Sunday, December 27, 2009

What's on my Nightstand

Due to space limitations, this short book review was even shorter in today's Plain Dealer. Here's the complete version.
This is a really good read, I recommend it.

“Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time.” by Rob Sheffield

We all know how music, the proverbial “soundtrack of our lives,” can stir our emotions. But in his 2007 memoir, Rolling Stone contributing editor, Rob Sheffield, offers the reader more than a mix of memories on a cassette tape. It’s a pop culture love story void of a happy ending, but satisfying nonetheless. Sheffield takes us on a musical journey comprised of songs that enriched his life, while introducing us to the people that music gifts him with, including his wife, Renee. “When the bartender at the Eastern Standard put on Big Star’s Radio City, she was the only person in the room who perked up.” In 1997, six years into their marriage, Renee collapses one afternoon, dying from a pulmonary embolism, leaving the author a widow at thirty-one. At first he finds comfort in their shared love of music, “My mix tapes were the life rafts that I held on to.” Still, there are times when music can’t make it all better. One night as he’s driving along a highway, he switches on the car stereo. “The radio was playing ‘American Pie,’ but I only made it a few seconds before I had to change the station. I got Jerry Lee Lewis on the oldies station. He’s still alive, I thought. Reagan is, too. The Pope. I turned off the radio and left it off.”

While many of us haven’t experienced his kind of pain, we can relate to it.

Love is a mix tape, indeed.

And as Sheffield ultimately learns, while not always a happy note, it's still a worthy listen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Books (and Music) Still Make Great Gifts!

I don’t care what “they” say about the popularity of reading newspapers, magazines and books online, I know there are many of you who, like me, wouldn’t give up the feel, and scent, of printed paper to save your soul! (Well okay, maybe to save your soul). True book lovers (I call them “Bookies”) want the real thing—and we’re not talking Kindles (though I do appreciate their appeal). And I’m obviously not alone in this passion. In Sunday’s Plain Dealer, the book section (my favorite, if you haven’t guessed) reports that this year the total book titles PRINTED worldwide will exceed one million, up from the past few years. A very good sign. After all, even if you own a Kindle (and I do know some bookies that love them), it still can’t replace real books (and the covers are often so interesting and appealing. I have been known to, yes, judge a book by its cover).
The Plain Dealer also noted their 20 favorite books of 2009, and while I haven’t read all of them (yet) I can attest to the greatness of “Lit” by Mary Karr (this is her third memoir and she is simply brilliant. I admit to gushing like a rock groupie upon meeting her in New York a few years ago), and “Await Your Reply” by local author, Dan Chaon, who has received much international praise for his work.
And he is just one of many great, talented writers in the Greater Cleveland area. Some of them you are familiar with because they are nationally known, such as Michael Ruhlman, Mary Doria Russell, Joe Eszterhas, Thrity Umrigar, Richard Montanari, Sarah Willis, John Stark Bellamy II, Gail Bellamy, Ted Schwarz, Cinda Chima, Kristin Ohlson, Paula McLain, and Les Roberts.(Can you believe there are so many?!) I could also mention all of their works but that would definitely exceed my word count for this blog. Besides, they are easy to find.
But there are some local authors that if someone didn’t tell you about them, you’d miss out because they don’t get the amount of press others do. So let me do the honors.
If you’d like to enhance your literary world, treat yourself - or the Bookie in your life, to these local authors (Google them for their web sites or to order their books):

Casey Daniels – her mystery series include her latest: “Night of the Loving Dead.”
Erin O’Brien – her “Voice” and humor is her best asset and shows itself in her book, “Harvey & Eck.”
Carole Calladine – “Second Story Woman: A Memoir of Second Chances.” Good read for all, but especially those with Diabetes.
Anne Southworth - "Next Friend: The Journal of a Foster Parent." Documents many of the complexities of being a foster parent.
Peter Chakerian – “Browns Fans’ Tailgating Guide.” His new book is coming soon.
Scott Lax - "The Year That Trembled." Takes readers back to 1970s love and war.
Bill Warnock – “The Dead of Winter” Great for those interested in World War II.
Doris O'Donnell - "Front-Page Girl." Good memoir about the newspaper world of yesterday.
Joyce Dyer - "Gum-Dipped: A Daughter Remembers Rubber Town." Good history on Akron Ohio, but also about family.
Then there are these two, who prove it’s never too late – or too early – to become an author:
Aileen Gilmour, who published her first novel, “The Valley of Nevaeh” at age 80.
R. Jarrett Dowd, who published his first novel “Phases of Reason 1: The Eight Ball" at age 27. You'll be hearing more of him. . . .

And don’t neglect local favorites John Gorman, Michael Heaton, Michael Olszewski (who has a new book coming soon!), Terry Pluto (who has a new book out about LeBron), and Neil Zurcher.
And of course there are others as well. Our city is rich in creativity!

Just one more thing before I go . . . remember all the (well-merited) uproar about downloading music that cheat millions of deserving songwriters out of well-earned royalties? Well it’s now happening with books. There are currently lawsuits protesting the Internet’s infringes on author’s copyrights and it's sure to be an ongoing problem. Now you could argue that without the Internet many authors would hardly be recognized at all, but that's a moot point. Authors deserve every penny due them because being a writer is damn hard work and it takes years to write a book. And just think of all the joy we get from books and music. Plus, the fact that a CD and most books cost around $20 for this wide range of entertainment. So even if you’re on a tight budget, you can put a few dollars away each week (like I used to as a teenager so I can buy an album by my favorite rock group) and have it in your excitable little hands within a month!
Like many actors and visual artists, musicians and writers work hard at their craft and most will never get paid for all the time and blood, sweat and tears they put into it. Yes, they do it because they love it, but it's a tough way to make a living.
Because I understand this, I still go out and purchase a CD or book that I want to enjoy—and I enjoy it so much better knowing I’ve done my small part to support these talented people. Especially those who live and work in our hometown, it’s a way of saying thank you for enriching our lives. Because of each of the authors I’ve mentioned above and so many others (and all the musicians who have rocked my world!), I not only have great memories I can relive over and over at the turn of the page or press of a button, I have learned many things about life, love and how to have a really good time - through their words and music.
So enjoy this season of peace and love and I recommend you give a gift that will keep on giving! Merry Christmas!