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Best Books of 2016

Wed, 12/07/2016 - 8:58am by muffy

Let's start with probably the most anticipated - New York Time's 100 Notable Books of 2016 and the just released The 10 Best Books of 2016.

Well-chosen are The Washington Post's list of this year's best of the best, and I am astounded how similar the 2 lists are.

NPR’s Book Concierge Guide To 2016’s Great Reads lists over 300 titles that the NPR staff and critics loved this year, many of them award-winners.

Speaking of winners, look no further than the ">2016 Goodreads Choice Awards in 20 categories. I should mention that they are the only major book awards decided by readers.

For the fiction reader among us, check out The Huffington Post's the 18 Best Fiction Books of the year; and the Library Journal's best in Genre Fiction (in categories of African American Fiction, Christian Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Romance, SF/Fantasy, Thrillers, and Women's FIction), as well as Graphic Novels.

Publishers' Weekly Best Books 0f 2016 is notable for a list of the Best Children's and YA Books 2016.

Among specific subject lists, check out The Smithsonian's picks for The Best Books About Science of 2016.

Happy Reading.

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Interview: U-M Professor Stephen Rush, author of “Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman”

Mon, 12/05/2016 - 9:17am by christopherporter

Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman, the least understood person in the room.

Ornette Coleman’s music can be inscrutable to unprepared ears. The jazz giant, who died in 2015 at 85, developed a music theory he called “harmolodics.” It’s a style that goes beyond the “free jazz” tag that frequently accompanies Coleman’s name -- even if the alto saxophonist/trumpeter/violinist did release a genre-defining record under that name in 1960 -- and relies as much on a philosophical idea as a musical one. Simply put: Harmolodics is about race.

Harmolodic theory can baffle experienced musicians, too. Even guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer, who played with Coleman for 6 years, said, “I don’t get it!” in a new book called Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman by Stephen Rush, professor of performing arts technology at the University of Michigan.

But Professor Rush, who has taught at U-M for more than 30 years, breaks down Coleman’s complicated theories in a series of free-flowing interviews with the legendary composer that clarify harmolodics’ underlying philosophy. Plus, the book’s in-depth musical examinations will help students absorb the style into their own playing.

In addition to being a U-M prof, keyboardist Rush has a staggeringly wide body of work that includes everything from chamber jazz and opera to digital music and sound installations, and he explores harmolodics (and all sorts of other styles) in his Naked Dance quartet.

To celebrate the release of Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman, Rush is doing two area readings: Wednesday, December 7, at Literati (Ann Arbor) and Sunday, December 11, at Trinosophes (Detroit). Both are at 7 p.m. (For the Literati event, Rush is joined by Jason Corey, associate dean and associate professor of music at the University of Michigan, who just released a new edition of his book Audio Production and Critical Listening: Technical Ear Training.)

Rush answered questions over email about Coleman and the book, and he gave Pulp a list of recommended recordings that illustrate harmolodics at its finest.

Q: You just wrote a whole book about harmolodics, but if you had to give a concise description to a non-musician or budding jazz fan, how would you describe it?
A: It is all about race. The music theory part of it is a bit complicated if you don't understand transposition, so let's just say this: a C [note] can really equal a D [note]. And before you object to it -- realize what that means. From a race perspective, it means a white person equals a black person.

Q: The discussion about the role of the piano in Coleman's music opened my ears in a way I hadn't considered. If I'm understanding it correctly, he's relying on the other musicians to provide something akin to what the left and right hands can do for each other on a piano -- layering notes and chords -- but he's trying to do it with an entire band listening and responding as if they were the two hands on a piano. Did I get that right?
A: Actually, to make that argument would be horribly Eurocentric. Putting piano again at the center of the jazz sound. I never had a chance to ask him, but I suspect that the piano in those early recordings by King Oliver and Louis Armstrong was a substitute for a banjo! And there is a lot of banjo on those early recordings! Ornette's music, and the free jazz that follows, is always about collective improvisation. He thought that pianos tamp down the band way too much because of their harmonic tendencies. I completely agree -- especially as a pianist! Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett both have wonderful moments where they are really horizontal players rather than vertical players. The focus for them? Lines not chords. This is in polar opposition to the way we are taught, by the way.

Q: Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that the piano would need to be in the center of the jazz sound; more in how a piano player can, as Coleman says in the book, "Play all the notes you want ..." all by himself, whereas Coleman is having a band do it, which allows them to bounce off each other in collective improvisation rather than the pianist making all the choices himself. And which is why the piano generally gets in the way in Coleman’s music.
A: Cool. You are more spot-on with the piano question than I let on.

Q: At the end of the book’s first part, in your "Reflection" section, you comment that the interview we just read is Coleman's most concise explanation from a musical standpoint. But you end the section by saying, "Ultimately, these are issues of race and universal human freedoms." I know you expand on that in the book, but can you give a quick overview of what that means?
A: Well, this loops back to my answer to question one. Some people will get this book and want just the musical explanation for the Ornette approach. All of the talk about musical transposition, C equals F sharp, or whatever. But it all boils down to one essential element: human equality. To miss that piece of the puzzle, which people have been doing, well, forever, is to miss the most beautiful point of all. This music is about freedom. Not just musical freedom. Freedom.

Q: Is the driving theory behind all of Coleman's music to reinforce people's rights to make their own choices and live freely and as they see fit but with some general outlines -- laws? ethics? -- about what that freedom means if it impinges on someone else's freedom -- or musically speaking, not following the framework of the composition?
A: Notice that over and over, Ornette talks about trying not to push somebody down, or as he says quite graphically, "I don't want to kill anybody.” So, he is talking about a musical situation where everyone has equal contribution. It is a succinctly Africanist approach. European music works from the top down, usually. Or certainly after the Renaissance. There is a melody and there is a support harmony. Rhythm is a result of the other materials. In [Coleman’s] music, it all works together -- hence the term "harmolodics.”

Q: As good as you are at translating Coleman's theories for other musicians -- and everyday jazz fans -- to understand, was there any idea he discussed that you could not wrap your head around, no matter how much you asked him to explain? If so, please share.
A: Not really. But I attribute this to his ability to figure out how to talk to me and how to communicate to me. Inadvertently, you have put your finger on a major point here: There is a kind of autobiographical piece to this book that I'm not open to confessing, [not] in the book, at least. Often I am the least understood person in the room -- and guaranteed, Ornette was always the least understood person in the room. I loved reaching out to him and digging under the hood, and his clarifying questions, which are so easy to see along the way. It made the job easier after the first hour. So, the next five or six were easy.

Q: What are five songs -- or albums, if you prefer -- that are your favorites in the Coleman catalog and why?
A: Let’s go with:

“Kathelin Gray” -- It’s just plain pretty, it’s a gorgeous ballad, and completely harmolodic; not really “in a key” at all.

The entire Song X album, of course, is very important -- Kind of Blue or even Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues.” It really defines harmolodics.

Virgin Beauty is a really fun album -- it even has Jerry Garcia on it! There are ballads, fun funk grooves, hip-hop grooves, “jazz,” etc. Great intro to Ornette.

His piece “Peace” from Shape of Jazz to Come is a quintessential free-bop tune. A great starter as well.

Dancing in Your Head is a fantastic “party album” -- an “out funk groove” with Morocco’s Master Musicians of Jajouka? What a blast!

I’m just nuts about Tales of Captain Black, which is listed as guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer’s album. It’s super high in energy, “Blood” is a monster, but the whole band is over-the-top virtuosic. Tight meets loose. Jazz? Rock? I don’t know. It just is.


Christopher Porter is a Library Technician and editor of Pulp.


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Lois Lowry's Photographed Life

Sat, 12/03/2016 - 5:28pm by mansii

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Youth author [a:lowry, lois|Lois Lowry] has been a long-standing beloved household name for a number of her Newberry winning books, not the least of which are [t:the giver|The Giver] and [t:number the stars|Number the Stars]. [b:1461084|The Giver] many might know from its 2014 [b:1461084|movie rendition] including star actors such as Meryl Streep. Lowry has always been one to write stories that not only capture the imagination but challenge her readers to question, and to hang tight to all the goodness they can find. They are insightful and provocative for both the young and old.

Her newly updated and expanded autobiographical work retains this legacy. [b:1498439|Looking Back: A Book of Memories] reads like an album. The reader flips through glossy page after glossy page of photographs paired with a short, page-long reminiscence. Each glimpse of Lowrian history is also joined with a quote from one of her books, so we can trace her inspiration for characters and passages. Lowry traces the lines where her personhood is inextricably linked to the stories she has crafted.

In a simple style aimed towards the middle grade audience her novels have been written for, Lowry uses these pages to welcome us into her own family. She points out details and gives backstory, shares personal responses and humorous anecdotes, much like one might pass down stories to a grandchild. She conveys not only her own life, but includes photographs of her parents, children, grandchildren, and even some friends, showing the web through which we form our identity.

[b:1498439|Looking Back] is not entitled a “Book of Memories” for nothing; Lowry gently asks many questions about the nature of memory throughout these pages, a theme readily seen in [t:the giver|The Giver] as well. When we see a face but cannot remember a name, what does that do to a person’s identity? Does time’s inevitable morphing of names and details mean that our memories become false? How is our memory influenced by the fleeting moments captured by the camera, even when these moments would be seen differently in light of a bigger picture? One thing becomes clear: memory is a gift, and the small moments of our lives make history.

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Must-reads for Stephen King fans or newcomers

Thu, 12/01/2016 - 6:27pm by eapearce

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[:catalog/record/1485607|End of Watch], Stephen King’s spectacular conclusion to the mystery trilogy that began with the Edgar Award Winning [:catalog/record/1446490|Mr. Mercedes], was released earlier this year, shooting to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List. King has revealed that he’s hard at work on his next book, titled Sleeping Beauties, which will be released sometime in 2017, but for King fans who don’t want to wait that long, it’s time to take a trip down memory lane and revisit some of his best earlier works.

Stephen King is one of the most versatile and prolific authors alive today. Although he is best known for his horror writing—stories like [:catalog/record/1038664|Carrie], [:catalog/record/1038671|Christine], [:catalog/record/1038678|Cujo], [:catalog/record/1038777|The Shining] and [:catalog/record/1038723|It]—are familiar to almost everyone, even if they haven’t read the books, he’s also written general fiction, science fiction and mysteries, including some under pen names. If you’re a long-time King fan looking to reread, or a first timer delving into the often twisted world of King’s work, the following titles will have you turning pages faster than you ever thought you could!:

The idea for [:catalog/record/1389742|11/22/63] first came to King in the 1970s, but the book wasn’t published until 2011. It tells the riveting story of Jake Epping, a Maine schoolteacher who discovers a “time bubble” that transports him back to 1958. Convinced by his friend that he must attempt to stop the JFK assassination and thus alter the history of the world for the better, Jake embarks on a five-year quest to do just that. But, time is obdurate—as King emphasizes frequently in the book—and stopping the assassination is no easy feat. Part time travel adventure, part love story, part historical fiction, part thriller, 11/22/63 is the ultimate definition of a page turner.

[: catalog/record/1038752|Needful Things], one of King’s slightly lesser-known books, is set in Castle Rock, Maine, where several of his stories take place (The poor residents of Castle Rock have been through a lot). A new shop opens up in town, selling a wide variety of curiosities. In fact, anyone can go into the store and find whatever it is that their heart desires most. But buyer beware—although nothing in the store costs money, there’s a high price to pay for “purchasing” your deepest wants.

[:catalog/record/1038791|The Stand] is one of King’s most epic works—the full version clocks in at 1153 pages. The riveting story opens with a patient who escapes from a biological testing facility unknowingly carrying a strain of super-flu that ultimately wipes out 99% of the world’s population in just a few weeks. The few that remain are terrified and in need of someone to lead them. The two leaders that do emerge are polar opposites: one an elderly woman who urges the survivors to create a peaceful community in the American West and the other the mysterious “Dark Man” who has evil intentions and delights in chaos. As both leaders begin to gather power, everyone left on earth will have to choose who follow—and that decision in turn will determine the fate of all of humanity. Although reading The Stand is no easy feat, if for nothing else than the sheer length of it, as the New York Times Book Review says, it has everything: “Adventure. Romance. Prophecy. Allegory. Satire. Fantasy. Realism. Apocalypse. Great!”

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Blog Post

Why Read Romance

Sun, 11/20/2016 - 1:34pm by CeliaM

Let's be honest. Romance novels tend to get a bad rap. They get dissed and dismissed by people who don't read them. But try telling the readers who make up the billion dollar a year industry that romances aren't good and you'll have a lot of angry fans on your hands. In my experience romance readers are a loyal group, ready to defend their genre and their beloved authors.

Over the years numerous authors, bloggers, and industry professionals have stood up for the genre in pieces about who reads romance and why. One of my personal favorites is an article from historical romance author Sarah MacLean. She talks about the reactions she gets when she tells people what she writes:

"'When are you going to write a real book?'

Ah, Old Reliable. This one trots out at family gatherings, cocktail parties, reunions with old coworkers, drinks with other writers, playdates with other moms. It’s the most innocuous of the three, for sure—no one who asks it means to offend—but it’s loaded with insidious meaning.

These questions and their myriad brethren used to put me right on the defensive. I’d feel required to pontificate on the value of the genre, of its long history (Pride and Prejudice was a romance, didn’t you know?), of the value of books as entertainment, of the way romance builds literacy and community among readers, and the idea that the books are powerful feminist texts—written by, for and about women. In romance, after all, the heroine plays the role of the hero. And she wins. Always." (Sarah MacLean, 2016).

I read romance for all of these reasons and more. The plots, the characters, the sheer number of dukes in regency England and cowboys in Montana. I read them for the dialogue, the tropes, the humor (intended or not), the happily ever afters.

Stay tuned for more from the romance world. Favorites, classics, brand new picks, more!

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News of the World: an exquisite, morally challenging Western

Fri, 11/18/2016 - 9:01am by eapearce

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[:catalog/record/1487486|News of the World], the brand new novel by Paulette Jiles, is a riveting, complex story of the Old West that features two unlikely characters. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels across North Texas reading the news to paying audiences hungry for news of the end of the war and the world in general. He enjoys his itinerant, solitary existence, and is torn when he’s offered $50 in Wichita Falls to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. The ten-year-old girl was kidnapped by a band of Kiowa raiders when she was just four years old. Although they killed the rest of her family, they spared the little girl and raised her as one of their own. Now, being torn away from the only “family” she remembers and having forgotten the English language entirely, Joanna presents a unique challenge to Captain Kidd. As the two embark on a 400-mile journey south to San Antonio, the two lonely survivors—both used to only themselves for company—gradually develop trust in one another. And when they reach San Antonio and realize that the “relatives” Joanna is to be delivered to are a cruel aunt and uncle who want nothing to do with her, both the Captain and the young girl have a terrible choice to make.

News of the World is a beautifully written story that asks readers tough moral questions and goes far beyond the scope of a typical Western. This is a great read even for those who do not typically read historical fiction.

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The Princess Diarist: Carrie Fisher rediscovers her diaries from the sets of the Star Wars films

Wed, 11/16/2016 - 10:09am by eapearce

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In her new memoir [:catalog/record/1500945|The Princess Diarist] pop culture icon Carrie Fisher revisits the wild days of filming the first Star Wars trilogy. Fisher, who, of course, plays Princess Leia in the movies (and is currently reprising her role in the latest trilogy), recently rediscovered her diaries from the time period when she was filming the original trilogy. She writes that she was astonished to see what her writing had preserved: not only the angst of her own early adulthood, but open and honest musings about the era, love poems she’d written while curled up on set, and intimate recollections of what happened behind the scenes of the blockbuster movies.

Beyond revisiting her younger years, Fisher also contemplates larger issues in The Princess Diarist. She writes about the joys and struggles of celebrity, her struggles with addiction, and the absurdity of being born to Hollywood royalty (she’s the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher). Star Wars fans will certainly enjoy the juicy details that Fisher shares about her life on set and her interactions with her costars (hint: she and Harrison Ford did more than “interact”), but even readers who aren’t fans of the movies or who aren’t as familiar with them will enjoy her insightful viewpoints on celebrity and pop culture as a whole.

Fisher is also the author of the memoirs [:catalog/record/1321863|Wishful Drinking] and [:catalog/record/1352601|Shockaholic] and of four novels, including [:catalog/record/1024667|Postcard From the Edge].

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them!

Tue, 11/15/2016 - 8:38pm by PizzaPuppy

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Calling all Harry Potter fans! The newest movie in the popular series hits theaters this weekend!

We'll be celebrating [:node/327487|at the Downtown Library on Sunday, November 20th from 3:30-5 PM]. Join us for a variety of Harry Potter-themed crafts and activities, including live owl presentations. Costumes are encouraged!

Obsessed with the new movie already? Satisfy your Fantastic Beasts craving with some of our brand new books. Learn about how the film was made with [b: 1500341|Inside the Magic: the Making of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them]. See the amazing concept art that helped shape the movie's aesthetic in [b: 1500320| Art of the Film], or maybe consult the movie's handbooks [b: 1500344| here] and [b: 1500327|here]. We even have the [b: 1500331|original screenplay] for you to check out.

Looking for more Harry Potter fun? Catch up with the original series by reading [b:1493872|Harry Potter and the Cursed Child]. Read about the [b: 1493187|artifacts], [b:1463450|creatures] and [b:1482667|characters] of the Harry Potter series in these specialty books. Or check out the beautiful illustrations in the newly released [b:1500100| Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Illustrated Edition].

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Are We There Yet?

Tue, 11/15/2016 - 2:11pm by manz

Long car rides can be downright boring. Especially for the kids in the backseat calling out “are we there yet?” The picture book, Are We There Yet? is by Caldecott medalist Dan Santat (The Adventures of Beekle) and is a funny look at one family’s road trip adventure. The beautiful illustrations set the backdrop for a looooong ride to Grandma’s house that's filled with imagination. The book has you turning it round and round, upside down and backwards to follow the adventure, in a way that won’t make you carsick. The moral of the story is, you never know where life may take you, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

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Election Day Reads for Kids

Tue, 11/08/2016 - 3:17pm by evelyn

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Want to talk to your kids about election day and civic engagement? Look no further than your library!

For a basic primer on voting and democracy, check out [b:1488489|Every Vote Matters] or [b:1325946|School House Rocks: Election Collection].

Help your little ones learn about the people who fought for the right to vote with [:catalog/search/keyword/suffrage?age=youth|these great titles.] I especially recommend the beautiful and moving book [b:1477022|Lillian’s Right to Vote], which is about the Voting Rights Act of 1965. With lovely illustrations and stirring text, this book will help kids learn understand how hard citizens have worked to earn the vote.

For even more books on voting and democracy, take a look at [:user/lists/69116|this list!]