Monday, January 26, 2015

Mozart in the Jungle by Blair Tindall

Title: Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music
Author: Blair Tindall
Publisher: Grove Music
Released: 2006

Unfortunately, I purchased this book.

Find it on:
I watched the pilot episode of Mozart in the Jungle on Amazon. I figured I'd read the memoir of the same title, which the show is (loosely) based on, before continuing with the series.

The portions of the book that deal with the history of classical music in the United States and how that plays into its business and education sides were well-cited and thought-provoking. It definitely opens up dialogue. What is the musician's relationship to the audience? Are we including the audience in the artistic experience, or using them as a way to stroke our own egos? What is the music teacher's responsibility to the younger generation? Are we supporting unrealistic, lofty dreams of "going to Juilliard" and encouraging students to go into an unsustainable field? Is this field as unsustainable as it seems? Or is it that the old way of doing things needs to change?

"I overlooked the fact that we were rehearsing for free (we were paid only for concerts), we perpetuated the classic scenario of artists subsidizing a performing arts group, the only way such a group can come close to paying its own way without substantial funding." (page 71)
"Conductors and executives are regarded as a class of workers whose superior skills entitle them to demand astronomical salaries from nonprofit organizations that are already in debt. As the oxymoronic concept of such classical music "stars" grows, the musicians themselves begin to appear peripheral to the organizations, or even the music interpretation." (page 299)

There's no denying that there are problems in the classical music world that need to be addressed. I appreciated the perspective she brought to some of these issues.


A gossipy tone overshadows the entire book. Tindall is such an unreliable narrator, it's hard to know how much is true and how much is either embellishment or her own twisted perception of actual events (which she goes on and on and on about in excruciating detail). Most musicians practice long hours, work hard, and make honest, meaningful connections with each other. Of course there are individuals who make unscrupulous choices. But "trading sex and drugs" as a way to "network" is not necessary, and is in no way the norm.

Tindall goes for shock value in this memoir, and even seems to take delight in it. It felt voyeuristic and skeevy, and the fact that she names names made it even worse. It was like being caught in the middle of a personal vendetta. It was really, really hard to pull through the majority of the book; its positive aspects were simply too few and far between. For the most part, I found this to be a tacky, tabloid-like read that casts a sweeping, unfair light on an entire profession.

So disappointed in this one.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Children's Corner: One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul

For the first two years of my blog, I participated in Small Fry Saturday, hosted by the wonderful Kelly at The Well-Red Redhead. Now C is halfway through kindergarten. The books we read and the way we talk about them don't feel so "small fry" anymore. With Kelly's blessing, I'm moving on to something I'm going to call "Children's Corner" (isn't that a sweet picture of C at age 2?).

I'm thinking these will be whenever-I-feel-like-it posts about children's booksand bookish topics as they relate to kidsfrom a variety of angles, whether it's pure fun, something we incorporate into our homeschool days or other activities, or merely something bookish I want to discuss or share.

All too often when I'm browsing the nonfiction children's titles on NetGalley, I spot a book that looks like it might tie in perfectly with a topic we're already focusing on (or planning to focus on). We tend to combine homeschooling and Girl Scouts when we can. One Plastic Bag ended up being a combined science and social studies lesson, and the discussion it sparked helped C work on her dark green "Use Resources Wisely" Clover petal as a Girl Scout Daisy. (It would also work well for the light pink "Make the World a Better Place" Rosie petal, and I have a feeling we'll revisit this book when she starts on the "Between Earth and Sky" Journey.)
Title: One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia
Author: Miranda Paul Publisher: Millbrook Press
Illustrator: Elizabeth Zunon Expected Release: February 1, 2015
SourceI received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley to be considered for an honest review.
Age range: Geared to interest ages 5-9, at a 2nd grade reading level.
Find it on: Indiebound | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

One Plastic Bag tells the true story of Isatou Ceesay, who led other women in her area to tackle the overwhelming garbage problemspecifically, plasticin their tiny village, Njau. Isatou had the idea to collect the plastic bags littering their community, wash them, cut them into thin strips, use the strips like thread to crochet and sell purses. Rich details of Gambian culture are portrayed through the text (including smatterings of the Wolof language) and the illustrations (from bright vivid clothing to babywearing).

Isatou and her friends took garbage and turned it into something beautiful, a small action that ended up creating an enormously positive impact on their local environment and economy. You see the decline of Njau's beauty as Isatou does, as she grows up. You understand a possible reason why people in the community were so careless about letting litter pile up in the first place. The detrimental impact on Njau offers up a wide variety of points for discussion: There's the dirty, standing water with mosquitoes (malaria), the stench of burning plastic (health), goats that died from eating plastic bags (these animals are essential to a family's financial well-being). And Isatou's actions are an inspiring launching pad for talking with children about creative responses to the needs around us, taking action even when it seems too insignificant to really help, leadership skills, and fair trade businesses.

All at an age-appropriate, elementary school level. This is a substantial little picture book!

The end is chock full of resources, including a map, a timeline, book suggestions for further reading, and an easy-to-follow Wolof glossary and pronunciation guide.

I thought I'd be all fancy and give Isatou's ingenious craft a try. I used a Target bag, cut the longest strip I could, and just for sample purposes, cast on 15 stitches. You guys, this was difficult. The plastic wanted to make janky stitches, and I couldn't tell which way was up. Granted, I'm a beginner when it comes to crochet, but at least with regular yarn it's easy to see what's going on. I only got through 3 rows before I got to the end of the thread. I don't know how to add more, so I had to stop there. The result wasn't very pretty, although C said it was "a nice braid."

I'm sure more capable (and craftier) hands would have far less trouble than I did. C isn't ready to try this herself, but this would be a great activity to do with older kids. The attempt definitely gave me a deeper perspective into the story. I made that mess, but Isatou Ceesay and her friends made items ike this, crocheting at night, by candlelight. Just amazing.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Dirty Chick by Antonia Murphy

Title: Dirty Chick: Adventures of an Unlikely Farmer
Author: Antonia Murphy
Publisher: Gotham
Released: January 22, 2015

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to be considered for an honest review.

Find it on:
Antonia Murphy and her family move from San Francisco to New Zealand expecting a quiet, peaceful life in the country where their children can thrive. Dirty Chick is an expat memoir of their first year as "hobby farmers" in a place where the local families have a centuries-old history of serious farming.

Murphy provides a hilarious dose of reality: If you've ever had a romantic urge to move to the beautiful countryside and raise some sweet, adorable animals, you'll think again after reading this book. I laughed out loud a lot. She had me googling "duck penis" (warning: NSFW) within the first six pages!

But—and this was a huge issue for me—I grew more and more uncomfortable with how casually she was with the rape humor. Is it necessary to anthropomorphize animal mating rituals and equate them with sexual assault, over and over again? Even worse, attempt to make it funny? I couldn't help but feel that her irreverent sense of humor crossed a line: Rape isn't a joke. Period.

I love a good expat memoir. I enjoy reading about making new friendships and putting down roots, and the unexpected adventures that come along with that. I know nothing about farming, at all, so that was pretty fascinating. Unfortunately, I grew so tired of the raunchy humor that by the end, I felt ambivalent toward the book overall.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Giveaway: Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen

Last year I read and enjoyed Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen. It's a second-generation Vietnamese-American immigrant story with a slight Little House twist. And it's coming out in paperback next week.

The generous people at Penguin Random House have offered one copy to one of my lucky readers! This contest runs through January 27, 2015 (Central time) and is open to US readers only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, January 19, 2015

Lost & Found by Brooke Davis

Title: Lost & Found
Author: Brooke Davis
Publisher: Dutton Adult
Expected Release: January 22, 2015

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to be considered for an honest review.

Find it on:
In her grief over her husband's death, Millie's mother abandons her 7-year-old in a department store and never returns. Millie soon meets 87-year-old Karl, who has escaped from a nursing home, and 82-year-old Agatha, a recluse who hasn't left her home since her husband died. The three of them team up and set out on a road trip to find Millie's mother.

I knew this was going to be a tough read as soon as I read that premise. It was also, as the back of my review copy perfectly summarizes, "an irresistible and heartfelt debut novel about the wisdom of the very young, the mischief of the very old, and the magic that happens along the way." Karl reminded me of Allan in The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared; as did Agatha, actually. The two books share that slightly unbelievable sense of adventure — just unbelievable enough to be delightful. Toward the end of the book, the interaction between Karl and Agatha became a teensy bit too cute (maybe even contrived) for my taste, but there was always a sweet, slightly awkward air between them that fondly reminded me of Eleanor & Park.

The issues these characters are dealing with (loss, grief, aging, quality of life) is almost suffocating at times. Yet there's a lightness present in this book, too. Davis uses these characters to remind us that the darkness of our problems can consume us, but it doesn't have to. That grief and happiness aren't mutually exclusive. Millie is the perfect protagonist for this novel; her age, the way she behaves and reacts, the way she sees the world, gives the adults around her (and we readers) an opportunity to explore uncomfortable feelings and questions. Millie forces us to face our discomfort by doing and saying things we restrain ourselves from, or completely avoid. At the same time, there were many, many opportunities to laugh while reading this book. That felt strange. . .it also felt honest and cathartic.

Lost & Found is crushing. It's funny. It's sweet. It's devastating. It's perceptive and thought-provoking. It has the potential to make us more sensitive to what others may be going through, and it helps us look inward to deal with difficult topics we all eventually face.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mini Bloggiesta Update

What I've done so far:
  1. Goodreads: Rate and link to book reviews from the end of the year (15 of those).
  2. Add a Pinterest button to my sidebar, since I've been using that again.
  3. Also added an email button to my sidebar, which links to my review policy page, which does have a link to my email address at the top. ;)
  4. Updated parts of my "Review Policy" page.
  5. Made a few slight changes to my menu bar.
  6. Separated the review archive into two pages: Fiction and Nonfiction.

What I have left:
  1. Participate in the Twitter chat tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. Central.
  2. Clean up my Twitter followers.
  3. Maybe change my template and/or banner. Still a huge maybe.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Title: The Goldfinch
Author: Donna Tartt
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Released: October 2013

I received a copy of this book from a fellow blogger.

Find it on:
I had been intending to read Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch for at least a year, but sadly, this chunkster sat on my shelf for quite a long time. The book club I just joined chose it for our January meeting, which takes place tomorrow. I thought I'd jot down some of my thoughts before hearing the others' perspectives.

The writing had me hooked from the start. The narrative was so vividly descriptive, it sparkled. I tend to prefer short, snappy sentences, so the beginning took me some adjusting...but not much (only a few pages). I soon discovered the pastoral opening wasn't going to last. A harrowing event takes place, and the tone of each sentence shifted to match the desperate pace of the scene. That held true throughout the novel: Tartt's writing style made subtle shifts to meet the needs of whatever was going on. More descriptive when things were calm or pensive; more snappy when action-focused or chaotic. There's definitely going to be plenty to discuss!

The entire novel follows the long-term repercussions of a tragic, pivotal moment in 13-year-old Theo's life, centering around a rare and beloved painting, following him into adulthood. I appreciated that the story unfolded in a linear fashion. I'd get to the end of a chapter, and the thought of hopping around in time stressed me out. I needed this story to take place in order, and it did.

For the first half of the book, I couldn't put it down. A little over halfway through, it started to wear on me all the way to the end. The book's themes are hard: profound loneliness, shocking neglect, destructive behavior. That goes on for pages and pages, and I just wanted it to be over (maybe that was the point). There was a scene during which Tartt threw in a baffling insult toward homeschoolers (apparently a "dumb, shifty, homeschooled look" is a thing?). Also, part of me grew bored with some of the characters. Not only did they seem one-dimensional, but cliché. The Barbours, a wealthy family who welcome Theo into their home, but mostly maintain a layer of detachment, as if they were helping out of pity or obligation (you know how cold rich people are). Boris, his wild, alcoholic Ukrainian friend (you know how violent they are, and how they can drink). Even Theo's deadbeat father and kind, grandfatherly Hobie; for as much time as I spent with these characters, it seems like they could have developed a little bit more. I saw glimpses, especially toward the end, but it wasn't enough.

Somehow, this novel was still an incredibly compelling read, despite the issues I had with it. I was surprised that I could be annoyed with something as fundamental as the characters, yet truly want to keep reading through to the end. I wouldn't read this book again, but I am glad I spent the time with it, and I do want to read more by Tartt. Does that sound too contradictory? I kind of like a bit of contradiction in my life...

Have you read any of Tartt's other novels? Which is your favorite?