Literature, Miscellany, Pop Culture

This Is What Happens When Bookstores Leave Your City

Here in Grand Rapids, where you can’t find a bookstore north of 28th Street, a lack of literary outlets leads to this kind of thing:

Police blocked off an area of downtown Grand Rapids for a time Monday evening after a suspicious package was found in a parking garage. A GRPD bomb squad was called to the scene and X-rayed the package to find that it was a Dick Tracy book.

An entire city block roped off for nearly three hours because of a book. Or, perhaps, a lack of a decent bookstore. 

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Literature, Pop Culture

A Few of My Favorite Books, 2013 Edition

Not that you asked (or care), but here are some of my favorite books of the past year.

The absolute best is Diane Ravitch’s superb Reign of Error. Anyone who cares about public education (and, to a larger extent, our future as a democracy) must read this book. It’s that important. When any public servant tells you he or she is “for education reform,” find out if he or she has read Ravitch. If they have, good. If not, put a copy of Reign of Error in their hands now.

Rounding out my top ten, in no particular order:

The Circle, Dave Eggers – What if a company took over Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, and Amazon, and had the capability of knowing everything about everyone? In the age of NSA and Edward Snowden, The Circle has come around at the right time.

The Dog Stars, Peter Heller – After a flu epidemic wipes out most of North America, two men and one dog struggle to survive in the flatlands of Colorado. Dystopian, heartbreaking, and hopeful, with shades of Cormac McCarthy.

A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemmingway – Yes, I know it’s been around for awhile. I finally took the plunge this summer. I knew what was coming, but Hemmingway still managed to break my heart.

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Life, Politics, Pop Culture

Mandela, Music, and the Education of a College Radio DJ

To begin, my knowledge of South Africa, apartheid, or Nelson Mandela was never formed by Toto. (Really, CBS?)

In 1980, I bought Peter Gabriel’s third album (the “Melt” cover) for the low, low price of $3.99 at Believe in Music. “Games Without Frontiers” caught my ear on WLAV, and I memorized the rest of the album lyrics after repeated plays on my portable stereo system. The final track, “Biko”, with its stark chords and African choral background piqued my interest. Who was this Biko?


Fast forward five years to my senior year at Eastern Kentucky University, home of the Colonels and fledgling campus radio station, WDMC. A 12″ mix of something called “Sun City” reached my music director desk. Great, another all-star fund raiser, I thought. We’d already worn out the grooves of Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and USA for Africa’s “We Are the World”. Good songs, good causes, helped thousands of people.

But “Sun City” was different. What began as a research project by Little Steven Van Zandt became an unforgettable seven minutes of jazz, rock, rap, and pop. “Sun City” raised awareness not only of apartheid, but of the Reagan Administration’s role to stop economic sanctions against South Africa.

This song changed my way of thinking about the political power of music. As Little Steven mentioned in an interview with NPR’s Here and Now, “Not only does art transcend politics, art is politics.”

Today, as we remember the life of Madiba, and celebrate Human Rights Day, it’s important to remember these songs of social protest.

Where are the voices of protest today?

Pop Culture

The College Dropout Compares Self to Shakespeare Play, Hilarity Ensues

Kanye West took to the airwaves to express his undying devotion to the walking punchline that is Kim Kardashian:

“I felt like our love story is a love story for the ages. I felt like when we first got together it was like a Romeo and Juliet kind of thing where it’s like she’s a reality star and I’m a rapper.”

Capulets. Montagues. Reality stars. Rappers. Obvious correlation, right? 

Stay in school, kids. 

Life, Media, Pop Culture

57 (give or take a couple hundred) Channels and Nothin’ On

Bruce Springsteen was right when he penned “57 Channels and Nothin’ On” a couple decades ago. Fast forward 20+ years, and we have hundreds of channels to choose from, whether we watch them via cable, streaming, or DVR. More choices, right? Better for the consumer, yes?

Not so fast. Ninety percent of what we read, watch, or listen to is provided by a whopping SIX corporations. Check it out.

media consolidation

Education, Life, Literature, Pop Culture

World Book Night 2014: The Titles!

Just watched a live webcast of the announcement of the 2014 World Book Night titles. (Yes, this is what I do during my free time. Wanna make something of it?) Here they are:

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell

Presumed Innocent – Scott Turow

The Dog Stars – Peter Heller

After the Funeral – Agatha Christie

Same Difference and Other Stories (graphic novel) – Derek Kirk Kim

Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain

Sunrise Over Fallujah – Walter Dean Myers

100 Best Loved Poems

Catch-22 – Joseph Heller

Hoot – Carl Hiassen

Pontoon – Garrison Keillor

Wait Till Next Year – Doris Kearns Goodwin

Miss Darcy Falls In Love – Sharon Lathan

Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger’s Apprentice, Book 1) – John Flanagan

Young Men and Fire – Norman Maclean

Bridge to Terabithia – Katherine Paterson

Bobcat & Other Stories – Rebecca Lee

The Botany of Desire – Michael Pollan

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

The Lighthouse Road – Peter Geye

Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein

Enchanted – Alethea Kontis

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

Waiting to Exhale – Terry McMillan

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet – Jamie Ford

Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Maria Semple

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

Tales of the City – Armistad Maupin

When I Was Puerto Rican – Esmeralda Santiago

The Zookeeper’s Wife – Diane Ackerman

The Weird Sisters – Eleanor Brown

This Boy’s Life – Tobias Wolfe

Interested book givers can apply beginning Friday, October 24. Share the love of reading by giving away books!