Book Review: The Happiest People in the World by Brock Clarke

Author: Brock Clarke
TitleThe Happiest People in the World
Publication Info: Chapel Hill, North Carolina : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014.
ISBN: 9781616201111
Books previously read by same author: An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke
Summary/Review:

A Danish cartoonist, at risk for drawing cartons offensive to Muslims, is moved by the CIA to a small town in rural New York, given a position as a guidance councilor, and finds himself in the middle of the family drama of the high school principal and his wife the bartender of the local tavern.  To further complicate things, the CIA agent who assigned him to this town is the former mistress of the principal.  And to further make things wacky, pretty much everyone in the city is involved in the CIA or a secret agent of some time.  I suppose this book is supposed to be a farce and a satire, but I found it a chore to read.  I probably would not have finished it if I hadn’t been an award from the Library Things Early Reviewer program.  There are some funny bits, but after a while it’s just one reticent character avoiding communicating with another character who hates them over and over.

Rating: **

Playlist of Modern Christmas Music

Since Thanksgiving my children have enjoyed listening to an endless stream of Christmas music on the Boston radio station Magic 106.7.  I’ve been surprised that despite a 24/7 Christmas music format that the playlist of Magic 106.7 seems extremely limited.  They do not play any overtly religious songs which is not surprising as they would want to appeal to the largest audience possible.  And as Magic 106.7 has a pop “adult contemporary” radio format, I would not expect them to play any folk, traditional, or foreign language tracks either.

Nevertheless, there is a still a large body of popular Christmas music that they seem to ignore.  Tune in for an hour, or even half-an-hour and you are certain to hear some rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” as well as Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.”

I decided I would use Rdio to make a playlist of Christmas songs to see how many I could get without repeating.  I decided to set the following guidelines. I would only select “modern” Christmas and winter-themed songs, that is ones that were written to be recorded and sold to the public (roughly the 1930s to the present).  I also chose the earliest recording of the song I could find as many have obviously been recorded numerous times by multiple artists.  So far I have 105 songs, more than 5 1/2 hours of Christmas music without repeating a song, and this doesn’t even include modern interpretations of traditional Christmas carols from the 19th-century and earlier.

Check out the playlist on Rdio.  If you use Rdio, feel free to add additional tracks, and if not please feel free to make suggestions in the comments on this post.

Songs that qualify for the playlist, but are not available through Rdio:

  • “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl
  • “Do They Know It’s Christmas” by Band Aid
  • “Three Kings” by Robbie O’Connell
  • “Merry Xmas Everybody” by Slade
  • “Christmas Time” by Bryan Adams

Songs that qualify for the playlist, but I cannot bear to listen to:

  • “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney
  • “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” by Elmo & Patsy

The complete playlist:

Name Artist
‘Zat You, Santa Claus? Louis Armstrong & The Commanders
(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays (1954 Version) Perry Como
2000 Miles Pretenders
A Child Is Born Oscar Peterson
A Holly Jolly Christmas Burl Ives
Ain’t No Chimneys In The Projects Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth) Spike Jones
Anderson: Sleigh Ride The Boston Pops Orchestra, Arthur Fiedler *
Another Lonely Christmas Prince
Auld Lang Syne Guy Lombardo
Baby, It’s Cold Outside (78rpm Version) Dinah Shore
Back Door Santa Clarence Carter
Blue Christmas Ernest Tubb
Boogie Woogie Santa Claus Mabel Scott
Carol of the Drum Trapp Family Singers
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) Darlene Love
Christmas Canon Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Christmas In Heaven (Monty Python Sings) Monty Python
Christmas in Hollis RUN-DMC
Christmas in Killarney Dennis Day
Christmas In New Orleans Louis Armstrong
Christmas In The Trenches John McCutcheon
Christmas Is Run-D.M.C.
Christmas Island The Andrews Sisters
Christmas Medley The Swingle Singers
Christmas Rappin’ Kurtis Blow
Christmas Song Dave Matthews Band
Christmas Time Is Here (Vocal – Album Version) Vince Guaraldi Trio
Christmas Will Soon Be Here John Gaudet & The Laurels
Christmas Wrapping The Waitresses
Do You Hear What I Hear? The Harry Simeone Chorale
Dominick the Donkey Lou Monte
Donde Esta Santa Claus? Augie Rios
Father Christmas The Kinks
Feliz Navidad José Feliciano
Frosty the Snowman (78rpm Version) Gene Autry
Gee Whiz, Its Christmas Carla Thomas
Give Love On Christmas Day (Group A Cappella Version) The Jackson 5
Happy Holiday Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby
Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (2010 Digital Remaster) John Lennon
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas Judy Garland
Here Comes Santa Claus (Right down Santa Claus Lane) Gene Autry
I Believe In Father Christmas (Album Version) Emerson, Lake & Palmer
I Don’t Intend To Spend Christmas Without You The Garlands
I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day Fred Waring And His Pennsylvanians
I Just Can’t Wait Till Christmas Teresa Brewer
I Pray On Christmas (Album Version) Harry Connick, Jr.
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus Jimmy Boyd
I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas Gayla Peevey
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday Wizzard
I’ll Be Home For Christmas Bing Crosby
I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm Dick Powell
If It Doesn’t Snow On Christmas Day (Album Version) Gene Autry
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas Perry Como
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year Andy Williams
Jingle Bell Rock Bobby Helms
Just Like Christmas Low
Last Christmas (Single Version) Wham!
Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Vaughn Monroe
Little Saint Nick The Beach Boys
Lord Of The Dance The Christmas Revels
Lumberjack Christmas / No One Can Save You From Christmases Past Sufjan Stevens
Marshmallow World Dean Martin **
Mary’s Boy Child (Remastered) Harry Belafonte
Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas) Bing Crosby
Merry Christmas Baby Charles Brown, Johnny Moore, Eddie Williams
Merry Christmas Everyone (Remastered) Shakin’ Stevens
Merry Christmas from the Family Robert Earl Keen
No More Christmas Blues The Vacant Lots
Nuttin’ for Christmas Art Mooney Orchestra
Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy (Medley) (2006 Digital Remaster) Bing Crosby
Percy, The Puny Poinsettia (Album Version) Elmo & Patsy
Please Come Home for Christmas Charles Brown
River Joni Mitchell
Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree Brenda Lee
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Gene Autry
Run Rudolph Run Chuck Berry
Santa Baby Eartha Kitt
Santa Claus The Fuzztones
Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto James Brown
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town Harry Reser & His Orchestra
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town The Smothers Brothers
Silver Bells Bob Hope
Sleigh Ride Andrews Sisters *
Snoopy’s Christmas The Royal Guardsmen
Someday At Christmas Stevie Wonder
Step Into Christmas Elton John
Suzy Snowflake Rosemary Clooney
Suzy Snowflake Rosemary Clooney
Swiss Christmas The Smothers Brothers
The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) (1999 – Remaster) Alvin and The Chipmunks
The Christians and The Pagans Dar Williams
The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You) Nat King Cole Trio
The Closest I Can Get Sunturns
The Secret Of Christmas Ella Fitzgerald **
The Shepherd’s Carol (vocal by Kip Ledger) Charlene Lockwood
This Christmas Donny Hathaway
Twinkle (Little Christmas Lights) JD McPherson
We Need A Little Christmas Angela Lansbury (And Cast)
What Christmas Means To Me Stevie Wonder
White Christmas Bing Crosby
Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas The Staple Singers
Winter Song Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson
Winter Wonderland (feat. Joey Nash) Richard Himber and his Orchestra
Yes, There Is a Santa Claus Betty Madigan
You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch Thurl Ravenscroft

Footnotes:

* The only song repeated in this playlist is “Sleigh Ride.”  First there is the iconic orchestral rendition by The Boston Pops.  The Andrews Sisters provided one of the early vocal recordings with the song’s lyrics.

** Bing Crosby is credited as the first person to record “Marshmallow World” and “The Secret of Christmas,” but as this playlist was already heavy with Crosby’s crooning, I chose the Dean Martin and Ella Fitzgerald versions of these songs respectively.

Book Review: Unruly Places by Alastair Bonnett

Author: Alastair Bonnett
Title: Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies
Narrator: Derek Perkins
Publication Info: Tantor Media, 2014
ISBN: 1494505827
Summary/Review:

Dr. Bonnet collects a compendium of curiosities in geography, places in the world at the borders, no-mans lands, enclaves, dead cities, floating islands, and ephemeral places.

Destinations include:

  • Sandy Island, marked on maps in the Indian Ocean for over a century despite the fact that it never existed.
  • The historic Old Mecca, destroyed to make way for amenities for pilgrims.
  • Alan Sonfist’s artistic creation of pre-colonial plantings in New York called Time Landscape.
  • The lost Aral Sea, now the Aralqum Desert.
  • Kijong-dong , the North Korean “Peace Village” along the DMZ with South Korea.
  • Pripyat, the city abandoned due to the Cherynobyl disaster.
  • The intriguingly named Archaeological Park of Sicilian Incompletion  in Giarre.
  • The interlocking Dutch and Belgian enclaves of  Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog .
  • The micronation of Sealand.
  • Spray ice islands used for petroleum exploration in the Arctic
  • The RV park in the LAX parking lot which serves as the permanent home for many air carrier personnel.
  • Nowhere, the Burning Man-style art event in northeast Spain

Derek Perkins voice lends a curmudgeonly world explorer gruffness to the narration.  A fun book and informative.

Recommended booksMicronations: The Lonely Planet Guide to Self-Proclaimed Nations by John Ryan, Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places by John R. Stilgoe, and Lights Out for the Territory: 9 Excursions in the Secret History of London by Iain Sinclair
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Dalek I Loved You by Nick Griffiths

Author:Nick Griffith
TitleDalek I Loved You
Publication Info:
ISBN: Harrison Dextrose Publishing (2013), Kindle Edition
Summary/Review:

A simply book I picked up for free on Kindle is the life story of Nick Griffiths and his love of Doctor Who, particularly the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker era of the 1970s when he was a child, and the reborn show of the 2000s as an entertainment journalist.  If this was just a book about Doctor Who, it wouldn’t be very good, but I did enjoy it for everything else.  That being the life of an ordinary guy growing up around the same time as I but in another part of the world with entirely different culture touchstones.

Recommended booksFever Pitch by Nick Hornby
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Author: Robin Sloan
TitleMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Narrator: Ari Fliakos
Publication Info: Macmillan Audio (2012)

Summary/Review:

A young man named Clay is out-of-work in San Francisco and ends up taking a job at a bizarre book store with an eccentric owner.  It turns out to be a front of a shadowy organization and Clay’s favorite fantasy book series is a key to its mysteries..  With the help of a girlfriend who works at Google, and a nerdy childhood friend who’s become wealthy as a game developer, Clay is able to advance well into the organization.  I found this book moderately interesting, with a bit of mystery, some book lore, and a lot of product placement for Google.

Favorite Passages:

“The suburban mind cannot comprehend the emergent complexity of a New York sidewalk.”

Recommended booksThe Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Eight World Cups by George Vecsey

Author: George Vecsey
TitleEight World Cups
Publication Info: Times Books (May 13, 2014)
ISBN: 9780805098488
Summary/Review:

Vecsey, a sportswriter for The New York Times, writes a series of essays and memories of international soccer dating back to the 1982 World Cup in Spain, tying it in with his own love of the game back to his childhood.  The title is a misnomer, because Vecsey writes about Women’s World Cups and Olympic games among other competitions, but the eight men’s World Cup finals he attends from 1982 to 2010 are the core of the book. In addition to some lovely writing describing the games and controversies of the each World Cup, Vecsey gives a sense of the host nation where he and his wife generally set a up a home base for a month.  He writes about the great players of each era from Diego Maradona to Zinedine Zidane.  A major focus is the rise of the United States men’s team from a non-entity to one that regular qualifies for the World Cup and is competitive.  Vecsey also explores the seamy underside of FIFA and CONFACAF with the greed and corruption that runs alongside the beautiful game.  All in all, this is a nice American take on World Cup football from a personal perspective.

Recommended booksThe Grass of Another Country: A Journey Through the World of Soccer by Christopher Merrill, The Girls of Summer: The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team and How It Changed the World by Jere Longman, and Goooal! a Celebration of Soccer by Andres Cantor
Rating: ****

Book Review: The Angel’s Kiss: A Melody Malone Mystery by Justin Richards

Author:Justin Richards
Narrator: Alex Kingston
TitleThe Angel’s Kiss: A Melody Malone Mystery by
Publication Info: AudioGO (2013)
ISBN: 9781471324055
Summary/Review:

This book is a spin-off from the Doctor Who television show narrated by the character River Song in her guise as detective Melody Malone.  It’s basically a pastiche to Raymond Chandler/Dashiell Hammet with Weeping Angels thrown in.  The advantage of the audiobook is listening to Alex Kingston speak for a couple of hours.  Other than that it is pretty forgettable.

Rating: * 1/2

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