Saturday, November 29, 2008

New Music! Bob Dylan, Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, and David Byrne & Brian Eno

Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8, Rare and Unreleased
Bob Dylan

Speaking as someone who doesn't typically get too excited about Bob Dylan, I have to say that this collection is definitely worth picking up. Recorded between 1989 and 2006, all the songs on the album are previously unreleased or rare versions of released songs. The album as a whole is thoughtful and polished, but you'll still get plenty of Dylan's characteristic grit!

Sunday at Devil Dirt
Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan

In their second full-length album together, Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan continue playing off each other in the same dreamy, sometimes hypnotic duets that characterized Ballad of the Broken Seas. On my first few listens, Sunday at Devil Dirt seems even more subdued and low-key than the first album - more sultry lullaby than sea shanty this time around. I would have personally liked to see a little more experimentation with these songs. Their voices - Campbell's honey to Lanegan's gravel - and artistic styles work together so surprisingly well that I'm really curious to see what else they can do. But if you couldn't get enough of the first album, this one is sure to soothe your need!

Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
David Byrne and Brian Eno

Yes! This long-anticipated album is finally here! And it's even good! Yes, there are shades of Talking Heads with a little "St. Elmo's Fire" thrown in for good measure. But mostly this album is a cohesive and highly creative collaboration between two top-notch artists. The sound is upbeat and trippy, even whimsical at times. Smooth vocals ride over percussive electronic mixes and twine with haunting guitar chords. Definitely worth the wait, in my opinion!

Has anyone had the chance to give any of these albums a good listen? What's your take?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Check This Out: Fictional Boston in Books!

This morning, one of our customers pointed us this article published in the Boston Globe, "Round Up the Fictitious Bostonians". It's an interview with Suffolk University professor Gerald Richman, who has been compiling a list of fictional books set in Boston.

But this is no casual pastime! Richman has been compiling this list for thirty years, ever since he took over the "Boston: City of Fiction" course at the universty. He doesn't have an exact count of all the titles in his bibliography, but he estimates the full list would be over 250 pages long! It sounds to us like what started as a mild curiousity has developed into a full-blown obsession of the best kind.

One of the things we love most about Richman's work is his method of organization. Instead of listing books by author's name or the title or even the date of publication, he organizes the list by the time period in which the book's story takes place. That just puts a smile in our faces, it does.

Take a minute and check out Richman's list. You might be surprised by what you find!

Do you have a favorite book with a Boston connection?

(Image: Boston Globe)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Book Review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake
By Margaret Atwood

Without Giving Too Much Away: Oryx and Crake is a post-apocalyptic tale recounted by humanity's the sole survivor (or is he?). Snowman is on the brink of starvation and plagued by waking dreams from his past. Piece his ramblings together and the big picture of what went wrong and why becomes all too clear.

Our Musings: What I can't get over after reading this book is its eerie familiarity. This is, of course, Margaret Atwood's trademark. She has an uncanny ability to take all the components of the reality we know and then give them just a little half-turn to the left. Her fictional worlds are chilling in their nearness to our own.

But with Oryx and Crake, not only does it feel like this bleak future is entirely possible, but in many ways it feels as if it could have already happened - hence an eeriness that gets compounded with every turn of the page.

The book is structured almost like a conversation between the events of the past and the present those events created. In the past, we get the story of Jimmy and a world where gene-splicing and businesses with creatively spelled names (OrganInc Farms and NooSkins) are the norm. The rift between the pleebland underclass and the intellectual elites is a given and therefore arouses only cursory and passing interest on Jimmy's part. His life is spent in the guarded, sanitized corridors of the elite Compounds where all his needs are met as if by magic.

The present is the complete opposite. Snowman (who we quickly learn is, in fact, Jimmy) lives in a tree, wears a bed sheet for clothing, and is constantly battling storms, rogue animals, and a scarcity of food. As far as we can tell, he and a band of genetically engineered humans called the Children of Crake are the only survivors of an unknown and catastrophic world-wide disaster. Snowman is something of a prophet to the Children of Crake, who know nothing about the world in which they were programmed to thrive.

In his interactions with the Children of Crake, Snowman inadvertently begins building a mythology for their existence. He tells them stories to explain their origins, why the storms come, how the animals behave. The Children of Crake accept each story as truth without argument or question. And why shouldn't they? Snowman's explanations make sense! They are logical, if greatly simplified, explanations for things that the Children are not yet ready to understand. 

It's here, in Snowman's part of the story, that the feeling of eeriness is most present for me. It's such a small step to go from Snowman's stories to the Children to our own creation myths. And knowing Snowman's back story, you can't help but start wondering about our back story. What were we not told? What were the symbols and what did they really mean? What were we too young and new to understand, back at the beginning of the human race? 

While Atwood does such a masterful job of crafting these two realities that you can practically taste the ChickieNobs, the novel ultimately falls down on plot. Most of the book is just lead-up to the final revelation of exactly what went wrong. The teasers and foreshadowing are exciting at first, but eventually become tiresome and annoying. 

When the big reveal is finally made, I was left with a big cartoon question mark hanging over my head. I just didn't get it. And even after going back and reading it a few more times, the end just doesn't hang together for me. I understand the technicalities of Atwood's End of the World, but it just doesn't make sense to me within the context of the story. After so much build up, I expected a nuanced, complicated, and elegant solution. Instead it was more like a hatchet to a glass door - obvious and over far too quickly.

I think at least part of the culprit is a lack of depth in the other characters, namely Oryx and Crake themselves. From their initial introduction to their final swan song, our narrator Jimmy/Snowman portrays these characters are evasive and impenetrable, which results in a one-dimensional feeling for us as readers. Ipso facto, their motivations and emotions in the final events of the book are a mystery and any real impact those events might have had on the reader are lost.

Perhaps even more frustrating is the lack of resolution in the Snowman thread of the story. The chronological reveal of the past events happens roughly in time with a journey Snowman takes from his tree home back to the Paradice Dome, a.k.a ground zero. When he leaves the Dome, I got the sense that some sort of catharsis was supposed to have taken place. Snowman finally makes peace with his past and his role in the events? He decides to move on and make the best of it as one of the last surviving humans? Who knows. Whatever I was supposed to understand as a reader missed me completely and I was left feeling merely puzzled.

Ultimately, this book is neither completely brilliant nor a complete dud. It is quintessential Margaret Atwood - full of black humor and inescapable truths. 

Recommended: Yes, despite its shortcomings, this book is definitely worth the read. Recommended for Margaret Atwood groupies, sci fi fans, and end-of-the-world junkies.

Note: This book contains some graphic sexual and drug-related material that may not be appropriate for younger audiences.

Did you read this book? What's your take?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Book Events: Local Authors Ron MacLean and Brendan Halpin at JP Forum

What: JP Forum - Celebrating JP's Local Authors
When: Friday, December 5, 7-9pm
Where: First Congregational Church in Jamaica Plain Unitarian Universalist / 3 Eliot Street / Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

We've really been looking forward to this event! Ron MacLean and Brendan Halpin are both local JP authors as well as being pretty awesome gents. 

Ron will be reading from his recently published collection of short stories Why the Long Face? and Brendan will share excerpts from his recent young adult novel Forever Changes. After the readings, there will be an open discussion about the difficulties facing authors and small publishers in recent years and the current economic situation.

Update 11/23: Poet Catherine Sasanov will be joining Ron and Brendan at this JP Forum event! She is the author of two books of poetry: Tethers and Tara.

Please join us!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Welcome to the Official Blog of the Rhythm & Muse Bookstore!

Hello! Thanks for stopping by!

We have a lot of things planned for this little blog. Things that will hopefully make it easier for us to tell you what's new, what's hot, and what's happening here at the bookstore. Things that will make you smile and think and react. Things that will give us another way to come together as a community.

Please bear with us while we situate ourselves and get things going!

In the meantime, feel free to leave a note and let us know what you'd like to see from us. Book reviews? Music reviews? Top seller lists? Discussion topics? Stories of all the crazy happenings that we witness from our perch overlooking Centre Street? Let us know!

Take care and we'll see you soon...