Books for Kids: New Classics

Best Things of the Week 1/26/15

Best Things of the Week

January 26, 2015

Best Thing I Saw All Week: The African Queen. I’m a James Agee nut and he wrote the screenplay from C. S. Foresters’ novel.  Considering that, combined with John Huston’s direction and the African locations, I figured, what could possibly go wrong? Or, at least, how far wrong could it go? Especially seeing it for the umptillionth time.  And I was right. There are some dated attitudes—unfortunate lines and scenes that today would be considered racist, or at least patronizing, both toward Africans and women—and a high level of Whammo!-bust-you-in-the-nose-old-fashioned-All-American-moxie, even though Bogart plays a Canadian, technically. And Agee’s lays on the biblical references with a trowel until they hang out there like bloodied thumbs; I mean leeches, a plague of insects, and a flood? A flood that lifts a makeshift boat out of the corrupted mud? Come on. But somehow it all works in a suffering-hero sort of way. The Whammo! still packs an emotional punch and the broad story of love sneaking up on two people who never even thought they were eligible for it in the first place is amiable as it is predictable. This probably looked a hell of a lot more original in its day but is still great cornball fun that, if you’re not careful, will sneak up on you on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Best Thing I Heard All Week: D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah. This has me going in circles. One of my friends says, “It sounds a lot like Sly.” And one of my other friends says, “I love it but what took fourteen years?” And both have a legit point. I went back and listened to my old Sly stuff (Hot Fun in the Summertime was one of the first singles, now long gone, I bought as a teenager) and, sure, Black Messiah sounds a lot like Sly, but there’s a lot out there that sounds like Sly and isn’t nearly this good. In spots it also sound like seventies Al Green, and the Delphonics (a little) and a lots of other neo-soul that’s keeps coming out these days. Part of the idea of Sly’s sound (and Green’s) was its spontaneity, real or calculated, which brings us back to those fourteen years; a little of this sounds as though it’s been worked over just a tad too much. All of it is wonderfully listenable though, and a great leap forward from Voodoo, and continues to reveal more of itself with each spin. “It’s about people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and in every place where a community has had enough and decides to make change happen,” D’Angelo writes in the liner notes and who does that sound like?  If Black Messiah still sounds as relevant and inspiring fifty years from now as Stand!, There’s a Riot Goin’ On, or Greatest Hits do today the fourteen years were probably worth it after all.


New Poem by Sarah Menefee

hear that crack?
it’s so immense it
makes aeonic giants howl
the rest of us are deaf
though there’s a shiver of it
in our spines
out of that rending-apart
a flash happens
too phosphorescent for sight
intimate to the blood
it’s the foot of justice
walking along a golden thread
that stretches from here to here
in the everyday world

The Importance of Literary Shrines

My friend Jerry Cimino at the Beat Museum sent me this. Quite interesting:

Every Province… A New Poem by Neeli Cherkovski

for E.W.

I loved every province
of your body, especially your eyes
I think they were brown
but time has colored every sound
and sight in silt

I loved your lips, your tongue
your sloping white shoulders, I loved
your mop of hair
covering the ears, I loved the uncertain
moves in bed, cold sheets
warm bodies, I loved the smoothness
of your skin, your wild little ass, your firm
thighs, your surprising strength
when we’d wrestle down to the core
overdoing it, sweating moaning, yes
I loved your feet, your toes, I loved
the auburn patch of hair over your
I worshipped every inch of your body
and the nave where I’d often settle, calm
to feel your palms over my cranium, yes

I adored your emotions, stories
of life in Santa Cruz and the nearby mountains
I loved our walks in the park, every
moment on the trail past weeping
rhododendron, I l loved
watching you scribble poems
as Rimbaud had done
at roughly your age, I loved how you screamed
into my ears, threatening to leave
I loved meeting your grandparents
though it did seen sad down a driveway
in the Roman Republic, yes

my dear, my boy, my body boy, my lost
love, my fallen angel, I love the romanticism
of where we are today, music blasting
in Seattle Coffee Company, 7:30 am
Metro Manila, I loved your way of kissing
so gently, then biting my arms,
those days we had endless rain, famous fog

you’d steal away to sleep with women
and tell me about it, I loved your
voice, your shut eyes, your eyebrows, your
fingernails, your balls
your head against my shoulders, sleeping
as we race down Highway Five
in the Central Valley

I love your words, sometimes fragile, often
elegant, the timbre in your voice, those things
we put aside, our hands, the handsome mirror
shattered glass, cathedrals without bolts
on the doors, Eric, who am I?

The Great Eight Indie Book Stores of the Bay Area

The folks in Sacramento wish they had things so good:

National Book Critics Circle Awards, Finalists Announced

The Disruption of Culture

This appeared in Sunday’s NYT Book Review and should be essential reading for anyone interested in the takeover of our culture by piratical twits and megalomanical nitwits.

Best Things of the Week 1/19/15

Best Things of the Week

January 19, 2015


Best Thing I Read All Week: Who We Be: The Colorization of America by Jeff Chang. Chang wrote the imperishable Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation which took us from Robert Moses and DJ Kool Herc and Africa Bambaataa to dub to Reagan and Dre and Snoop to globalization, hegemony and Jay Z. Who We Be charts a similar course through the rise of multiculturalism and the furious resistance its adoption, this time out focusing mostly on the visual arts. The book spans Morrie Turner’s Wee Pals to Ishmael Reed to the Artists Space controversy and The Decade Show to Lee Atwater to Occupy Wall Street, Obama and the Tea Party and the multitude of other upstart movements and activist organizations that sprang up along the way. All shared a certain ad hoc quality and the great majority were very short-lived so it would be very easy to perceive them as a long series of noble failures and well-intentioned, if naïve, flops, but all were essential pieces in the gradual accrual of the larger, ongoing success.


Best Thing I Saw All Week: Gregory Porter at SFJazz. On record the first, obvious comparison that leaps to mind is Bill Withers. Jazzier where Withers is folkier, political where Withers is more romantic but both writing eccentrically constructed songs about love and the pain it brings, both singing in a direct minimally inflected style. Live though, Porter is a showman of the sort you’d never guess from the records; less formal, funkier, effortlessly pushing his voice to suffuse one more twist of emotion into the song. The band he leads is responsive and tight—jazzy drums; a strong string bass; Chip Crawford, the expressive, emotional pianist and a fast, show-offy alto. To break things up between his own songs he covered Oscar Brown Jr.’s Work Song with a good deal of Cannonball left in it, a version of Abbey Lincoln/Max Roach’s Lonely Lover that segued into a medium-tempo Hit the Road, Jack (Percy Mayfield), and a tender I Love You for Sentimental Reasons. I only wish he’d gone longer, seventy-five minutes seemed a bit skimpy. He closed with his own 1960 What? long and slow and intense, that held an already-adoring crowd on the edge of their seats: Hey! the motor city is burning, ya’ll, that ain’t right./There was a man, voice of the people,/standing on the balcony, of the Loraine motel./Shots rang out, yes it was a gun…

The Great American Novel: Why are we still obsessed?