category: Books

Seen, Heard, and Read, vol. 3


Confessions of a Superhero

A touching (and ever-so-slightly exploitative) look at the mere mortals behind the superhero characters on Hollywood Boulevard. With Superman, Batman, and the Hulk, you can sense that this is probably a spot they’ll be in for a while, despite all their best efforts. While Wonder Woman’s story isn’t overly sad, you can sense she’s destined for bigger and better things (since the movie, she’s had bit roles on Party Down, True Blood, and New Girl).


Miles Davis: Get Up With It

Like anyone else who’s ever spent any time in a college radio station, I went through a heavy Miles Davis period when I was starting to get into jazz. Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew were, of course, on heavy rotation, but I tried to dig into some of the lesser-known Miles albums from various points in his career as well. Somehow, I missed Get Up With It, a double-LP of super-electic electric recordings from 1970-1974. Even if you’ve heard his other electric-era recordings, you’ll be surprised over and over again with Get Up With It.

The two most notable tracks are the 32-minute “He Loved Him Madly,” a dedication to the recently deceased Duke Ellington, and the supremely bonkers “Rated X,” a fiercely funky assault on your senses. The latter is particularly ahead of its time, sounding a lot like the intense electronica-infused jazz we’ve seen coming out of Poland in the last decade (a la Pink Freud, Robotobibok, etc.). (The live version on the Miles Davis In Concert album isn’t as good.)


Fire Monks coverFire Monks by Colleen Morton Busch

A super interesting look at the California wildfires of 2008 and how the monks of Tassajara (which is connected with Suzuki Roshi’s San Francisco Zen Center) worked to defend their land even with little help from professionals. Really engaging and a fascinating examination of how “beginner’s mind” works under extreme pressure.

Don’t miss this Flickr set with photos from before, during, and after the fire by Mako, one of the five monks that fought the fire from beginning to end.

Seen, Heard, and Read, vol. 2

5 1/2 months since vol. 1. Off to a good start with this “series,” eh?


A Show, with Ze Frank

Welcome back, sir! And thanks for the inspirational opening video. No, really. I’m filing this one alongside Jay Smooth’s Little Hater and Merlin Mann’s Courageous Sucking as part of the eternal battle to get over the f’ing fear.



This non-drinking age crew got their initial notice thanks to their jazz treatment of Odd Future tunes last year and has since gone on to release two albums and two more live albums. I was shocked to hear kids this young (those whippersnappers!) could making such innovative, interesting music. It’s dark, it’s complex, it’s the next logical step after nu jazz (or, at least, a parallel step). All their material is available for free via their site or Bandcamp.

Here’s a video of a recent track of them, which features the group eating cereal. And that’s it.


1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

My friend Alex turned me onto Murakami a number of years ago and I’ve been slowly working my way through his back catalog. I was especially excited when the English translation of 1Q84 hit the shelves late last year. It was originally released as three separate books in Japan, but the Knopf version combines all three volumes and weighs in at a hefty 944 pages. I’m about a third of the way through the book, which means that at this pace, I’ll finish the book at about the one-year mark.

True to his previous work, 1Q84 presents a hazy, dreamlike tale in a such a fashion that it seems completely plausible that a women would descend a latter beside a highway and find herself in a slightly alternate version of 1984.

I’m definitely enjoying this one so far and look forward to continuing to savor it throughout the rest of the year.


The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us
by James W. Pennebaker

Really interesting book so far. Just learned that:

  • the average English speaker has a 100,000 word vocabulary
  • of those 100,000 words, the 20 most commonly used words (0.02%) make up 30% of our spoken and written language (they’re all “stealth/function words” (prepositions, pronouns, etc.))
  • expand that to all 450 commonly used stealth/function words, and that 0.04% of our vocabulary accounts for 55% of the words we use

Seen, Heard, and Read, vol. 1

This is going to be my attempt at an irregular feature here on the site, where I’ll occasionally post a list of one movie, one book or article, and one piece of music I’ve recently consumed, along with some commentary.


If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, directed by Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman

While this documentary won’t change the mind of someone whose views are set about “radical” activism, it will no doubt show that there is a big difference between groups like Al-Qaeda and organizations like the ELF/ALF. And it does make one wonder about the “#1 domestic terrorist threat” being an organization that has never physically harmed a person. (That said, their tactics are certainly not ones that I would ever choose to use, but I can understand the thought process behind them.)

There is a bias to the documentary, but even so, it does give a legitimate voice to the victims of the activists’ actions such that the film doesn’t feel like a propaganda piece. Worth watching.


France Gall: Baby Pop

A while back, I asked on Quora, “What are some amazing upbeat ye-ye albums?,” looking for music similar Chantal Goya’s amazing songs from Godard’s Masculin/FĂ©minin soundtrack. It took a while, but I finally got a bunch of great suggestions from Brie Larson.

I dug in this week and checked out France Gall’s 1966 album Baby Pop. It seems to have been the trend for the most successful ye-ye singers to be pretty young women that didn’t necessarily have the most amazing vocal range, but could carry a tune and look innocent and naive while doing it. Gall fits this role: you can hear some inconsistencies in her vocals, but the songs are catchy as all get-out and downright fun.


Land of the Lost Souls: My Life on the Streets by Cadillac Man

I recently finished this book I received through LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewers program. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a tale of homelessness as told by one that lived through it: stories of violence, spiraling depression, and a healthy dose of quirky characters. Land of Lost Souls gives us a glance into the everyday lives of the people we pass on the street, often without a second thought.

Though the book’s chronology jumps all over the place, making it hard to get your bearings on your place within Cadillac Man’s life, the structure turns out not to be all that important. What is important are the individual stories, like the touching story of Penny, a 19-year-old runaway who Cadillac Man develops both a fatherly and sexual relationship with before helping to reconnect her with her family. That sounds creepy, but it’s more that it’s just how things go in that environment.


(Cadillac Man reads a selection from his book in this CSPAN video from a couple of years ago.)