Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Tin Roof Blowdown

James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster
ISBN13: 978-1-4165-4848-5
ISBN10: 1-4165-4848-3

The violence, invasion, violation, rage and official indifference that make up the life of Burke's character Dave Robicheaux will pick the scabs off old wounds on a reader who has experienced a crime for himself. This latest novel is set in the immediate aftermath of hurricane Katrina. "Wise guys", "street pukes," a drug addicted dying priest and a psychopathic killer float in open boats through the streets of New Orleans looking for safety, salvation and blood diamonds. It will give you bad dreams.

The good news is that Dave's daughter, Alafair, has begun her first novel. It amazes me that Burke has allowed details of his own life and family to leak into the noxious, poisoned atmosphere of his Dave Robicheaux stories.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Center Cannot Hold

My Journey Through Madness
Elyn Saks
New York
ISBN: 978-1-4013-0138-5

This is a personal memoir of schizophrenia and outstanding achievement taking place simultaneously. Elyn Saks earned a masters degree at Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship, graduated from Yale Law School, became a law professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law and became a psychotherapist all while being treated for Schizophrenia, with several interruptions for hospitalizations because of severe psychotic episodes. Oh, and she has written several books. On the side she is a cancer survivor. And you thought you had it rough. She is also a founding member of the Click and Clack school of first name spelling. Now go do something with you worthless, miserable life and stop your whining.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Edly's Music Theory for Practical People

Ed Roseman illustrated by Peter Reynolds
Music EdVentures
ISBN-13: 978-0-9661616-0-2
ISBN-10: 0-9661616-0-2

The world is full of people who have learned to play music by ear, or to read tabulature for guitar or other stringed instruments but not musical notation. Ed Roseman has taken on the daunting task of teaching these folks music theory, all the while gently chiding them to learn to read music. It is an interesting effort, filled with exercises created on a computer spreadsheet, probable Appleworks by the look of it, that use the letter names of notes, CDEFGABC, instead of the little marks on five lines and four spaces of a musical staff, to teach the concepts of harmony, the circle of fifths(and fourths) scales, modes arpeggios and all that other good musical stuff that every musician should know.

He has the same exercises in music notation in each section for those who took piano lessons in elementary school or played the clarinet in junior high band, like me, can follow along that way.

Even with the Dr. Seuss like illustrations by Peter Reynolds this is a good solid grounding in music theory. All you guitar wankers out there might consider giving this book a try.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Practicing: A Musician's Return To Music

Glen Kurtz
Alfred A. Knoph
ISBN: 978-0-307-26615-6

"When you play an instrument, and playing comes easily, playing is enough. But slowly, as you play more, what you hear outpaces your ability. This music beyond you, as you are, leads you on, and you ache to lay hold of it. You sit down, you look at your hands, you hold the instrument. You listen to the musicians you admire, who have this same equipment, hands and instruments. Then you look at your own hands again, and it doesn't seem possible. How do they do it? What you want to play shimmers ungraspable in the air, or in the hands of others. I think this is when your story as a musician begins. Playing, you begin to practice. And practice makes "perfect." Now you'll never play the way you wish you could. Now one lifetime is not enough. You'll never be finished practicing."

That says it all right there, that does.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Michael Chabon
Harper Collins

Michael Chabon comes up with these quirky interesting premises for his novels. Comic book authors, for example. I thought that I would really enjoy "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," but when I tried to read it the book never got started. Maybe I should try again.

"The Yiddish Policemen's Union" is an alternate history novel in the Philip K. Dick, "The Man In The High Castle" tradition. In this novel, European Jews have been resettled in Sitka Alaska during and after World War Two. There apparently was an actual proposal to do this at the time, which was never acted upon. The district of Sitka, given to the Jews for a period of sixty years, is about to revert to the ownership of the state of Alaska when the novel begins. Oddly, no one seems to have given any thought as to where all these people are going to go, but they can't stay in the US without green cards, which are not forthcoming.

The central character is a police detective in Sitka, trying to solve the execution style murder of a junkie in the residential hotel that the detective lives in. The book is a crime novel on one level, a science fiction novel on another and a book about millennialism, Jewish folklore, American immigration policy, evangelical politics and Tlingit Indian culture.

I am not going to give away any spoilers. There is a lot going on in the book. It's really about us, here in the current version of the 21st century.