Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Notes and Pages: Best Music To Read To

I adore books (yeah, don't you?)

But music is cool, too. Music is like magic. Sometimes music and books effect you the same way, evoking a mood, starting new ideas and years later, bringing you back to the former points of your life. And the comfort/happiness/anger/joy/nostalgia/faith/fear/triumph that come from the notes and pages we love is a great gift.

Here is my list of best music to listen to while reading:

John Coltrane- My Favorite Things, Soul Eyes, Summertime

The Beatles- Blackbird, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, Let It Be, Come Together

Al Green- Love and Happiness, For the Good Times, How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

Earth, Wind and Fire- Reasons, That's the Way of The World, After the Love Has Gone, Fantasy

Louis Armstrong- Black and Blue, Summertime (with Ella Fitzgerald), A Kiss to Build a Dream On

Sade- Smooth Operator, The Sweetest Taboo, King of Sorrow

Jill Scott- Golden, A Long Walk, The Way

The Isley Brothers- Summer Breeze, Back To You, Between the Sheets, Footsteps

John Legend- Show Me,Ordinary People, P.D.A, Slow Dance

...and yes, I am aware that half of my fav musicians are either dead or on oxygen. What can I say? I am an old soul.

So, what's in your top ten and why? What do you listen to while you read (if you listen to music while you read)? Post a comment, let me know.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What Women Want

Ahh, my first crush.
He was intelligent, most would say genius. He was tall, with dark hair and grey eyes. He smoked a pipe. Had a British accent. Suave, cool, with incredible physical strength and impeccable taste in dressing gowns.
Even now, all I have to do is pull him off a shelf to feel the pitter-patter of my heart. Sherlock Holmes is so hot.

What is there to see in a book character?
Well, many times I will read a novel and encounter a character who is intelligent, funny, kind or generous: a fictional person with just the right mix of flaws and virtues. With female characters I will say "I want to be like her". With male characters the reaction is: "I wish someone like this really existed!"

And this should be a comfort to men. Because while the hard-bodied, drop-dead gorgeous studs in the movies may be a tall order (slight understatement), the virtues of book character are usually characteristics that people try to develop anyway. And sometimes, the flaws are as intriguing as the good stuff.

Holden Caulfield
Thought you were the only one who likes Holden, didn't you?
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger is kind of divisive. People either hate it or love it. In my experience, people who hate it just don't identify with the "outsider" status of Holden. Yes, he's rich. Yes, he goes to private school. Yes, he lives in New York City. But he witnesses a number of tragedies in the course of the book that make him morbid and emotionally bruised.
A reader in O magazine described reading the novel as a teen "I remember thinking that all Holden Caulfield needed was a nice Jewish girl like me..." she said.

And actually...
I agree. I'm a bit of a loner myself. At my worst moments, I am a lot like Holden. But he has this vulnerability that goes with it. His love for his little sister is especially touching.

Atticus Finch
Yeah, this is that whole Freudian thing. Atticus is the ideal father. Wise, accessible, able to settle disputes, willing to do the jobs no one else will do. When I first read To Kill A Mockingbird at age 12, I sympathised totally with Scout. Later, I re-read the book and realized what a strong, decent character Atticus is. And if I ever met a man as thoughtful as Atticus, I'd whisk him off to Vegas and marry him Britney Spears style in 20 minutes flat.

That poor guy wouldn't know what hit him.
The Three Musketeers
It's hard to choose which one, but let's include all three: gotta love men with big swords. My personal favorite is Athos, the serious one with all the mystery. The Three Musketeers is largely character-driven, as the dialogue, action and personalities of these three men are epic enough to make you read chapter after chapter.
Which vampire? Any vampire. Gentleman, if you want to have crowds of women fainting in at your feet, buy a cape and develop a taste for plasma. Most women find vampires very sexy. Even literary snobs like me will succumb to a little Anne Rice now and then. There are psychological explanations for why these mythical creatures get more attention than wizards and talking frogs.
In the original Dracula by Bram Stoker, one of the themes is the threat of female sexuality. The Count takes these good Victorian girls and leads them into depravity and darkness, draining them of all virtue.
What girl doesn't want that?

Captain Wentworth
The proverbial "one that got away" from Jane Austen's Persuasion, Captain Wentworth remains faithful to Anne Elliot despite her rejection of him. He gives her a second chance because he is really nice guy. And to be honest, I find that niceness is a very attractive feature.

Mr Knightley

Mr Knightley is the older, calmer voice of reason to Emma Woodhouse's headstrong personality. She is smart, pretty, spoiled and too bored for her own good. Mr Knightley knew her as a baby and is considered a family friend. But a man who is an advisor, who doesn't mind spending an afternoon sipping tea with your elderly hypochondriac father is a keeper- why doesn't Emma see that from the first?

Fitzwilliam Darcy
Ahh, Mr. Darcy.
The tall, cool, suave, educated, rich, well-bred, British aristocrat is from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet is the heroine many women want to be: intelligent, sensible, confident, pretty and nice. Her leading man is therefore an object of desire.

Part of his appeal is in their courtship. She misjudges him, misunderstands him, but he ends up liking her anyway, though he has plenty of reason not to. He is also a doting big brother (that seems to really appeal to us, too)

Face it, Jane Austen knew what she liked.

Top Ten Trippiest Books

These books made my mind do back flips- they happen in a time warp, the author writes in circles, the characters are nuts. The most mind-blowing books blend reality with magic and paint a groovy, unreal picture of a suprisingly familiar world.

Daughter of Fortune- Isabel Allende
The story of a beautiful Chilean girl following her true love to California during the Gold Rush, this book cuts across 19th century cultures to paint a picture of a world that once was.

Song of Solomon- Toni Morrison
Contains all black characters but it's central issue is not the civil rights movement, slavery or getting your groove back.

As if that isn't unusual enough, the protagonist is a spoiled middle class black man who is disconnected from reality until he goes in search of his roots. It sounds normal enough but this story involves talking ghosts, a woman without a belly-button and people who can (and do) fly.

One Hundred Years of Solitude-Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The generational saga of the Buendia family in the fictional village of Macondo, Colombia. It's like the Godfather trilogy (only good). This is a fantasy grounded very much in reality- the changes in Macondo reflect the political changes that Latin America has endured.

Kafka on the Shore- Haruki Murakami
I fell absolutely in love with this on a very stormy day last spring. This is one of those books for people who love books. And people who love music.

Set in modern Japan, this novel is seriously trippy. Cats talk, there are strange spirits. There is a magic stone and whole bunch of other wierd stuff.

The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy- Douglas Adams
The first in Douglas Adam's Hitchhikers series, this book is full of snappy one liners. You know, the kind that get funnier the more you think about them?
The Metamorphosis- Franz Kafka
Imagine waking up and realizing you're an insect. That's what happens to Gregor Samsa. Most people note the Oedipal themes, the sexual symbolism, the dehumanizing effects of capitalism. But it also has an element of humor- at least, I laughed.

Catch-22-Joseph Heller
A quirky anti-war novel, this book coined a new term. It makes fun of the bureaucracy and circular logic of the military.
Slaughterhouse-Five- Kurt Vonnegut
This out-of-order tale is based on Vonnegut's own experiences during the war. He said he couldn't tell it straight out- which accounts for the jumbled, out of sequence storytelling.

A Clockwork Orange -Anthony Burgess
A dystopian novel about a futuristic thug who undergoes an experiment to make him less violent. The protagonist speaks a strange street slang from the future.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland-Lewis Carrol

This book is the grandfather of irrealism. Yes, it's a children's book, or at least it's called one.

It's like reading Greek mythology- all of these strange events leading into each other. Plus, all the adults in the story are crazy and tyrannical and make no sense. That was a big bonus with me when I first read it.

If you've already been to Wonderland, read it again to re-capture that silly, rebellious feeling.

Ten Books By the Brothers

This top-ten list is the best by and about black men- and I don't mean 50 cent or Snoop Dogg. These books are intelligent, funny, surprising, saddening enlightening- and they challenge many perceptions about african-american men.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X- Malcolm X
The best thing about Malcolm X's life are the transformations he goes through. From a godless, illiterate drug-dealer to a black supremacist to a devout follower of Islam who renounced his former beliefs, this life story gives insight into the character of this polarizing figure.

The Pursuit of Happyness by Chris Gardner
Chris Gardner's life was dramatized in the Will Smith film with the same title. The book goes deeper, and tells Gardner's story from his early childhood until he became a broker. Like all good autobiographies, it doesn't just tell the story of one person, but captures the mood of certain times and places.

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
This book was a best-seller even before the Presidential election began. This is not a biography as much as it is a statement of his political stance.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
The story of Okonkwo, a Nigerian clan leader who fears being perceived as "a weak man".

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
The life story of the 19th century abolitionist.
Roots by Alex Haley
Alex Haley's fictionalized account of his family history.

Bullwhip Days: The Slaves Remember
In the 1930s, funds from FDR's New Deal were used for recording the spoken accounts of the reamining former slaves. The accounts were collected and this book carries the nuanced stories of men (and women) who survived life on the plantation.

Go Tell It On the Mountain-James Baldwin
Loosely based on the author's own teen years, this is the story of a teenage preacher in Harlem.

Invisible Man- Ralph Ellison
The surrealistic tale of a nameless black man who faces racism.

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
The works of the classic American poet who wrote "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" and "The Weary Blues".