Crossroads: Literature and Music

In the late 19th century, the marriage of philosophical literature and modern music was epitomized by composer Richard Strauss. Consider Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra, a symphonic work based on Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical novel, Thus Spake Zarathustra, which was published a mere 10 years earlier. Nietzche's novel captures several central tenets of his philosophy, namely, the superman, the will to power, and the idea of eternal recurrence. Take the force of these ideas and allow the compositional genius of Strauss to capture them in music, and you usher in 20th century music. Director Stanley Kubrick was impressed enough with the piece to use the opening measures during key scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Also check out Strauss' brilliant 1905 opera, Salome, based on Oscar Wilde's play of the same name, published approximately 10 years prior to the musical piece. The final scene of Salome continues to shock audiences and exalt sopranos in performances to this day.

Cormac McCarthy's Meditation on Evil: Blood Meridian

The bloodline of malice that runs from Grendel's Mother to Iago to Moby Dick reaches its apocalyptic incarnation in Judge Holden of Cormac McCarthy's 1985 novel, Blood Meridian. Set on the Mexico-U.S. border in the late 1800s, the Judge, the Kid, and the rest of Glanton's historically-based gang are hired scalp hunters tracking down Apaches and Comanches for anyone willing to foot the bill.

Saying this story isn't for the faint of heart is a devastating understatement; the incessant and brutal violence begins on page four and only increases in severity until the epilogue, where a mysterious figure rises from the desert floor, presumably to take on -- if not replace -- the ageless Judge. This is McCarthy's unparalleled master work of fiction, dense in symbolism and as mercurial in style as a Schoenberg twelve-tone piece. Both difficult and complex, Blood Meridian is probably not the best introduction to McCarthy's work, but for those who found Anton Chigurh compelling in No Country for Old Men, introduce yourself to the Judge.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #158

Can't believe I'm #112 on the request list for Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife*! The waiting is going to be unbearable.

Praised by critics as "fierce and sophisticated", this fiction debut (after a memoir) is set in 1907 Wisconsin. Catherine Land answered well-to-do businessman Ralph Truitt's newspaper ad for "a reliable wife". As she stepped off the train, it was obvious that Truitt has been deceived. Both these complex characters have plenty of traumatic baggage that is peeled away layer by layer as the two engage in a darkly dangerous game of check and checkmate.

Reliable "calls to mind the chilling tales of Poe and Stephen King, and at its core this is a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions. It melds a plot drenched in suspense with expertly realized characters and psychological realism." ~Bookpage

* = Starred Reviews

Spring Books to Movies

The Soloist is based on The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music - an emotionally soaring drama in which Journalist Steve Lopez discovers Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, a former classical music prodigy, playing his violin on the streets of L.A. As Lopez endeavors to help the homeless man find his way back, a unique friendship is formed, one that transforms both their lives.

Published in 1995, Bret Easton Ellis' The Informers is "a collection of loosely connected short stories that captures a week in L.A. in 1983, featuring movie executives, rock stars, a vampire and other morally challenged characters in adventures laced with sex, drugs and violence", now adapted as a major motion picture. Read more about Ellis and his interview about the movie.

Directed by Ron Howard, the much anticipation Angels & Demons will be in theaters on May 15th. Based on Dan Brown’s (2000) novel, Tom Hanks reprises his role as Harvard religious expert Robert Langdon (in The Da Vinci Code) who finds that the Illuminati -- the most powerful underground organization with ancient roots is willing to stop at nothing, even murder, to advance its goals.

Ballet Shoes: Audiobook

Adopted from birth, the Fossil sisters are determined to put their own name in the history books. Join Pauline as she strives to be an actress, Petrova as she learns her love of engines, and Polly as she discovers her potential to be a dazzling ballet dancer.

Listening to this story is a pleasure with the soothing but engaging voice of Elizabeth Sastre, who also reads the other books in this famous series: Dancing Shoes and Theater Shoes. Or you could watch this story in the latest BBC adaption starring Harry Potter star, Emma Watson, as Pauline Fossil.

What are you reading: Dave Askins of the Ann Arbor Chronicle

Dave Askins: Dave Askins, alongside Michigan's most famous teeter totter, in his Ann Arbor back yard.Dave Askins: Dave Askins, alongside Michigan's most famous teeter totter, in his Ann Arbor back yard.

Dave Askins, the bearded, long-haired interlocutor of a blog called Teeter Talk has one of the more interesting pedigrees, in New Journalism. After completing a master's degree in German, and studying theoretical linguistics, toward a Ph.D. that never was completed, he embarked on what he describes as "a collection of odd jobs" in the Ann Arbor area. Those included work as a frozen foods clerk, a kennel keeper and a data programmer for a company that conducted public opinion surveys.

He's best known for his blog, and the question-and-answer sessions that he conducts with people of interest--while riding on one of his two handmade teeter totters. Askins has achieved equipoise with former President William Jefferson Clinton, Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje, various media personalities, and Ann Arbor District Library Director Josie Parker.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #157

In Aussie Toni Jordan's Addition, there is no getting around the fact that Grace Lisa Vandenburg is neurotic - lovable but definitely neurotic! - counting the bristles on the toothbrush and the poppy seeds on her cake (daily) neurotic. Her obsession with counting renders her unemployable and very much a loner except for Nikola Tesla, the turn-of-the-twentieth-century inventor whose portrait sits on her bedside table and who rescues her in her dreams.

Seamus Joseph O'Reilly, an Irish transplant is intrigued by Grace who steals his banana at the check-out line. A shared table at Grace's morning coffee run soon blossoms into romance, and Grace begins to want a normal life with this passionate and darling man. The path to recovery as well as true love is never smooth - but on the way, Grace learns a few valuable lessons and we are treated to a "sweet, agreeable romantic comedy".

This superb debut marks Jordan (interview) as a writer to watch.Discussion questions are available for an upbeat book group choice.

For a novel on the topic of obsessive-compulsive disorder, try teen novelist Terry Spencer Hesser's Kissing Doorknobs. For another humorous take on the subject, try Steve Martin's The Pleasure of My Company.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #156

David Cristofano's The Girl She Used to Be* is a "compulsively readable, skillfully constructed" first novel that you won't be able to put down.

After assuming 8 different identities since aged 6 through the Government's Witness Protection Program that ultimately could not safeguard her parents, Melody McCartney is no longer sure who she is and therefore is stunned when someone actually calls her by her real name!

Enter Jonathan Bovaro, son of the Mafia family that is at the root of her troubles. He is elusive, dangerous, and charming. Melody should run the other way but she cannot resist him, and stays.

Major nail-biting suspense with lots of plot twists, intense and itchy-sexy. Don't miss this one.

* = Starred Review

It's not your Grandma's Harlequin!

60th60th

Harlequin, one of the most recognized publishers is celebrating 60 years of bringing romance to the American reader. As part of the celebration, it is offering 16 free downloads of full-length titles from its various imprints.

Whether your interest is in :

African-American, Chick Lit, Contemporary Romance, Erotic Fiction, Fantasy, Historical, Inspiration, Mystery, Paranormal, or Suspense & Adventure, they have something that would appeal to your notion of the romantic. There is even an imprint for romance in Spanish.

Tell Harlequin is a special website where readers are encouraged to voice their opinion (and get free stuff!).

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #155

Canadian journalist Elizabeth Kelly's Apologize, Apologize! is a novel about the triumphs and tragedies of the "fantstic Flanagans" of Martha's Vineyard - a super-rich, dysfunctional, "nutty/drunken/wacky/irresponsible" family.

The angst-ridden narrator Collie (named after his parents' favorite dog breed) recounts life in this zany household, his troubled relationship with brother Bingo, the guilt over a family tragedy and his hard-won redemption.

Critics are impressed with first-time novelist Kelly's display of "unrelenting quirkiness" that begs comparison with Daniel Wallace and John Irving.

Its whimsical tone also brings to mind Galt Niederhoffer's A Taxonomy of Barnacles, Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and The Royal Tenenbaums.

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