Category Archives: Music

Best Books of 2016 …Thus Far (33/99)

Nineteen.

That’s how many books I’ve read so far this year. That may sound impressive — especially when the average American reads 12 books per year and 27% of Americans don’t finish a single book —  but in the book blogger world, 19 books in six months is verging on pathetic.

(I know, I’m too hard on myself. This is true.)

At the midpoint of this current trip around the sun, I like to reflect on the reading year to date by sharing my favorite books of 2016 thus far.  Sometimes there’s a standout book that is a clear front-runner and sometimes there isn’t.  This happens to be a year when there is — and it’s a book that has landed among my all-time favorites.

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Paul Kalanithi, a brilliant and compassionate neurosurgeon who, at 38, was diagnosed with lung cancer just as he was on the verge of completing a 10 year residency program, has much to teach us in his posthumously published memoir. When Breath Becomes Air is more than the journey towards one’s own lightbulb, a-ha, now-I-know-what-life-is-all-about moment of revelation that often accompanies a serious illness or tragic event. It’s about what it means when everything you have worked toward and planned vanishes at the precise moment when you are on the cusp of realizing all those dreams and aspirations.

Scorpion Tongues

Scorpion Tongues: The Irresistible History of Gossip in American Politics by Gail Collins 
This presidential election campaign is like nothing we’ve seen before … at least in our lifetimes. History tells a different story — and many of them — of political scandals that rival what we’re seeing today.

The Art of Description

The Art of Description by Mark Doty
Written by a true master of the craft, this is a fantastic book exploring how we use words to place the reader in the heart of our work.  Reading this is like taking a class with Mark Doty himself (something that is on my literary bucket list).  Until then, we have this gem.

Shades of Blue

Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue, edited by Amy Ferris
An astonishing anthology edited by Amy Ferris (her Facebook posts are gorgeously written and full of inspiring kick-assery), the emotions in these essays are raw and real. These are personal, true accounts of people who have struggled with depression, suicide (either their own attempt or that of a loved one) and mental illness. As a society, we need to do a better job of telling our stories in order to help break the stigma that fosters shame and secrecy.  Shades of Blue is a damn good place to start listening.  Don’t be surprised if you find shades of yourself between these pages.

The Best American Essays 2015

The Best American Essays 2015, edited by Ariel Levy
A fantastic collection of essays by some of our best writers, including Hilton Als, Roger Angell, Justin Cronin, Meghan Daum, Anthony Doerr, Margo Jefferson, David Sedaris, Zadie Smith, Rebecca Solnit and several others.

Boys in the Trees

Boys in the Trees: A Memoir by Carly Simon
Carly Simon’s songs are ones that make her fans — of which I am one, very much so — feel as if we know her.  Here, we learn for the first time the stories behind the lyrics that we’ve been singing for years. It’s an eye-opening, often surprising, sometimes heartbreaking look at family dynamics, coming of age, betrayal, sexuality, motherhood and the publishing and entertainment businesses.

So there you have it.  The best books I’ve read this year (so far).  It’s interesting that there isn’t any fiction on this list.  This seems to be shaping up as a year dominated by nonfiction, especially essays and memoir.

How is your reading year going? Is there a standout book (or books) that will be among your favorites this year?

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #33 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

kicking off 99 days of summer blogging (1/99)

99 Days of Summer Blogging

Time to get this party started!

Today’s the official start to 99 Days of Summer Blogging, a little impromptu project of mine where I plan to blog every day this summer. Yes, every single day. I’ve started an editorial calendar which is already helping.  I’m using Evernote to capture post ideas for those days when I got nothin’.

Best of all, a few of you are joining me in this crazy endeavor and a few are considering it.

More importantly, today is about much more than the beginning of summer. It’s about remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms and never taking that for granted.

As if on cue, the live version of Frank Sinatra’s “The House I Live In” just came on The Husband’s Spotify.

Always a powerful song, but especially worth the listen today.

sunday salon/currently … memorial day weekend edition

Sunday Salon banner

It’s a steamy start to the summer. (And yes, while the calendar may not consider it to be summer until June 21, Memorial Day weekend is the start of summer in my book.) Yesterday my car’s thermometer said it was 95 degrees outside. I’m really not kidding when I say two weeks ago it was so chilly that I wore turtlenecks to work for three days.

I’m on our enclosed deck, enjoying being outside for as long as I can stand it. It’s humid enough to have the box fan going, which helps for now. We don’t have any grandiose plans this weekend. The usual appointments and errands. The Girl needs some summer clothes and that’s on the agenda for tomorrow.

99 Days of Summer Blogging!

99 Days of Summer Blogging

Tomorrow starts my attempt to blog for 99 consecutive days. I’m thrilled that a few of you are joining me in this little project.  (You can too. Participating is intentionally very low key. No real requirements. No linkys. If you like, feel free to use the button above for any #99DaysSummerBlogging posts.) The accountability factor makes this more daunting (can I really keep up this pace? what if I run out of things to write about? what happens on the days I have a migraine?) but also exciting.  I’m looking forward to getting back in the swing of writing every day and clearing out some of those half-baked posts in Drafts.

Big Book Reading Challenge

Big Book Summer Reading Challenge

Another summer project that I’m taking on is the Big Book Summer Reading Challenge hosted by my friend Sue of Book by Book.  I usually participate in this because it only involves reading one book that’s at least 400 pages between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Definitely doable. If you’re looking for inspiration, here’s a partial list of what I’ve read for this challenge in previous years (links go to my reviews):

America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins (572 pages)
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (415 pages)
With My Body by Nikki Gemmell (462 pages)
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (436 pages)
And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts (630 pages)
The Years by Virginia Woolf (435 pages)

Currently Reading …
LaRoseWith 372 pages, my current read — LaRose by Louise Erdrich — is just shy of qualifying for the Big Book Summer Reading Challenge. It’s a fascinating novel about family and culture.

Currently Listening To … 

Sin in the Second City

Still listening to Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott.

I’ve been listening to a lot of music lately. Part of the reason is because I work in an semi-open office environment, which can be challenging when one needs to concentrate. I usually just hit Shuffle on my entire music collection and And every day, I hear at least one song that seems to describe the day — or our current situation, or something, or someone I’m thinking about, or a memory — absolutely perfectly.

These are the songs that resonated most this week:

Linking

A few weeks ago, I purchased The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson because it seems like a book I’m going to want to own. Although I haven’t started it yet, Hilton Als’ feature on Maggie Nelson in the April 18 issue of The New Yorker (“Immediate Family”) makes me want to read this very soon.

YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) has a great list of mental health resources for teens In addition to books (fiction and nonfiction), blogs, and websites, there are apps that link to immediate crisis intervention and online discussion groups.

Once in a Lifetime is a new blog to me, thanks to Keith’s and my connection through Pittsburgh Bloggers. Keith’s post “A Month of Mental Health, An Eternity of Suicide”  makes some great observations about the hypocrisy of the media’s relentless messages of perfection and its embrace of Mental Health Awareness Month.

I’m a big fan of the Netflix series “House of Cards.” In this article from The New York Times, Robin Wright may have more in common with Claire Underwood than we previously thought. #FUCU2016

Some thoughts on … well, the power of our thoughts.

What are you thinking about on this Memorial Day weekend?  

we could all die any day

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (65)

It’s been seven days since the news broke and I’m still listening to Prince at top volume in the car, still singing at the top of my lungs about doves crying and horses running free. I’ve exhausted my inventory of appropriate-for-work purple clothing.

My kids are perplexed at this behavior. “So, when did you become so crazy about Prince?” they half-sneer, their teenage mortification on full display.

We see this attitude frequently, The Husband and I, whenever we give off any indication that we are … well, human.  The eye-rolls when we kiss goodbye in the morning for a few seconds longer than usual with a sly slip of tongue or when we dance in the kitchen when our wedding song shuffles into queue on Spotify. To our offspring, we have no life besides folding laundry and cooking dinner, and despite our assurances to the contrary, we never did. And we certainly have no idea what it’s like to be a teenager. Never were we caught up in the adolescent maelstrom of emotions and hormones and young jungle love.

My attempts at explaining my sudden Prince obsession fall flat with my kids.  Although I wouldn’t describe myself as a passionate Prince fan, I have an appreciation of his music and his artistry.  And, like all of us who came of age in the mid-’80s, Prince’s music is an indelible part of the mixtape of my life.

Which is why, like everyone else, I was shocked upon hearing Prince had died.  Thursday was a surreal day; I wasn’t feeling well and took a sick day from work. By mid-afternoon, I felt well enough to pick up my son from school for a previously-scheduled doctor’s appointment. We were early, for once, with enough time to stop home so I could throw dinner in the crockpot.

“I texted you,” my husband said, greeting me as we walked in the house.  “Prince is dead. Flu-like symptoms, they’re saying.”

I stopped in my tracks.  If anyone knows how possible it is to drop dead of the flu in one’s prime, it’s my family. In 1985, my dad was a relatively healthy father of two teenagers when he got the flu.  Unbeknownst to any of us, the virus was silently and quickly attacking his heart and at 44, he became fourth in line on the transplant list at Philadelphia’s best hospital for when your heart breaks. He died several hours later, having been sick for less than a week.

We could all die any day. 

The aftermath of my father’s death ushered in several confusing and sad years for me.  In college, it was easy to party like it was 1999 because that represented a life we couldn’t fathom from our dorm rooms — Christ, we would be goddamned geriatrics when we turned the century, forty fucking years old.  It felt impossible, far in the future. We made a solemn, beer-buzzed pact: no matter what happened in this life, we’d be together on New Year’s Eve 1999, dancing our lives away.

We weren’t, of course. We became scattered and unknown to each other. Close friends we thought would be in our lives forever went missing, our long conversations now silent.  Instead of partying like it was 1999, we became adults, on edge and hunkered down with emergency cash from the ATM, cases of water and canned goods and duct tape, backups of our financial lives at the ready for Y2K, a moniker that could have been ripped from a Prince album.

Now on this side of 1999, in this strange year when nostalgia becomes more and more clouded with sadness and when we face our own medical crises and wonder just how much of our time and minds are left, our own Judgment Day feels closer than ever. Prince was right; two thousand zero zero really did mean we would be out of time or damn close to it.

I can’t convey all this to my wiser-than-their-years kids when they ask why I’m blasting Prince’s Little Red Corvette in my decidedly uncool red Chevy HHR as I shuttle them around town.  And part of me doesn’t want to.

Let them believe they have all the time in the world.

 

sunday salon/currently … wishing for spring and channeling my inner leslie knope

Sunday Salon banner

Currently
To borrow my friend Tiffany’s phrase, it’s been full on sloth mode for me this weekend.  I’ll blame it on the weather, which has been decidedly unspringlike. We woke up to snow Friday and Saturday morning, just enough to be a nuisance and to kill my poor daffodils.

Daffodils in snow 4-9-2016 - 2 Daffodils in snow 4-9-2016

Ugh, so depressing.

Aside from taking The Boy to an appointment, grocery shopping, and cooking dinner, I didn’t do much of anything yesterday. I’d planned to clean the house but only managed to wipe down the kitchen counter and table. Today’s adventure was a trip to Target, as The Girl needed some things for school. It snowed on the 10 minutes it took us to get there.  Of course it did.

Watching
At long last, I’ve finally started watching Parks and Recreation.  A lot of people have been telling me that I would like this show and they were right. The tipping point was this clip, which a coworker shared with me after I unknowingly was all Leslie Knope-fangirling about Joe Biden, who not only was visiting Pittsburgh this week, but who was speaking mere blocks from our office.

I’ve successfully gotten The Husband and The Girl into Parks and Rec, too (probably because they were annoyed at me laughing nonstop with my headphones on).  This was much-needed humor relief for all of us after yet another stressful week on the home front.

Reading
Hoping to finish Scorpion Tongues today.  I think I’ve gotten my reading mojo back.  Jane Mendelsohn has a new book out called Burning Down the House which I snagged a copy of from the library and I’m looking forward to starting this one.  I loved her debut novel I Was Amelia Earhart  and American Music (see my reviews here and here).

More Things I Loved Reading This Week …
Elizabeth Mosier announces and reflects on a new anthology, Fifty Women Over 50.

The older I get, the more I appreciate the music of John Prine. This piece in the New York Times (John Prine Endures, With a Half-Smile and a Song) explains why.

Listening
Still listening to a lot of Spotify, especially in the car. I’m a big fan of their Discover Weekly selections. Their algorithms are clearly under the impression that, musically, I’m back in 1977.  I’m loving Spotify because I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of artists who most people have been listening to for years.

I seem to have a bit of a consumption problem, though: when I discover someone I like, I need to download every note they’ve ever performed. Like, I need to have their entire oeuvre at my fingertips. Eventually some songs may be weeded out from my collection (I’ve deleted two in the course of writing this post) but only after I listen to them first. Similarly, I need to tell myself that just because I love a band or a particular artist, it’s really okay if I don’t like every single one of their songs. I mean, it’s not like their feelings will be hurt if I ax something from the rotation.

Anticipating
Next weekend is our second rehearsal for Listen to Your Mother.  (You’ve gotten your tickets, right? From what I understand, they’re going fast.)  I can’t wait to see these ladies again.  This is such a fantastic group. Our producers have been featuring profiles of the 2016 cast on the LTYM Pittsburgh website, which you can check out here.

Oh, and we got our official headshots back.  Here I am:

LTYM2016Headshots-63b8x12

I usually hate most pictures of me, but I love this.  Photo was done by the lovely Ashley of Ashley Mikula Photography. She was great to work with for this.

Cooking
Inspired by fellow Pittsburgh Blogger Alex’s #PghGBE post on Eat with Emily, I’m trying a new approach to meal planning. I’m creating a spreadsheet of dinners that meet with everyone’s approval in this house. As one might imagine, it’s a very short list. I’m also adding meals that I think might work for our family — things I’d like to try. The idea is that when I’m at a loss for dinner ideas, I can consult the list and add it to the menu lineup for that week. We’ll see how this goes.

That all being said, I should probably end this post and figure out what we’re having for dinner tonight ….

grammer lesson

It’s been a tough week.

(Everyone’s generally fine, Mom. No emergencies, no blood, nothing serious to call about.) 

But still.  These have been trying days atop difficult weeks.  Months, if we’re being totally honest.

The Girl and I were driving back from an appointment this evening, a dark rain-soaked night. Hardly listening to the music, I flipped through the stations, my mind elsewhere.

I’ve been grinding so long, been trying this shit for years
And I got nothing to show, just climbing this rope right here
And if there’s a man upstairs, he kept bringing me rain
But I’ve been sending up prayers and something’s changed

“I love this song,” I said.

“Me too,” said The Girl.

She started singing, almost inaudibly.  The Girl has a great singing voice, one that we don’t hear too often these days, thanks to her bullying bitch of a chorus teacher last year.

“D. sings with her mom in the car all the time,” she said, referencing a friend.

“Sing louder,” I said, and she did. I joined in.

And it’s good to be alive right about now
Good, good, good, good to be alive right about now
Good, good, good, good to be alive right about now
Hallelujah, let that bass line move ya, say yeah
It’s good to be alive right about now

By now we were singing loudly. She laughed as I missed almost every note, even the uh-huhs.

“Mom, your timing is terrible.”

“Yep. It often is.”

I was dead in the water, nobody wanted me (Uh huh)
I was old news, I went cold as cold can be
But I kept throwing on coal tryna make that fire burn (Uh huh)
Sometimes you gotta get scars to get what you deserve (Uh huh)
I kept moving on and now I’m moving up (Uh huh)
Damn, I’m feeling blessed with all this love

I pulled into the garage, still with all the shit we’ve been trying for years (to paraphrase Mr. Grammer) but for a moment a little lighter.

“Now that,” I said, “was the best part of my week.”

“Singing Andy Grammer with me in the car?”

“Absolutely.”

“Well, then we’ll just have to do this more often.”

And we will.

Because who doesn’t need a reminder and hope for a little hallelujah?

 

 

Sunday Salon/Currently …

Sunday Salon bannerCurrently …
Sunday afternoon, 4 p.m. This is a three-day weekend for me, which I am grateful for. It’s snowing outside with temperatures going down to 7 degrees tonight with wind chills near -15 (ugh) and football is on TV (go Steelers!).

Listening To …
The Lazy Weekend playlist on Spotify. As I mentioned in last week’s Salon, this is my new toy. Because of the layout of our office, several of my coworkers prefer listening to music on their phones and iPods during the workday.  I tried doing the same over the past week and it actually made me more productive at times.  I was pleasantly surprised.

I’m in a phase where I’m craving some new music, so if you have any suggestions for artists or playlists you love, I’m all ears. (Literally.) I like singer-songwriter types, indie-alternative, vocalists, that sort of thing. Some people who I’ve had in heavy rotation this week:  Josh Ritter, Death Cab for Cutie, Coldplay, Jackson Browne, Melissa Etheridge, Ben Folds, Dar Williams, Mary Chapin Carpenter …

and of course, Carly Simon because of what I’m …

Reading …
Boys in the TreesI love Carly Simon, so it is no surprise that I am enjoying her memoir, Boys from the Trees. It is quite eye-opening, to say the least.  In my view, this book is more autobiographical than memoir, but I’m OK with that because hers has been one hell of life.

The Heart Goes Last

This week, I finally finished The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood, my first book of the year — which wasn’t intended to be my First Book of the Year or even my second. I wasn’t too enamored of this one, to be honest. The premise was a good one and it held my interest for most of the first half, but then it became … I don’t know. I stopped caring about the characters and the plot became more and more farcical.  I listened to it on audio to start, and switched to the print edition to see if that made a difference. It didn’t.

Blogging…
Last night, sometime around 3 a.m., I remembered that this is a Bloggiesta weekend. Because, of course … isn’t everyone thinking about their blog in the middle of the damn night?  So, needless to say, I haven’t done anything related to this. I did start my review of The Heart Goes Last on Friday night and there’s this post, so there’s that.

Fortunately, this is a three-day weekend for me, so there’s still time to do some Bloggiesta-ing. I’d like to update my Book Reviews page, but we’ll see if that happens.  I’m not feeling the whole Bloggiesta groove this weekend, mainly because I have to focus on an essay I have in progress for something.

Hope your weekend is going well and that you’re keeping warm!