Book Review: The Devil’s Picnic by Taras Grescoe


Author: Taras Grescoe
TitleThe Devil’s Picnic : Around the World in Pursuit of Forbidden Fruit
Publication Info: New York, NY : Bloomsbury Pub. : Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck Publishers, 2005.
Previously Read By Same Author: The End of Elsewhere: Travels Among the Tourists and Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile

Summary/Review:

In Grescoe’s travel books he seeks out a specific theme for his travels.  In The End of Elsewhere he deliberately sought ought the most touristed spots across the Eurasian landmass and in Straphanger he rode the world’s best metro systems seeking solutions for cities.  In The Devil’s Picnic, the theme is prohibition and Grescoe travels the world to make a meal of food, drink and other consumables that have been banned or severely restricted in different parts of the world.  The menu includes moonshine in Norway, poppy seed crackers and chewing gum in Singapore, bull’s testicles in Spain, smoking in San Francisco, absinthe in Switzerland, mate de coca in Bolivia, and assisted suicide in Switzerland (the one thing the author does not sample).  Many of these items are banned out of concerns of morality and health, but Grescoe notes the arbitrary nature of prohibition and the damages on society and individuals that arise when resources are dedicated to legal enforcement rather than treatment, and forbidden fruits are only available through criminal organizations.  Similarily, there’s the hypocrisy of some substances such as caffeine being considered “harmless” and commonplace, something Grescoe attributes to it being a productivity drug that benefits a capitalist system. At times Grescoe comes off as a jerk, like when he deliberately chews gum in Singapore trying to provoke a reaction, knowing that a white Westerner will not be punished like a local.  But largely this is a thoughtful book on where the lines should be drawn between self-determination and societal protection.
Recommended books: Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and The Global Soul by Pico Iyer
Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Lilo & Stich (2002)


Title: Lilo & Stitch
Release Date: 2002 June 21
Director: Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review: A big leap forward in time from Dumbo, but coincidentally this movie was actually inspired by Dumbo in that the filmmakers wanted to make a low-budget experiment and is also the first Disney animated film to use watercolor backgrounds since Dumbo.  The story involves Stitch, a genetic experiment designed to cause mayhem who escapes and crash lands in Hawaii.  There he meets Lilo, a young girl being raised by her older sister after the death of their parents, who is an outcast among the other kids and tends to lash out violently, not unlike Stitch.  The movie takes some chances in setting it in Hawaii and incorporating Hawaiian culture as well as a starkly honest depiction of a sisterly relationship.  The movie is laugh out loud funny and heartbreaking, and I can’t believe I waited 15 years to see this genius film.
Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: Dumbo (1941)


TitleDumbo
Release Date:  1941 October 23
Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

A baby is born with a physical feature that leads him to be ostracized by his kind, but after discovering that that physical feature affords him special powers, he is celebrated. Dumbo is essentially the same story as Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer.  The animation style is different from Pinnochio.  The former tried to recreate reality in intricate animation, while Dumbo is more cartoon-y.  But the elephants are lovingly-executed and given characteristics to make them both elephantine and anthropomorphic.  And Dumbo is just so darn cute.  Timothy Q. Mouse is the hero of this story and is much like Jiminy Cricket, taking Dumbo under his wing and helping him find his greatness.  Like Pinnochio, there’s a lot about this movie that is just plain weird – like how Dumbo and Timothy discover that Dumbo can fly after consuming champagne.  The scene with the crows is uncomfortable because of the racial insensitivity of the obviously African American characters, but the crows also have the most memorable lyrics of any song.  After nearly an hour of bullying and ostracizing our protagonist he gets the happy ending he deserves, but this sure is a sad movie.
Rating: ***

Movie Review: Pinocchio (1940)


TitlePinocchio
Release Date: 23 February 1940
Director:Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

Pinocchio is one of those movies where you feel like you know the story even if you’ve never seen it.  But actually watching it fills in some gaps and reveals some misconceptions.  The most famous part of Pinocchio is that his nose grows when he lies.  And that lasts less than a minute.  Still there reasons why the film is so familiar because the scenes of Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket, Geppetto, Figaro, and Cleo dancing have been shown in a gazillion formats, most memorably to me edited into the DTV music videos that were always shown on The Disney Channel when I was a kid.  And they’re worth showing off, because the Disney animators made some remarkable advancements in the depiction of the movement of bodies as well as shadows and water.  Nothing prepared me for the nightmare fodder that was Pleasure Island and the children turning into donkeys.  And the film carries such a heavy-handed middle class morality that it makes it seem like they want us to think that the kids deserved that.  The final act seems tacked on where Pinocchio learns that for some reason Geppetto, Figaro, and Cleo are in the belly of the whale Monstro, but it does give Pinocchio the chance to be a hero.  A strange and remarkable film.
Rating: ***1/2

70 Years of Instant Photographs


Today is the 70th anniversary of Edwin Land’s first demonstration of the Land camera introducing instant photography to the world. I’m currently processing a collection of Polaroid Corporation records related to Land at my place of work, so these historic moments on my mind.

My first camera as a child was a Polaroid 600-type, so somewhere I have many Polaroid photographs, most of them out of focus and poorly framed, but I don’t where they are except for one.  So on this momentous anniversary, enjoy my photograph of Shea Stadium from September 1986.

Revisiting Disney


Soon I will be traveling with my family to Walt Disney World in Florida.  I’ve previously visited Walt Disney World on three occasions (1976, 1981, and 1982) as well as once visit to Disneyland in California in 1980. So it’s been 35 years since my last visit to a Disney park, and my have things changed.

When I last visited, there was just the Magic Kingdom and some hotel resorts.  EPCOT was under construction and Disney Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom were not even on the drawing board.  This guide and the film below show what it was like on my last visit (kind of disappointed we didn’t take advantage of the free loans of Polaroid cameras!).

Growing up in the 70s and 80s meant a different relationship with Disney than the generations before and after.  The classic animated movies were re-released to movie theaters from time to time, but weren’t shown on television (even on cable) or available on video until the late 80s, when I was a teenager and not as interested.  I do remember seeing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in a stage adaptation at Radio City Music Hall, but other than that it was The Wonderful World of Disney and later The Disney Channel that provided glimpses of classic Disney films.  Meanwhile the Disney studios were going through a troubled period and while I loved The Fox and the Hound, most of the movies released in the 1970s and 1980s were not very memorable.  Kids who grew up during the Disney Renaissance starting in 1989 don’t know how lucky they had it.

So in a strange way, the parks were the main thing for Disney when I was growing up.  There were all these rides and characters based on movies we never saw and vaguely knew the plots.  People dressed as characters have always been part of Disney World, but planning for this trip I’m surprised to learn that they no longer walk around the park greeting visitors but instead it is required to queue up for “character experiences” and even pay good money to have diner with characters. It seems strange to me but apparently it is an extremely popular thing to do.  Luckily, my kids are interested in going on rides, which I think is much more fun.

With that in mind, here are ten things I loved at Disney as a kid.  It will be fun to see what lives up to memory, and what new things will join the list.

 

  1. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – the roller coaster so good that even my roller coaster hating mother liked it.  I remember riding it three times in a row one afternoon.  And we didn’t even need a FastPass.
  2. Contemporary Resort – also known as the hotel that a monorail goes through, which is freakin’ awesome!  We didn’t stay here, or any Disney hotel, but we did have dinner her one night, and apart from the freakin’ awesome monorail going through the lobby I also enjoyed playing in the video arcade.
  3. The Enchanted Tiki Room – audioanimatronic birds singing and telling bad jokes, what could be better?  And as my Dad noted, the birds won’t crap on you.
  4. The Haunted Mansion – a ride that is fun because it’s funny, from the stretchy portraits to the hitch-hiking ghosts.
  5. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – another funny ride I absolutely loved, from the oncoming train to the trip to hell. I suppose that might’ve scared some kids.
  6. Pirates of the Caribbean – the ride so good that they made it into a movie.
  7. The Skyway – Who doesn’t like a bird’s-eye view of the magic? (Apparently the people who decided to tear this ride down)
  8. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – It may have been a kid’s perspective, but it really felt like one was going on a submarine voyage.  Can anyone explain why Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, The Skyway, and this are all gone but the boring-ass Carousel of Progress still survives?
  9. Space Mountain – the coolest ride at the center of the coolest land, Tomorrowland (my impression is that Tomorrowland is not so cool these days because the future came and it’s nothing like what we were promised)
  10. WEDWay PeopleMover – I was an impressionable child and believed them when they said that peoplemovers would be the transportation system of the future in big cities.  I’m still waiting.

 

To prepare for our visit, I’m going to try to watch some animated Disney movies I’ve never seen before, so you’ll be seeing my reviews here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TV Review: The Race Underground (2017)


Title The Race Underground
Release Date: 31 January 2017
Director: Michael Rossi
Summary/Review:

The American Experience documentary adapts a portion of the book by Doug Most relating to Boston’s effort to create America’s first subway.  As a Boston partisan myself, why not leave out the portion of the book about New York City, even if they built a far more extensive subway system very swiftly after Boston’s first tunnel opened?  Kidding aside, it is a dramatic figure focusing on key figures such as Frank J. Sprague, who invented the electric trolley car, and Henry Melville Whitney, who consolidated the trolley lines into the West End Street Railway Company and persuaded city officials to approve the first tunnel.  There are challenges along the way including negative popular opinion, graves of Revolutionary War era soldiers, and an explosion, but the subway is completed and convinces the doubters.  The documentary is well-illustrated with photographs and vintage film, and is a delight to watch.
Rating: ***

 

Book Review: How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon


Author: Kekla Magoon
TitleHow It Went Down
Narrators: Cherise Boothe , Shari Peele , Kevin R. Free , Avery R. Glymph , and Patricia Lucretia Floyd
Publication Info: Recorded Books, 2014
Summary/Review:

A story familiar to any American: in a poor urban neighborhood, there’s a scuffle.  A white man in a passing car, stops, draws his gun, fires, and a black teenager Tariq Johnson is dead.  The police let the shooter go claiming he was exercising self-defense.  The novel is told from many voices of Tariq’s family, friends, neighbors, and a visiting minister (who is also running for office) who arrives in town to offer his support.  They offer conflicting views – was Tariq a gang member or not, did he have a gun or not – as well as memories of Tariq, and their part in the communal grieving process.   This highly nuanced book shows that there are no angels but also that there is no one unworthy of empathy.  Excellent reading by a cast of actors performing the various characters’ parts.

Recommended booksLet the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Rating: ****

Book Review: Frozen: The Cinestory by Robert Simpson


Author: Robert Simpson
TitleFrozen: The Cinestory
Publication Info: Joe Books Inc. (2014)
Summary/Review:

I read this adaptation of the Disney musical Frozen with my daughter over the course of several bedtimes.  It’s essentially scenes from the film arranged in a comic book format.  Strangely enough, none of the lyrics to the songs that made this musical famous are included in the book.  Instead the same basic ideas are related in the dialogue.  I don’t know if this is a licensing issue or if they just thought it would work better in comic form without the songs.  Nevertheless, if you and your children enjoy Frozen, this is an enjoyable read.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Walking Dead Vol. 26: Call To Arms by Robert Kirkman


AuthorRobert Kirkman
TitleThe Walking Dead Vol. 26: Call To Arms
Publication Info: Image Comics (2016)
Summary/Review:

I’ve never been much too impressed with the character of Negan, so color me surprised that in this story of Negan escaping and joining The Whisperers, I find him funny, interesting, and even a voice of conscience!  It’s the little surprises like this that keep me reading when this series often seems to just retread that same things again and again.  Plus there’s quite a cliffhanger at the end, but Negan isn’t necessarily a reliable narrator so who knows where it will lead to next.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Walking Dead Vol. 25: No Turning Back by Robert Kirkman


AuthorRobert Kirkman
TitleThe Walking Dead Vol. 25: No Turning Back
Publication Info: Image Comics (2016)
Summary/Review:

It seems not that long ago Rick Grimes decided that the way forward was to stop fighting and to work together to create a new society among the dead.  Well, since the creators of The Walking Dead seem only about to work with one or two ideas (while tantalizingly dancing around something more brilliant) we’re back to all out war as the central narrative of the ongoing zombie story.  Rick gets advice from Negan of all people and takes on an authoritarian leadership role to channel the Alexandrians rage at against the Whisperers.  Plus ça change…

Rating: **

Book Review: Nobody by Marc Lamont Hill


Author: Marc Lamont Hill
TitleNobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond
Publication Info: Atria Books (2016)
Summary/Review:

Hill’s book is a collection of essays focused on the people whose names have become party of a litany of violence against African-Americans in recent years: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin and others.  These people who have been made a Nobody in contemporary America are given their full human dignity in Hill’s account of their lives, as well as the incidents that brought their demise and their aftermath.  But Hill goes beyond the headlines and uses these incidents as a window into the greater societal and political trends that undergird them: “broken windows” policing, plea bargains denying people accused of crimes of their day in court and the incredible power this gives prosecutors, “Stand Your Ground” laws and the arming of America,  mass incarceration, and the neoliberal ideal of running the government “like a business” that leads to the exploitation and disasters of places like Flint, Michigan.  This is a powerful book and important book and one I highly recommend that everyone concerned about the future of our nation reads.
Favorite Passages:

“The case for broken-windows policing is compelling because it lightly dipped in truth.  Yet while there is a correlation between disorder (social and physical) and crime, research shows that this relationship is not causal.  Simply put, there is no evidence that disorder directly promotes crime.  What the evidence does suggest, however, is that the two are linked to the same larger problem: poverty.  High levels of unemployment, lack of social resources, and concentrated areas of low income are all root cause of both high crime and disorder.  As such, crime would be more effectively redressed by investing economically in neighborhoods rather than targeting them for heightened arrests.” – p. 44

“Unfortunately, since modern American society, as with all things in the current neoliberal moment, prioritize privatization and individualism, the very notion of the public has become disposable.  As the current criminal-justice process shows, no longer is there a collective interest in affirming the value of the public good, even rhetorically, through the processes of transparency, honesty, or fairness.  No longer is there a commitment to monitoring and evaluating public officials, in this case prosecutors, to certify that justice prevails.  Instead we have entered a moment in which all things public have been demonized withing out social imagination: public schools, public assistance, public transportation, public housing, public options, and public defenders.  In place of a rich democratic conception of “the public” is a market-driven logic that privileges economic efficiency and individual success over collective justice.” – p. 78-79

“There is plenty of reason to debate the central premise of privatization – that business always does it better – but we don’t have to go there to find this idea objectionable.  In the way that privatization separates government responsibilities from democratic accountability, the notion is flawed from its very conception.  Businesses are not made function for the public good.  The are made to function for the good of profit. There is nothing inherently evil in that.  In most cases, the profit motive will almost certainly lead to a more efficient and orderly execution of tasks.  But it does not necessarily lead to an equitable execution of tasks; indeed, it quite naturally resists and equitable execution of tasks. Furthermore, bu injecting moneymaking into the relationship between a citizen and the basic services of life – water, roads, electricity, and education – privatization distorts the social contract.  People need to know that the decisions of governments are being made with the common good as a priority.  Anything else is not government; it is commerce.  One only needs to look back at Michigan to see this idea manifested because the crisis in Flint, as Henry Giroux has written, is what happens when the State is ‘remade in the image of the corporation.'”

 

Recommended books: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson


Author: Jacqueline Woodson 
TitleAnother Brooklyn 
Narrator: Robin Miles
Publication Info:  HarperCollins Publishers and Blackstone Audio, 2016
Summary/Review:

This short novel is the reminiscences of the narrator August reflecting on her childhood in 1970s Brooklyn.  It’s a period piece that recreates a place and time so different from the Brooklyn of today, and very specifically the challenges of joys of being an African-American girl in that place and time.  It’s also a meditation on friendship, as August recalls the tight relationships with her friends Gigi, Angela, and Sylvia, friendships that at the time seemed permanent but have long since faded away.  The book is permeated with a nostalgic sense of loss, and is a poetic rumination of the more complex themes underlying everyday childhood.

Recommended booksSula by Toni Morrison and The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
Rating: ***1/2

TV Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017)


TitleA Series of Unfortunate Events
Release Dates: 2017
Season: 1
Number of Episodes: 8
Summary/Review:

The adaptation of the Lemony Snicket (a.k.a. Daniel Handler) novels is a great success, capturing the humor, tragedy, and pedagogy of the Baudelaire orphans sad tale.  It’s been over a decade since I read the books, but the tv show appears to be largely to the books with the exception of the introduction of some characters and the themes of the VFD that actually play a bigger role later in the series (not a bad idea for the tv show).  Neil Patrick Harris gets a lot of attention for his performance as the evil Count Olaf, and he chews the scenery in a way that will delight most viewers (although I can also see how he could irritate some).  The thing is, NPH isn’t even the best thing about this show.  The main cast of young actors includes Malina Weissman as Violet, Louis Hynes as Klaus, and the greatest baby actor ever in Presley Smith as Sunny.  Patrick Warburton offers a dry delivery of the narration as Lemony Snicket and K. Todd Freeman is the forever clueless, and coughing, Mr. Poe.  The guest cast includes spectacular performances by Joan Cusack, Aasif Mandvi, Alfre Woodard, Don Johnson, Catherine O’Hara, and Rhys Darby. And kudos for the diversity in the casting decisions not necessarily indicated in the source material. The surreal sets and the brightly-colored costumes lend an unworldly effect to the Snicketverse.  This is a brilliant show, and despite the warning from the opening title song to “Look Away,” this is definitely a show to watch and enjoy.

TV Review: Sherlock (2017)


Title: Sherlock
Release Dates: 2017
Season: 4
Number of Episodes: 3
Summary/Review:

Since 2010, the BBC has presented the reimagined adventures of Sherlock Holmes set in modern-day London starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson.  It may sound facile, but after watching this fourth season, I wish the show had stuck with telling stories of two men solving mysteries.  It seems that this show has gone from being about a man with remarkable abilities in gritty, everyday London to being a show about a man with superpowers in a fantasy world paralleling our own.

The purpose of each episode in this series seems to be to put a character through emotional and physical torment and see how they react – Mary (Amanda Abbington) in “The Six Thatchers,” John in “The Lying Detective,” and Sherlock in “The Final Problem.”  It’s a credit to the acting talent of these actors (and others in supporting roles) that the show remains compelling to watch, but the absence of story (and mystery and adventure) is clearly missing in this series.  That the series is a set of three 90-minute “feature-length” episodes doesn’t help as the emotional and character arcs would be developed better over a longer series.

The end of the series appears to be resetting Sherlock to its original “Holmes/Watson solve a mystery premise,” while at the same time rumors are swirling that the show is now at an end.  I do hope it returns, because it is still a compelling show to watch, but I hope the showrunners and writers take some time to rest and reconsider before creating another series.

Book Review: Trouble Boys by Bob Mehr


Author: Bob Mehr
TitleTrouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements
Publication Info: Boston, MA : Da Capo Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group, [2016]
Summary/Review:

The Replacements are a band that have left a legacy of great music, yet always seemed to have the potential to do much more.  After reading this book though, it seems amazing that they even accomplished what they did.  Beyond their music, The Replacements are known for their heavy alcohol and substance abuse and their disastrous antics on-stage.  Turns out that they actually played better when drunk, and their worst performances were a rebellion against perceived hostility in the crowd or plain old self-sabotage. From the beginning, the band is riven by conflicts among its members and with their managers, producers, and record labels.

Mehr’s book traces the band back to their childhoods which were troubled indeed, especially for the Stinson brothers who suffered from abuse and neglect.  Each member of the band is well-developed within the narrative of the band’s rise and fall:

Bob Stinson – The founder of the band who always resented Paul Westerberg essentially taking over, and disliked the move to more melodic pop songs.  Stinson’s substance abuse problems were the most serious of all The Replacements, and he was forced out of the band in 1986.

Tommy Stinson – Bob had his little brother take up bass, and Tommy ended up developing into the most talented instrumentalist in the band.  Tommy’s life is remarkable as he drops out of school and he essentially spends his teenage years playing and touring with The Replacements.  Eventually he grows close to Westerberg and allies with him against his own brother.

Paul Westerberg – In the story related in the book, Westerberg hears the Stinsons’ band rehearsing in their basement and pretty takes over and makes them his band.  Westerberg comes across as arrogant and dismissive, and I really felt like punching him in the face by the end of this book.  And yet, Westerberg also grows to become a talented songwriter creating introspective songs that speak for the disaffected youth of the 1980s.

Chris Mars – Every band has a “quiet one” and The Replacements’ drummer is not just a musician but an artist who finds fulfillment outside of the band.  Still the way Paul & Tommy basically ditch him in the later years is just wrong.

Slim Dunlap – A journeyman/session guitarist who takes over after Bob Stinson’s ousting, he’s older than the rest of the band and settled in his married life, creating quite a contrast.  And yet he becomes something of an enforcer for the band against outsiders.

All in all, this is a well-written book that gives the reasons that for all their flaws, we still kind of find ourselves rooting for The Replacements to succeed.
Favorite Passages:

Though the band’s drinking would come to define and even consume them in later years, in the beginning it was a perfect lubricant for the long hours of practice and their burgeoning friendship. “That was the glue that held us—ol’ Jack Daniels,” said Mars. Westerberg noted: “They weren’t heavy fall-down drunks when I met them. None of us were. We learned to be that together.”

Where other groups evinced a certain artfulness or tried to present an idealized vision of themselves, the Replacements were all rough edges and struggle. That was part of the attraction: watching them, you couldn’t help but root for the band.

When Hoeger asked about their career aspirations, Westerberg articulated a prescient vision of the Replacements’ future: “We’d like to become famous without being professional,” he said. “Maybe like a giant cult.”

“To me, the soul of rock-and-roll is mistakes. Mistakes and making them work for you,” Westerberg would note. “In general, music that’s flawless is usually uninspired.”

Over the course of their career onstage, the Replacements would happily play the role of jesters and buffoons, but their concerts were also a high-wire act as well as a geek show. On one level, it was theater, pure performance—but it was real too. The band was constitutionally unable to put on a conventional act. If they were bored, they sounded bored; if they were drunk, the sets careened; if they were angry, their playing seethed; if they felt ornery, the show might devolve into one long piss-take, a joke on the crowd. That kind of calculated authenticity—in all its paradoxical glory—would be the Replacements’ methodology moving forward.

True Replacements fans—not the ones coming to live vicariously through them or to find sanction for their own behavior—were a different breed. “When we started, we were mixed-up kids, and we wrote about it,” said Westerberg. “It’s funny that the people who related to it the most weren’t fucked-up kids, though. Our fans have always been, dare I say, a little more intelligent than the band was labeled as. I always thought that ironic.” Replacements partisans were, on the whole, literate, dark-humored, and a bit confused about their place in the world. They weren’t the go-getters or yuppie types, but they weren’t hopeless wastrels either. They were, Tommy Stinson would note, “more like us than they fuckin’ knew. They didn’t really fit anywhere. They probably didn’t aspire to a whole lot, but also didn’t aspire to doing nothing either. That’s the kind of fan we probably appealed to most: the people that were in that gray area.

Prince was rumored to have lurked in the shadows at some of the Replacements’ shows at First Avenue, but it was in the bathroom of a club in St. Paul where Westerberg finally ran into him. “Oh, hey,” said Westerberg, seeing the dolled-up singer standing next to him at the urinal. “What’s up, man?” Prince turned and responded in cryptic fashion: “Life.”

Dubbing the Replacements “America’s inebriate counterpart to the Smiths,” Reynolds was one of the few European journalists to grasp the peculiar alchemy that fueled the ’Mats: “At the heart of the Replacements lies fatigue, insecurity, a sense of wasted or denied possibilities, but this is a pain that comes out bursting and exuberant, a world weariness that’s positively, paradoxically boisterous.”

Recommended books: Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink by Elvis Costello
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Detonators by Chad Millman


Author: Chad Millman
TitleThe Detonators: The Secret Plot to Destroy America and an Epic Hunt for Justice
Narrator: Lloyd James
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2006)
Summary/Review:

This work of history unravels an overlooked incident in American history: the Black Tom explosion.  This munitions depot on a spit of land on the New Jersey side of New York Harbor was detonated by German saboteurs on July 30, 1916, before the United States had entered the World War.  Debris from the explosion damaged the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge and shattered windows in Manhattan, so it is surprising that it is not a more well-known event. Millman traces the actions of the network of German spies who caused the explosion.  But the better part of the book is dedicated to the legal efforts to hold Germany responsible for the explosion and the series of legal proceedings that occurred over decades until Germany was forced to pay legal damages in 1939, just before another war was about to begin.  The book is plodding at times, and the explosion occurring so early in the book makes the rest feel anticlimactic, but it is a fascinating incident in American history that deserves greater awareness
Recommended booksThe Day Wall Street Exploded by Beverly Gage
Rating: ***

Book Review: So Close to Home by Michael J. Tougias and Alison O’Leary


Author: Michael J. Tougias and Alison O’Leary
TitleSo Close to Home
Narrator: Elijah Alexander
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, 2016
Summary/Review:

The severity of the German u-boat campaign on American ships in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico in the early days of World War II is often overlooked.  Tougias and O’Leary tell that history through the story of the Downs family of Texas as they sail on the cargo ship Heredia from Costa Rica to New Orleans.  The ship is destroyed by torpedoes on the May 19, 1942, and the Downs family are separated in the wreck, each having their own survival journey along with some members of the crew.  It’s a very gripping tale, but Tougias and O’Leary have a bigger story to tell based on the records of u-boat captains and the crews who were big heroes in Nazi Germany.  This means that the Downs’ story is broken up by long sections about the u-boat warfare in general and the experiences of their crew.  Perhaps the Downs’ story was too thin to make a book of its own, but the approach taken here makes the narrative very uneven.  Nevertheless, it is an interesting glimpse into an overlooked period in American history.

Recommended booksUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
Rating: ***

Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli


Author: Becky Albertalli
TitleSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Narrator: Michael Crouch
Publication Info: Harper Audio, 2015
Summary/Review:

Simon is a closeted gay teenager living in the Atlanta suburbs and finding himself falling in love for the first time.  The problem is that the boy he loves he only knows through anonymous email exchanges.  Over the course of this novel, both Simon and “Blue” end up coming out and eventually meeting in real life.  But what’s great about this novel is that it explores the changes and complications of life in Simon’s circle of friends and family.  The book has a lot of heart, romance, and humor.

Recommended books:

Every Day by David Levithan and George by Alex Gino
Rating: ***1/2