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1776: A Musical Play (Penguin Plays)
1776: A Musical Play (Penguin Plays)
by Sherman Edwards
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.58
78 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Such a delight!, July 18, 2015
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On July 4, I found myself watching the movie of 1776, and recalling when I first saw the show on Broadway when it was relatively new. I remember that as a then-teenager and history buff, I liked the play (and later, movie); but somehow, as I've gotten older, I've grown to like it _more_.

The real-life story is one that has always inspired me. In that single moment in time, we had in one place -- and on one side -- so many brilliant people who shared a single goal. They were capable of making hard decisions AND of making compromises -- something that few of us can do. They were all flawed humans who rose above themselves to make something better and lasting. And this story captures the efforts, the flaws, and the human beings... how could I NOT appreciate it? (The music's pretty good, too.)

A casual online conversation led me to the discovery of this book-of-the-script, and I invested four bucks in a used copy. Then, when it arrived, I read the whole thing at one sitting. It charmed me, especially since I also could appreciate the authors' notes about sources -- discovering just how much of the dialogue was said or written by the historical characters.

For instance, apparently John Adams really did tell someone that even if the revolution succeeded, he did not expect to be remembered in the history books, saying -- in real life and in the script -- "Franklin did this and Franklin did that and Franklin did some other damn thing. Franklin smote the ground and out sprang George Washington, fully grown and on his horse. Franklin then electrified him with his miraculous lightning rod and the three of them - Franklin, Washington, and the horse - conducted the entire revolution by themselves."

And much of the dialog between John and Abigail Adams comes from the letters between the two of them (which I MUST read someday...) -- though I don't know if this perfect interchange is among them:

John Adams: Why, Abby? You must tell me what it is. I've always been dissatisfied, I know that. But lately I find that I reek of discontentment. It fills my throat, and it floods my brain. And sometimes I fear there is no longer a dream, but only the discontentment.

Abigail: Oh, John, can you really know so little about yourself? And can you really think so little of me that you believe I'd marry the man you've described?

Among the changes the author made for the sake of plausibility, however, is a truth that audiences would never believe. When the South refused to sign the declaration if it prohibited slavery, the script has Adams tell Franklin, "Mark me, Franklin... if we give in on this issue, posterity will never forgive us." But, Stone and Edwards wrote, the complete line, spoken in July 1776, was "If we give in on this issue, there will be trouble a hundred years hence; posterity will never forgive us." Yeah -- I'd have thought that was a bit too prescient, too.

Mostly, this is a great story... whether you read it as a script or a historical "novel."


Peter Paul and Mary: Fifty Years in Music and Life
Peter Paul and Mary: Fifty Years in Music and Life
by Mary Travers
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.39
66 used & new from $12.50

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful celebration of people and music I cherish, July 11, 2015
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Like most people of my generation, PP&M's songs provided much of the soundtrack of my childhood: singing "When I had a hammer" in scout camp, listening to my sister sing, "Lemon Tree" when I was a small child, and so on. Their music always has been both comforting and inspiring. And the same can be said of the people who sang those songs.

Music/band nostalgia books can take many forms, such as, "This is what inspired each song" or "Here's the technique we used to get that album's unique sound" or "I'll tell you celebrity gossip" or "Let's explore how the individuals worked together -- what made it work." Your (or at least my) appreciation of such books thus is a matter of expectations.

_Fifty Years in Music and Life_ is, above and beyond anything else, an impressive collection of photographs (and some other images) that illustrate the cultural change PP&M both lived through and caused to be. You probably can justifying buying this book for no other reason than to appreciate pictures of Noel, Mary, and Peter performing on the White House lawn, or a snapshot taken with James Taylor and John Hall (of Orleans) during the Anti-Nuke movement, or a slightly-goofy early picture from the Saturday Evening Post where the trio poses with a lemon tree.

There's not a lot of storytelling about the music per se -- little on the order of, "I was watching a pigeon who got into my henhouse, which inspired me to write....". And while they go out of their way to acknowledge the musicians and technicians they worked with, you won't find any music engineering stories, either. (Not that it should be necessary, for people whose music always was simple and pure. But someone might be hoping.)

What you _do_ get is a told-with-one-voice story about their journey from the East Village walk-ups where they practiced (Duh, how did I not know Noel shared a loft with Tom Paxton?) to the causes that they grew to care about and how the music enabled that pathway. Mostly, I think, you get a sense of the values shared by these three longtime friends. For instance:

>>Years later, Mary reflected in a column in the Bucks County Courier Times: "During the Civil Rights Marches in the '60s, I often marched side by side with my mother. She told me of the great labor demonstrations of the '30s, and encouraged me in the belief that peaceful protest was an honorable tradition. She taught me to value accountability, responsibility, and continuity. So as I stood in the cold, wet Washington morning at yet another protest march, with my arm around my daughter, I told her about Daniel Ellsberg. That's what moms are for."

and

>>Although Newport's main stage performances were remarkable, many people experienced the essence of Newport in the smaller "workshops." In these gatherings, many of which spontaneously came together in a ballroom or on a lawn, musical styles and backgrounds intertwined -- black, white, country, urban, youngsters, oldsters. People "jammed" together, picking, singing, and creating a universal language that was pure delight. The sounds of banjos, mandolins, fiddles, guitars, and voices filled the air. These workshop experiences reminded us that old barriers could, and would, come down. They also revealed how meaningful and natural togetherness could be."

This book is a lovely homage to three wonderful people, and the vision of peace and world-changing they helped to create. I thoroughly enjoy it, and I'm sure you will, too.


Chinese Embroidery: An Illustrated Stitch Guide
Chinese Embroidery: An Illustrated Stitch Guide
by Xiaocheng Shao
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.08
43 used & new from $13.08

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A useful overview, but not an awesome instruction book, July 11, 2015
This is one instance in which I urge you to ignore the number of stars I give the book, because its value to you will depend on what you're looking for.

After visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art's current exhibit on Chinese embroidery, I decided to grab a book at the museum bookstore so I could delve deeper into the subject. I've been doing embroidery for about four years, after all (with some amateurish stabs at it in high school), though most of my projects are kits in the Arts & Crafts school.

Anyway, this book looked like a good candidate since it promised, "Over 2,000 years of rich and colorful Chinese embroidery to enjoy, learn, and master through exquisite photographs and step-by-step instructions." I flipped through the pages and figured that, at worst, it would be fun embroidery porn (not to mention a memento of the trip; I do like to have some kind of personal souvenir).

When I got home, though, I looked at the book in more detail. There's a chapter on the history of Chinese embroidery; the requisite chapter on tools and materials; an in-depth chapter showing 20 kinds of stitches (I'll get back to this in a moment); a chapter with 19 "daily use" projects; and finally a chapter on "artistic embroidery projects," a.k.a. advanced stuff.

"Ooooh!" I thought. "Maybe this is more practical than I thought!"

The stitch introduction chapter has photos illustrating the process, accompanied by a little project using it. For example, the basic blanket stitch has four photos and their instructions ("1. Bring out the needle at A and bring out the whole thread. Insert the needle at B near A and then bring it out immediately at C with the thread pressed under the needle"). The author also has four photo/instructions for the long-and-short blanket stitch, curved blanket stitch, and flower pattern blanket stitch. Then you have a little needlework project to do: a simple pattern using _only_ blanket stitch that could be, say, a small pillow. The chapter covers everything from the very-basics (running stitch and chain stitch) to techniques I've been curious about in the "how the heck did they _do_ that?!" way: couching with gold thread, coiling stitch, weaving stitch.

And the projects have a fairly wide range of do-ability, from an embroidered napkin (using slanted satin stitch and blanket stitch); to a name-card (business card?) case using closed satin stitch, silver thread couching stitch, and slanted satin stitch; to a lady's handbag that I admit is calling me (using gold thread couching stitch, long and short satin stitch, straight satin stitch).

"Oh boy!" I thought. "Let's learn how!"

...But then I started reading.

The author very clearly knows her topic. Unfortunately she doesn't do a great job at conveying it... and it seems that there's a translator who ought to be shot. Over and over, I found myself thinking, "If I knew how to do what she's talking about, this would make sense and be enlightening. But I don't." Even when the text makes sense, it's convoluted to parse. In the advanced chapter, for example, in a section describing how to do hair embroidery (like, _using your hair!_), she explains, "Each line of hair embroidery should be able to represent its connotation. It is not allowed to make the line a lifeless and dull one." Sure, I can grok what she meant to say, eventually, but it's near-impossible to work out instructions written in that style. And not for a whole book.

The book _does_ work for my original goal, though: It's a good collection of photos of Chinese embroidery (though I wish the historical chapter's images were bigger; too often I have to squint to get any sense of what they look like).

So if you want a relatively-inexpensive overview of Chinese embroidery, this works. If you want pragmatic how-to instructions and detailed projects, I think you'll be disappointed.


Getting There: A Book of Mentors
Getting There: A Book of Mentors
by Gillian Zoe Segal
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $11.93
63 used & new from $11.93

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring stories and advice from famous people (including some you never heard of), July 3, 2015
The premise behind Getting There is stories and interviews with 30 people who are luminaries in a wide range of knowledge domains, in an effort to share how someone achieves success. As the author writes in the introduction, it captures "the obstacles they overcame, the setbacks they endured, and the defining moments (sometimes even in childhood) that infused them with the tenacity and strength they needed to prevail." Each tells his or her story, plus a few standalone "pearls of wisdom" meant to be lessons we can each learn from.

The result really is inspiring for anyone who wants to make a dream come true -- or who wants to support someone with such a dream (such as a college graduate trying to decide what to be when she grows up). In the past few weeks, while I've been reading the essays haphazardly and out-of-order, I've found that I've quoted from it to several friends.

The 30 people Segal interviewed are from a marvelously wide range of subjects and careers. Some of them are household names (Warren Buffett, Kathy Ireland, Craig Newmark); others famous-by-reference (I'd never have recognized the name of the guy who co-founded Nantucket Nectars, or Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus).

But really, this book had me at "Matt Weiner." I read an online interview with him that mentioned it was an excerpt from this book, and Weiner (creator of Mad Men and writer for The Sopranos, if you aren't familiar with him), summarized-in-passing what this book is about: "Artists frequently hide the steps that lead to their masterpieces. They want their work and their career to be shrouded in the mystery that it all came out at once. It's called hiding the brushstrokes, and those who do it are doing a disservice to people who admire their work and seek to emulate them. If you don't get to see the notes, the rewrites, and the steps, it's easy to look at a finished product and be under the illusion that it just came pouring out of someone's head like that. People who are young, or still struggling, can get easily discouraged, because they can't do it like they thought it was done. An artwork is a finished product, and it should be, but I always swore to myself that I would not hide my brushstrokes."

As with any collection (of short stories, interviews, etc.) some of these resonated with me more than others. None of these are "meh," but a few stand out to me. For instance, in addition to Weiner, I was also quite taken by journalist Anderson Cooper's tale (who had to cope with two family deaths at an early age) and how he pursued his journalism career reporting in developing countries. ("I would never have been drawn to do this kind of work had I not experienced such intense personal loss. ... I think that's part of what drew me to war zones and other places where people's whole lives have been turned upside down. I wanted to learn about survival from those who were still standing.")

I'm really glad I read this book. I think you'll like it, too.


Waterfall: A Novel (River of Time Series)
Waterfall: A Novel (River of Time Series)
by Lisa T. Bergren
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.41
62 used & new from $1.75

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A YA version of Outlander: Very enjoyable, June 20, 2015
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Someone described Waterfall to me as "Outlander for young adults," and I think it's an apt description. I've loved Diana Gabladon's Outlander series since the first novel came out decades ago, which began with a 20th-century woman transported back in time hundreds of years, who must cope with the shock of being elsewhere, not to mention finding true love. But as wonderful as that story is, the hot-and-heavy sex makes it unsuitable for young teenagers.

But you don't need to be a 14-year-old girl to like Waterfall. Not at all.

17-year-old Gabi and her younger sister Lia are accompanying their archaeologist mother on a dig in Italy when Mom finds an Etruscan tomb. Gabi and Lia put their hands on the wall... and Gabi finds herself transported back 700 years, landing (naturally) in the middle of a battle between warring families. She has to figure out how to explain herself (yeah, I'm from, uh, Normandy!), learn what happened to her sister, and deal with the young lord of the castle who is (a) a hottie and (b) betrothed. Oh, and get back _home_.

It sounds like a cheap knockoff (though maybe with better fashion), but honestly, this story _works_. Primarily it's because Gabi is a charming 17-year-old girl with a strong voice of her own and no desire to play the eyelash-batting role expected of her. (A sidesaddle? Are you KIDDING?) She brings her own values to the era even when she keeps them to herself ("The last thing I needed was [Marcello's betrothed] hanging out with me, jumping on the bed like were were going to have a sleepover or something, asking me what I thought of her boyfriend"). And the author doesn't pull punches: Gabi's put in difficult situations where she has to make tough, moral decisions.

Mainly: It's good storytelling. I wanted to know what happened next, and I stayed up past my bedtime a few nights to keep reading so that I could find out.

For parents who care about such things: The book has some violence and death. There's a romance but nothing goes beyond a passionate kiss or two. Gabi considers the presence of God in a few places (part of the "why am I here? am I being given a historical purpose?" navel-gazing any sane person might do). There's nothing here that would upset a 14-year old; I would have been happy with it at age 10 (and my parents would have, too).


BELOVED EXILE
BELOVED EXILE
by Parke Godwin
Edition: Paperback
37 used & new from $2.63

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my very favorite retellings of the Arthurian saga -- this time from Guinevere's viewpoint, June 13, 2015
This review is from: BELOVED EXILE (Paperback)
Some writers maintain their mystique years after they're gone. Others, for no reason I can discern, are forgotten. It's a crying shame that Parke Godwin's books appear to be in the latter category, because I love every novel he wrote; most of them have dog-eared pages because of the number of times I've re-read them.

Beloved Exile is arguably my favorite of Godwin's books. Maybe it's because he took a piece of the Arthurian "history" that usually is left as a cast-off: what happened to Guinevere after Arthur died. Usually she's sent to a nunnery and the storyteller dusts off his hands, especially in versions where Guinevere is presented as a weak-willed nincompoop who screwed up the round table.

But Beloved Exile gives her a completely different tale, one that follows naturally from Godwin's story of Arthur (in Firelord, which you also should buy). There's no magic in these versions (or at least nothing externally viewable as such), just dedicated people trying to build a dream out of quarreling factions and multiple cultures looking for dominance.

Guinevere, in this book, is nobody's fool. She's a brilliant tactician who perhaps responds too much from her head and not her heart -- which makes it difficult to understand (much less lead) the men who followed King Arthur without question. But she fully intends to do so: Keep power away from those who would misuse it, avoid becoming anybody's pawn, manage expectations and the national budget, too. But what makes this novel extra-special is the life path that Godwin sets her on -- I'm trying to avoid spoilers -- which bring her to wisdom and compassion. And, incidentally, tell us a lot about the history and culture of the time.

Uh-oh. I think that description sounds really boring, when I just said this was among my favorite Arthurian versions. (It gives The Mists of Avalon a run for its money.)

What makes this book so gosh-durn wonderful, so re-readable that I've read my 1985 copy dozens of times, is its amazing characters and their story arcs. Not just Guinevere's, but also the people she loves and (at least initially) hates. Everyone grows and changes, often with more kindness and forgiveness than you think is possible.

And Godwin did it with lyrical, evocative writing that brings you into the character's world. Guinevere at Arthur's funeral: "The stone floor was cruel on my thin knees. I tried to keep my mind on the mass, but a sodden blanket of weariness descended on me. For weeks I'd thrust away the reality of this death, muffled it in hard work and preparation. The long walk to the abbey I spent in fear and the suspicion that corrodes the best of rulers. Now I was naked to the moment. This rough wood within my reach contained a man I loved, a body I exulted in. It was physical loss, an amputation. We were one flesh and half of me was going in the ground. No, wait. Not yet--"

Well damn, I still love this book. I think you will, too. And then, I suspect, you'll go and read everything else Godwin wrote. (You might want to start with Firelord for storyline consistency, but I won't blame you if you begin reading with Beloved Exile.)


The People of Burning Man
The People of Burning Man
by Julian Cash
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $34.99
18 used & new from $11.44

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A celebration of creativity and free-to-be-oneself. Awesome photography., March 21, 2015
When Julian Cash asked me to look at his book, I didn't say, "Okay." I looked at the book description and responded, "SEND IT NOW!"

That's because, back in 2009, I was a speaker at a tech conference where the "speaker gift" was a photo session with Julian, who's well known for his "light paintings." The photo he took of me is so cool that it has been my primary "avatar image" ever since. And the only images cooler than that are the pictures he took of the *other8 speakers.

So when Julian told me he'd done a book about Burning Man -- an event I've never attended, but which has been lauded by friends who have -- I had no doubt he'd do an amazing job. Turns out... I was right.

If I had to categorize this book, I'd be forced to say it's a "coffee table book" because it's primarily photography. But that sounds very serious... and The People of Burning Man is anything but.

What makes this more than a "cool book of pictures" is that it captures the essence of Burning Man: "a crucible of creativity" that, as its website explains, is "dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance."

Cash organized the photos in non-standard and groovy ways: Welcome; Love; Self Expression; Values; the Burning Man event and staff (including Lamplighters); Fire; Danger; and several more. There are pages of tattoos; portraits of people in costumes and body paint (many of them otherwise nude); match-ups of images with professions (which one of these 9 people is the attorney? the import boutique owner?); an AMAZING set of attendee statistics (ethnic backgrounds, political affiliations, belly button type [94% inny]), and oh boy oh boy so much more. It's such fun!

And there's text to bind it all together, so that it's not "just" a photo album. I'm struck by his introduction for the Danger section: "Danger, life, death, fear, bravery, pain, and awareness are all tied together. The same fear that helps to keep you alive also limits how fully you live and appreciate life." DAMN that's good.

The result is a marvelous celebration of creativity and the "freedom to be me." I said, "OH COOL" at least once every few pages... and I bet you will, too.


William Morris and Morris & Co.
William Morris and Morris & Co.
by Lucia Van der Post
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.54
31 used & new from $2.51

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's worth it just for the photographs, March 1, 2015
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William Morris was many things, and he had many roles. This short book (85 pages) focuses on just one of them: Morris as a designer in the Arts & Crafts movement. You won't find anything much about his personal life, and the references to his socialism are just-in-passing.

It is, however, a beautiful visual appreciation of William Morris' skill in (to enumerate the chapters): craft, color, honesty, pattern, nature, and "legend." There's a bit of corporate background (how the company ownership changed, who owns the designs today, etc.). And a charming bit of life philosophy, every so often: "That thing which I understand by real art is the expression by man of his pleasure in labor. I do not believe he can be happy in his labor without expressing that happiness; and especially this is so when he is at work at anything in which he specially excels."

The primary reason to grab this small volume is the color plate photographs, most of which are via the Victoria and Albert Museum. Some of the photos are quite detailed, and all have at least some context. For example: "It was a basic tenet held by Ruskin, Pugin, Morris and others that honesty in design demanded that you did not try to create a three-dimensional illusion in a two-dimensional design. Wallpaper should not disguise the flatness of the surface but enhance it. This GARDEN TULIP design shows very little shallow relief effects, with little shading and a limited palette, but this enhances rather than detract's from the pattern's strength."

The photos have a mix of close-up design, design in context (such as a photo of Red House with design details pointed out), and contemporary homes using Morris designs (to demonstrate how relevant the designs are). There's a few people-images (e.g. a charming drawing of Morris and his daughters) and "and friends" (such as a panel by Burnes-Jones), but it's mostly fodder for Morris fans. Like me.

With such books, the accompanying text is secondary, but van der Post and Parry are actively interesting. It's wholly admiring of Morris (you won't find any real criticism), but I surely will not complain.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 31, 2015 9:44 AM PDT


Bushy Tailed Brown Squirrel Earrings in Silver Tone, Celebrate Fall, Harvest, Halloween, Thanksgiving
Bushy Tailed Brown Squirrel Earrings in Silver Tone, Celebrate Fall, Harvest, Halloween, Thanksgiving
Offered by Autumn's Glory
Price: $60.00
2 used & new from $26.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice "everyday" earrings, March 1, 2015
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These aren't the earrings you pull out for a special occasion (unless you celebrate a Squirrel Appreciation Day, and who am I to object to such a thing?).

But if you're looking for a set of affordable, comfy fall-themed copper-and-silver earrings, this set is awfully nice. They're lightweight, pretty, and reasonably well made. It's hard to tell from the photo, but the squirrel isn't just a stamped design; it's a little miniature critter.


Wolverine F2D Super 20MP 4-In-1 Film to Digital Converter
Wolverine F2D Super 20MP 4-In-1 Film to Digital Converter
Offered by ShopTronics
Price: $119.99
4 used & new from $119.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It won't blow you away, but this slide/negative scanner is a very good value for the price, January 26, 2015
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My husband used to be a professional photographer and darkroom technician, so he's incredibly picky about any kind of photographic equipment. The result is that we looked first at high-end scanners when we contemplated our collection of print photographs and -- more to the point here -- slides and negatives. The problem is: For most of those slides and negatives, the scanner would be used precisely once, to digitize the photo. So then I'd be out $1300 or whatever, and what would I do with the equipment afterwards? Not to mention that I've always had something better to spend that kind of money on.

So six months ago, based on the Amazon reviews, I invested in this relatively low-end slide scanner. I've been far happier with it than I expected to be.

The bottom line is that this is really fast and easy to use, just like it promises on the box. And because it's so easy to use, it does _get used_. Facebook is now peppered with the slides we took in the 1980s (which survived much better than expected). Sure, the resolution isn't nearly as good as my quality-centric husband might prefer, but frankly most of my pictures are just snapshots anyway.

I haven't tried it with negatives, yet, but we just unearthed and organized a whole box full of them. That'll be a whole new way to annoy my Facebook friends with Throwback Thursday pictures.


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