Book Review: Love is a Mix Tape-Life and Loss, One Song at a Time

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Just what is love? Philosophers, poets and song writers have been asking that question since the beginning of time. To music journalist Rob Sheffield, love is a mix tape. The author has chronicled the cross section of music and love in debut book called Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time.

Long before people downloaded music into their smart phones or other hand-held listening devices with their favorite music, they made mix tapes. Mix tapes were very personal. Not only did they reveal some of our favorite songs, they also revealed our hopes, desires and thoughts. Mix tapes were therapy on a magnetic strip.

Rob Sheffield is no different from every music obsessed Generation X-er. A total music geek, he found solace and a reason for being through his love of music. Starting as a young child, he DJ-ed at school dances, collected albums and tapes like baseball cards and debated the merits of different bands with his friends.

In the late 1980s, Sheffield met Renee. Renee couldn’t have been more different from Rob. He was tall; she was short. He was a shy geek from Boston. Renee was an extroverted Southerner. The only thing these two seemed to have in common was an intense love of music, and it seemed music was all they needed. The two soon fell in love and were married until Renee’s untimely death from a pulmonary embolism at the age of 31.

Sheffield deftly writes about his all too brief marriage to Renee and he does this with a catalog of different mix tapes he made. Each chapter starts with a different mix tape, complete with the names of songs and artists. Some tapes are for making out, some for dancing and some for falling asleep. Sheffield proves to be no music snob, mixing top-40 guilty pleasure pop with the alternative music of the 1980s and 1990s. Each lovingly crafted mix tape conveys an intricate detail of the sometimes loving, sometimes rocky, and all-too-human relationship between two very interesting and complex souls.

Love is a Mix Tape had me riveted. Sheffield is an amazing writer, handling his love of music and his love of Renee with tender loving care. He gives an intimate glimpse into his marriage without revealing too many intimate details. The marriage of Rob and Renee is never conveyed in a way that is too saccharine or maudlin. These are two very real people who seemed to leap off the page. Often when men write about the women in their lives they do it more as a reflection of their own egos rather than writing about these women as three-dimensional human beings. Sheffield does not fall into this trap. I really felt I knew Renee. In fact, I wish I knew Renee. She was an Appalachian Auntie Mame who told her husband to “Live, live, live!” and tells the reader to do the same.

And even though I began reading Love is a Mix Tape knowing of Renee’s death, I was still very shocked when it happened. How could this ebullient soul not be cavorting somewhere on the planet? And Sheffield’s grief was so palpable I felt a dull ache in my heart as he described existing as a young widower.

I highly recommend Love is Mix Tape to anyone who considers music as vital as breathing and knows only too well the ecstasy and heartbreak true love can bring. Rob Sheffield has written an amazing book. I hope he has more books in him.

To learn more about Rob’s affiliation to write about love and music please check out my review of his book Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love and Karaoke.

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Women of Words: A Celebration (aka as My Fantasy Book Discussion Panel)

Not too long ago, the lovely people from Eventbrite burned up some cyberspace and contacted me on writing about my ideal book panel discussion featuring my favorite authors and/or characters. I Googled Eventbrite to see if it was legit or not. Looking pretty darn legit, I quickly contacted them and said I’d love to do it, just give me some time to figure out what authors and/or characters I’d like to have on my panel.

Saying yes to this project was the easy part…coming up with authors and characters was quite another. There are so many authors and characters I adore and nearly worship. I would need a round table as large as Lambeau Field to house them all. What authors and characters do I pick? There are times when just picking out what earrings to wear on a particular day is a monumental task.

First I decided to pick authors only. And then I decided the authors would all be women. This is no slap at the male authors I adore or men in general. It’s just four authors popped into my lady brain and they just happened to be women.

Dorothy Parker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judy Blume
Caitlin Moran
Roxane Gay

What else does a panel discussion need? Well, moderators, of course! We can’t let this discussion run amok, right? Now who would I choose to moderate (well, besides me, of course). I immediately thought of my favorite journalist, Bill Moyers, a lovely gentleman whose curious, thoughtful and empathetic interviewing style would be perfect for this panel and our sure to be scintillating discussion.

Afterward the panel discussion I’d host a post-discussion casual meet and greet for the authors and the audience. I’ll even bring snacks.

Following are the principle players in the Book Self’s First Women of Words: A Celebration (and Potluck).

Writers: Judy Blume, Roxane Gay, Caitlin Moran and Dorothy Parker

Moderators: Bill Moyers-see pic (and me, of course)

Audience: Men and women who love to read (and maybe even write).  I’d pretty much invite fellow bookworms who have a mad love of the written word.

Special VIPs: My mom who got me to read in the first place and introduced me to the wonders of libraries and book stores. My friends, both in my off-line universe, and those I adore via the Internet. They include long-time friends Nora and Elaine Takagi, Jen Locke, Rosie Blythe, Cobalt Stargazer and Tari. I chose these ladies because they are talented writers who have written guest reviews at both my blogs, have blogs themselves and are just incredibly talented writers as a whole.

As for the potluck I’m providing post-discussion and during the meet and greet? Well, I’d offer various types of cookies and brownies, including my treasured sugar mint cookies and dark chocolate brownies with a sea salt caramel glaze, chocolate chip cake, zesty pretzels, various chips and dips including my goat cheese dip, veggie with dill dip, guacamole, hummus and salsa, fruit and veggie platters, a tasty cheese plate with homemade crackers, and various liquid refreshments including my mom’s Brandy Smash.

As I mentioned, I selected four distinct ladies of letters-Judy Blume, Dorothy Parker, Roxane Gay and  Caitlin Moran. The following are reasons why I want them on my panel:

How could I not have my discussion and not feature Judy Blume? When I was a mere lass feeling like a 4th grade nothing, battered by bullying, confused by puberty, and vowing to never name my future male offspring Ralph, Judy was the Man…I mean Woman!!! Whereas other writers wrote about tweens and teens in a way that were both saccharine and unrealistic, Judy wrote about the adolescent experience in realistic ways, which never sugarcoated the issues we faced whether it was getting our periods, sex and masturbation, schoolyard bullying, family strife, religion and social issues. She knew these distinct moments in our lives were of monumental importance and treated the topics and her readers with so much respect.

No panel discussion of mine would be complete with the ghost of Dorothy Parker, whose poetry continues to inspire me. However, I must admit I was initially not a fan of Parker’s. I first heard of Parker when, as an insecure, bespectacled pre-teen, I read her line saying, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” Stomping in my Nike sneakers, I thought to myself, “What a mean lady!” But it wasn’t long before I realized the Divine Dorothy was just being snarky and probably pitying those men who didn’t quite get the erotic allure of a girl in glasses. I’m now a huge fan of Parker’s and I consider her to be the patron saint of all witty women too smart for their damn good. How could I not invite her to Women of Words.? You know she’d have plenty to say, and she’d love the Brandy Smash!

Then there are two of my favorite writers I have recently grown to appreciate who are not only fabulous writers, but who are also very proud to claim the word feminist. These women are Roxane Gay and Caitlin Moran. Both of these women write about the female experience, with clarity, wisdom and richness fully capturing the beauty and ugliness of what it means to be a female in the 21st century. Both Bay and Caitlin have written non-fiction and fictional books that are near and dear to my heart. Both Gay’s collection of short stories in Difficult Women and Moran’s novel How to Build a Girl received rave reviews by the Book Self. And their individual collection of essays, Bad Feminist and Moranifesto are two feminist-minded must-reads.

This discussion could also be a way for Gay to promote her memoir Hunger, which chronicles her experience as a survivor of a gang rape and how it led her to using food as an escape, comfort and shield. Interestingly enough, in Moranifesto Moran tells men two things they need to know about women one is we fear them, that they will hurt us physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. This topic alone could make for a very intriguing and mind-blowing discussion.

However, I want this to be so much more! So even though I want this to be a free floating discussion of writing, I also have some questions Moyers and I could throw out to the panel. They are as follows:

  1. What did they read when they were little girls and why?
  2. When did they start to write and why? What did they write? Who are their favorite authors and books from their girlhood to today? Who are these authors and books and authors their favorites?
  3. When did they realize writing was their vocation?
  4. What inspires them to write?
  5. Describe their version of writer’s block. How do they cope with writer’s block?
  6. Describe the good, bad and the ugly of being writers, especially women writers.
  7. Describe what it is like to write non-fiction, fiction, poetry, journalistic features, and so on, both the similarities and the differences.
  8. What is the one book they wish they wrote?
  9. Discuss their future plans.
  10. Advice for writers.

After the panel discussion we’d have a Q & A session where the audience gets to ask the panel their own questions.

Later, we’d sum up the occasion with a casual meet and greet/potluck. However, we’d have to tell Dorothy Parker she has to smoke outside and keep her from bogarting the Brandy Smash.

I must admit I had fun writing this and I’m so happy Eventbrite asked me to be a part of this. I also realized there is so much I want to discuss with these ladies that it might take up more than one session. We could make this a week-end event!

Eventbrite offers great book-related events all over. If you ‘d like to find a book event near you check out this registration online tool.

Book Club: My Musings on Poetry

poetry word in mixed vintage metal type printing blocks over grunge wood

“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” ― Leonard Cohen

What does poetry mean to you?

When I was a little girl and read the books of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, I thought all poetry had to rhyme. My idea of poetry was quite simplistic.

As I got older, my ideas of poetry advanced. I learned poetry didn’t have to rhyme. In fact, it often didn’t. I also learned of various styles of poetry—sonnets, haiku, limericks—to name a few. So for a while I thought of poetry was a writing format with a lot of rules and regulations and something a wee bit pretentious.

However, a few years ago I covered a slam poetry event for high school students sponsored by Still Waters Collective, an organization that mentors talented young writers and speakers. This event blew me away, and reminded me that poetry could be whatever you wanted it to be and wasn’t pretentious at all.

“To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.” – Robert Frost

Who are your favorite poets and why? Name some of you favorite poems and why?

Well, I mentioned Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, but I also got to give a shout out to three ladies whose appreciate like Maya Angelou, whose classic “Phenomenal Woman” never fails to lift my spirits.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Huffington Post has nine other inspirational poems written by Ms. Angelou I also love.
Then there is Sylvia Plath, Mad Girl’s Love song really speaks to me when it comes to love and desire.

Mad Girl’s Love Song

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”

I often wonder what else Ms. Plath could have written if she hadn’t met such a tragic demise.

And then there is my love for Dorothy Parker, the patron saint of all witty women too smart for their own good.

“A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.” ― W.H. Auden

Have you ever written poetry? Why or why not? (You can share your original poetry if you want to)

Back in the 1990s, as I inched my way back into the world of writing, I participated in a local poetry writers group. Though I wasn’t in it for a very long time, it did get the writing juices flowing. I didn’t think of myself as a poet, especially compared to my fellow writers, and I turn my talents to non-fiction writer working as a copywriter, research writer, freelance journalist, publicist and editor professionally, personally and academically.

Interestingly enough, I found some of the poems I wrote while in this group and was pleasantly surprised that a good deal of it wasn’t as cringe worthy as I thought. Sure, some of it was pretty damn good.

And last month I attended a poetry workshop at my friends Nora and Elaine’s Buddhist temple in Chicago. I was at first hesitant to participate because of my lack of experience writing poetry. I thought maybe I could just sit back and observe. No dice. I actually had to write something, which I did and I had so much fun and learned so much, not just from the teacher but from my fellow students, too. Everyone’s poem weaved such eloquent and creative tapestries of words. I felt humbled to be around such rich talent.

Now I don’t envision myself a poet but this class (and the discovery of some of my old poetry), once again challenged me as a writer and inspired me in ways that go beyond the written word.

“There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it.” ― Gustave Flaubert

Anything else you would like to add?

It’s funny; ever since I asked people to give me their thoughts on and experiences with poetry, I am starting to see poetry beyond actual poems. I see poetry in music, words I read in various books, dialogue in both movies and TV shows, various quotes, and just from everyday conversation. I see poetry in visual art and innovative crafts. I see poetry through fashion and style. I also see poetry in my love of food when I read my cookbooks or discover a new recipe or make a meal. I’m finding poetry in the natural world around me, whether it’s the blooms of lilac bushes, Lake Michigan, the twittering of birds when I wake up in the morning, or a glorious sunset as I end my day. I see poetry in the physical world of dance, yoga, and athletics. I find poetry in prayer, meditation and just simple silent contemplation. I guess I just find poetry in living life!

“I think that were beginning to remember that the first poets didn’t come out of a classroom, that poetry began when somebody walked off of a savanna or out of a cave and looked up at the sky with wonder and said, ‘Ahhh.'” That was the first poem. – Lucille Clifton

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