Book Review: The Year I Stopped To Notice

The Year I Stopped to Notice by Miranda Keeling

Miranda Keeling is a watcher, armed with a notebook, and in this lovely book of months, she records her observations of the world around her. Like Ross Gay’s Book of Delights, The Year I Stopped To Notice is a reminder of the magic of events unfolding around us, if we only pay attention.

Here, in small passages month by month (most were tweeted, so the length is limited by design), Keeling notices people on the Tube, families on the sidewalks, nature in its unexpected moments, city streets and more. Her keen observational style, and use of light humor in her noticing, make this pocket-sized book a real delight to read.

And it reminds us all to pay attention to the small moments.

Peace (watching for it),
Kevin

Book Review: Bridge of Souls (City of Ghosts)

Book Review: "Bridge of Souls" ("City of Ghosts" #3) by Victoria Schwab ...

The Bridge of Souls is the third installment in a series for young adult readers by Victoria Schwab, a writer I enjoy for her range of magical fiction. I had read and savored the first two books in the Cassidy Blake series when they came out, and both during a unit on Independent Reading/Choice Books with my students, and so it is again this year.

Bridge of Souls continues Cassie’s journal an in-between, a person whose gift allows her to traverse the “veil” between the land of the living and the world of the ghosts, wandering souls who are waiting to move to a final resting place. Cassie’s family produces video documentaries of ghostly places, and this third book takes place in New Orleans.

Schwab takes her time with character development, which I appreciate, and there are nuances and hints at what still might unfold ahead in the series. Here, Cassie is confronted with an Emissary of Death, which is calling for her, and it takes all of her cunning and power and friendships to survive.

Meanwhile, her best friend, a ghost named Jacob, is changing, too, and it’s not clear if this is for the better or not. (Jacob had saved Cassie’s life in the first book, and that near-death experience gives Cassie the ability to move through the Veil and to use a mirror pendant to send ghosts on the way to a final resting destination).

This book is a good fit for any adolescent readers who like ghost stories, but not one that are too scary. With its focus on character and mystery, Schwab has woven another good adventure in the City of Ghosts series.

Peace (resting),
Kevin

Comic Review: Cappucinos After Lunch And Other Crimes (Itchy Feet Collection)

 

During the worst of the Pandemic, I discovered the Itchy Feet comic strip by Malachi Ray Rempen on an app called Tinyview Comics that I support with a monthly fee (because it seems like the organization does a good job of supporting its writers and artists).

Rempen’s focus for the Itchy Feet comic is on world travel, and of course, there was none to be had by most people in the world, so the comic (which Rempen has been making for at least a decade or more) often poked fun at being stuck at home with an itch to travel. The comic became a nice reprieve in an otherwise isolated world of living.

Support Malachi Ray Rempen creating Travel and language learning web comics

Cappucinos After Lunch And Other Crimes is a book collection of comics from 2018-2021. Some of the Covid-era Comics make their way into this book but mostly, Rempen does a funny job of skewering traveling to different parts of the world through the lens of food, cultural confusions, language and airport obstacles.

I laughed quite a bit at the jokes here and the visual humor, and I appreciate the gentle way that the comic handles the clash of visitors to a destination with mostly grace (unless the faux pas is too deep and needs some skewering). This collection is a fun way to think about traveling to the world. Sure, there are mishaps that might happen, and yet, the comic points out how traveling can be worth it for many reasons, including finding a common understanding other people in other places.

Peace (and Travel),
Kevin

Book Review: The Book Of (More) Delights

The Book of (More) Delights

I remember randomly discovering poet Ross Gay’s The Book Of Delights a few summers ago, reading it while on vacation at the beach and being thrilled by his observational essays that celebrated the small moments in the days of a single year.

His new book — The Book Of (More) Delights — doesn’t change the format of what he is up to here: paying attention to the moments that count as delight, whether large or small or in-between. As before, it’s his voice — a sort of wondering, wandering narrator who is not afraid of meandering into many asides — that shines through in this collection, which begins on his birthday of one year and ends on the birthday of the next.

He shares much about his garden, his neighborhood, his family, strangers that he observes and meets (and at the end, helps), his own childhood memories, places and spaces, and more. The essays are short but well-constructed, and as with my reading of his first book, I came away not just as a reader, but as a reader trying to tune in to the delights of the world.

I am sure Gay would be happy to hear that.

Peace (In Small Moments),
Kevin

Jumping Ship On Goodreads; Moving to StoryGraph

StoryGraph Monthly Reads

For some time now, I’ve been thinking of leaving Goodreads, mostly due to the Amazon connection (I know, it’s been Amazon for a few years). I started there before Amazon took it over, and was irked that a book/reading site that I loved was folded into the Amazon Empire.

Amazon’s presence hasn’t been overwhelming, but still …

And recent controversies over gaming the Goodreads system by authors and commenters and others just leaves me with a distaste. I want a space to track my own reading, and hopefully, see what others are reading.

I’m moving over to StoryGraph, which is an independent platform with many similar features of Goodreads and few more (read-alongs, buddy reads, interesting use of stats, etc.) and if you are in StoryGraph, too, let’s connect (this is my profile) and share books.

These graphs here are from StoryGraph, using my Goodreads data from my 2023 reading.

StoryGraph Genres

I was stressed that I would lose all of my Goodreads data but StoryGraph does a nice job walking through how to get your data and then migrate it into StoryGraph. The migration of my hundreds of books read took about 24 hours but it looks like it all made the leap with me.

Honestly, though, I might still keep an eye on Goodreads, if only to get ideas about books to read, and which books are getting a lot of attention. I get my book information from a lot of places, and Goodreads is just one place.

StoryGraph Long Short

Peace (and books),
Kevin

Book Review: World Within A Song

World Within a Song by Jeff Tweedy

Reading how Jeff Tweedy listens is an interesting experience. Tweedy, of Wilco and other solo projects, is a thoughtful musician and music listener, and this book collection of small essays and observations, along with some reflections of his life as a musician, allows Tweedy’s mind to roam.

I appreciated learning about some bands I didn’t know about, and about Tweedy’s obsessiveness with music — sometimes, the more obscure, the better — as a kid who always felt a little out of place in his social circles because of that obsessiveness (which paid off as a musician leading bands like Wilco, and co-leading bands like Uncle Tupelo).

What comes through in a folksy but clearly authentic writing voice here in World Within A Song is Tweedy’s deep love and appreciation for the music of other artists, and how his own listening experiences shaped his life. I appreciated the stories, the observations, and even in places where I might have disagreed with him, I found myself, as a reader, almost in conversation with him.

And any book that celebrates all kinds of music, and provides some funny anecdotes about the world of a quirky rock band, is going to be OK with me.

Peace (and Sound),
Kevin

Graphic Non-fiction: Hidden Systems

Hidden Systems by Dan Nott

Dan Nott’s graphic book — Hidden Systems (Water, Electricity, the Internet, and the Secrets Behind The Systems We Use Every Day) — is a visual exploration of what the subtitle says it will do — go deep into the workings of three main systems that are part of our modern lives: the Internet, the electrical grid and water networks.

In each section, Nott shows how well-informed he is with his research as well as how skilled he is as a visual artist and storyteller. The reader is quickly immersed in systems thinking, and architectural and engineering design, but Nott never goes so far into the weeds of those worlds that the average reader gets lost. Nott is an able and reliable guide, and the visuals here provide angles of understanding that text alone might not.

Nott brings us into the mostly invisible networks of wires and pipes that form the core of society (caveat: modern American society), where so much of how things function for us depends on extensive networks. These systems bring benefits but also have fundamental weaknesses and historical impacts on the environment and people, too.

Nott shows the historical beginnings behind the visi0ning of the Internet and electrical and water systems, and how some thinking created opportunities while other thinking created vulnerabilities. In some cases, the development of these systems happened by chance or without a larger vision or design, leading to problems in the grids.

We often just see the surface of our surroundings, but by understanding these systems more deeply, we can form our own questions about their past and future. The answers to these questions can help us not only to fix these systems, but also re-imagine them — creating a world that’s more in balance with the Earth. – from Hidden Systems, by Dan Nott, pages 238-9

I found that, after reading Hidden Systems, that I found myself seeing the landscape of power grids and water systems and the Internet in more nuanced ways, noticing the physical connections in my own community, the places where these fundamental services flow and connect, and that’s what good books do, right? They make us notice the world, in a different way.

(I write this on my Internet-connected laptop, at a table with a light over my head, and cup of coffee brewed with tap water by my side — all elements of the networks that Nott examines in book)

https://cdn-amz.woka.io/images/I/71F4U7TjPZL.jpg

This book would be a good addition to any middle school or high school library.

Peace (and Systems),
Kevin

Book Review: The Comfort Of Crows

https://target.scene7.com/is/image/Target/GUEST_378fa634-5435-4bcc-97f6-ed31a836a47e?wid=488&hei=488&fmt=pjpeg

I love Margaret Renkl’s regular column of observational writing in The New York Times and I enjoyed her last book – Late Migrations – immensely. Her latest book — The Comfort Of Crows — hit me in a different way, as she documents the seasons of the year through the lens of nature in her Nashville yard.

My connection with her narrative is that, like her, our three sons have all moved out of the house (the last one is in his first year of college) and my wife and I are navigating these empty spaces that were once full of noise and activity. We’re awash in the stories of their childhoods in sudden memories, and thinking of where our next phase of life will bring us.

Renkl does the same, but with lovelier language and keen observational skills, and this collection of short essays and “praise songs” for nature and the animal world resonated, particularly as she grapples with the changing environment and animal passages through her property, connecting what she is seeing out her window with her own family history and her own stories.

The Comfort Of Crows is beautiful writing, made even more delightful by the collage and artwork of her brother, Billy Renkl, who illustrates each section with intriguing art that mixes various media together to capture the natural world.

Peace (ponderings),
Kevin

Book Review: High Bias (The Distorted History of the Cassette Tape)

High Bias: The Distorted History of the Cassette Tape

Marc Masters’ expansive exploration of the birth and continued surprising life of cassette tapes for music, for sharing, for documenting a scene or a life, for remix and more, is a fascinating exploration of a media format that was once ubiquitous (mostly, thanks to the Sony Walkman) but is now finding space in creative corners of the collecting world.

High Bias (The Distorted History of the Cassette Tape) covers a lot of ground, from the invention of the pocket-sized recording/listening objects to the world of mix-tapes, and the book is loaded with lots of interviews with the world of tape cassette collectors.

Masters gives the tape format its due, celebrating the ways that the tape cassette freed listeners to make their own albums of recorded materials, allowed them to share their passions with others, provided independent musicians a chance to record on the cheap (thanks in part to the emergence of inexpensive four-track cassette recorders), and brought World Music and musical oddities to the ears of listeners that would have otherwise been out of earshot, because the large music companies would have ignored the music and sounds.

As I was reading the book, my mind kept heading towards my basement and bedroom closet, where I still have boxes of tapes of my own song recorders from decades ago, and I even have a four-track recorder in the house and at a tag sale, I picked up a little cassette player that works (I never use it but I have it). My tapes are probably degraded at this point in time, but I can’t seem to toss them out — the tapes, even in physical format, represent a part of me, an emotional element of a time in my life when recording on cassette tape was central to my sense of self.

This emotional response to cassette tapes is something Masters explores in his book, and tapes are so unlike CDs and digital files and streaming. The physical aspect — the pocket-sized object — is an emotional anchor to many. Add in the element of making and receiving mix-tapes from others (which seems so different from digital playlists), and you have a resonance that continues to this day, in some circles.

That’s a good thing, in my opinion, even if the world of cassette tapes is now small, just like the object it celebrates.

Peace (recording it),
Kevin