Thursday, October 30, 2014

Have a Happy (Harry Potter) Halloween!

Photo of jack o' lanterns featuring the images of Harry Potter characters via Book Riot

What Daria Morgendorffer Read

I remember when Daria was on television. The animated series was on MTV from 1997 to 2002. During those years, when I was young adult who was just making her way in the world, I either didn't own a television or, if I did have a TV, I didn't have cable television. So, for the most part, I missed the show's five-season run.
Daria, seen in the bottom panel wearing glasses, had a sharp wit and was well read.
Image via Aerogramme Writers' Studio website

Since the series ended in January 2002, Daria has increasingly become viewed as one of the smartest animated shows ever to air in the history of television. And it remains loved (and much remarked upon) by many who came of age in the 1990s/early 2000s. Not too long ago, I finally committed to sitting down and watching the entire series on DVD, just to see what I missed out on. Although the animation style didn't appeal to me, I did see smartly written female characters. I appreciated the show's sharp satire, and I laughed out loud at the dry, deadpan delivery of the eponymous character, Daria Morgendorffer.

Daria as a character was fearless in that she was unapologetically herself in the cookie-cutter (fictional) suburb of Lawndale. Despite the continued admonishments of her parents, who wanted her to fit in for her own social benefit, and in the face of the ever-growing popularity of her vacuous, conventionally pretty kid sister, Quinn, Daria stood fast in remaining an original. 

In addition to her strong self-confidence and sense of self, Daria was also extremely smart. On many occasions, she cleverly and openly mocked her bland high school peers, and her comments often went straight over their heads. She was also very well read. (That Daria was so well read was a stark departure from the animated series that Daria the show was spun off from: Beavis and Butt-head, whose two central characters were dimwits who reveled in low-brow humor and were anti-academic in their approach to life.) 

Throughout the series' respectable run, Daria was often shown reading a book, or the show itself referenced books. Aerogramme Writers' Studio, a Melbourne, Australia-based publisher of "news and resources for emerging and established writers," compiled a list of all the books that Daria read or that were mentioned on the show. Fifty-seven books make up the list, and some of them are:

  • The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  • The Life and Complete Work of Francisco Goya by Pierre Gassier
  • Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg
  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  • Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
  • Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

That's quite a scholarly selection of books. Even more impressive is that they were referenced on a cartoon show airing on MTV and that the central character, a high school girl, was shown reading. When you think about it, that's pretty amazing. 

To see all 57 books on "Daria Morgendorffer's Reading List," go to the Aerogramme Writers' Studio article at THIS LINK. What's great is that for the books on this reading list, Aerogramme Writers' Studio provided links to FREE e-book editions wherever possible. Thanks, Aerogramme Writers' Studio!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Shift from Print to Digital as Seen on NY Subway

Reading during my subway commute was a daily routine for me when I lived in New York. Upon finding a seat (or, if there weren't available seats, grabbing a subway pole to steady myself during the ride), I would take out a book or magazine and become absorbed in its pages until I neared my stop.

Screen, screen, everywhere a screen, on the New York City subway today.
Image: David Zax/Matt McGregor-Mento/tamografia

When I first moved to the city, those around me in the subway car would whip out newspapers during the morning commute. It was a common occurrence for the person sitting next to or standing directly in front of you to continuously flip and noisily flap their copy of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or New York Observer mere inches from your face in a subway car crammed with people.

As the years passed, I noticed fewer and fewer physical newspapers being read by my fellow commuters and more and more handheld electronic gadgets being taken out as soon as the train doors closed. During my final years in New York, what almost always happened as soon as I sat down on the subway with a book in hand is that someone else would immediately sit next to me and, with a loud sniff or a slow clearing of the throat, delicately flip open and turn on an e-reader.

Sandwiched between two subway riders who were staring at glowing screens, I was undeniably aware of the stark shift from print to digital media. Although I did not miss newspapers being fanned and flipped in my face, the seemingly sudden proliferation of personal screens during my subway commute was just as startling. Michael Bourne, in his article "Screens on the Subway: The Rolling Library Is Going Digital," made the same observation:

"On every train I rode during my week back in New York, screens outnumbered printed pages, sometimes by a factor of two to one. When I've peeked, some of those screens have been displaying news stories and magazine pages and even a few books, but far more often my fellow subway riders were watching TV shows or playing Candy Crush on their phones."

As it was for me, "the speed and starkness of the change" from print to digital media being consumed in the "rolling public library" of the New York subway came as "a shock" to Bourne, who went on to say:

"A decade ago, none of the devices my R train companions were so avidly viewing even existed. Back then, if you didn't want to read on your morning subway commute, you stared off into space."

True. Or you closed your eyes for a brief nap, or put on headphones and plugged into a Discman (or, later, earbuds and plugged into an iPod). Sometimes, believe it or not, you would actually strike up a conversation with your fellow subway rider, just to pass the time until your stop. "Now, more and more often, these idle moments - on subway cars, on airplanes, in dentist's offices - are being filled by games and movies and social media. By screens," said Bourne.

Bourne says more about this shift from print to digital, especially as it has occurred in the New York City subway, in his excellent article "Screens on the Subway: The Rolling Library Is Going Digital," which you can read HERE.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Musicians Show Off Book Smarts in Song Lyrics

Listening to music, it's easy to get caught up in the beat or the overall feel of the song. Yet, if you stop and really listen to the lyrics of some songs, you might be surprised to discover some serious literary references being dropped.
The Rolling Stones performing in 1968.
Image via

Take, for instance, the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil." It's pretty much common knowledge that the song, from the Stones' 1968 album Beggars Banquet, was inspired by The Master and the Margarita, a book by Mikhail Bulgakov that Mick Jagger had read. However, Jagger has also gone on record as saying he was influenced by the French poet Charles Baudelaire in writing "Sympathy for the Devil." Jagger told Rolling Stone magazine in a 1995 interview, "I think that was taken from an old idea of Baudelaire's, I think. But I could be wrong. Sometimes when I look at my Baudelaire books, I can't see it in there. But it was an idea I got from French writing. And I just took a couple of lines and expanded on it."

Including the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil," the people at ShortList Magazine have come up with "25 Songs That Reference Books." Another obvious choice comes from the music of Led Zeppelin. "Ramble On," from the 1969 album Led Zeppelin II, mentions names that will be familiar to fans of J.R.R. Tolkien. Here is a lyric from the song: "'Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor/I met a girl so fair/But Gollum, and the evil one crept up/And slipped away with her." These references are from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books. (In the comments section of the ShortList article, readers suggested additional artists who were inspired by Tolkien, among them the German metal band Blind Guardian.)

ShortList also makes it known that David Bowie's 1974 album Diamond Dogs is chock-full of references to the George Orwell novel 1984. At least three songs on the album refer to 1984, including "We Are the Dead," and more obviously, "Big Brother" and "1984." Case in point, here are lyrics from the song "1984": "They'll split your pretty cranium and fill it full of air/And tell you that you're eighty, but brother, you won't care/Beware the savage jaw of 1984." (One commentor pointed out that, besides Bowie, Rage Against the Machine also repeatedly referenced 1984 in their 1999 album The Battle of Los Angeles, with three songs on the album - "Testify," "Sleep Now in the Fire," and "Voice of the Voiceless" - featuring mentions of Orwell's novel.)

Other musicians who've shown off book smarts in the lyrics of their songs are, according to ShortList: Radiohead ("Dollars & Cents"), The Strokes ("Soma"), Joy Division ("Atrocity Exhibition"), the Velvet Underground ("Venus in Furs"), Nirvana ("Scentless Apprentice"), the Pixies ("Dead"), Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds ("Red Right Hand"), Leonard Cohen ("Hallelujah"), and more. Readers of the article added: Jefferson Airplane ("White Rabbit"), the Mountain Goats ("Love Love Love"), MGMT ("The Handshake"), Noisettes ("Atticus"), Kate Bush ("Wuthering Heights"), Regina Spektor ("Baobabs"), Panic! At the Disco ("Time to Dance"), and lots more.

To see all "25 Songs That Reference Books," and the many more that music-loving commentors said were missed, go to the ShortList article at THIS LINK.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Kim Gordon Opens Up in New Memoir

I first learned of Kim Gordon when I was a teenager, poring over the pages of Sassy magazine, which I immediately subscribed to after getting the premier issue free in the mail in March 1988. As one of the founders of the experimental rock band Sonic Youth, Kim Gordon came across as the epitome of cool.
Kim Gordon.
Image via

Gordon played guitar, bass, and sang in the band, and she just seemed like an all-around badass. As the 1980s segued into the 1990s, a new music emerged from the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and got the attention of the mainstream media, which called it "grunge." Many in the new music scene cited Sonic Youth as an influence, and some looked upon them as mentors. Soon, Kim Gordon came to be seen as the "Godmother of Grunge."

Years later, I saw Sonic Youth play what would be - unbeknownst to all - their last show in the United States. The show was in August 2011, at an outdoor venue that was right on the waterfront in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was a stunningly bright and beautiful summer day, and concert-goers were kept cool by a steady breeze blowing in off the East River. Once the sun set, Sonic Youth emerged from the sides of the stage and played an amazing set. No one in the audience that night would have ever guessed that trouble was brewing among the bandmates.
Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore playing in Sonic Youth in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, August 2011.
Photo courtesy of the author of this blog

Shortly after that New York concert date, news reports surfaced that Sonic Youth were breaking up after 30 years together as a band. Rumors swirled that behind the breakup were marriage problems between Gordon and her husband and Sonic Youth bandmate and cofounder, Thurston Moore, who was believed to have been having an affair with a younger woman. The news not only shattered fans of the band but also admirers of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, who were long viewed as an indie rock "It" couple by many. It was a weird time.

Gordon will be talking about that weird time and brighter periods in Sonic Youth's history in her forthcoming memoir, Girl in a Band. "Often described as aloof, Kim Gordon truly opens up in Girl in a Band. Telling the story of her childhood, her life in art, her move to New York City, her love affairs, her marriage, her relationship with her daughter, and her band, this is a rich and beautifully written memoir. At the heart of the book is the examination of what partnership means - and what happens when it dissolves," reads one description of the book.
The cover of Kim Gordon's forthcoming memoir, Girl in a Band.
Image designed by the interwebs

To be published by HarperCollins imprint Dey Street Books, the memoir is further described as an "atmospheric look at the New York of the '80s and '90s that gave rise to Sonic Youth, as well as the Alternative revolution in popular music that Sonic Youth helped usher in, paving the way for Nirvana, Hole, Smashing Pumpkins and many other acts." It will be released on February 24, 2015, according to the HarperCollins website, and will be available in hardcover for the retail price of $27.99. Fingers crossed that Kim Gordon will go on a book tour to promote it.

To keep up with Kim Gordon's current goings-on, follow her on Twitter HERE.