Book Review: The Cabinet of Calm (Soothing Words for Troubled Times)

Cabinet of Calm: Soothing Words for Troubled Times ...

Sometimes, you find a book. Sometimes, the book finds you. The Cabinet of Calm (Soothing Words for Troubled Times) by Paul Anthony Jones is one of those books. I can’t even recall when or where I first saw it mentioned but since buying it in January, it has been a constant, regular reading text for the last seven months.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book so slowly, over so many months. It’s unlike me. But with each chapter, arranged alphabetically, focused on a single word — some lost to time, some whose meanings have changed — about surfacing through hardship or finding a path forward or becoming inspired, I didn’t want to rush the book.

So I didn’t.

Passage to Port (Cabinet of Calm quote)

Instead, I wrote small poems after reading nearly every chapter on nearly ever word from January through July. I found Jones’ explorations of words inspiring, and with my starting of the reading of the book in the depths of the Pandemic (January) and moving through the possibility of better and more normal times (vaccines), I kept returning to the book, finding new ways to think about how words and language can give us some comfort.

This back and forth between reading and then writing became a ritual of sorts, although I didn’t do it every day and sometimes, the book was just sitting on my counter, untouched, for stretches of time. Paul Anthony Jones has the ability to sift through language, and cultural meanings, and his curation of these words in this bound “cabinet” is something I intend to come back to when I need to.

Another day, I will share out my entire collection of poems inspired by The Cabinet of Calm. Until then … read on, and find your own ways to comfort the anxieties and inner voices of the Modern Age. Maybe a word inside the cabinet might help you, too.

Peace (gathering it up),
Kevin

Book Review: The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book

The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book: An Interactive Guide to ...

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I saw The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book (An Interactive Guide to Life-Changing Books) on the shelf of the public library. It was a chance check-out, done on a whim, and how glad I am that I did.

This text is in the form of a phone book (perhaps a generational splitter for readership, but who knows) and is a collection of codes, so that when you call the main phone number, and enter a code, you can hear another reader give a story or review of a book that is listed in the phone book.

Get it?

There are also prompts throughout the book (such as shout out your local independent book store or tell of a book you read as a child, etc.) with an invitation to add your voice to the telephone book. So each reader has the opportunity to be part of the book.

How cool is that?

There are also narrative transcripts in this physical book, taken from the audio files of readers, that tell stories of how books did transform their lives, and how certain books left imprints on their past, present or perhaps, future trajectory. I loved that sense of voice in these mostly-anonymous stories of books.

Oh, and did I mention all of the playful “advertising” throughout the book? They are funny, insightful and a bit tricky, calling on memories of stories and characters in famous books. Those have codes to call into as well.

The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book | Book by Logan Smalley ...

All in all, The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book is a reader’s delight on many levels, and it inspires the reader to ‘call in’ and join the mix of book lovers.

Peace (on the lines),
Kevin

PS — wanna try it out? Call 774 325 0503 and use the code 5490 to learn about American Born Chinese, the graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang

Book Review: Wintering (The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times)

I can only imagine the publishers of Katherine May’s book — Wintering (The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times) — rushing to get it out of the galleys and into the stores as the Pandemic hit us hard and retreat was a global movement, as was loss and grief and fear for many. How to make sense of it all was and remains a conundrum of the times. May’s book helps give us some context.

I read Wintering just as Spring arrived, and vaccinations were just underway, and while there was optimism that we might yet venture more fully into the outside world (as has now happened), the warnings were everywhere to be cautious and learn from experience.

Some of May’s passages are just brilliantly beautiful, full of shadowed repose to remember that the dark brings the possibility to nurturing yourself, a reminder that not all is bright and light and sunny. This book is about realistic resilience, and May’s work doesn’t sugarcoat her pains and anguishes and worries.

But it does remind us that the dark may not last forever, and what we do during those difficult times will help us heal on the other side. Her book is divided into the seasons of Winter, and although I read it within a few weeks time, I wish I had savored each section during the time of year from which she writes about. I suspect that would have given my reading of her prose even more power.

Perhaps some other time, when I need it, then.

May shares her own stories, and strategies, and insights about how to grapple with the cold seasons of our lives, and she deftly surfs the metaphors here, through conversations with friends and colleagues, and bringing her own stories into the mix. Her connections to noticing nature worked the best, for me, as she notices the world more acutely even as her world seems more insular as illness and change impact her.

Wintering is a reminder that it is OK to find time to pay attention to yourself, and to use the natural world as inspiration, and reminder, to what may yet come when the season recedes and another takes its place.

Peace (burrowed down but coming up),
Kevin

Book Review: Looking To Get Lost (Adventures in Music and Writing)

If you read books about music, as I do, then you likely know the name of writer Peter Guralnick, whose explorations of the blues, of Sam Cooke, of Sun Records, of Elvis, and many more go deeper than most books do to the heart of what music is and how strong the heart of performers beat.

In his recent collection of essays, entitled Looking To Get Lost (Adventures in Music and Writing), Guralnick keeps his attention on the music but also turns it on himself, too, as a writer who found himself on the music scene because of a passion and used his skills as an interviewer and a researcher to make visible the terrain of artists, particularly those from the South, and particularly those black artists whose work paved the way for rock and roll and modern music.

The book is a gathering of mostly shorter pieces, and some of the best take a look at the raw talent of Howling Wolf, the expansive innovative energy of Jerry Lee Lewis, and the soulful enigma of Solomon Burke, and much more. A consistent thread through the pieces here is the humanity and patience of Guralnick as he weaves in the stories and the impact these men (for they are all men that he looks at here) have had on American culture.

I also found the pieces about Guralnick as a writer intriguing, as he talks about his own feelings of inadequacy in talking with the musical greats he so admired, and how his father and grandfather (both doctors) supported his idea of being a writer at an early age, instilling confidence that following your passion will lead you somewhere (although sometimes, that somewhere is not always where you think your passion will lead you).

Peace (singing it),
Kevin

Book Review: Annotation

Annotation | The MIT Press

(Note: I was one of those people who took up an early invitation by the writers to add some thoughts via crowd annotation to an early version of this book)

Annotation and Curation seem to be critical skills and processes that might help us all thread together our disparate and often confusing online information flow in this modern age. When we annotate, we leave a trail of thoughts and discourse. When we curate, we pull those trails together in meaningful ways.

In the new book, Annotation, researcher/educators Remi Kalir and Antero Garcia (two people I know well from through the National Writing Project) explore the power of social annotation of texts through a variety of lens and make the case for a future in which our comments and conversations across platforms and texts could connect, and transform the way we think, learn, read and communicate with others.

Annotation Annotations

Comics made as annotation to Annotation

This small book from MIT Press has both historical references (the way annotations helped readers make sense or talk back to books in the margins of those books, that were then passed around communities) to the Talmud (religious text annotations across time) to the way annotation helps learners with reading comprehension and text questioning, through solo annotation (for oneself) and crowd annotation (writing in the margins along with others).

As someone who has used platforms like Hypothesis, Vialogues and NowComment and others to annotate with others on a variety of texts and media, and found the experience empowering and enlightening, I appreciated the many angles that Kalir and Garcia bring to the table in their book.

They raise critical and ethical questions of content ownership (does the writer of the text need to grant permission for online annotation?); whether platforms are texts and writing on those platforms, annotation (Is Twitter a text and tweets, annotations to that text?); how marginal voices might find a way to be heard amid so much noise of the world and power imbalance; and so much more.

Annotation will provide you with a deep look into how annotation has evolved into the digital age and leave you with the hopeful ideas that annotation has the possibility of pushing back against disinformation as well as becoming part of a larger quilt to reconnect our disparate online selves and words together, whatever the platform. And in doing so, Garcia and Kalir argue, the world might become a more interesting and more positive place to engage in with others, while solidifying your own presence.


There is a conversation underway about the book and ideas on Twitter with the #AnnoConvo hashtag.

Peace (in the margins),
Kevin

 

 

Book Review: A Little Devil In America

I’d like to once again sing the praises of Hanif Abdurraqib, a poet and writer and podcast host, whose books, stories and essays — such as the ones that connect together in woven magic in his latest book, A Little Devil In America (Notes In Praise of Black Performance) — is insightful, emotional, unexpected and deeply attuned to the well of culture.

As a white, middle-class reader, I admittedly may not be his target audience here, as the world he unveils of Black dance, of Black music, and of family and neighborhood relationships is outside my own field of vision (the fault is mine, and maybe people like me, who too often fail to at least acknowledge the rich tapestry of the Black life beyond hip hop).

Abdurraqib’s expert creative command of language, of theme, and of connecting small parcels of story and history to a larger picture that then, quite suddenly and quite beautifully, narrows back to his own life at the end, in a scene between his brother and himself, is something to behold, and something to celebrate. Some chapters here read like poems and unfold like art.

What makes his perspective so interesting to me is his far-reaching love of music — from his discovery of the punk scene in his native Ohio to the emergence of Wu Tang in New York to a celebration of the artistry of Josephine Baker and Merry Clayton, and way beyond – and how he seamlessly shows how one can love a music, be part of that music scene, and still be separate from it, and how those conflicting elements, driven mostly by race, has long been at the heart of a conflicted America.

By the way, Abdurraqib’s podcast — Object of Sound — is also fantastic, as he chats with many creative artists on a variety of topics, some which resonate with this book and some with his other books. I still have to dig into his poetry, too.

Peace (sounding it out),
Kevin

Comic Review: Mister Invincible

MISTER INVINCIBLE, by Pascal Jousselin – Magnetic Press LLC

I didn’t what to expect about this collection of Mister Invincible, by Pascal Jousselin, but … well … wow … very cool. Playing with and pushing against all of the visual constraints of a comic on a page, this hero of Jousselin’s imagination breaks every convention of comics (such as the solid panel as wall and separation of time), and does so with hilarious results.

Mr Invincible – Magnetic Press

http://www.magnetic-press.com/mr-invincible/

Sometimes, Mister Invincible literally reaches or sees across the next page of the comic, taking action in ways that had me wondering: how in the world did Jousselin even conceptualize the joke, or the events? The amount of planning, and trial/error that must have gone into each of these short pieces (the book collection is a series of one-pagers and smaller multi-page stories) staggers my brain, which works with logic — a concept that is not always on display here, in a good way.

As a character, Mister Invincible is rather nonchalant about nearly everything — taking care of complicated problems with an effortless reach across the next panel, or a twist of time sequence, or cutting a hole in the next page, in order to leap to the page just beyond.

Mr Invincible – Magnetic Press

http://www.magnetic-press.com/mr-invincible/

There are other recurring character, such as the teenager who becomes TooDee, because he uses the flat elements of the printed page to save the day or cause inadvertent mischief, even as the reader and the other characters believe they are in a three-dimensional world. Another character, an old grump, uses “words have power” to his advantage, using word bubbles to attack enemies and more.

I am always happy when writer play with conventions, and with Mister Invincible, no panel is safe from being broken open. Or reached into. Or breached.

Peace (beyond the panel),
Kevin

 

Book Review: Where We Walk (100 Illustrated Maps of Wonderful Walks from Around the World)

I can’t remember now how I stumbled upon the They Draw And Travel website, which is home to some wonderful artwork and map illustrations of places. This book — Where We Walk — pulls together 100 submissions to a local call in Winter 2021 for Walking Maps put out by the website’s curators (two sibling artists) and the maps in the collection are just wonderful.

The maps, all hand-drawn and from all parts of the world, range from small in scale (one was of pacing the rooms of an apartment in the Pandemic) to expansive (one showed the crossing from Europe into Turkey and back again), and everything in-between. Each artist took a different approach (although walking dogs seems like a very common artistic motif) and each page contains two different maps.

You realize how evocative maps can be to capture a sense of place, and how an artist depiction of those maps of those places draws you in, to imagine what it would be like to wander around and walk the trails set forth by the maps.

It also makes you think: what would I include in my map of this place, where I am, and what would that look like? (if you do that, the site collects and shares submissions)

Peace (along the coordinates of art),
Kevin

Book Review: City of Ghosts/Tunnel of Bones

The first two books in the Cassidy Blake series, which features the young protagonist as a seeker of ghosts, are fast-paced and character-rich and full of ghosts. City of Ghosts is the first in the series by Victoria Schwab, and Tunnel of Bones is the second.

I found the series at my library, and I was initially attracted by the cover of City of Bones, with a girl and a cat in the mist of a city. It was only halfway through the book that I realized that I have read this author’s adult series, Shades of Magic, with great interest and found them to be wonderful stories of imagination.

Here, in this new series, Cassidy is finding her way forward after nearly dying but being saved by a ghost, Jacob, who becomes her friend and companion. Her parents are filming a television series about haunted places, which means that Cassidy and Jacob get to explore Scotland in the first book and then Paris, in the second, learning more about the “Veil” — where Cassidy has the power to see ghosts still wandering their last memories. Another character with similar powers has told Cassidy that she must use this ability to send ghosts on, to help them cross from the world of the Veil.

In the first story, Cassidy is nearly destroyed by a ghost eager to steal Cassidy’s life and in the second, she must help the ghost of a young boy who was killed in the Catacombs of Paris, although the young poltergeist amps up the mayhem and puts Cassidy in danger.

The writing is strong, with a solid pace, and the slow unraveling of Jacob’s back story unfolds nicely, as is the friendship between human girl and ghost boy, whom Cassidy should send back across the Veil with her powers but refuses to do so. These books are a perfect fit for middle school readers who like a good ghost story with strong characters.

NOTE: I am now reading the third installment in the series.

Peace (in the Veil),
Kevin

Book Review: The Silver Arrow

I always enjoyed Lev Grossman’s technology column’s in Time magazine, but never got into the flow of his Magicians book series. His latest young adult novel — The Silver Arrow — is a lovely ride, designed for read-aloud and packed with adventure.

I read it alone, and not as a read-aloud, and wished it were otherwise, as Grossman kicks of the story with his protagonist, Katie, getting a train – The Silver Arrow – from her eccentric uncle and then, before you know it, Katie and her younger brother, Tom, as off on the tracks, learning to be conductors from the train itself and picking up animals at different stations.

Why, becomes clear, as the novel barrels along, as Grossman has centered his story of the train with the rescue of animals from the world of humans. The prospects of climate change and development means the animals needs to go elsewhere, and that’s where Katie, Tom and The Silver Arrow are going, with plenty of magic along the way.

Grossman is careful with how he develops this theme, though, and he comes to the story with a light touch, centering on the adventure and introspection of Katie more than hitting the reader over the head with a message. One sequence in a forest of trees, where Katie and Tom are transformed, is written with beauty and compassion.

The strongest moment is when a polar bear, who barely made it to the train because its station — made of ice, now melted — leans in to Katie before departing the train, and says: “If you humans let us die, you will never, ever forgive yourselves.”

Which is true.

The stage is set for a sequel, too. If not this train, then perhaps we can catch the next.

Peace (on the tracks),
Kevin

PS