Becoming a Cyclist: Gearing Up

Right now my bike is propped up in a closet, a frame without a front tire or pedals, hidden from a curious cat. The bike came in a box “partially assembled” with “all necessary tools,” but the instructions are clearly designed for someone who has put bikes together before (or at least knows what a bike is supposed to look like). In the last week I’ve found myself eyeballing bikes on the street. “So that’s what side the handlebars go on.” “Ok I did have the brakes facing the right direction.” My plan is to put it together as best I can, then pedal to a shop where more knowledgeable folks can correct my errors.Assembly instructions

Less than helpful.

The last time I owned a bike, I had two pieces of equipment: a helmet and a pump. The game has changed since I rode my fixed-gear Schwinn around the neighborhood. For starters, I know I need lights. A helpful REI employee clued me in to all the hot new bike light tech: multiple flashing modes, numerous lumens, laser-lit lane function, and slides to slip the lights off whenever you park. That last feature took me by surprise; purchasing lights isn’t just about safety, but also security.

Evidently thieves will make off with every bike component that isn’t nailed down, and in a college town a lock is more important than a helmet. I need removable lights, a special seat clamp, a couple new wheel axles, several chains, and possibly some kind of alarm system or invisibility spray. Two major deterrence strategies are raising the theft difficulty level (multiple locks, special screws) and lowering the apparent value (making your bike look old and cheap). Like running from a bear, you just want your bike to be less attractive than your neighbor’s.

In addition to safety and security, my mind is spinning with the variety of storage options. I have driven myself insane reading and rereading The Wirecutter’s article on baskets, racks, and panniers. I am returning the front basket I bought because I’ve gathered they are dangerous/uncool. I don’t know how much difference $10 makes in the quality of a rack. Do I need a front bag? Should I just carry my backpack? Will I really use any of this stuff? Time will tell, and I’m wrestling with myself to not spend too much money before time lets me know.

I might eventually put my bike together, but knowing what side of the tire faces front does me no good if a bandit makes off with my wheel. My close scrutiny of strangers’ bikes is definitely going to get me in trouble with the authorities. To beat the thieves I need to think like a thief, and to go grocery shopping I need $100 in storage gear. Needless to say I’m completely overwhelmed by every aspect of bicycle gear, and my bike didn’t even come with a kickstand.

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Becoming a Cyclist: A Crisis Of Identity

I started as a driver in the suburbs. Suburban Alabama does not accommodate bicycles; the lanes are designed for the exclusive use of Ford F-150s. Even in my mid-size sedan, cyclists were always In The Way. A single bicycle could covert the steady flow of the two-lane highway between my town and the interstate into an infuriating crawl, as each driver waited for an opening in oncoming traffic to pass or cruised behind the cyclist at an excruciatingly slow pace.

Then I became a motorcycle rider. Before I hit the road I briefly wondered whether there was any affinity between cyclists and riders. Both are using two-wheeled vehicles; both operators are exposed to the elements; both ride “bikes.” I quickly learned the answer: No. There is no affinity. When riding a motorcycle, every other mode of transportation is objectively worse, more lame, less important, and the people who are behind the wheels or handles or whathaveyou are simply obstructive dweebs. The super-suave motorcyclist wave doesn’t even extend to scooter riders, much less bicyclists.

Most recently I became a pedestrian, walking over a mile each way to and from work on neighborhood and city sidewalks. I assumed that bike lanes could contain the bike riders, but again I was wrong. Few things are as unsettling as an unexpected bike whooshing by from behind while walking unawares. For an added dash of indignation, a cyclist friend explained to me how much more dangerous bicycling on a sidewalk is versus on a street. Fools! Hooligans! Be gone!

Now I face a new phase in my transportation tale. Last week I received a brand new bike to ride for my daily commute and to get around town without having to pay or fight for parking. I will join the club whose members have been my enemy; like Dylan’s Miss Lonely, I can no longer talk so loud or seem so proud.

Bike box by door

She’s here!

My mission is to be the cyclist I want to see in the world. This means learning the rules–both written and unwritten–of cycling etiquette, and following them mindfully. I have a lot of work to do (and gear to buy), but I think it is possible to ride a bicycle in such a way that annoys the fewest number of others.

The most weighty question remains: How will I regard other cyclists when I am, myself, a cyclist?

Queen Harvest’s Top Fifty-Eight (58) Albums of 2017

Who doesn’t love an arbitrary, subjective, poorly thought out ranking?

# Artist Album Year Week of 2017
58 Fear Is On Our Side I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness 2006 15
57 Cheap Trick One on One 1984 8
56 Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood Nancy & Lee 1968 21
55 Evil Friends Portugal. The Man 2013 44
54 Siouxsie & the Banshees Through the Looking Glass 1980 17
53 Alela Diane The Pirate’s Gospel 2004 10
52 Camera Obscura My Maudlin Career 2009 41
51 Emmylou Harris Roses in the Snow 1980 5
50 The Hold Steady Boys and Girls in America 2006 25
49 Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin IV 1971 18
48 Dan Auerbach Waiting on a Song 2017 24
47 Neko Case Blacklisted 2002 19
46 The Mountain Goats Tallahassee 2002 47
45 Dum Dum Girls Too True 2014 51
44 The Wallflowers Bringing Down the Horse 1996 6
43 Outkast ATLiens 1996 2
42 Santogold Santogold 1980 30
41 REM Out of Time 1991 45
40 The Cure Disintegration 1989 28
39 Cate Le Bon Mug Museum 2013 32
38 Borns Dopamine 2015 36
37 Moses Sumney Lamentations EP 2016 52
36 The Dead Milkmen Big Lizard in my Backyard 1985 49
35 Wilco Sky Blue Sky 2007 29
34 Our Debut Album Our Debut Album 2017 46
33 Neutral Milk Hotel In the Aeroplane Over the Sea 1998 42
32 Joanna Newsom The Milk-Eyed Mender 2004 43
31 Beastie Boys Licensed to Ill 1986 12
30 The Jam In the City 1977 1
29 Flight of the Conchords I Told You I Was Freaky 2009 39
28 Aimee Mann Whatever 1993 26
27 New Order Power, Corruption & Lies 1983 20
26 Violent Femmes Violent Femmes 1983 23
25 Tom Petty Wildflowers 1994 40
24 George Michael Faith 1987 48
23 Til Tuesday Welcome Home 1986 37
22 Television Marquee Moon 1977 9
21 Prince Purple Rain 1984 14
20 Open Mike Eagle Brick Body Kids Still Daydream 2017 38
19 Jonathan Coulton Thing-a-Week Two 2005 16
18 The Kinks The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society 1968 8.1
17 Pixies Doolittle 1989 33
16 The Mountain Goats The Sunset Tree 2005 11
15 The Tragically Hip Fully Completely 1992 34
14 Run the Jewels Run the Jewels 2 2014 12.1
13 Broadcast Tender Buttons 2005 7
12 Johnny Cash American IV: The Man Comes Around 2002 50
11 Kesha Rainbow 2017 25
10 Dead Kennedys Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables 1980 4
9 Kendrick Lamar DAMN. 2017 16.1
8 Original Broadway Cast Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 2017 22.1
7 Run the Jewels Run the Jewels 3 2016 4.1
6 Iron & Wine The Shepherd’s Dog 2007 31
5 Run the Jewels Run the Jewels 2013 6.1
4 Cher Heart of Stone 1989 22
3 The Knife Deep Cuts 2003 27
2 Sleigh Bells Treats 2010 3
1 The Sundays Reading, Writing and Arithmetic 1990 13

2017: Final Quarter Note

Call me Edna St. Vincent Millay’s candle at dawn ’cause I am Burnt Out.

For your reference, my impersonal rating system follows:

★★★★★ I listen to it regularly.
★★★★☆ I will listen to it again.
★★★☆☆ I wouldn’t mind listening to it in a mix.
★★☆☆☆ If it comes on I won’t turn it off.
★☆☆☆☆ I’m not interested in hearing it again.

Week Forty

220px-tom_petty_wildflowersTom Petty – Wildflowers (1994) ★★★★☆

How could one complain about Wildflowers? Beautiful poetic songs, laid-back sneery songs, fast-paced songs on the move: classic Petty!

Week Forty-One

my_maudlin_careerCamera Obscura – My Maudlin Career (2009)
★★☆☆☆

I want to like Camera Obscura, but every song is the same faux-sock hop shtick and I can’t hear anything else.

Week Forty-Two

in_the_aeroplane_over_the_sea_album_cover_copyNeutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)★★★★☆

Part Dropkick Murphys, part Decemberists, part The Movie American Beauty (and yes, I realize this album pre-dates the success of those bands/that film). Good to listen to, but a little bit gross.

Week Forty-Three

the_milk-eyed_mender_28front_cover29Joanna Newsome – The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004) ★★★☆☆

I appreciated a heads-up w/r/t Newsome’s unusual voice before listening to this album. The music and lyrics drew me in and made me want to listen repeatedly.

Week Forty-Four

portugal_the_man_evil_friendsPortugal. The Man – Evil Friend (2013) ★★☆☆☆

I’ve listened to this album so many times, but I have no memory of it. That doesn’t speak well for it.

Forty-Five

r-e-m-_-_out_of_timeR.E.M. – Out of Time (1991) ★★★☆☆

Out of Time is an enjoyable listen. The hits are the standouts for good reason.

Week Forty-Six

Our Debut AlbumOur Debut Album – Our Debut Album (2017)★★★★☆

Dave Shumka and Graham Clark, of Stop Podcasting Yourself superstardom, wrote each of these songs in 60-minute sessions. Our Debut Album may not be Sgt. Pepper, but they’re some dang catchy songs that hold up to repeated listenings.

Week Forty-Seven

tallahassee-mountain_goatsx_the_480The Mountain Goats – Tallahassee (2002) ★★★☆☆

All I can hear in Tallahassee is anger.

Week Forty-Eight

georgemichaelfaithalbumcoverGeorge Michael – Faith (1987) ★★★★★

The movie Keanu has a scene centered around “Father Figure” which convinced me I needed to give this song a fair shake. Much like Prince, I never realized the serious fandom for George Michael until his death. His music reminds me of David Bowie and Michael Jackson, with a healthy dose of old school crooner. Faith is a joy to listen to.

Week Forty-Nine

big_lizard_in_my_backyardThe Dead Milkmen – Big Lizard in my Backyard (1985) ★★★★☆

This album is a good time! Most songs sound like the executed ideas of 16 year olds, but really talented 16 year olds. Should we be worried about how on-the-nose “Right Wing Pigeon” is, or is nothing too crazy to worry about anymore?

Week Fifty

americanivJohnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002) ★★★★★

Johnny Cash established his legend through unique vocals and outspoken voice, but I’ll always remember him as a generous patron of the arts. This album covers songwriters from John Lennon to Sting to Trent Reznor. From the artistic care Cash pours into every song, you can tell he is a true fan of the music. I love these songs, and the guitar sound is my favorite kind of guitar sound.

Week Fifty-One

dum_dum_girls_-_too_true_coverDum Dum Girls – Too True (2014)
★★★☆☆

Here is another high energy pop album I can really get behind. The title track has a nifty twist in the lyrics, and I believe continued attention will reveal more clever devices to surprise and delight.

Week Fifty-Two

2b527b81Moses Sumney – Lamentations EP (2016) ★★★★☆

If you’re looking for catchiness, this entire five-song EP is worth it for the song “Worth It.” The other tracks are undoubtedly beautiful; the kind of music one may listen to in moments of reflection and calm.

A Report to the Shareholders

I have no regrets about this project. I listened to exponentially more new music than I have in years past. I know for a fact I never would have listened to most of these albums, including most of my Top Ten, if left to my own devices. I appreciate everyone’s recommendations, even those I didn’t act on.

In 2018 I am going to take it down to a more me-friendly pace by listening to an average of two new albums a month, with half of them new releases. Here’s to 2018!

Queen Harvest’s 2017 Reading Recap

Early this year I followed Marie Kondo’s advice and put every book I owned on the floor to be judged. Image-1

I held every book and decided whether it brought me joy–if yes it stayed, if no it was discarded. Unfortunately, the joy a book brings can fluctuate based on all those words between the covers. Many of the books I read this year did not bring me joy, but I had to both hold the book and read it to find out.

1. White Rage, Carol Anderson (2016)

White Rage supplies a lot of pieces that are missing from the average American history curriculum. Anderson methodically lays out how white Americans used the law to prevent black Americans from attaining equal status with themselves, beginning with the abolition of slavery until the present day. Anderson examines the white-supremacist objectives of Presidents from Andrew Johnson to Ronald Reagan, the undermining of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, various detrimental Supreme Court decisions, the failure of the criminal justice system, and the gutting of any progress made by the Civil Rights Movement. Particularly striking to me is Anderson’s explanation of how questions of race and civil rights were completely redefined (by white people) in the 1960s and 1970s, when economic inequality was substituted for racial inequality and civil rights were “won” by the desegregation of water fountains and bus seats. There is so much more to learn and know, but White Rage is an excellent introduction to the institutionalized racism that simply succeeded our country’s institutionalized slavery.

2. The Thirteen Problems, Agatha Christie (1932)

The best phrase I can think of to describe The Thirteen Problems is a “murder-mystery Canterbury Tales.” Over the course of two dinner parties, each attendant lays out a mystery from their lives for the others to solve (answered one and all by Miss Marple, of course). These are fun and fast-paced mini mysteries.

3. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967)

800px-rotarydialThe plot of One Hundred Years of Solitude is like the dial of a rotary phone: it begins in one place, is quickly rolled back in time, and slowly returns to the place of beginning, over and over again. The narrative seems like a progressive stream of people and events, but the individuals and their habits and their lives continuously circle and swell, building into something complex, beautiful, magnificent.

 4. One Hundred Years of Solitude: Modes of Reading, Regina Jones, ed. (1991)

This collection of essays includes historical context, biographical notes on Garcia Marquez, publishing history, and critical essays. The more I learn about One Hundred Years of Solitude, the more incredible the novel is; that’s how you know it’s the Real Deal.

5. The Sea, The Sea, Iris Murdoch (1978)

The Sea, The Sea combines light literary farce, dramatic introspective discovery, and ambiguous supernatural forces with flawless prose. I was on the main character’s side at the beginning; he seemed like a fun-loving, living-for-himself-but-harmless guy. It is difficult to maintain this affection as we see how the hero’s ego affects those around him in numerous and devastating ways.

6. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell (1949)

After Rowling’s Hogwarts, Orwell’s Airstrip One is the fictional world invoked most often in the current political climate. Instead of reading the actual news, I reread Nineteen Eighty-Four. Yes it is a great novel. Yes it is a terrifying novel. Yes fiction is a powerful tool to better understand reality. Yes I wish a lot of dummies read more novels. Yes I’ve stopped being courteous to dummies.

7. A Brief History of Ireland, Richard Killeen (2012)

Reading Killeen’s A Brief History of Ireland was such a pleasure it caused me grief—I can’t believe I forced myself to read The Making of Modern Ireland when this book was available. A Brief History of Ireland details the history of Ireland from its prehistoric past to its state in the 21st century. Killeen goes a step beyond breakdowns of historic events and biographies of essential figures. The really rewarding feature of Killeen’s writing is the way he explains the social and cultural context of various events. He describes the impact of, say, the Great Famine on the average citizen, or the reasoning that led to any one of the many popular revolts. Knowing that history does not occur in a vacuum, Killeen makes Irish history feel like a continuous narrative, rather than a disjointed succession of disgruntled secessionists.

8. Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson (1980)

Admittedly, I remember very little about this book. I remember there were beautiful sentences and sorrowful characters. There are albums that suit people in a certain state of mind or phase of life; this may be a novel for another mood.

9. Wolfish Girl, Andy Mascola (2016)

Wolfish Girl, written by under-the-radar Twitter star @andymascola, is an entertaining horror-romance novella. The plot is unpredictable and difficult to put down. Wolfish Girl puts a really interesting twist on the monster story.

9.5 Superbosses, Sydney Finkselstein (2016)

Superbosses (of which I read about 65%, hence the partial numeration) looks at the phenomenon of business leaders whose proteges consistently succeed after striking out on their own. Nick Saban comes to mind, as a coach who has had many assistants go on to become successful college football head coaches (of course, Saban is a branch on the mega-coaching tree of Bill Parcells via Bill Belichick). The gist seems to be that many bosses are great at their jobs, have a vision for their future, and are nurturing to employees. What sets “superbosses” apart is that they are not threatened by possibly superior talent, intellect, or ability. Where a mediocre boss might not hire the brightest candidate, or might discourage or prevent the progress made by their subordinates, “superbosses” give their proteges the space to become the best version of themselves.

10. The Book of Kells, Edward Sullivan (1920)

800px-kellsfol032vchristenthroned

Are those corners unadorned because a monk had to escape when his monastery was attacked?

Joseph Campbell recommends reading this book of examples of and commentary on The Book of Kells as a key to Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. The glossy prints of Kells pages are colorful and intricate, and Sullivan’s text provides insight into the creation and meaning of many of the illuminations. There are probably plenty of Kells images online, but looking at a copy in your hand, in natural light, is a rewarding activity.

11. Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel (2009)

After intense research, I have uncovered two types of Wolf Hall readers:

  1. Those who completed it and adore every line.
  2. Those who could not complete it because they despise every line.

I am proud to conquer virgin territory: I completed it despite despising every line. Read my reasoning here.

12. The History Buff’s Guide to the Civil War, Thomas R. Flagel (2010)

A history book organized by Top Ten lists: of course such a project cannot encompass the vastness of the Civil War in all its horror and meaning. Nevertheless, Flagel conveys a great deal of information without coming across as flippant. Perhaps being limited by brevity forced the writer to condense the events and facts to their essential, undiluted heinousness.

13. Germania, Simon Winder (2011)

German history is European history—ancient, consequential, continuously relevant. Yet it seems difficult to find much historical literature that doesn’t focus on 20th century Germany (admittedly a significant period). The Third Reich managed to occupy three generations of academic German historians and three generations of interested Germophiles. Germania is written not by a historian, but by an enthusiast who doesn’t even speak German. Winder does not discount or disrespect 20th century German history, but revives the wonder and beauty and terrors that preceded the World Wars. It is all I could do, midway through reading, to not jump on a plane to Germany(/Czechia/Poland/Austria/etc.) to explore the castles and restaurants and other living artifacts of Germany’s bygone past.

14. Shakespeare: The World as Stage, Bill Bryson (2007)

Image-1(1)Instead of hypothesizing, guessing, or projecting possibilities about Shakespeare’s life, this biography delivers exactly what you want to know about Shakespeare: What do we actually know about him? Where did this information come from? Where do those images of Shakespeare come from? Why do people think Shakespeare did not write the works under his name? Why are those people most likely wrong? Bill Bryson is at his best when he is writing about literature and language (and generally things other than himself), and this little biography is a joy.

15. The Waste Land (Norton Critical Edition), Michael North, ed. (2000)

This edition of The Waste Land (like the critical edition of Solitude, above) contains historical context, literary sources, and critical essays from the time of its release to more recent scholarship. I had not read the poem before, and I assumed it was universally revered; many of these essays undercut that notion. I personally found the essay by Cleanth Brooks, Jr., most truthful, and F.R. Leavis’s essay offered helpful insight into Eliot’s world.

16. Ulysses, James Joyce (1922)

Bloomsday simply felt incomplete without reading from Ulysses, so I started the whole thing over again. Every reading is so rewarding; I look forward to returning to Dublin again soon.

B1. Deuteronomy, KJV

This is as far as my Biblical readings took me this year. Deuteronomy seems to be a summary of all the important stuff from the preceding books. Like Moses is doing an exam review before the Israelites are tested in the Promised Land.

17. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)

Early in my journey into the Congo, I knew The Poisonwood Bible was a treasure. I listened to the audiobook, which is a format particularly suited to this novel. Kingsolver relates most of the novel through characters who have an incomplete view of the situation; the audiobook narrator worked wonders with the five voices and personalities. It feels like it could have ended about 75% of the way through, but I still enjoyed the remainder of the book.

18. The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson (2003)

This narrative presentation of two concurrent American sagas was easy to immerse myself in. I wrote about The Devil in the White City here .
Tl; dr: It stands on its own, but also could serve as a useful introduction to reading The Fountainhead.

19. Loon Lake, E.L. Doctorow (1980)

I finished this book out of spite. Spite against what or whom? I don’t know. But I really did not enjoy any of it.

20. Dubliners, James Joyce (1914)

Rereading Dubliners was long overdue. The first time I read it I could tell there were depths I was not plumbing; this second time around I did not fare much better.

20.a Dubliners (Norton Critical Edition), Margaret Norris, ed. (2005)

This, my third critical edition of the year, provides tremendous insight into Joyce’s short stories. Each essay illuminates some connection between stories, some implication within an interaction, some gem of hidden meaning ready to gleam in the light of recognition.

21. The Body in the Library, Agatha Christie (1942)

This mystery novel is set in the same universe as The Thirteen Problems, above, and has about as many mini mysteries packed into a single narrative. Apparently it also takes place in our reality, because Agatha Christie mentions her own name among a list of autographs by famous mystery authors.

22. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)

I expected Cloud Atlas to be confusing and complicated in the tradition of Infinite Jest—needlessly, a vanity project. Instead, it is somehow straightforward while being complex in a lovely, entertaining, and fascinating manner. Though it gets a little self-aware toward the end, I really enjoyed this novel and could see myself (or perhaps a reincarnated version of myself) returning to it in the future.

23. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)

David Sedaris is like a childhood friend that I don’t see very often, but whenever we get together, we laugh like idiots. Of course, it’s a pretty one-way street between me and David; he does most of the heavy lifting and I do most of the laughing. I was surprised to learn that not everybody knows Sedaris is greatest living essayist, so I’ve started recommending his books to my friends. Woe unto him who heeds not my counsel!

24. The Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron (1967)

Upon publication this novel met two diverging, powerful responses: negative backlash from the black community, and critical acclaim and a Pulitzer Prize (from the white community). I decided to read the novel before investigating the substance of either response; I wanted to experience it without outside influences, and then read the criticism. I admit, as a white person who is not well-schooled in identifying the racism that pervades the world I grew up in and who knows nothing of the historical Nat Turner, The Confessions of Nat Turner was a literary pleasure. While reading, I felt Styron artfully lampooned the hypocrisy of the courts passing sentence against the rebels who were themselves trying to escape the life of imprisonment, torture, and death imposed on them by their “victims.” Styron’s “good” slaveowners are portrayed as guilty of perpetuating the institution of slavery, even as they lament its evils. I did not pick up on the many problems contained in the novel for much the same reason Styron did not feel troubled to write them; we have had the luxury of ignorance. Regardless, I had the following book of criticism on the shelf before I began the novel, and I was open to what the writers had to say.

25. William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond, John Henrik Clarke, ed. (1968)

Published the year after Styron’s novel, this collection of essays is alive

Image-1

God save the used bookstore.

with the energy of an ongoing conflict. I originally felt some empathy for Styron—a creative mind with an interest in history made a misguided attempt at fictionalizing a fascinating figure of American history. After reading these responses, I doubt not only his methods but also his motives. These writers make it clear that Styron had all the information and resources he needed to write about Nat Turner accurately, but he willfully ignored history and created a fictional Nat Turner who embodies all the degrading, harmful stereotypes historically imposed on black people and their enslaved ancestors. Styron concocted his own facts, which not only diverged from the historical record but were patently racist. When the facts are wrong, the truths arising therefrom are flawed. Through the corruption of facts, Styron’s novel churns out flawed conclusions—Turner is emasculated, rebellions are futile, rebels are criminals, and slaveowners are generally good people. Styron ignored the history and ideas of black people and wrote a novel beyond redemption; the progressive white public ignored the voices of these black writers and others and awarded Nat Turner a Pulitzer Prize.

26. Holidays On Ice, David Sedaris (1997)

On my third try, I finally finished this essay collection. I also realized the reason Holidays on Ice never grabbed me like Sedaris’s other books: This one has a higher concentration of fictional stories. The succession of fabricated Christmas curmudgeons don’t do it for me like his usual genuine misanthropes.

27. High Spirits: A Collection of Ghost Stories, Robertson Davies (1982)

Robertson Davies was the Master of Massey College of the University of Toronto from 1963 until 1981. Davies told a ghost story each year at the school’s Christmas party, and those are collected in this book. What a treasure and a blessing it must have been to be present when this master storyteller related a charming tale, written and delivered for your ears only.

28. Poem A Day, Vol.1, Karen McCosker and Nichols Albery, eds. (1994)

I began reading a poem as soon as I woke up about two years ago; this book took the guesswork out of selecting which poem that should be. Running from January 1 to December 31, poems in Poem A Day are intended to be memorized; I gave up on that project some time around January 5. Selections cover all periods of time and style (though not place), and most poems include a brief biographical note on the author, usually with some indication regarding why a poem was chosen for a particular date. Thanks to Volumes 2 and 3, I hope to benefit from the simplicity of this series until 2020.

Upon Reflection

I didn’t achieve any of my reading goals this year. Most of my selections were for the purpose of self-education (history, criticism, literacy) rather than pleasure. Reading in 2017 was hard because I made it hard; I often read out of an obligation imposed on myself by myself. In 2018 I want to bring reading back to a place of ease and delight. I want to read more fiction, and I want to allow myself to stop reading a book if it does not bring me joy.

2017: Third Quarter Note

I feel like several years have passed since the second quarter of 2017. For reference, in the last three months I have graduated with a master’s degree, left my job of over three years, and moved across the country to start my career in a new landscape and climate, where I know no one but my cat. The change of routine (when am I even supposed to listen to music?) and the change of focus (do I need a vermicultural habitat for my apartment?) have allowed me somewhat to neglect my album project.

Pre-life transition, I primarily listened to music (1) driving to and from work, and (2) working out at the gym. Post-life transition, I don’t drive to work and I don’t have a gym. It took a couple weeks, but I have discovered two rich mines of previously unavailable musical opportunity: (1) walking to and from work, and (2) during work. Music enhances these experiences, and the experiences make the music better.

As always, my impersonal rating system follows. The mid-level three-star rating has come to mean “I’d like to hear these songs mixed into a playlist, if not the whole album in sequence.”

★★★★★ I listen to it regularly.
★★★★☆ I will listen to it again.
★★★☆☆ I wouldn’t mind listening to it (in a mix).
★★☆☆☆ If it comes on I won’t turn it off.
★☆☆☆☆ I’m not interested in hearing it again.

Week Twenty-Seven

The_Knife_-_Deep_CutsThe Knife – Deep Cuts (2003) ★★★★★

I can hardly believe I’ve only known this album a few weeks. Every time I listen to Deep Cuts (which is often) I’m surprised by how many tracks knock my socks off. Whether in the car, at home, or working out, “Heartbeats” gives me no choice but to do body rolls for the duration. When I hear “Is It Medicine” and “Got 2 Let U,” I feel the full-body musical experience I imagine is sought when people go clubbing. I love this album so much.

Week Twenty-Eight

CureDisintegrationThe Cure – Disintegration (1989)
★★★☆☆

I don’t dislike anything about this album. Perhaps one must be in a certain mood or in a certain time of life for it to click, and I am not there. I can imagine other times when it would have hit me harder. As I am, I can see its appeal, but it doesn’t speak to my soul.

 Week Twenty-Nine

Sky_Blue_Sky_(Wilco)Wilco – Sky Blue Sky (2007)★★★★☆

Wilco is consistently brought up in The Next Bob Dylan conversation, and now I get it. The resemblance to Jack White’s music is particularly satisfying.

Week Thirty

SantogoldalbumSantogold – Santogold (1980)
★★★☆☆

From song to song, Santogold may sound like Gwen Stefani, MIA, or Sixpence None the Richer. All I can do is marvel at her talent.

Week Thirty-One

Sheperd's-dog (Iron & Wine)Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog (2007)★★★★★

The Shepherd’s Dog is addictive. I get sucked in to the hypnotic musical jangle and the continuous lyrical patter. For so many years I thought of Iron & Wine was some band ~other people~ listened to. My loss! I love this album.

Week Thirty-Two

Cate_Le_Bon_Mug_Museum_album_coverCate le Bon – Mug Museum (2013) ★★★☆☆

Mug Museum sounds like Tender Buttons with a healthy dash of Nico. Through repeated listens, the surface ‘60s airy sound gives way to a more complex collection of tunes.

 Week Thirty-Three

Pixies-DoolittleThe Pixies – Doolittle (1989)★★★★☆

The Pixies confound genre definition. They can scream like nu metal, play guitar like surf rock, and write lyrics like an indie band. Some of the songs on Doolittle sound like earlier versions of songs I already love from Bossanova. “Hey” and “La La Love You” are very special to me.

Week Thirty-Four

Fully_Completely (The Tragically Hip)The Tragically Hip – Fully Completely (1992)
★★★★☆

News of Gordon Downie’s illness brought a lot of attention to The Tragically Hip this year; I wasn’t previously aware of their importance in Canadian and musical culture.  I really enjoy Fully Completely’s irresistible, energetic rhythms and powerful lyrics. In a world of Canadian musicians accommodating the U.S. market, they also stand out as unapologetically Canadian. Even if I don’t get the references, it feels real and truthful.

Week Thirty-Five

Kesha_-_RainbowKesha – Rainbow (2017)★★★★★

None of us saw this coming. It took a couple of middle aged podcast men to convince me I should listen to a Kesha album, and I’m very glad they did. “Boogie Feet” and “Woman” are undeniable feel-good songs. There’s something about “Spaceship,” with its mesmeric melody and oddly hopeful lyrics, that takes my breath away every time.

 Week Thirty-Six

Dopamine (Borns)Børns – Dopamine (2015)
★★★☆☆

I was prejudiced against Dopamine prior to hearing it because I hate the album cover. Dopamine is generic, hear-it-in-any-commercial pop music. Even so, this album is full of bangers, and I admit I came to enjoy it quite a bit.

Week Thirty-Seven

Welcome Home ('Til Tuesday)’Til Tuesday – Welcome Home (1986) ★★★★☆

Aimee Mann’s music always strikes me as good driving music, particularly “David Denies,” which is on repeat in my head all the time.

 

 Week Thirty-Eight

Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (Open Mike Eagle)Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (2017)
★★★★☆

These songs sound like no others I’ve ever heard. Open Mike Eagle has a unique voice and style. Even when I don’t know what he means I can tell it’s meaningful.

 Week Thirty-Nine

PrintFlight of the Conchords – I Told You I Was Freaky (2009)★★★☆☆

This album has a lot of funny. I’ve loved “Carol Brown” for years; it is a perfect song.

Fourth Quarter Projections

Even though the third quarter did not hit the high heights of the second (see: Cher and the Great Comet), it did not drop to the valleys of the previous quarter, either. Overall I enjoyed more of the albums an average amount, which is all I can ask.

I am committed to finishing the year out strong. There are still many crowd-sourced recommendations I haven’t listened to, and I will try to attend to those before I close up shop.

Looking West From Peristyle, Court of Honor and Grand Basin of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago, Illinois)

In Review: The Devil in the White City and The Fountainhead

Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City is a remarkable piece of pop history. Cover of The Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonLarson takes two very different historical narratives–one bringing pride and hope to a city, the other leaving shame and fear –and sews them into one fascinating garment. I expected the serial killer to keep my interest, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the ins and outs of a group of architects (the collective noun is a “facade” of architects) similarly engaging.

Another surprise was The Devil in the White City revealing itself to be an inadvertent introduction to Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Those who object to Objectivism may be surprised to find The Fountainhead palatable, even enjoyable. Written before Rand fully developed her signature philosophy, The Fountainhead is not concerned with the economic or political morality that is inextricably linked with Atlas Shrugged. Instead, The Fountainhead‘s ethical agenda is individual artistic integrity. Howard Roark is the superman who cannot be threatened or bribed to abandon his artistic architectural vision, and Rand makes a convincing case to draw the reader to his side.

Howard Roark is a wholly fictional personage, but his work and architectural Cover of The Fountainhead by Ayn Randphilosophy are based on that of Frank Lloyd Wright, who is a minor figure in The Devil in the White City. Wright was the protégé of Louis Sullivan, one the team of architects who designed The White City. The Devil in the White City touches on Sullivan’s proposition of “form follows function” (a fundamental principle of The Fountainhead) and lays out Sullivan’s decline. Rand clearly drew on Sullivan’s history for her novel. She fictionalized Sullivan as Roark’s mentor Henry Cameron: an architect who fell into poverty and obscurity because he did not have an audience for his work, and would not betray his ideals.

I never thought I needed to read a history book to understand The Fountainhead, but The Devil in the White City proves me wrong. Larson illustrates the forces at work in the world of American architecture in the early 20th century. The magnitude of the World’s Fair and the effect the The White City on the public’s architectural ideals were more powerful than I realized—Rand was not kidding around. The White City was the actual cause of a national nostalgia for a nonexistent classical past.

Looking West From Peristyle, Court of Honor and Grand Basin of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago, Illinois)

The Devil in the White City provides the background of the architectural milieu into which Roark is born. Throughout The Fountainhead, Rand ridicules the use of classical Greco-Roman architecture in 20th century America, and Roark fights this American obsession. Looking at this style through the lens of her trademark objectivity, Rand sees unnecessary ornamentation, spatial inefficiency, and sub-optimal design. In contrast, Larson lovingly describes the circumstances that brought The White City into existence and the reasons it took hold of the American imagination. The White City did not draw thousands of visitors from all over the country because they were interested in the functionality of its buildings; The White City brought people to Chicago for a display of American magnificence and the pride of knowing that their countrymen could create something beautiful on par with the grandeur of Europe. For good or for bad, these are feelings that Rand and Roark do not share.

The Devil in the White City stands on its own as an absorbing book of true crime and colorful history, but it also pairs well with The Fountainhead. Just as Rand’s philosophical writing is best balanced with counterpoints and differing arguments, Rand’s architectural opinions are subject to scrutiny. Readers of Rand are always at risk of developing insufferable superiority complexes, and The Devil in the White City provides a soothing antidote to Roarkitis.