Come in, we've a new edition of Green Man for you to take a look-see at on this fine autumnal day. You can listen as MacKenzie, our Librarian grumbles about how overrated Tolkien's master work is, hear opinions on two Central European bands of note, find out why sometimes you can't go back home again, marvel to old Jews telling jokes, ponder singing cowboys, puzzle over how a sf novel got labeled 'magical realism' by the critics, look at a work of porn which is really boring, and observe the latest recording from a venerable folk rock band. But first, let's see why MacKenzie isn't fond of The Lord of The Rings. . . .
'I can remember the title, author, and location of every book in this library, Matthew. Every book that's ever been dreamed. Every book that's ever been imagined. Every book that's ever been lost. Millions upon millions of them. That's what I remember. It's my job. Other things. . . I forget sometimes.'-- Lucien in Sandman -- 'The Kindly Ones'
MacKenzie here. One moment while I feed Hamish, our resident hedgehog, his live grubs. I keep trying to convince him to try woodworms, but a hedgehog is not an innovator. Unfortunately. There, now we can talk. . . .
The number of patrons of our Library always jumps dramatically when the evenings start getting colder. Now, understand that all of the staff here are voracious readers, a fact not at all surprising to me. Mind you, there's a fair number of dilettantes among the scholars: the Reference shelves aren't as trafficked as I'd like to see. This lot has its collective head in the clouds and its collective arse on a faerie mound as often as not.
Of course, the overstuffed leather chairs near the well-stoked fireplace in the Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room invite long sittings on cold nights. And one can learn all one needs to know about what is going on around here, over a cup of tea and a tatty scone or two; there's no finer room in the place for a bite and a gossip over High Tea than in the Library staff room that overlooks Oberon's Wood. But I hope the real attraction is the books here. It had better be!
Want to read a first edition of The Lord of The Rings? It's here, as well as a first edition of The Hobbit; both with Professor Tolkien's fussy little water colours. My preference? The Hobbit, as I find the trilogy bloody boring -- flat characters, tedious narrative, and a middle section that's a horror to read. Looking for something a little more risqué? Try Peake's Gormenghast. It's under-rated as a fantasy but in fact it's rare entertainment, of a black sort; more scandals than heroics. And Peake went mad during the third volume, you know, so there's a unique perspective for you! Looking for something a lot more risqué? How about A.N. Roquelaure's The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty? Ahhh, that's the pen name for Anne Rice, the writer of some of the worst fiction I ever tried to read! And no, since you ask, her erotica's no better. Some fantasies deserved to be stifled in convent school.
Or perhaps you prefer your erotica in a graphic form, say Alan Moore's The Lost Girls. Oh, stop blushing -- I'm seen you in the Pub admiring the working girls who come off the street to get warm in the winter! Want something more classical in this vein? We've got the original uncensored lyrics of 'Blowzabella, My Bouncing Doxy' that Thomas D'Urfey penned centuries ago. Now there's words that'll a Jacky Tarr turn red with embarrassment!
Looking for a good detective series to while away a few weeks? See those bound periodicals on the far wall? Yes, those' Re the Strand magazines containing The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. I confess that they' Re a little frayed over a century on, as not a year goes by that a few staffers read the entire series. Stained, too -- I can't break the buggers of eating over the books. And yes, we have the later Strands with the rest of the Holmes stories as well. Equally impressive is that a visitor here sometime around The Great War came back from France with near mint copies of the magazine Le Siecle from between March and July 1844 -- where The Three Musketeers was first published in serial form! I don't read French that well, but several staffers who did have left extensive comments in the Library Journal in the last century about how pleasurable it was to read it in the original form. I really ought to have it translated one day, with their commentary.
I think we have all of Georges Simenon's Maigret novels in French. It appears that there were seventy-five novels and twenty-eight shorter stories about Maigret which were published between 1931 and 1972, and my French is good enough to say they read much better in French than they do in badly translated English: too much of the feel is lost in translation. Why anyone reads fiction in translation is something I'll never grasp. Though it might be preferable to not reading it at all, but if the choice is between going hungry and eating swill -- well, we' Re gourmands of the mind around here.
Enough about what's here, as you will undoubtedly find what you want somewhere in the nooks and crannies of this apparently vast library. Me, I'm off to the Pub for some grub; say a shepherd's pie, or a pint or two of Guinness. Make sure you tell one of my assistants if you want to check anything out - removing anything from here without authorization has dire consequences. Yes, dire is not too harsh a word. Too dire to describe in polite company, really. Let's just say that not all the ghosts here expected to be ghosts...
Our featured book review this edition is Alan Moore's Lost Girls, which is classy porn perhaps, but porn none-the-less. No mere bodice ripper -- Oh indeed, it's porny. Porn for everyone: women on women, men on women, men on men, boys on boys, voyeurism. . . . Or is it porn? April Gutierrez said in the editors lounge while reading Lost Girls that 'Nah. I can't really call it porn, in the end. It would have to be . . . exciting to be porn, no? I'm really not sure what to call something that's cover to cover sex but isn't really exciting or erotic. Aside from boring.' For all the reasons why this didn't work for her, go read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review.
A great deal less boring was, according to her, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame: 'I had last seen Waters in concert during his 1987 Radio K.A.O.S. tour (which included a number of Floyd songs in the set list), so was entirely unsure what would follow – and completely had those uncertain expectations exceeded beyond my wildest dreams. While Waters will never be a truly convivial showman, he knows how to stage a damned good show.' You really should read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review for a look at a truly great performance!
Our featured music recording review this edition is by a group which has been known to get rather bawdy itself -- Steeleye Span! Folk Rock Pioneers In Concert is the latest recording by them from Park Records which Michael Hunter says shows this venerable band at its very best: 'It was only a few years ago that the future of Steeleye Span looked bleak indeed. One by one, various members had left until only stalwart fiddler Peter Knight remained. A number of their songs have contained a magical element, however, and in 2002 that magic worked on Steeleye itself when out of the ashes, they reformed with a classic line-up and began life again as a recording and touring band. Move forward two years to 2004 and the band celebrated its 35th anniversary with a world tour. By this time, health concerns had necessitated long-time guitarist and singer Bob Johnson's departure; his place taken by ex-Albion Band member Ken Nicol who slotted easily into the position, and took little time in making it his own. If any evidence was needed that the current line-up is as strong as any that went before, this double live CD will easily provide it.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review for why this is a recording you won't want to miss!
Our last featured review is of another live gig as Gary Whitehouse looks at folk music with balls: 'One of the things that immediately attracted me to M. Ward was his muscular guitar playing. Sure, he was sometimes lumped in with the early '00s crop of sensitive male singer-songwriters dubbed 'emo,' for the way they often wore their hearts on their sleeves. Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) and Sufjan Stevens and to some extent Jim James (My Morning Jacket) were the most frequent comparisons drawn, and Ward toured more than once with Oberst and James, calling themselves half-jokingly the Monsters of Folk. But although about half of his songs could be considered 'emo,' that's not all Matt Ward is about.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review for why this was a concert you shouldn't have missed!
Kathleen Bartholomew has a look at a new young adult series: 'O. R. Melling was born in Ireland, grew up in Canada, and currently lives in Ireland once more -- an enviable odyssey. She has paralleled it with a scholar's journey through Ireland's mythic past, earning degrees in Medieval Irish History and Celtic Studies and Philosophy. Her paper 'The Moon in the Bog: A Resurrection Myth for Women,' was presented at the WERCC Conference, Celebrating Irish Women's Writing, at University College Dublin. Her interest in children's literature goes back to at least the mid-1990's, when she was reviewing children's books and lamenting the paucity of modern Irish juvenile literature (No Love or Respect: The Apartheid of Children's Literature in Ireland, CLAI (Children's Books In Ireland, December Issue 1993). Now she has taken matters into her own hands, and embarked on an interesting cycle of heroic tales for teenagers (8th grade and above): The Chronicles of Faerie.'
Christopher Golden is a favourite of GMR writers so it's no surprise that Craig Clarke looks at a new novel by him:'The characters and events in the first third of the book feel too real to be fully fictional. The emotions are simply too genuine to be imaginary. This portion of the novel is terrific material that deserves to added to the long line of classic coming-of-age novels. As far as I am concerned, that would have been enough of a story for one novel. But Golden is apparently a more ambitious writer than I am a reader, because he took his characters off to a strange, dark version of Neverland with only some vaguely magical directions to guide them. I was a little worried that this would throw off the tone of Straight on 'Til Morning, and for the most part I was right, but Golden grounds even this foray into the unreal with the solidity of his characters.'
Faith J. Cormier says that 'I am so glad I'm not a teenager any more. My generation just had to deal with sex, drugs, rock and roll, the Cold War and piddly little problems like that. The characters in Scott Westerfeld's The Last Days are faced with vampires, people-eating worms and the breakdown of civilization.' Her review of this Scott Westerfeld novel is certified to be angst free.
Cat Eldridge has very nice things to say about two jewel-like Hill House chapbooks by Ray Bradbury, How I Wrote My Book and The Wish, in his review which you can read here but he notes 'these are mere appetizers for the main course of The Martian Chronicles, which will include material never before published before, including two Martian Chronicles film scripts written by Mr. Bradbury! For full details on this amazing edition, go here. I will have a full review early next year -- after I read every word of it,savoring it as I do so! It should make a fine treat in the bleak midwinter days which are coming all too soon.'
Christopher Fowler's The Water Room is the third Bryant and May mystery which our Editor has read this past month. Of this one, he notes it is 'a most superb mystery which is the best of the three I've read so far. Why so? I think because it has the most tightly written plot of the three. Iain MacKenzie, our Librarian here, claims the best mystery novels are more novellas than true novels as he believes no mystery holds up well much beyond three hundred pages or so. Though I've seen some exceptions to that claim, I tend to agree with him on this matter. By that measure, The Water Room is a perfect mystery, with not a bit of unnecessary fat in it!' Read his review for all the, errr. juicy details on this excellent novel!
Drew Friedman's Old Jewish Comedians is about, oh, guess. Don't be a schlmiel. David Kidney says it's '[o]nly 36 pages, but each one is a gem. Berle stares out from the front cover, one hand holding a microphone, the other pointing at the audience, a smoldering stogie held firmly in his mouth. He is on stage, in the spotlight. Master of his domain. On the back cover Moe is alone, the other Stooges long passed. His hair greyed now, and in a more contemporary cut, but still over his forehead, an echo of the black bowl cut that made him famous. The look on his face is quizzical. Is he lost, or simply lonely? Friedman is a master of expression. Some might say he's mean in his interpretations. I think that's missing the point. ' Read David's look at a very funny book here.
David has an quirky work next up for you: 'Singing Cowboys! Just picture them, all dressed in their flashy Nudie shirts, plunking on a Martin D-45, perched on their faithful palomino or roan, singing their hearts out to the beautiful daughter of the local ranch owner. Gene Autry, or Roy Rogers spring immediately to mind. But Douglas B. Green (better known as Ranger Doug from the Riders In the Sky) has collected an impressive number of lesser known western warblers in his new book entitled Singing Cowboys.'
Charles de Lint's The Harp of the Grey Rose gets a fine hardcover edition from Subterranean Press. However Jack Merry was not impressed by the novel itself: 'I found that it reads like much of the fantasy of the time -- flat with neither characters that were interesting nor much of a plot that I cared about enough to say the novel engaged me 'tall. Unlike Moonheart: A Romance, which is was written in the same period of his writing life and holds up very well today, The Harp of the Grey Rose does not 'tall. If you want see what de Lint was like early in his career, by all means go read this novel. But if you' Re looking for a good novel which engage you, this isn't it. That novel would be Moonheart, preferably in the Subterranean Press edition which, with its Charles Vess illustrations, is one of the finest books ever printed.'
Liz Milner really, really wanted to like Northern Sky, but boring is still boring 'I have spent a good portion of my life daydreaming about reading a novel with liberal references to Martin Carthy, Richard Thompson, Fylde Guitars and the magnificent Scottish village of Plockton. Well, here it is, and it's like being on a really boring blind date with someone whom your friends all assured you was 'The One.' Some day someone's going to write a really wonderful book on folkies and folk music. This isn't it.' Now read her Grinch Award winning review for why this novel sucked eggs. Really. Truly.
When They Came is, according to Liz, rather superb: 'Cthulhu does Austin in this well-crafted and highly entertaining collection of Lovecraft-inspired horror and fantasy short stories by Don Webb, an Austin-based science fiction and mystery writer who also edits the Webzine, Bewildering Stories. How does Cthulhu survive the transition from New England fog and chill to the Texas heat and sunshine? Pretty well, though Don Webb's tone is definitely lighter than Lovecraft's.' Heh. Read her review, which is as entertaining as this collection sounds!
Kestrell Rath has a look at the very first work of chick lit: 'Flirting With Pride and Prejudice is part of BenBella's SmartPop Series, which addresses contemporary pop culture within historical, literary, and philosophical contexts. Flirting With Pride and Prejudice specifically links Jane Austen's novel with the genre of 'chick-lit.' Yet, as demonstrated by the diversity of writers contributing to this collection,, including romance writers such as editor Jennifer Crusie and Jo Beverley and fantasy writers such as Karen Joy Fowler and Mercedes Lackey, 'chick-lit' has strong family ties not only to the Regency romance but to many other genres, including romantic comedy, the historical novel, and fantasy (indeed, the success of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell illustrates just how profoundly Austen's style and ironic wit has influenced fantasy literature).'
Robert M. Tilendis handed us three reviews that he insists are closely related. He was so vehement about it we asked him to explain.' I have the kind of mind that puts things together, even when they seem to have nothing to do with each other. In this case it's not really so extreme: I have been running across these bizarre stories that I like a lot -- people like Jonathan Lethem, Jeff VanderMeer, Karen Joy Fowler. Thanks to Bruce Sterling, they have a name: 'slipstream.' So, when I had a chance at reviewing the anthology Feeling Very Strange, I jumped at it. I also had Jonathan Lethem's chapbook, How We Got Insipid (don't believe the stories of dire threats unless I got my hands on that book -- I would never do such a thing. Truly.), and Douglas Lain's collection Last Week's Apocalypse sitting on my desk, and I had been meaning to get to Vintage PKD for a while. And as I started reading, Dhalgren kept coming into my mind. I thought about it. Yep -- they' Re connected. Slipstream writers being so prickly about being defined, I'm not going to try to draw up a family tree, but I think you can find some resonances there -- take Delany's hallucinations and metafictions, Dick's surreal America where paranoia is the major survival trait and reality is a matter of opinion, mix well (and you might decide to add a touch of Ballard, a drop of Aldiss, and even a pinch of Pynchon), and you have a good beginning on slipstream.'
A Central European band gets the once-over from Scott Gianelli: 'The Warsaw Village Band burst onto the world music scene when their album People's Spring was released internationally in early 2004. This young Polish group set out to combine a deep respect for the fiddle traditions of their homeland with a punk rock ethos, and produced some of the most militantly aggressive folk music ever recorded. Even the disc couldn't match the ferocity of their live performances, though. The young Polish community in New York City embraced the Warsaw Village Band quickly, and the local shows I've seen them at featured large numbers of manic fans screaming as loudly for them as they would for any rock band. People's Spring was already several years old by the time it was released in America, and a new album Uprooting very quickly followed it into the international section in American music stores in late 2004.'
Listen to David Kidney on a blues legend: 'John Lee Hooker was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi in August of 1917. He was, until his passing in 2001, a totally unique blues performer. His one-chord boogie approach, in which he forsook the standard 12-bar format and simply played until the lyric line was complete, is inimitable. The first time I heard him, I didn't like him at all. I was trying to appreciate the blues, starting slowly with the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds, and moving to John Mayall. You might laugh, but what was a poor Canadian boy to do? As I graduated from the English (and North American) pretenders to the authentic blues of Muddy Waters and Howling' Wolf I began to appreciate John Lee. But he remained very much an acquired taste' Read David's review of HOOKER why he thinks this is a wonderful new anthology!
Mister Kidney has something he wishes to say to you: ' Raven Records of Australia is one of the world's best archival labels. They seem to have unfailing good taste when it comes to reissuing classic music, and these four recent collections are testiment to the care they take in each new offering. What else do these four CDs have in common? Well, they' Re all American artists; and they' Re they' Re all bloody good!'Now go read his look at Lesley Gore's The Ultimate Collection: Start the Party Again 1963-1968, Doug Kershaw's Fais Do Do, the Music of the Bayou: The Best of the Ragin' Cajun 1969-1978, Joe South's Games People Play / Joe South, and Dwight Twilley's double recording of Twilley and Scuba Divers!
Grassmarket Butchers's Tales of the Covenanters have according to Peter Massey crafted a rather dark album worthy of Steeleye Span at its very darkest: 'To quote from the sleeve notes: 'Various songwriters from across Lanarkshire have collaborated in writing songs of the Covenanters exploits and events in telling the story of this dark era in Scotland's history.' This explains the rather curious title for this themed album. The first two pages of the sleeve notes gives a potted history of how and why the covenanters came about. I'm not going to bore you and repeat what most will already know, but briefly, the period between 1600 and 1690 is not one the English Kings could be proud of, they really were 'killing times' as the English Kings tried to force their religious beliefs on the people of Scotland.' Read his review to see if this dark album will appeal to you.
Having already reviewed Game of Chess and Further Adventures of Darling Cory from Lehto & Wright, The Thrashing Machine and Other Stories, gets a look-see by Peter: 'If you only need 2 reasons for buying this album, then they surely must be the bands rendition of 'World Turned Upside Down', 'Down Where the Drunkards Roll' or 'Nancy Spain' Yes I know that is 3 songs, but any two of them will convince you this is a superb album really worth having in your collection. This is Folk Rock at it very best. I am still amazed that they are only really well known in the U.S.A. Coming from Minneapolis MN area, Steve Lehto and John Wright have on the cover of this album acknowledged Matt Jacobs, their drummer -- who does a superb job laying down the percussion for the tracks, while Steve and John apart from handling the vocals, multitrack acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, and mandolin.' Go read his review for yet more reasons to listen to this recording!
Gary Whitehouse found much to praise in New England folk singer Debra Cowan and Michael DeLalla's Dad's Dinner Pail: 'Cowan has a perfect voice -- strong and unadorned -- for singing this kind of traditional material, and she and guitarist DeLalla have arranged the songs well. These 11 songs are presented with mostly just guitar accompaniment, or a capella, with occasional touches from fiddle, bass, cello, whistle, accordion or frame drum.'
No one here has the slightest idea how many singer-songwriters send us their recordings in a given year. Thousands certainly, many of which sing far worse than the ravens roosting in the oaks out back, not to mention far too many simply can't play their guitar properly to save their soul, Ahhh, but that's what makes the good ones such a treasure! Gary looked at three albums from the wee buggers ( Jesse DeNatale's Soul Parade, Brett Dennen's So Much More, and Korby Lenker's King of Hearts) which pleased him quite a bit: 'Here are three solid offerings by American male singer-songwriters from this year, that demonstrate some of the wide variety you'll find in this genre.' Read his review to see why this trio of singer-songwriter recordings appeal to him!
One of our strengths here at Green Man is that our reviewers follow the careers of performers for years on end which is why Gary is perfect to review this reviewing: 'The Handsome Family sound energized on Last Days of Wonder. This is their seventh studio album starting with 1995's Odessa, in addition to which they have put out a live set and an EP of odds and ends, and contributed to various compilations, soundtracks and whatnot, and taken part in a couple of high-profile Leonard Cohen tribute concerts, not to mention moving from Chicago to Albuquerque. And while I've found something to like about every one of their full-length releases, I've generally found that every other one really shines. I said in my review of their previous disc Singing Bones that it sounded like a transitional release, and I believe that Wonder proves me out. These 12 songs are all winners in classic Handsome Family style, sung and played with verve and class, and produced cleanly, with mostly simple arrangements -- but with a few added touches on nearly every track that make each one shine.'
Béla, our violinist from some forgotten corner of the Ottoman Empire, was very pleased when he heard Gary playing this recording in his Green Man office: 'Makám has been putting its own stamp on Hungarian folk music for more than 20 years now. Or rather, Zoltán Krulik's stamp. Almanach is the first album by this group I have heard, but it has been making recordings since 1984. From what I can glean online, numerous Hungarian musicians have cycled through this group in the past two decades, some going on to become quite popular in their own right or to take part in other groups.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award winning review for why this is a Hungarian recording you won't want to miss hearing!
Soundtracks are, in my opinion, queer creatures indeed. A good one stands on its own quite nicely, thank you. A bad one is, well, let's just say the labouring class have a word for it that those to the manor born dislike. (Especially when it's referring to them!) Now Gary says the one done by The Sadies, Tales of the Rat Fink Original Soundtrack, is a corker: 'Leave it to The Sadies, one of the hardest-working, hardest-touring rock bands in North America, to put out not just a jam-packed live double album, but also a soundtrack full of original tunes as well, all in one year. I'm ready to call 2006 The Year of The Sadies.' Read his review and you'll most likely agree with him!
Every bleedin' record company takes a random assortment of tracks from the career of a well-known artist, throws them together with some hastily scribbled liner notes from the cool critic of the moment who may or not know shite, and calls it 'essential'. Well, Gary says that sometimes it really is true as is the case with The Essential Ravi Shankar as he likes 'what the compilers have brought together for this collection.' Read his review to see why this is so!