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Ragtime. Rumba. Rock ‘n’ roll. While the title is a big misnomer—The Beatles aren’t even mentioned until the last chapter—this book is a fascinating history lesson in the continually evolving trends of popular music in America. As pop shifted from standards printed on sheet music to the albums of today, from big band dance halls and jukebox battles to radio payola and vinyl sales, its sounds and styles changed. The torch was passed from Goodman to Sinatra to Presley, from Ellington and Cole to Redding and Berry. But Wald’s strength here is in highlighting the historic successes of names that are lesser known today: Paul Whiteman, Jo Stafford, Guy Lombardo, Fats Waller, and the Original Dixieland Jass Band all take center stage, and that’s just a handful of what Wald investigates. ~ Reviewed by Joe Michon-Huneau
Bill Hicks was a comedic anomaly. Scathing and abrasive yet compassionate and empathetic, crass and obscene yet poetic and intellectual, Hicks’ raging philosophical humor could either ignite fires or quell them. Challenging regressive and hypocritical views in all forms, from the drug war to the Gulf War, blind nationalism to religious fanaticism, Hicks was at his purest when taking on the powerful and the ignorant. This posthumous release collects all of his stand-up comedy transcripts in order (and it’s fascinating to see how certain jokes and routines evolve over time) along with letters and song lyrics. ~ Reviewed by Joe Michon-Huneau
Borges’ short fiction is unlike any other. He breaks the fourth wall, blends real examples of fiction into his own, and inserts a fictional version of himself into some of his stories. Inventive and philosophical, these stories envision labyrinths, endless libraries, obscure encyclopedias, secret societies, and cryptic patterns hidden in plain view. “The Library of Babel” and “The Garden of Forking Paths” are quintessential Borges, but my favorite is the opener, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” ~ Reviewed by Joe Michon-Huneau
Calvino had a singular mind. While most well-known for novels like Invisible Cities and the form-bending If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, it was his Cosmicomics that captivated me first. The ageless and unpronounceably-named narrator Qfwfq guides us from the beginning of time and space to an Earth almost like ours, from a time when all matter was condensed in a single point to the evolution of modern beings, inhabiting unlikely forms such as mathematical formulae and sea creatures along the way. Try “The Distance of the Moon,” for a sample of Calvino’s humorous imagination. ~ Reviewed by Joe Michon-Huneau
Simply stunning. Spineless features large, high-quality photos of invertebrate marine life. From starfish to jellyfish, sea snails to squid, Middleton’s photography is breathtakingly vibrant, with descriptive insights into each animal’s world and behavior. Not your average coffee table book, this one will fascinate for hours at a time. ~ Reviewed by Joe Michon-Huneau