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Little Match Girl
Little Match Girl
Price: $17.35
17 used & new from $12.07

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For Melancholy Moods, May 15, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Little Match Girl (Audio CD)
If you are familiar with Denovali Records, then you can buy this latest addition to their catalog with confidence, knowing that the production value and packaging is outstanding, and that it will sit well next to, say, the most recent offerings by the Dale Cooper Quartet Quatorze Pieces De Menace and The Kilimanjaro DarkJazz Ensemble From the Stairwell.

For those not familiar with Denovali: what 4AD was to the 80s, Denovali is to the present. So, if you once enjoyed Dead Can Dance or Cocteau Twins, you are bound to find much that appeals to you in their catalog, and this CD is a standout.

I usually review books, not music, so I won't humiliate myself trying to explain what is going on technically with the music; hopefully someone more eloquent than me will come along and write a review that does "Little Match Girl" justice.

I will say this: Hydras Dream, unlike so many of the 80s re-run acts now en vogue, do not replicate their influences, they transcend them. Sure, there are commonalities: for instance, as with Dead Can Dance or Cocteau Twins, the vocals on "Little Match Girl" are more lyrical than communicative, and they become part of the musical soundscape. But don't expect to hear DCD or CT; this is something all its own.

To my amateur ears these pieces are moods rather than melodies, something that Ophelia might sing to Hamlet from her watery grave. Tragic and stunningly beautiful.

You won't be humming tunes afterwards; instead, you'll want to hit the repeat button and hear the whole thing over---which is precisely why I love it.

If you are a fan of any of the bands I've mentioned, or others I haven't (such as The Cranes), you'll definitely want to add this CD to your collection.

Hope this helps.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
by Sherman Alexie
Edition: Paperback
220 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars MOVING FORWARD IN REVERSE, February 15, 2013
Like any short story collection, Sherman Alexie's "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" is a mixed bag. Some are brilliant, funny and life-affirming; others are dreary, and a couple feel more like character sketches that merely create a mood rather than tell a story with a beginning, middle and end. So, while the collection is definitely worth reading, I am glad that I first discovered Alexie by way of his novels--Absolutely True Diary of aPart-Time Indian(text only)Reprint edition by S.Alexie] and Flight: A Novel.

Of course, one of the advantages of a story collection is that you really get to see an author's concerns as they repeat themselves in the tales: not surprisingly, reservation life is a major concern; but storytelling itself is also one of Alexie's favorite topics; he clearly sees it as a necessary and under-appreciated art, like humor. One gets the impression that without humor and stories Alexie would never have survived the reservations he at times likens to death camps.

A perhaps more subtle motif in his stories is the paradoxical nature of time. In many of these tales the past flows directly into the present and the future. As if to reify this phenomenon, one character--Simon--only drives backwards. "He always obeyed posted speed limits, traffic signals and signs, even minute suggestions. But he always drove in reverse, using the rearview mirror as his guide" (156).

Sometimes, however, time is experienced in these stories as an almost hellish eternal now. Experienced, that is, like Dante's characters live time in "The Inferno." In these cases, Alexie's characters--like so many of us--find themselves trapped in situations where the alcohol-driven plot seems to remain the same and only the names change. On these occasions, the characters struggle to turn the ordinary into the magical, which is (more often than not) exactly what Alexie does with these stories.

Overall, a great collection.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The Devil in Berlin, February 3, 2013
I have read several books by Erik Larson, to include THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY and ISAAC'S STORM, and this may very well be my favorite. To be honest, I purchased this book somewhat skeptically. I had just read THUNDERSTRUCK and found it disappointing: the synthesis of two intersecting stories that worked so well in DEVIL... seemed uneven in THUNDERSTRUCK, which at times gets bogged down in the numerous, repetitive accounts of Marconi's disappointments and failed endeavors. That experience, coupled with the odd premise of this book--a single year in the four-year stint of an American ambassador and his daughter in antebellum Berlin--made me a bit uncertain as to whether or not I should invest time or money in it.

That said, I previewed the first few pages on-line and was helplessly compelled to read on. I downloaded the book and read anxiously for the next three days, suffering every time I had to put the book down.

I truly believe that any attempt on my part to summarize the story would do an injustice to the book. Larson does not tell us the story of Ambassador Dodds and his daughter; rather, he lets them speak for themselves. The result is a vivid, stress-inducing and ultimately human (all too human) portrait of people living through a literal and figurative disenchantment with the world around them. For avid readers of the Holocaust this book will provide a new window from which the most traumatic event of Western history may be scrutinized. Yet, I would argue that given the strength of Larson's writing, this book will appeal to all sorts of readers.

In a recent NY Times blog, writer Lee Child argues that the key to creating suspense in thrillers is through the crafty placement of questions, the answers for which require the reader's engagement and perseverance. Larson's book is proof that this strategy is effective for non-fiction as well. His subtle, masterful placement of these hooks, combined with his equally stimulating revelations (or responses), makes for a book that is equal parts thriller and history.

In fact, IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS is either the most educational thriller I have ever read, or the most thrilling history book.

Highly recommended.

Wholesome Hide� Retriever Roll 10-11
Wholesome Hide� Retriever Roll 10-11
Price: $14.99
2 used & new from $10.39

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well Worth It, December 2, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
My dog is an enthusiastic chewer, and this is about the only thing that she can't devour in a single sitting. One of these rolls lasts her about 10 days, sometimes a couple of weeks.

She has never had problems digesting them, never had an upset stomach and wanted to eat grass after munching on them. (I cannot say the same about other brands of rawhide.) These are a bit more costly, but I think you get what you pay for: in this case, problem-free American rawhide manufactured here and safe to give to your furry friend.

None of the chain stores near me seem to carry the Wholesome line. Fortunately, Amazon sellers do.

Highly recommended.

Emptiness and Brightness
Emptiness and Brightness
by Don Cupitt
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.48
45 used & new from $3.99

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Manifesto for the Second Axial Age, December 2, 2012
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This is the first book I have read by Don Cupitt, but it certainly will not be the last. That said, because it is the first, I find myself reaching for analogies.

Other reviewers have already mentioned the book's affinity to postmodern theories of language (though the writing style, thankfully, is not postmodernist) and neatly outlined Cupitt's theory of the Second Axial Age; so I will limit myself to noting the book's affinity to existentialism. To that end, imagine, if you will, a short existentialist treatise that really is affirmative, even upbeat.

I know the major existentialists defend themselves against charges of pessimism and, at an intellectual level, I get it. But just a cursory survey of their titles suggests otherwise: dread, nothingness, estrangement--these are their concerns, and they aren't cheery topics.

Interestingly, while Cupitt draws copiously from existentialists such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Heidegger, he also draws from Buddhism, and perhaps because of this he is more focused on Brightness than on Emptiness. The result is that (again, by way of analogy), whereas Sartre leaves you with *nothing* more than the suggestion that you keep a stiff upper lip in the face of your existential condition, Cupitt is thoroughly, emotively convincing when he argues that we really should revel in it.

For those of you who, like me, have always been inspired by, but never fully understood Meursault's epiphanic sense of oneness with the universe at the end of Camus's THE STRANGER, this book will be helpful.

As for the prose itself, Cupitt at times reads like a synthesis of Ray Bradbury (at his most poetic and impressionistic), Heidegger (in his more pellucid writings) and Nietzsche. Cupitt hasn't yet boiled his thoughts down to aphorisms (at least not in this book), but he is almost there: the average length of his chapters is 6-8 pages--and in them he packs a lot.

If you are interested at all in Be-ing, Language and what Cupitt calls Brightness (I might call it Enlightenment), then I cannot recommend this short, passionate, jargon-free book enough to you.

Cinema Nirvana: Enlightenment Lessons from the Movies
Cinema Nirvana: Enlightenment Lessons from the Movies
by Dean Sluyter
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.45
77 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Perks of Over-Interpretation, December 2, 2012
Sluyter's Cinema Nirvana is an interesting, if not always successful, book, and occasionally it is even a moving one. In part, this is because where it fails on one level, it succeeds on another.

While amusing, Cinema Nirvana fails to convince as film criticism. There are simply too many unconvincing moments when the reader's willing suspension of disbelief (and this is, of course, a work of non-fiction) just gives way to sighs and a gentle rolling of the eyes. A bit like reading Freud: certainly he is on to something, and so you press on reading, but then he says something so far removed from your own experience that you want to say: "Hey, wait!" But by then he has already drawn several conclusions based on the premise you question.

Fortunately, Sluyter does not pitch the book as film analysis; indeed, the subtitle of the book is "Enlightenment Lessons from the Movies." In essence, the films become the springboard for his discussion of nirvana, meditation, notions of the self, and other philosophical (and especially Buddhist) concerns. The films allow him to ruminate upon many of the fundamental tenets of Buddhism and, hopefully, help to provide the reader with greater insights and inner calm. This is not a self-help book per se, but it is a helpful book. And if Sluyter does at times risk over-interpreting the films, the value of his discussions remains. After all, what the book itself demonstrates is that what we see "out there" (or, on the screen) is to a very great extent, really a projection or construction of what is "in here," in our heads.

What Sluyter demonstrates so well in this book is that the opportunity to find guidance and counsel is everywhere, even in the most banal of Hollywood movies. Enlightenment, or the opportunity for enlightenment, is ubiquitous, even--Sluyter shows us--where you least expect to find it. This is because you are the enlightenment you seek; simply, he says, open your eyes and see it in the next film you watch.

Recommended for anyone interested in the intersection of Buddhism and popular culture, as well as those interested in somewhat unorthodox interpretations of some classic American movies.

A Brief History of Everything
A Brief History of Everything
by Ken Wilber
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.40
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Brief History, Or, A Buddhist Existenz, August 9, 2012
This is a thrilling, sometimes repetitious, but ultimately rewarding book. And while this is the first one I have read by Ken Wilber, it will certainly not be the last.

"A Brief History of Everything" is structured dialogically, a series of interviews in which Wilber plays both himself and his interlocutor. The structure is both accommodating and sophisticated: one the one hand, the dialogues create a conversational tone, and this makes Wilber's ideas more readily accessible to a general audience than a more formal, academic style might; on the other hand, since intersubjective communication is so essential to Wilber's theory of integration, form follows function as well.

I think it is only natural to make comparisons, and while I was reading this I kept thinking of Sartre's "Being and Nothingness." Like that text, this one takes a bit of getting used to, but once you are immersed in the language things come together. Wilber is much more accessible than Sartre, and certainly more inspiring. Indeed, reading Wilber is a bit like reading Sartre or Heidegger, but without the dread.

Don't get me wrong: his message is urgent; the philosophical foundation he is trying to build in justification of what he calls integration is as imperative as it is challenging. But there is also a certain reassuring optimism in this book--nowhere explicit, but everywhere implicit. In this sense, he reminds me of the British existentialist, Colin Wilson.

Colin Wilson is more inclined to draw from literature and mysticism, whereas Wilber tends to stick more to philosophy and comparative religion (and his breadth of knowledge is intimidating). Moreover, whereas Wilson at times risks sounding New Age, Wilber expressly rejects any facile, feel-good solutions to existential problems.

I enjoyed this introduction to Integral Theory, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in existential philosophy (which it is not), environmental studies, the evolution debate, gender studies, the history of ideas, et cetera. Not all of these topics are developed in depth, but they are all pertinent to Wilber's attempt at a systemic philosophy, and even when he perhaps fails to convince, he nonetheless succeeds in provoking thought and challenging conventional beliefs.

This is philosophy, not self-help. But it may be the most helpful philosophy book you read.

How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer
How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer
by Sarah Bakewell
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.50
137 used & new from $1.62

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Meandering Biography of a Book, July 28, 2012
I don't usually read biographies, and so I have few to contrast Bakewell's "How to Live" with. One would be Marion Rodgers's biography of H.L. Mencken; another, Walter Kaufmann's analytical biography of Nietzsche. In both cases, I think Bakewell's biography falls short in comparison: I found it less entertaining than Rodgers's work, and less intellectually stimulating than Kaufmann's. Part of this may, of course, be due to the subject matter; Mencken and Nietzsche both evoke such strong emotions. That said, so does Montaigne, so I fear my less than enthusiastic impression of "How to Live" is due in part to the structure, content, and length of Bakewell's book.

Please don't get me wrong: this is not a bad book. I learned a lot about Montaigne the man and the turbulent times he lived in. Yet, it is not a great book either, and I have been struggling with why.

Part of the problem, I think, is the title of the book: "How to Live." In theory, the book is structured around 20 discernible responses to the question that may be inferred from Montaigne's "Essays." This structure suggests a more philosophical (or psychological) engagement with Montaigne's ideas--and sometimes this is indeed the case. But too often what we get is simply historical contextualization.

At times, Bakewell's book feels more like a biography of the "Essays" than of Montaigne, and might have been more appropriately advertised as a new text in the burgeoning field of Reception Studies. In fact, this is what many of the chapters really reflect on: the reception and evolution of Montaigne's essays in France and, somewhat arbitrarily, England. Ultimately, the book meanders (not unintentionally, Bakewell assures us) from short discussions on Stoic philosophy to the political makeup of Renaissance France, and from Montaigne's bouts with kidney stones to his thirst for creative solitude.

As for the question How to live? Well, I think the best answer to that question might be suggested by Montaigne's example rather than by his essays: specifically, write. Keep a journal. Craft your own essays and, in the process, learn about yourself. The Stoics believed that writing helped to guide and console. Certainly Montaigne found it helpful, and modern psychologists would seem to agree, making journal entries a regular part of their therapeutic prescriptions.

Bakewell's "How to Live" wasn't the analytical look at Montaigne I had expected, not the philosophical self-help book I had hoped for. But, as Bakewell herself says in the acknowledgments, sometimes the best things happen when you don't get what you want. And while this wasn't the book I wanted, I am sure I am better off for having read it.

The Last Policeman
The Last Policeman
by Ben H. Winters
Edition: Paperback
72 used & new from $0.01

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Existential Murder Mystery--Almost, July 20, 2012
This review is from: The Last Policeman (Paperback)
"What would you do with just six months until the end of the world?" This, apparently, was the question that Ben H. Winters put to various pundits while preparing his book, THE LAST POLICEMAN. The question suggests science fiction, almost the classical "What if..." scenario. Yet, Winters's book is ultimately a fast-moving, psychological mystery that--while never engaging with them deeply--forces the reader to contemplate some of the oldest existential questions: Does death give life meaning, or is it that which negates it? How should I live my life? Can I be saved?

Albert Camus famously asserted that there was only one true philosophical question: Why not suicide? This is the burdensome question that all of Winters's characters must grapple with when the scientific community confirms that the planet will likely be destroyed by an imminent collision with an asteroid in six months' time. Camus's answer to the question was not for the weak-willed: the "absurdist" hero must reject suicide and embrace his existential situation, no matter how absurd it may be. For many of Winters's characters, the task proves too much, and so Hank Palace, the young detective who narrates the story, finds himself called to a series of suicides. Most of the investigations are perfunctory, bureaucratic affairs. But one of them just does not feel right: no suicide note, no cellphone, a brand new designer belt used to rig a noose....

As the investigation unfolds it is clear that Palace is not just looking for a killer; he is also looking for meaning, purpose. The victim, who Palace tells us he likes, is almost a mirror reflection of himself: ordinary, orderly--not quite OCD, but close. He even dresses the same as the victim (both men have several suits of a single color). One gets the impression that Palace needs to prove that his victim was murdered in order to save himself from suicide. After all, and again like the victim, he has little to live for save an estranged sister and a self-imposed moral imperative to carry on. The similarities between the two men are uncanny.

Ultimately, Winters is more the writer than the philosopher, however, and I don't think that he explores the psychological implications or philosophical questions nearly as much as his readers might have liked. This is perhaps because his narrator is not particularly bright (though the author clearly is).

Still, if nothing else, Winters does invite the reader to contemplate serious existential questions, and, in an age hellbent on distracting us from them, this should count for something. A good writer, I think, will ask the big questions, and Winters is definitely a good writer. But he is not yet a great writer; a great writer will try to answer them. For this reason, four stars instead of five. A thoroughly enjoyable existential mystery ... almost.

Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 - 5) (Silo series)
Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 - 5) (Silo series)
Price: $4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Speculative Fiction at Its Nail-Biting Best, July 16, 2012
For a fly trapped on an air-conditioned bus, the bus might easily be all the world it will ever know before dying. I think about things like this a lot, every time I look up at the stars actually. So, apparently, does Hugh Howey, whose "Wool Ominbus" takes this sort of thought experiment and flushes it out in a 500-page dramatization that is equal parts Cormac McCarthy, Richard Matheson, and Ray Bradbury. It is also 100% original.

This might not be the first book you have read about people living in a dome (here, it is an underground silo), but Howey continually takes the plot in unexpected directions, and he breathes a life into this scenario that many authors just can't seem to pull off. Personally, I think it is all about the characterization: Howey's characters are flesh and blood; they hurt, they love, they fear, they bleed--and when they do, the reader cannot help but to feel their joy and pain.

I also believe that all good novels are about discovery, especially self-discovery. That is the case here, at both an individual and a collective level. As the characters make their journey from ignorance to knowledge, Howey forces the reader to contemplate some interesting psychological questions. For example, why would a condemned man make his last act a service to the very community that condemned him? And we are repeatedly asked to consider the extent to which we prefer false appearances to reality, even at a communal level. As different as the world in the book is from ours, it is also eerily familiar. Yet, while there is plenty to fear, there is also plenty of room for hope.

"The Wool Omnibus" should appeal to a very wide audience, from young adults to more mature readers of either gender. This is thoughtful speculative fiction at its nail-biting best. Highly recommended, especially at this ridiculous price.

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