Grogan, Jake. Origins of a Song: 202 True Inspirations Behind the World’s Greatest Lyrics. Kennebunkport, Maine: Appleseed Press, 2021.
Reason read: this was a gift from a friend who knows me all too well.
What makes a great lyric? Opinions vary. My take? A song will grab me if the artist can drop into my mind, steal my heart, and take the words right out of my mouth. Be about me. Better yet, be me. The lyrics have to say what I mean and say it better than I ever could. I want to feel as if someone has been reading my journal or listening under the bed when I talk in my sleep. Lyrics don’t have to be complicated. They just have to mean something. But Origins of a Song‘s subtitle is misleading. This book is not about the true inspirations behind great lyrics. More accurately, it’s the inspiration behind the great song itself. My current obsession (Dermot Kennedy), my longtime hero (Natalie Merchant), and one of the greatest wordsmiths of all time (Josh Ritter) are not included in this book. Everyone has an opinion and mine is this: I think some songs were included not for their brilliant lyrics, but because some songs were smash hits and very difficult to ignore. “My Girl” by Smokey Robinson, for example. What is so special about the lyrics? The tone of Ruffin’s voice, melody, and instrumentation (piano) made the song a hit, not the words.
Bonus points for Grogan: he gives credit where credit is due. If Elvis didn’t write the song (did he ever?), Grogan makes sure to tell you who did.
Author fact: According to Origins of a Song , Grogan’s favorite song “Dancing Queen” inspired him to write the book.
Book trivia: Confessional: I couldn’t find a rhyme or reason for how Origins of a Song is organized. Songs are not in alphabetical order, nor are the artists. It’s not in chronological order according to the release of the song, either.
As an aside, I was going to catalog all of the songs and musicians Grogan mentions, but since the whole point of the book is just that, I refrained.
Reid, Melanie. The World I Fell Into: What Breaking My Neck Taught Me About Life. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2021.
Reason read: This is the September offering from LibraryThing’s Early Review program.
Here is the coincidental thing about reading The World I Fell Into by Melanie Reid. It came at the same time I was finishing up Inside the Halo by Maxine Kumin. Two very similar stories about an accident involving a horse and breaking bones in the author’s neck and/or back. Maxine had to wear a halo device to keep her neck and head stabilized while her bones fused. Melanie, at 52 years old, was paralyzed from the chest down. Both of them went through extensive rehabilitation to learn to live with their injuries. Both of them have a form of writing as a successful career (Maxine is a poet and Melanie is a journalist). Both of them are mothers with complicated relationships. Their lives post-accident is where their stories truly diverge.
Where Melanie’s story diverges from Maxine’s is at the “happily ever after” part of the story. Maxine makes a near-full recovery from her accident while most of The World I Fell Into is about the loss of life as Melanie once knew it. When one reviewer called it “lacerating” they weren’t wrong. Reid’s journey to acceptance is a painful one to travel.
As an aside, I am 52 years old. One of the most heartbreaking moments, for me at least, was when Reid asked for one of her 10k race shirts. She thought of it as a symbol of who she was and who she would return to being. When she fully realized she would never run again she grew so embarrassed she threw it away. Another moment was when she wrote about her skin yearning for moisturizer. She deserves someone who would carefully, lovingly take the unwieldy jar with its impossible lid and once opened, with that same care and love, rub the cream into her skin. Then I thought, who am I kidding? I want that intimacy for myself.
Author fact: Melanie has won awards for her journalism.
Book trivia: The World I Fell Into includes some black and white photographs of Melanie pre and post accident and was originally published in the UK in 2019.
Playlist: Sister Sledge’s “We are Family,” “Heartbeat” by Nicole Scherzinger and Enrique Inglesias, “Sex is On Fire” by Kings of Leon, “Human” by the Killers, and musicians Janis Joplin, Roy Orbison & Bruce Springfield.
Raphael, Amy. A Seat at the Table. London: Virago, 2020.
Reason read: I wanted to read this when it was first published in Great Britain in 2019 because I heard the interview with Natalie Merchant was pretty interesting. I ordered it on Amazon. Two years later, it finally showed up.
You hear stories by the hundreds about women in the music industry having a difficult time “making it.” This could be said for almost every male-dominated industry but it seems music has the hardest stereotypes to break. Musicians in general are supposed to be larger than life superstars. Sex symbols. Unobtainable idols high up on that stage. This was a role for men while women demurely sang backup or tapped a tambourine against a swiveling hip. Women as lead singers, guitarists, drummers, producers, DJs, and song writers were not to be taken seriously. Amy Raphael returns with a second book of interviews, tackling these subjects and more.
As an aside, I can remember a musician friend telling me she couldn’t let the fans know she was married to her bassist because it would “ruin the fantasy” for some followers (his and hers). Gulp. Natalie Merchant was badgered during her younger years in 10,000 Maniacs to wear tighter, sexier clothes. Nowadays, she’s getting grief about letting her hair go gray.
- Jessica Curry
- Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
- Maggie Rogers
- Emmy the Great
- First Love
- Second Love
- Three Cities
- Dream Wife
- Natalie Merchant
- What’s The Matter Here?
- Lauren Mayberry
- The Bones of What You Believe
- Love is Dead
- Poppy Ajudha
- Love Falls Down
- Spilling Into You
- Tepid Soul
- She is the Sum
- Kalie Shorr (from Portland, Maine)
- Fight Like a Girl
- He’s Just Not into You
- Two Hands,
- Tracey Thorn
- A Distant Shore
- Walking Wounded
- Mitski – who had the best quote, “In a way I am always in translation” (p 234).
- Bag of Bones
- Retired from Sad, New Career in Business
- Bury Me at Makeout Creek
- Puberty 2
- Be the Cowboy
- Catherine Marks
- Clara Amfo
- Alison Moyet:
- Winter Kills
- Nobody’s Diary
- Don’t Go
- Miss World
- Softer Softest
- Debbie Harry:
- Heart of Glass
- Christine and the Queens:
- Be Freaky
- Mama Says
- No Man is Big Enough for My Arms
- Nadine Shah:
- Love Your Dum
- Fast Food
- Stealing Cars
- Holiday Destination
- Kate Tempest:
- Everybody Down
- Other (my apologies if I missed someone):
- 10,000 Maniacs
- A – Anita Mui, Archie Marsh, Annie Lennox, Ani DiFranco, Anna Calri, Adele, Aztec Camera, Alanis Morrissette, Al Jarreau, Al Green, Amy Winehouse
- B – Backstreet Boys, Blondie, Best Coast, Billy Bragg, the Beach Boys, Bjork, Bob Dylan, Britney, Belle & Sebastian, Bon Iver, Bright Eyes, The Beatles, Blak Twang, Bahamadía, Bikini Kill, Beck, Billy Boy Arnold, Beyoncé, Buzzcocks, Brian Eno, Buju Banton, Biggie Smalls, Blur, Breeders, Beethoven, Bridget St. John, Buena Vista Social Club, Bob Marley, Bauhaus, Boomtown Rats, Britney Spears, Big Star, Bonnie Tyler
- C – Cardi B., Connie Traverse, Carly Rae Jepson, the Cure, Cocteau Twins, the Clash, Cole Porter, Christina Aguilera, Confucius MC, Chester P., Cream, the Cranberries, Cat Stevens, CHVRCHES, Crowded House, the Carpenters
- D – Dixie Chicks, Diane Cluck, Dr. Feelgood, D’Angelo, Depeche Mode, David Bowie, DELS, Damon Albam, Diana Ross, Daft Punk, Debbie Harry, Daniel Johnston
- E – Elastica, Elephant Man, Ella Fitzgerald, Erykah Badu, Elvis Costello, Elton John, Edie Piaf, Everything but the Girl
- F – Faces, Foals, the Fureys, Ferry Lawrenson, Fairport Convention, Feminist Frequency, Florence Welch, Fungazi, Faye Wong, Fiona Apple, Faith Hill, the Frames
- G – Guns ‘N Roses, Ghostface Killah, Green Day, Gustav Holst, Gravediggaz, Genesis, Glen Hansard, Gang of Four
- H – Harlocks, Hot Chocolate
- I – Ian Drury
- J – Jeff Buckley, John Bonham, Jarvis Crocker, Jack the Lad, Jah Shaka, Jack White, Jimi Hendrix, Jaco Pastorius, Joni Mitchell, Jill Scott, Jacques Brel, Joanna Newson, Jesus and Mary Chain, Janis Joplin, Jimmy Cliff, Joy Division, Joan Jett
- K – Karen Dalton, the Killers, Karen O, Kimya Dawson, Keith Jarrett, Kate Bush, the Kinks, Kathleen Hanna, Kelly Rowland, Kanye West, Kwes, Kelela
- L – Laura Branigan, the Lettermen, Leftfield, Lauryn Hill, Leslie Cheung, Leonard Cohen, Liam Gallagher, Led Zeppelin, Lily Allen, Le Tigre, Luther Vandross
- M – Missy Elliot, My Bloody Valentine, M.I.A., Marine Girls, Metallica, Mary J Blige, Mo Def, Moldy Peaches, Mariah Carey, Miles Davis, Michael Jackson, Meshell Ndegocell, Madonna, Mirah, Mos Def, Melanie, Michael Stipe, Meg White, The Microphones, Marvin Gaye, Marvelettes, Massive Attack, Micachu, Martin Gore, Mozart
- N – N.E.R.D., Nick Cave, Nirvana, Nadine Shah, Nina Simone, New Order, New Christy Minstrels, Nick Drake
- O – Orange Juice, Organized Konfusion, Outkast
- P – Paramour, Pussycat Dolls, the Pretenders, Peter Tosh, the Police, Paul Simon, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Platters, Pharoahe Monch, Pantera, Poly Styrene, Prince, Pharrell Williams, Patti Smith, Pixies, P!nk, Pussycat Dolls, PJ Harvey, Paul Weller, Pig Bag
- R – Reba McEntire, Ringo Starr, Rebecca Black, Rolling Stones, Radio Head, Ryan Adams, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Robbie Williams
- S – Slipknot, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Solange, Shania Twain, St. Vincent, Sound of Rum, Stone Roses, Spice Girls, Selena Gomez, Smashing Pumpkins, Sleepers, Skinnyman, the Supremes, Style Council, the Shirells, Sade, Sandy Denny, Sleater-Kinney, Steely Dan, the Shangri-Las, Sujan Stevens, Sonic Youth, Status Quo, the Smiths, Sugababies, the Saturdays, Spear of Destiny, the Slits, Solange Knowles, Serg Gainsbourgh, Sigrid
- T – Tom Robinson Band, Tallest Man on Earth, Talking Heads, Taylor Swift, Tina Turner Tchaikovsky, Tracy Chapman, Take That, T-Rex, Tegan and Sara
- U – U2
- V – Vince Clark, Vampire Weekend, Vivaldi, Velvet Underground
- W – White Stripes, Wilko Johnson, Wolf Alice, Weezer, Whitney Houston, the Who
- X – X-Ray Specs, XTC
- Y – the Young Marble Giants, Yazoo, Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs
Pastiloff, Jennifer. On Being Human: a Memoir of Waking Up, Living Real, and Listening Hard. New York: Dutton, 2020.
Reason read: in the interest of self reflection I thought I would read this book.
There is no doubt Pastiloff is a talented writer. She executes words and sentiments like an executive chef whipping up a ten course meal using only the best ingredients. To continue the cheesy analogy, her ability to accomplish goals and banish self-loathing is nothing short of delicious. I hunger for that soul discovery/recovery as well. I want it for myself like craving a hot cranberry maple scone on a Sunday morning…but I digress.
Back to Pastiloff’s On Being Human. I can’t say why this took me forever to read. I started it in July. Yes, July. Only now, at the end of December am I wrapping it up. My one complaint? Pastiloff’s chronology was all over the place. If this was meant to be a collection of short, chopped up essays I could understand the disjointedness of it all. As a memoir, jumping from one timeframe to another, one awakening or realization to the next, was a little confusing. Aside from that little critique, I loved On Being Human. What can I say that hasn’t already been said about this gigantic best seller? Nothing. It is vulnerable. It is lovely. It is broken and brave and beautiful. Just read it if you haven’t already.
Author fact: Jennifer has her own website and other socials here.
Book trivia: There are no photographs included in On Being Human, but if you look up Pastiloff on her website you will find a beautiful human. It is hard to imagine her being hung up on how she looks, but that’s what makes On Being Human that much more honest. Good looking people have insecurities as well.
Skelton, Helen. Wild Girl: How to Have Incredible Outdoor Adventures.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, this was the July pick.
The premise of Wild Girl is to inspire young women (or more accurately, young girls) to get outside and have grand adventures. The subtitle would have you believe this is a guide to teach girls exactly that, how to have those big adventures albeit on a much smaller scale than Skelton’s. (Make sure to ask your parents, she advises.) Upon closer inspection, Wild Girl reminded me of FaceBook in brag book form. It seems to be more of an illustrated memoir about Ms. Skelton’s own epic experiences, complete with several smiling photos in every chapter. There is no doubt she is an A type woman: athletic, attractive, adventurous, amusing, ambition, and without a doubt, aspiring. For every chapter (focused on a single event across the globe) there are eighteen to twenty pages dedicated to Skelton: where she went (South Pole, for example), what sport she performed (snowboard, kite skiing, snow biking), how long she was gone, the temperatures and weather she experienced in each region, what she packed for gear, how she prepared and/or trained, a snippet of a diary, really cute illustrations, and last but not least, several photographs of her performing her wild adventure. Only two pages are reserved for giving girls ideas or advice about how to have their own “epic” adventure (like having a snowball fight). The subtitle should have been how to inspire incredible outdoor adventures. Dream big! If I can do it, you can too!
Confessional: The coolest part of Skelton’s book is the two pages in each chapter dedicated to women who made names for themselves doing similar adventures. They get a mini biography and an illustration of their likeness.
Book trivia: There are well over fifty photographs of Helen in this slim book. The final printing will have them all in color! Very cool.
Kuklin, Susan. In Search of Safety: Voices of Refugees. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2020.
Reason read: this is an Early Review from LibraryThing. Although I am hardly reading anything these days, this was too important to ignore.
In Search of Safety is comprised of five refugee stories from five different parts of the world yet all have two common threads. All five stories are of individuals seeking safety despite varying circumstances. They all end up in the United States in, of all places, Nebraska.
Fraidoon from Afghanistan, Nathan from Myanmar, Nyarout from South Sudan, Shireen from Northern Iraq, and Dieudonne from Burundi. Each refugee demonstrates remarkable courage, strength and, above all, trust to journey to America. In Search of Safety is compassionate and Kuklin is respectful in telling each harrowing story. The book’s hidden strength is the amount of information in Part VI: Notes and Resources.
Book trivia: there is a great number of touching photographs and (in the published edition) maps.
Kennedy, Kate. More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Maine Women. Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 2005.
Reason read: to satisfy a Portland Public Reading Challenge category: Maine history.
More Than Petticoats is a series of biographies focusing on historically significant women by location. I believe every state in the country has a book and some states, like California, have a second volume. For the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge, I read More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Maine Women. Thirteen biographies of some women you might know and others you may not recognize: Marguerite-Blanche Thibodeau Cyr, Kate Furbish, Abbie Burgess Grant, Lillian M.N. Stevens, Sarah Orne Jewett, Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby, Lillian “La Nordica” Norton, Josephine Diebitsch Peary, Florence Nicolar Shay, Marguerite Thompson Zorach, Florence Eastman Williams, Sister R. Mildred Barker, and Margaret Chase Smith. From 1738 – 1995. I love Maine’s rich history. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Sarah Orne Jewett, Franklin Pierce. I could go on and on.
As an aside, my sister takes pictures of a water fountain close to her library. I now know the history of the girl: the Women’s Christian Temperance Union dedicated the fountain to Lillian M.N. Stevens. Very cool.
Confessional: I want to visit Abbie Burgess Grant’s grave. According to Kennedy, Grant is buried in the Forest Hill Cemetery in South Thomaston. Her final resting place should be easy to find. Her headstone is the one with the lighthouse.
I also want to visit Sarah Orne Jewett’s house in South Brunswick. I hear it’s open to the public. I should just go on a Maine Women vacation.
Canales, Viola. The Tequila Worm. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2005.
Reason read: another selection for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.
I have to admit it was the title of this book that first drew me in. I have never eaten the worm from a tequila bottle, but I have often wondered about it.
Sofia is someone I wish I had known in my own coming of age days. She is joyful, kind, and true to herself. Even at such a young age she knows an opportunity when she sees it and isn’t afraid to be ambitious enough to reach for it. Growing up in a barrio in Texas, Sofia cherishes her family traditions but wants to spread her wings. When she earns the opportunity to go away to a reputable boarding school she jumps at the chance. There she learns more about her culture by being without it. This is a heartwarming story about embracing differences and the power of family.
What to tell you? I spent February in a tailspin of old memories. To blame it on one singular event would be too simplistic. As they say, it’s complicated. Very. In other news I have been running! Successfully, I might add. February saw 40 miles conquered. Here are the books planned and completed:
- Anna In-Between by Elizabeth Nunez (EB & print).
- Little Havana Blues edited by Julia Poey and Virgil Suarez (EB & print).
- The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber (EB, AB & print).
- The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley (EB & print).
- All Deliberate Speed: reflections on the first half century of Brown v. Board of Education by Charles J. Ogletree, Jr (EB & print).
- Barrow’s Boys by Fergus Fleming (EB & print).
- Rome and a Villa by Eleanor Clark (EB & print).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- The 21: a journey into the land of the Coptic martyrs by Martin Mosebach (just started reading).
Leisure (print only):
- Migrations: Open Hearts, Open Borders: The Power of Human Migration and the Way That Walls and Bans Are No Match for Bravery and Hope by ICPBS.
- Pharos Gate by Nick Bantock.
- Morning Star by Nick Bantock.
- The Museum at Purgatory by Nick Bantock.
- Alexandria by Nick Bantock.
- The Gryphon by Nick Bantock.
Bantock, Nick. Alexandria: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Unfolds. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2002.
Reason: What a wicked game to play to make me feel this way. – Chris Isaac.
You all know the star couple of the early 1990s, Griffin Moss and Sabine Strohem, but do you know Matthew Sedon and his lovely paramour, Isabella de Reims? Matthew and Isabella are caught in that can’t-connect world Griffin and Sabine know all too well. Separated by continents, absence is making the heart turn passionate. Matthew struggles to keep his mind on archaeology dig in Egypt while Isabella attempts to study in France. Both encounter evil signs of nemesis Viktor Frolatti who seems bound and determined to keep them apart.
As always, Bantock’s art is stunning. Bold colors, violent insinuations, and passionate designs decorate every postcard, letter, envelope and stamp exchanged. As always, the voyeuristic thrill of opening someone’s mail cannot be ignored.
Bantock, Nick. Gryphon: in which the extraordinary correspondence of Griffin and Sabine is rediscovered. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2001.
Reason read: I have flung myself so far down the rabbit hole I can’t find my way home. Maybe I’ve lost sight of what home means. I don’t know. After revisiting Griffin & Sabine and Sabine’s Notebook I realized I couldn’t stop with The Golden Mean. I couldn’t stop. At all. I couldn’t stop. For nothing. I guess you could say it was all for nothing.
In Gryphon we move on from Griffin and Sabine to Matthew and Isabella, another pair of star-crossed lovers. Don’t worry, G & S are still there, just in a murkier role. Sabine needs help from archaeologist Matthew, but the meaning behind her request is all smoke and mirrors. As with all the other books in the series, the art is amazing, even if the story has gotten a little too cloaked in mystery.
Best line in a letter, “I’ve tried to escape from the realm of your skin, by concentrating on your voice, but that only leads to your mouth and then I’m back where I started” (Matthew to Isabella).
International Centre for the Picture Book in Society, ed. Migrations: Open Hearts, Open Borders. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Studio, 2019.
Reason read: This was an Early Review from LibraryThing that I didn’t receive. I was curious about it so after publication I borrowed it from the local public library.
Coming from a place of spoiled privilege, I need more books like Migrations in my life, despite its deceiving simplicity. Growing up, my parents were not wealthy, but they provided. I always had a roof over my head, a safe and comfortable place to call home. It is hard to think of what life would be like without a secure or reliable place to live. The reality is we live in a world where thousands and thousands of people are displaced every single day.
With it’s beautiful hand painted art, illustrators of children’s books from all over the world took part in contributing postcards to the project. The layout of Migrations reminded me so much of Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine.
Bantock, Nick. The Museum at Purgatory. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.
Reason read: I am on another one of my cat kicks. Meh. Can’t be helped. Can’t be stopped. I’m just going with it.
Meet Non, Curator of the Museum at Purgatory. First, pay attention to his name. Non, the absence of anything and everything. He facilitates the acquisition of collections in that place between heaven and hell. Wait for it. Non is dead, too. He curates the collections of other dead artists, archaeologists, and collectors while they all figure out where they are ultimately going to end up, Heaven or Hell.
If you are familiar with Bantock’s work, you know his books are always filled with explosive art and imaginative words that only fuel curiosity to cult-like proportions. I am a fan of everything, and I mean everything, he does.
Favorite rooms: It’s a tie between the Gazio Room, with it’s shrines and navigational boxes, and the Delancet Room, full of lost post. As an ardent letter writer, I think Delancet has the slight edge over Gazio. Just saying.
Book trivia: I love the dedication for The Museum at Purgatory.
I am consistently running (yay). My head is finally screwed on straight – somewhat (yay). Things are not perfect but I can say February is mostly fixed.
- The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber – in honor of Charles Dickens and his birthday being in February. Weird, I know.
- Anna In-Between by Elizabeth Nunez – in honor of my childhood.
- Little Havana Blues: A Cuban-American Literature Anthology edited by Virgil Suarez and Delia Poey – in honor of Cuba’s reformed constitution.
- The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley – in honor of February being friendship month.
- Rome and a Villa by Eleanor Clark – in honor of Clark’s birthday.
- All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half Century of Brown v. Board of Education by Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. – in honor of February being Civil Rights month.
- Barrow’s Boys: A stirring Story of Daring, Fortitude, and Outright Lunacy by Fergus Fleming – in honor of Exploration month.
- Making Tracks by Matt Weber – a Christmas gift from my sister.
Andrews, Donna. Murder with Puffins. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2000.
Reason read: a book that takes place on Monhegan Island? How could I resist?
I will be 100% honest. I couldn’t finish this book. I couldn’t suspend reality high enough to believe anything about Murder with Puffins. It’s not the author’s fault in the least. I just know too much about Monhegan Island. I know for a fact no one would make the trek out to this remote island without making sure they have a place to stay, especially in the off-season. Everything is extremely limited so it’s not like you can pivot easily if your original plans don’t work out. It’s not as simple as hopping back on the boat either. Meg and Michael are looking for a romantic hideaway and they chose Meg’s aunt’s cabin on Monhegan. It is supposed to stand empty at this dismal, rainy time of year. Except this time Meg parents, brother, neighbor and aunt are all in residence. How could Meg not know that? The island is crawling with birders so there isn’t a single room available elsewhere… Then there is the islander who scares people off with shotguns and winds up dead. Someone Meg’s father is accused of murder and it’s up to Meg to clear his name. It’s a fun story. I couldn’t concentrate on the entertainment of it all because reality kept getting in the way. Oh well.
Author fact: Andrews wrote an apparently better book called Murder with Peacocks. Obviously, not on my Challenge list since Murder with Puffins is not either.
Book trivia: an additional hangup I had about this book ended up being the chapter titles. They are really corny. Here are a few: “They Shoot Puffins, Don’t They?” or “Round Up the Usual Puffins.”