This was an album that, for whatever reason, I kept putting off listening to last year. I finally got around to it after seeing how many “Best Of 2012″ lists included Mike and it now tops my “Best of 2012 that I didn’t listen to until 2013″ list.
This is an aggressive album both musically and lyrically. The production is tackled by El-P who is known for his dark, tense beats, mixing synths, grime and classic samples; they are a soundtrack to a dystopian urban future. His soundscapes are detailed and crafted with Mike’s delivery and content in mind. A less skilled rapper would be swallowed by these sounds but Mike’s swagger and righteous anger fit hand and glove with El’s beats.
Lyrically this album is message-heavy with nods to classic hip hop (Eazy-E and Public Enemy are referenced) as well as R&B/Soul/Jazz/Blues legends that infused politics into their art (Nina Simone/Miles Davis). His song “Reagan” details government and political lies (“We invaded sovereign soil going after oil, taking countries is a hobby paid for by the oil lobby”), “Don’t Die” is a story of running from dirty cops (“Cause if I get caught it’s my life they terminate, or stick me in a cell at Guantanamo Bay … I’ll be an outlaw before I ever behave, I’ll die a free man before I live like a slave, and nothing changes if they catch me today, f*#k the police is still all I gotta say.”).
For me, Mike is probably at his best when he’s rapping about the difficulties of growing up poor in a racist society and the impact family and music can have. He ends the album with two inspiring tracks “Willie Burke Sherwood” and the title track: “What I say might save a life, what I speak might save the street, I ain’t got no instruments but I got my hands and feet … And the words that I put in the wind, coming back like a boomerang, when I take this microphone, point it at the crowd they start to sing.”
Here is a short list of books that I enjoyed from the last year:
The Fault In Our Stars – John Green
Signature John Green elements are evident throughout this heartbreaking Young Adult love story : quirky characters, whip-smart dialogue, unattainable love interests, a sidekick, and a quest to find meaning in this world. This time he deals with the growing relationship between two teenagers who meet through a cancer therapy group and end up going to great lengths to find out the unwritten ending to a life-changing book.
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
A fluffy weekend thriller novel that can be compared to a Lifetime movie plot, I enjoyed the conversation this book sparked more than the book itself. A difference of opinion regarding a book can be just the thing to get you out of a reading slump (no, this does not mean I’m going to read 50 Shades). I rarely get a chance to discuss books with colleagues and patrons to the degree that I’ve been able to with Gone Girl. Some loved the carefully revealed spoilery twists and others slogged through and wondered who cared? Would make a great book club choice.
Broken Harbor – Tana French
Although French’s mysteries follow most police procedural conventions, the emphasis is generally on a deeply personal connection between the Detective and their assignment, usually with difficult resolutions. Detective “Scorcher” Kennedy is paired with a rookie and their roles of teacher and student are tested while assigned to a homicide in Broken Harbor, a failed new housing community outside of Dublin, Ireland. French’s plotting is flawless, her descriptions are vivid, the police dialogue is authentic and convincing, and the outcome is devastating.
Londoners : The Days and Nights of London Now – As Told By Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, and Long For It – Craig Taylor
I’m an unabashed Anglophile, so when I saw Craig Taylor had edited a 400 page book of tales from London’s residents I knew I had to be first on the hold list. Taylor spent years interviewing a wide variety of residents of London and their impressions about the city, we’re treated to some short humorous tales interspersed with truly heartfelt odes to a hometown with a long history. I was reminded of Studs Terkel’s collections at times but found it worked best to read only a few chapters in a sitting. It would make a great travel companion guide, I often wished I was walking around the boroughs referenced in the tales.
You do not have to be a lover of sushi to enjoy this documentary, it is actually about so much more than just a type of food. The focus of the film is on 85 year-old sushi master Jiro Ono and the workings of his tiny ten-seat Michelen 3 star restaurant in Tokyo. The Director, David Gelb, could have spent a lot of time interviewing famous chefs praising the food (this is the age of celebrity chefs) but instead he simply shows us Jiro’s process behind his tireless quest for perfection. Some scenes that, for me, quickly helped demonstrate the quest included:
a sushi pilgrim has traveled hours, he enters the restaurant before opening to inquire about their serving times only to be politely informed that reservations need to be made a month in advance, there are no appetizers – only sushi, and starting cost is $300
an apprentice trains to make the grilled egg (Tamagoyaki) only to be told each time that it is not right, after six months of making eggs Jiro tells him it is acceptable and he breaks down in tears
Jiro’s son, Yoshikauzu, bikes to the fish market and meets with the Jiro equivalents of each specific seafood (the shrimp master, the tuna master, etc…) who save Jiro the best products
A main theme that comes from the interviews with Jiro and the employees is that of the passing of the torch to his son. It seems many believe that, despite the skills his son has acquired through extensive training, that the restaurant will never be the same simply because of the aura that surrounds Jiro. Without leaving the universe of Jiro’s restaurant, the film also touches on the history of sushi and what the future might hold with regards to fishery stock.
There are many gorgeous long shots of the sushi presentation combined with long silent contemplative moments with Jiro and his son. In this age of multitasking and diversification, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is an ode to focusing on just one thing and doing it to perfection. The soundtrack features a lot of classical music and I find Philip Glass music to be the perfect accompaniment for sushi. The only drawback for me was that no matter how good my local sushi might be, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop imagining what it could have been.
I first discovered Frank Ocean through his 2011 free online mixtape “Nostalgia, Ultra” which had some original R&B tracks and others that were sampled music put to original lyrics. If you follow music news then you might remember the mixtape’s problems relating to his remake of “Hotel California” (bless those ever-litigious Eagles). I wasn’t sure what he’d be capable of with his own material but have found that I’m pleasantly surprised with the final album, “Channel Orange.”
In terms of song styles and themes it’s a bit all over the park but because of the quality of each track, the album works it out. Lyrically he blends modern playboy swagger talk with sweetly naïve introspective emo poetry. These songs are chock full of hooks that you’ll be singing under your breath all day long, or, if you’re like some of the teens in our Computer Lab, you’ll proudly sing them loudly and off-key.
There are a few throw-aways that you might skip on subsequent listens but I think even these have their moments. At his best he channels the funky “Songs in the Key of Life” Stevie Wonder hooks and vocals, the falsetto soul bedroom-voice of D’Angelo, and the brash modern arrogance of big R&B artists tempered with indie-emo sensibilities.
Standout tracks are the ballad “Thinking Bout You”, fun ’70s soul/funk throwback “Sweet Life”, the summer-mellow melody and rapping on “Super Rich Kids”, and epic prog-funk “Pyramids.” I can also see a lot of broken-hearted teens and twenty-somethings singing “Bad Religion” to themselves in the dark thinking about their own unrequited love.
So far Channel Orange is my favorite album of the year, even after a solid month of it on repeat.
This nonfiction book, primarily aimed at upper elementary and junior high students, gives a quick, readable overview of the iconic American civil rights photograph of Elizabeth Eckford and the attempted integration of Little Rock Central High School in 1957.
Tougas uses the first chapter to give a riveting account, with primary source dialogue, of what was to be 15-year-old Elizabeth’s first day of school at the newly integrated Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. She and eight other African-American students (now known as the Little Rock Nine) were to begin classes on September 4th, 1957, but when Elizabeth arrived she was alone and faced an angry mob of hundreds of protestors and armed National Guardsmen who barred her entrance. The photo spreads and personal accounts are shocking albeit a bit emotionally distant due to the succinct text.
Being part of the Compass Point Books “Captured History” series, the book features large photos depicting the events of that day and the aftermath of this Civil Rights Movement struggle. There is quite a bit of discussion about the iconic photograph taken by photographer Will Counts of white student, Hazel Bryan, shouting racial abuse at Elizabeth. Readers will learn about the impact photojournalism has on the world and what it can feel like to be defined not only by your skin color but by a single photograph.
Short chapters with simple, effective sentences also allow tweens and teens to easily follow the developments of the integration battle in Little Rock, give a basic history of the Civil Rights Movement, and provide a “where are they now” of Will Counts and the Little Rock Nine students. Tougas’ book gives us a good introduction to the topic and includes a list of further reading to help students know where to go for more detailed information.
This is an album of hushed, chill R&B/soul vocals over danceable electronic and drum-kit beats all wrapped in outer space synths. Singer Yukimi Nagano’s jazzy vocals are the obvious draw for first-time listeners; her notes are clear with a bit of swagger and she refrains from the obnoxious diva runs that I get tired of hearing. I usually tend to focus on lyrics but with Ritual Union I don’t think I could recite a line, instead it’s more about the song’s attitude. It is an album that requires low lights and the trendiest cocktail you can afford, but feel free to keep your Chucks on.
I’ve definitely been wearing this album out all summer and I’m ashamed I missed the group at Mission Creek 2010. You can also look for Yukimi and company on the 2011 dubstep album by SBTRKT on the track, “Wildfire”. Hear the title track to Ritual Union below :
Iowa City’s amazing downtown music festival Mission Creek begins Monday and this year organizers have expanded to include a larger literary lineup that nicely compliments the indie live music performances. The lineup is diverse enough that it will satisfy Live From Prairie Lights traditionalists while also catering to a postmodern McSweeney’s/N+1-esque crowd.
Tuesday’s reading at Prairie Lights features Deb Olin Unferth and Katie Crouch. Deb Olin Unferth has just published a witty and self-deprecating new memoir, Revolution : The Year I Fell In Love And Went To Join The War about her experiences with her boyfriend in 1987 hitching to Central America “to help foment the revolution”. Katie Crouch has two previous novels Girls In Trucks and Men And Dogs which both focus on Southern women reflecting on past mistakes and trying to pull their life together, there is always plenty of humor in all that drama.
If you find your festival schedule revolves around the rawest acts at Gabe’s or White Lightning Wherehouse then I recommend stopping by the Emerging Writers Reading event at Prairie Lights for Tao Lin and Lindsay Hunter. These authors write difficult, funny, gritty and honest short stories that are often about people just trying to connect to each other (and sometimes dolphins) or finding meaning in a bleak world. You can check out Lindsay Hunter’s new story collection Daddy’s : 24 Fictions and Tao Lin’s many books (try Eeeee Eee Eeee or Richard Yates) from the Fiction collection on the library’s first floor.
The library also has representative work from authors at the gathering to be held Saturday by Granta Magazine. Try Ben Percy’s thriller The Wilding that the Oregonion called, “Deliverance meets Sometimes a Great Notion” or the dark comedy of Sam Lipsyte. I recommend Lipsyte’s novel Home Land as the best cure for impending High School reunion illness. Slate magazine writes that his latest novel The Ask, “will leaven your anger, bake it up, and serve it back to you in the form of impolite metaphors, funny observations, and unheralded moments of non ‘ironic’ emotion.”
The Iowa City Public Library has selections from all these authors and many readalikes as well, so stop by the Fiction Desk in between sets and we’ll talk lit!
The New Year is here and when scanning the countless “Best of 2010 Fiction” lists it seems there was no shortage of good novels to read this year. Crafting these “Best Of…” lists seems to be a journalistic necessity as just about every magazine, newspaper, or blog highlights their favorites of the year. The lists vary so dramatically that it is impossible to have read all the picks in 2010, fortunately most publishers hold their blockbusters for the spring and summer months so now is the perfect time to catch up before the 2011 publishing deluge begins!
If your free reading time is limited you would do well to focus on one of the following novels that made many lists. It took almost a decade but Jonathan Franzen followed up his National Book Award-winning novel The Corrections with another huge literary success. Freedom was so highly praised that the resulting Time cover story, Twitter feud, and Oprah selection (would he accept?) nearly overshadowed his major achievement. The unbelievably talented David Mitchell made many lists but was again robbed of the Man Booker Prize, this time for his historical fiction novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet. Set in shogun-era Japan he supplies intriguing historical details and vivid characters with an almost playful language, read the first paragraph of Chapter 39 aloud to see just what feats this young author is capable of. Another Booker Prize loser that the lists championed was Emma Donoghue’s claustrophobic abduction story, Room, which features a five-year-old child describing life with Ma imprisoned in a single room. Finally, there were also two hit sleeper novels that were written in the form of interwoven stories. Jennifer Egan’s dark characters in A Visit From The Goon Squad all have some tie to the music industry and The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman details the collapse of an English language newspaper in Rome through the eyes of the paper’s employees.
All caught up on these lists and want to find the next big thing? Well the buzz is building for a few debut novelists coming in February 2011 so place your holds fast. Karen Russell published her short story collection St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised By Wolves back in 2006 and was featured in The New Yorker’s debut fiction issue and named one of their “20 under 40”. Her first novel Swamplandia! details the peculiar Bigtree family’s trials amidst a fading amusement park in backwater Florida, recommended for fans of Aimee Bender and George Saunders. Benjamin Hale was awarded the Provost’s Fellowship while at the Iowa Writers Workshop and the resulting novel The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, a memoir of an educated and artistic chimpanzee, should be quite popular here. Finally, Teju Cole has his U.S. debut with a meditative novel Open City which follows the conversations and internal monologues of a young Nigerian immigrant wandering in post 9/11 New York. Cole created an interesting companion Tumblr page for topics that occur in the novel and the Publisher’s Weekly starred review should help this book find a wider readership.
Be sure to visit the Iowa City Public Library’s Fiction Desk for help locating these or any other “Best of…” titles. Happy reading in the New Year and comment here or on our Facebook page throughout the year to let us know what is topping your 2011 list!
The most exciting part of the annual American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting is the literary award announcements. Two that cover literature for Young Adults are the Michael L. Printz Award (best in Young Adult Literature) and the Alex Awards (ten adult books that appeal to teen readers).
This year’s Printz Award went to Paolo Bacigalupi (possibly the best name in YA lit) for Ship Breaker. This is a terrific adventure story set in a bleak future near New Orleans. Global ecological disasters have scarred the coast as we follow the boy scavenger Nailer’s adventures after he and a friend discover the wreckage of a pleasure yacht. Problems arise after they find a body among the plunder. Paolo also shared top honors at the 2010 Hugo Awards for his adult Science Fiction book The Windup Girl.
The Alex Awards are a great list for High School readers that are looking to make that leap to the adult fiction and nonfiction areas but don’t know many authors beyond Stephen King, Jodi Picoult, or the Child Called It guy. It’s also a pretty great list for adults too! These are the top ten for 2011:
The 2010 Adult Summer Reading Program (SRP) wrapped up at the end of July and we’ve taken some time to analyze the Reading Forms to see what you all were reading this summer! There was obviously a wide variety of books read or listened to, everything from The A.B.C. Murders to You’ve Been Warned (what, no titles that started with ‘Z’?!).