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review 2018-12-18 18:45
The Queen: Aretha Franklin - Mikal Gilmore,Adenrele Ojo


Why not try a free Audible original about Aretha Franklin? That was my thought and I'm glad I did try it, though it wasn't exactly what I expected.


I was a Rolling Stone subscriber for decades, (until they put the Boston marathon bomber on the cover, but that's another story.) One of the things I miss about the magazine is the in-depth articles on musicians and singers, which is what I thought this would be.


It turned out to be like an article, yes, and a very well researched one at that. It's my fault for thinking that, since this is an audiobook, samples of her music or even full songs would be included. They're not. Also, this isn't as much of an in-depth look of her life so much as it is a look at her musical life. Which isn't a bad thing, I just expected more.


Side note: *I just discovered that Mikal Gilmore is actually the brother of Gary Gilmore, the subject of the book THE EXECUTIONER'S SONG. How did I not know that?*


Anyway, this was free and as such I can't complain. Thanks, Audible!



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review 2018-12-01 11:21
Being Wagner: The Triumph of the Will
Being Wagner: The Triumph of the Will - Simon Callow

I read this as a buddy read with BrokenTune, and was woefully inadequate with the status updates, but thankfully, some sidebar chats with her during and after our read, have helped me clarify my thoughts about this fantastic book enough to write some of them down.


Richard Wagner was, arguably, one of the most influential composers and conductors in the history of classical music.  He changed the face of opera from top to bottom; from the way the music was played, the notes were sung, the lighting, even the shape of the theatre itself.  He made opera dramatic storytelling.  I'm not even sure I can imagine what it was before he turned everything and everyone on their ear.


Richard Wagner was also an unmitigated ass.  Not merely arrogant; not merely selfish; Wagner was self-involved, egotistical, short-sighted, fiscally irresponsible and anti-semitic.  Additionally, he was described as short, stoop-shouldered and afflicted with an  appalling skin condition; we're not talking run-of-the-mill eczema here - words like 'sores' and 'pustules' were used.  I mention the physical challenges here because in spite of all of this - the horrible character flaws and the physical challenges - he was apparently charismatic as hell. The crap he got away with, the abuse people took only to come back for more, the sheer number of people who shelled out money to pay his debts and provide him with housing is mind-boggling.  Not just in Germany, but in Switzerland, Italy and the UK.  All this, and he was not a good person.


I could have probably overlooked the childish selfishness; I could chuckle over his inability to stay out of any riot he crossed paths with.  I might argue (weakly), that the trail of broken relationships he left behind him his whole life were people who knowingly attached themselves to this horrible man.  But the anti-semitism is a deal-breaker.  HIs disparagement of Jews was grossly casual, brutal, unwarranted and irrational.  Worse, it was not a phase he outgrew, but a mania that only became more brutal and irrational with age, even though he continued to work with Jewish conductors, musicians and composers until the end.


So Wagner was both artistically brilliant and a horrible human being.  This fascinating dichotomy is made still more fascinating by Simon Callow's writing.  He masterfully writes this condensed biography with the utmost objectivity, clarity, and just a dash of humor in unexpected places.  I doubt very much I could have read any other book about Wagner without dnf'ing it simply because I wouldn't have been able to swallow Wagner's life, but Callow made it not only palatable, but compelling.


Wagner may have created some of the most powerful music ever written - at least some of the most unforgettable - but his music will forever be tainted for me now that I know the man behind it better.  The real star that came out of this book, for me, is Callow; his writing ... well, take it as read that I'm gushing over it, because it's some of the best biographical writing I've ever read (not that I read a lot, mind you).


If you're interested in Wagner but don't want a long academic biography, you should absolutely investigate this book; it's fair, it's balanced; it's unbiased and it's excellently written.  The 1/2 star I took off was more my shortcoming than his - my eyes glazed over during the descriptions of the operas' stories, because I'm not a fan of opera.  Seriously, ignore that and just check out the book.

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review 2018-11-28 19:00
She Landed by Moonlight: The Story of Secret Agent Pearl Witherington: the Real 'Charlotte Gray' - Carole Seymour-Jones

"SHE LANDED BY MOONLIGHT" is a fantastic story of a most remarkable woman, Pearl Witherington, an Englishwoman born in Paris of English parents, who carried a deep love and devotion for her adopted country France as great as her love for Britain.   


During the Second World War, Witherington managed to spirit herself, her mother, and two of her sisters out of France to Britain following France's capitulation to Nazi Germany in June 1940.   Three years later, Witherington joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE), trained as an agent and was parachuted into German-occupied France in September 1943.    The book goes on to describe Witherington's achievements in the field over the following year against heavy odds.    Indeed, at one point, the Germans had learned of her identity after the leader of the spy network of which she was a part had been captured by the Gestapo in May 1944.    As a result, a ƒ1,000,000 bounty was put on Witherington's head.    Undeterred, Witherington took on a new code name ('Pauline') and led the SOE Wrestler network in operations against German forces in the Valencay–Issoudun–Châteauroux triangle of central France.     The 4,000 marquisards she organized, armed, and trained would play a significant role in tying down thousands of German soldiers after the Allies had landed in Normandy in June 1944.       


This is a story that seems too incredible to be true.  But it was all too real.    Witherington survived the war, married the man she had long loved (who had also fought with her as a member of the Resistance in 1944), and went on to live a long life.     


"SHE LANDED BY MOONLIGHT" also provides an interesting overview of SOE, how it came to be in July 1940, the opposition it faced from Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (i.e., MI-6), its organizational structure, and the contributions made by SOE's F Section (of which Pearl Witherington was a part) in France towards defeating Nazi Germany.    I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about a true 'Warrior Queen.'

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text 2018-11-27 07:44
Reading progress update: I've read 53 out of 232 pages.
Being Wagner: The Triumph of the Will - Simon Callow

I'm enjoying this read an awful lot, but it's going slower than I expected given the very engaging and sometimes snarky writing; I keep having to go back and re-read the sections where he stars discussing the music in detail.  This is not Callow's failing, but mine.  


Mostly though, Wagner is still a self-involved douche-bag and up to his eyeballs in debt. 

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review 2018-11-18 13:27
Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America's Most Powerful Mobster - Stephen L. Carter

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing at a local bookstore the author Stephen L. Carter speak about his paternal grandmother Eunice Huston Carter (1899-1970). Sometime later, after the Q&A session, I had the opportunity to speak with Professor Carter as he autographed my copy of this book.

"INVISIBLE: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America's Most Powerful Mobster" puts the reader into an era in U.S. history barely half a century behind us, when African Americans were restricted by law and what was accepted custom from realizing their full potential in what was an overtly racist America (Jim Crow segregation). Notwithstanding all that, what I found to be deeply inspirational from reading this book is learning about the life of this most remarkable woman - as well as the lives of her parents (who were both fully engaged social activists; Eunice's father with the YMCA (its 'colored' section) for whom he worked tirelessly both in the U.S. and abroad til his death in 1916 and her mother Addie was a graduate of Boston Latin School, and a college graduate who later served as a teacher and worked with a variety of organizations promoting racial and gender equality til her death in 1943) and younger brother, from whom she became estranged. 

This is a book that would be instructive (as well as inspirational) to any reader who wants to learn about the value of living -- in spite of the obstacles and challenges arrayed against someone because of his/her color and/or gender -- a purposeful, committed life wholly dedicated to advancing socio-economic justice, as well as racial and gender equality.

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