessible book was a stimulating introduction to the long-simmering debate about the authorship of the sonnets and plays that form the backbone of English literature.

Most personally useful:  Asked to select just one book I would not want to have missed reading this past year, "American Audacity" (2018) by William Giraldi would be the hands-down winner.

I hope you'll share your 2018 selections with me and others, using my headings or ones of your own design. And, if need be, you can add anything you finish over the next ten days.  I might.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Comments By The Thousands

I recently discovered Blogger archives only the last one thousand reader comments. At present, that means I'm only able to re-read any comments made between when I began blogging in March 2011 and mid 2013 by scanning my earlier posts, one at a time.

Of course, that cap on the number of comments that can be easily viewed provided me with a neat, if solipsistic, rationalization for returning to those first several hundred posts. But solipsism aside, it was fun to recently read some of those early comments as well as to be reminded of the ebb and flow of this blog over almost eight years. A few early regular commenters still appear now and then; a few comment as frequently now as they did in 2011-2013. Others have stopped commenting publicly but write me offline. For some, the glitches in Blogger's comment feature discouraged them early on and even though much of that has since been fixed, they never tried again. The most intriguing part of this brief journey to the past was re-reading comments from 2011-2013 made by people unknown to me. I always wonder how those folks stumbled onto this blog. If their comment was a one-off occurrence, did they ever make their way back to the bell curve?  

Thank you to anyone who has ever taken the time to comment, even once. It would be hard to over-state the energy I get from your comments, even the crabby ones.  

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Discovering A New Treasure

Learning that Paulette Jiles, author of the 2016 novel "News of The World", is also a poet was not at all surprising. Her prose is economical, precise, and emotionally arresting. "News Of The World" is only a little over two hundred pages, but the two main characters in this rich and textured quest - seventy-one-year old Jefferson Kyle Kidd and ten-year-old Johanna - are masterfully sketched.  

Authors capable of creating magic like this astound and demoralize me; how much of each largely depends on my mood as I'm reading. "In her company he found himself also ceasing to value these things that seemed so important to the white world." Until reaching that sentence near the end of the book, I didn't fully appreciate how skillfully Jiles had involved me with these two characters; I did not want to part with them. Before resuming my reading, I recorded both a question ("How exactly did this author pull me in so deeply?") and a comment ("I'm so grateful I recognize this kind of skill") in my notes.

There is no doubt another book by Paulette Jiles is in my future. Which author, brand new to you, have you most recently decided is in your future?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Technology And Children

Opting out of the I-phone revolution has sparked a few testy interactions with my wife and prompted incredulity from others. But most of my recent reflecting and conversations about technology haven't been about my resistance. These days, it's the effect all these inescapable devices seem to be having on younger people that troubles me.

I wish last night's "60 Minutes" segment about this issue had assuaged some of my concerns. But the longitudinal studies cited on the show - research being conducted to measure the effect of ubiquitous screens on young brains - were sobering. The research is preliminary; several experts went out of their way stress this. Still, the researchers interviewed shared many of my concerns and also echoed what Sherry Turkle so expertly dissected in her excellent 2015 book "Reclaiming Conversation."  Watching those toddlers get seriously attached to I-tablets in that "60 Minutes" piece has stayed with me all day.    

If I were new parent, how would I protect my young child against this onslaught? How would you?            

Thursday, December 6, 2018

#53: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Aside from English, if you were asked to choose a language that has given you four indispensable words or expressions, which one would you select? For me, French has no close competition. For this iteration of my Mt. Rushmore series, please share which French words or expressions you wouldn't want to be without. Though I've purposefully avoided the ubiquitous food references - with one small exception - and listed my four alphabetically, ignore those guidelines constructing your monument.

1.) Je ne sais quoi: How can anyone get through living life in this wondrous world without using this expression all the time? Mon dieu!

2.) rendezvous: An irreplaceable word that begs to be sung.

3.) soupcon: a slight trace or flavor; suspicion; a very small amount. What a cool context-sensitive word! Use it with foods, novels, people.

4.) tete-a-tete: Special mention here for my partner in our book club of two. The monthly tete-a-tetes we've had since 2015 (starting with "The Faraway Nearby" by Rebecca Solnit and most recently discussing "Flight Behavior" by Barbara Kingsolver) have been high points in my recent life.

Your turn. Parlez vous Francais?    

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Joining Memoirs On The Back Burner

As a genre, what is frequently labeled "historical fiction" used to give me much more enjoyment. Has my patience for this type of book worn thin? Have I not yet been exposed to the best practitioners? Has the genre deteriorated in quality over my reading life? What was your most recent memorable experience with a historical novel? Your most recent dispiriting experience with this same kind of book?

Fortunately, my most recent dispiriting experience had an upside. Before returning to the library the novel I'd abandoned - a book club selection for early next year - I copied the titles of four non-fiction books the author cited as sources. The subject of the novel - if not the treatment - was of interest to me. And despite the somber subject, soon after beginning the first of those books ("The Baby Thief" (2007) by Barbara Bisantz Raymond), I was pleased how this turned out. Thanks to the novelist's research, the horrifying story of Georgia Tann's mid-century reign at the Tennessee Children's Home Society is no longer unknown to me. I suspect the novelization of this sickening tale made it a bit easier to read. I wanted the story told to me straight.

Still, my growing disinterest in historical fiction aside, the authors of these books clearly deserve credit for shining a light on little-told episodes. And when either the plots they construct to make the episodes more compelling for readers, or, the prose they use to tell those plots don't work for me, there are other options. Also, many first-rate non-fiction authors - Jon Krakauer, Erik Larsen, Simon Winchester - weave compelling narrative lines using historical detail alone. I seem to be moving steadily in that direction. Notable exceptions: Got a few more novels by EL Doctorow to still get through and any posse-recommended historical novel could also find its way into my queue. Never say never, right?