Monday, January 12, 2015

Spotify Canada : changing the way I listen to music

I have to say that Spotify has radically changed the way I listen to music. More than that, I listen to a lot more music now that I have it.

For years, I've dutifully bought my iTunes singles like most people, rarely buying entire albums. But keeping up with each device and which song is on which is not always easy and since all my devices are full, I was constantly having to delete X music from Y device but then later I'd want it back there. Oy. First world problems. (It's amazing to me that people once could only listen to music at home!)

Enter Spotify: I can listen at home, in my office, in the kitchen, while walking the dog, on the metro. I love it.

And I've discovered some excellent albums on Spotify. Some of my recent favorites include:

Beck: Morning Phase
Marianne Faithfull: Give My Love to London
Justin Rutledge: Valleyheart
Mary J. Blige: The London Sessions
Matt Alber: Wind Sun Stars
Orchestre symphonique de Montréal: Shoka Japanese Children's Songs
The Shanghai Restoration Project: The Classics
Shigeru Umebayashi: Come il vento (Original soundtrack)
Zbigniew Preisner: Dekalog
Ólafur Arnalds: Living Room Songs

Plus they have lots of contemporary Mando-pop, great playlists (I like the Intensive Studying one at work and the 80s Dance Mixes for the gym).

I hope this is the future of music because it's working for me...

One note: I don't use their program on my computer: it's too big and takes up a ton of memory so slows everything down. I just use the website and 95% of the time, this works fine. I do use the app on my phone, though, which works well.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Just read

On the news that Mark Zuckerberg is aiming to read at least 26 books in 2015, I've been thinking about what we need to do to get people to read more. In the book world, we often hear that young people never read anymore because they're too busy taking selfies and sexting but I don't think this is true. At least not wholly true.

Reading has always been a niche activity (reading fiction at least) but one thing I would say about younger people is that they tend to read more of the same writers. What I mean is that people under, say, 30-35, grew up in a world where celebrity culture was the norm so these readers are often drawn to celebrity writers (by this I don't necessarily mean celebrities who happen to write but writers who are famous for being writers). I'm often surprised when a young person recommends a writer or book to me how much uniformity there is in the names they suggest. In one way this is normal: people of a particular generation are likely to be drawn to writers that speak to their hangups, interests, fears, insecurities, senses of humour, etc. But the down side to this is that there seems to be less room for idiosyncratic reading among younger people.

When I was in my early twenties (I'm in my early 40s now), we passed around books which were quirky (Tom Robbins, Hanif Kureishi) or spoke to specific sub-groups (Edmund White, Rita Mae Brown) or writers that came from our area (Tom Spanbauer, Jack London) or which spoke to our specific sensibilities (Milan Kundera, Barbara Kingsolver). It wasn't the same 10 writers being talked about at the same time (which is the way it is now).

Though I'm not too optimistic that Zuckerberg will choose "good" books, his reading pledge is important in that it makes reading into something people should WANT to do. We have to have leaders and innovators stress the importance of reading. We have to create the social message that reading makes one a more interesting, complex person. We have to broaden the appeal of books so that young people realize that reading can be a highly individualized activity that doesn't have to adhere to the"trends" in the same way everything else does.

I often hear from people I know: "Oh, I'm just too busy to read," but I never believe this. Everyone is
too busy. Or most everyone. Reading has to be made into something of a priority:  on the Metro I always want to scream when I see 25 people in my Metro car reading the daily subway rag which is almost full of stories we've already read online the day before and, when not those pieces, full of vapid & banal advice columns.Or when I see people playing mindless video games.

(It's unfair of me to be so judgmental, I realize: I sometimes just want to tune out the world when coming home from work, especially this time of year after a long day. Sometimes I just can't read anymore after reading all day long, I also have a mindless video game on my phone.)

The thing is, we can't do everything: we can't see every TV show and read every news story and play all the games everyone is talking about, plus keep up with FB and Twitter and Instagram. We have to make choices about what's important. And reading always adds more to my life than giving in to all the chatter that we're constantly bombarded with. But, yes, I give in and deal with the chatter: I have all the accounts that everyone else has. I waste time on FB and other time sucks despite myself.

But I read a lot. For me it's realizing that reading doesn't have to be something I do when I have a free hour and can sit in peace in my favorite chair. Rare is it the person who can read that way anymore. Instead I keep a book with me at all times: I read on the subway, I read standing in line at the supermarket, I read on my lunch hour, I read while I let the dog play in the park (though not at this time of year). I read in the bath. I give myself one hour on the weekends to read in a cafe near my house. I read paper books, I read on my phone, I read via Audible (listen), I read on my iPad (not that often, though). I read at night in bed. (Though usually that's my TV time.) And, no, I don't spend all my free time reading. It's just one thing I do regularly because I make it a priority.

By making reading something to aspire to, people will make it an effort. I'm a big believer that people who read (novels, magazines, history, non-fiction, even CRAP books!) are more interesting, easier to talk to, and more intelligent.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Oui, on est tous Charlie

This news has been so terribly depressing. We are very busy in the office today and this week generally but it's still all we can talk about when we're not talking about work.

One reason it strikes so close to home is that we know people in that office. Not well, but we've exchanged emails in the past and one writer in particular we are worried about. We hear that someone we know there was shot but not killed but I can't see much from the list of victims about non-fatal injuries.

I guess information will become clearer over the next few days but let this not lead France into a right-wing hysterical reaction. Normal and human but it would be so unfortunate.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Montreal Book Clubs and Blue Met

On the news that Mark Zuckerberg has started his own online book club, I recalled that this year, we've put a great deal of efforts into recruiting local Montreal book clubs to get involved in the Festival.

What we are aiming to do is work with local Francophone and Anglophone book clubs, releasing
Zuckerberg makes room for reading
some non-official information about some of our writers early so that book clubs can do some pre-reading of Festival authors before they arrive. Then at the Festival, book club members will be given a big discount on all-Festival passes, free space to meet with their members to discuss books, and even the opportunity to meet the authors in question at a private function.

This is a great opportunity to meet some fascinating writers and to recruit new members for your book club.

As usual, our authors come from many countries around the world: the US, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Argentina, and many, many others. (In addition to, of course, Canada and Quebec).

If you have a book club and want to take advantage of all that we are offering local clubs this spring at Blue Met 2015 (April 20 - 26), send us details. Again, we will provide you with a very great deal on our all-Festival pass, space for your members, some online promotion for your club, "sneak previews" of authors scheduled for the Festival and, of course, some excellent books to read and discuss!

Hope to see you all at Blue Met 2015!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Alfonsina Storni: Words to my Mother

Words to my Mother

I don't ask you to tell me the great truths
Because you wouldn't tell me; I only ask
If, when you carried me in your belly, strolling through
Dark patios in bloom, the moon was a witness.

And if, when I slept listening
In your breast with its Latin passions,
A hoarse and singing sea lulled you to sleep nights
And if you watched in the gold dusk, the sea birds plunge.

For my soul is all fantasy, a voyager,
And it is wrapped in a cloud of dancing folly
When the new moon ascends the dark blue sky.

And, lulled by a clear song of sailors, it likes -
If the sea unlocks its strong perfume -
To watch the great birds that pass without destination.
                                -Alfonsina Storni (translated from the Spanish by Mary Crow)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Javier Marías: The Infatuations

Spanish writer Javier Marías: is one of those writers whose name I've known for years but I've never had the occasion to read his work until last week when I read The Infatuations. Wow, I was really blown away.

The novel has a fairly simple premise: a woman sees a couple at a cafe regularly, imagining their lives, noticing them, considering them a dream couple. But when the man is murdered under bizarre circumstances, she befriends the wife and a kind of intellectual murder mystery commences.

It's not your typical kind of murder mystery but it's very entertaining, cerebral, and with long flowing sentences that you have to read and re-read since they are so densely packed.

Along the way, I was at times reminded of Joan Didion's treatise on grief, The Year of Magical Thinking. Yes, they are very different works (Didion's is not fictional) but they both look at grief from a stripped down point of view, not glamourized or romanticized. But Marías' work delves into the process as an outsider on the perimeters of grief of pain.

I read this over a few nights on the sofa as Christmas music played in the background and rain poured down outside, melting all the early snow we've had this year.

It makes me very interested in getting my hands on some of his other works.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Maureen Corrigan is a magician who makes the world disappear

I tend to listen to book critic Maureen Corrigan on NPR's Fresh Air regularly. I don't always agree with her recommendations but overall I respect her opinion and feel strongly that she has her finger on what people are talking about in terms of books. She does tend to value cloying works at times, works which are not always my personal cup of tea. But that's fine. We can't always agree with other book lovers (and, in fact, we shouldn't always agree).

Is there a world outside of America, Maureen Corrigan?
But when  I listened to her Best Books of 2014 the other day, I found myself getting more and more irritated at how narrow and myopic her focus is. Of all the 12 books she put on this list, all but two were American (the stand outs were Sarah Waters, British, and Tara French, Irish) and all without exception were written in English.

I don't know Maureen Corrigan but this attitude that only American writers matter is so out of date and, in fact, dangerous. Why no writers from Mexico? Or France? Or Russia? No Germans or Spaniards or Egyptians. Where is the Italian? Or the Portuguese? God forbid a Chinese or a Japanese writer should be worthy of reading!  No Elena Ferrante? (True, if I remember correctly, she has reviewed Elena Ferrante in the past so maybe Elena Ferrante just didn't make the cut from her point of view.) What kind of criteria is she using? No Patrick Modiano? (Not even venturing to mention non-fiction writers who aren't American or don't write only in English). Again, I know that occasionally (very occasionally) Corrigan does review the odd translated work. But to put this kind of asterisk next to works by almost only Americans really bothers me. Today? In this world? Come on.

We are well past the stage where it's strange to see a huge number of women writers on these kinds of lists. If anyone wrote a list of the best of 2014 that included only men, people would be (rightly) outraged. So why is it OK to exclude every other language on Earth except English? Why is it OK to only value (or overly value) writers who are American? Do Americans really write the best fiction in the world?! Even if the argument can be made that she is recording her segment for Americans, can't Americans deal with foreign fiction or ideas or ways of looking at the world?

Get with the program, NPR: the market in the USA for translated works is growing (albeit at a much slower rate than just about anywhere else on the planet) but taste-makers should lift their blinders and consider works beyond their small little worlds of East Coast Ivy Leaguers.

A 2014 list is by its creation going to exclude many many writers and countries. But to include almost only Americans and to include only works written originally in English is short-sighted and patronizing.