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Musical Discoveries May 2021 #5

See also: April 2021 and June 2021 (View all)

Oops. I forgot to start my May musical discoveries blogpost until May 13th!. Luckily though I have been listening to a lot of great music on YouTube and emusic and bandcamp. Eventually I get caught up though. I’m totally looking forward to Eurovision next week though apparently I will have to go through the usual ruses to view it.

Capsule Reviews from my Collection

Harmonium by Soundcarrier. Psychedelic rock, full of sunniness a la Stereolab, except there is less playfulness, more energy and lots of exciting drum-crashing crescendos (like the Doors minus Jim Morrison). On the one hand, this album is traveling in well-trodden territory of Stereolab, Ladytron, Komeda, The Clean — and doesn’t seem to try anything outrageous or radical. But really I like how fierce and funky the guitar can become, how many odd sounds creep in and how the vocal male-female duet usually enter mid-song and blend in with the rock sound without overshadowing it (Let It Ride).

Books & Articles about Music

none here yet


While listening to a British electric pop group named Soundcarrier, I was feeling nostalgic about Stereolab — and remembered that although I possessed a few Stereolab, I was missing a few others. Then I stumbled upon this live appearance.

Awesome early track by Stereolab

Youtube has several awesome live appearances including — amazingly, a 1996 concert at Fitzgeralds in Houston.

Emusic Purchases

Finally I’ve gotten around to spending all my credits due to expire on May 14; indeed, I found so much great stuff (with the help of omnifoo I have no shortage of bands I want to explore. To be honest, even though I generally enjoy most of omnifoo’s recs, when I go on my listening sprees, I find so many interesting things on labels not on omnifool’s radar — which is saying a lot; he knows a lot.

  1. Harmonium by Soundcarriers. (BC) (See Above)
  2. Entropicalia by Soundcarriers. 48 minutes, later album
  3. In Search of Sunrise 16. Various. 4.49. Basically 3.5 hours of music — not including the full mixes. The trance music series goes on even after DJ Tiesto does it no more. In this case Markus Schulz, Giuseppe Ottaviani and Sunlounger divide the duties to great effect.
  4. Smoke From A Future Fire by The Howard Hughes Suite
  5. Odd Songs by Marc Cunningham.
  6. OOYes by 13 year Cicada.

Bandcamp Purchases

I’ll probably be talking in a podcast about the amazing Austin band, Many Birthdays. I’ve been following this band for more than 15 years, and only recently learned that John Dixon has been doing a sidegig as an experimental art rock musicmaker. His new group Bass Earth Sun focuses on making experimental instrumental pieces. I’ve only started to listen.

Jon Dixon of the band Many Birthdays

Freegal & Library CDs

  1. Deerhunter
  2. Olga Guillot
  3. Teena Marie
  4. Mercedes Sosa

Less than Perfection

It never fails. I always have multiple IT problems affecting me simultaneously. Now here’s what I’m dealing with:

  • buying a new computer and monitor.
  • Dealing with a PHP incompatibility problem on my web host.
  • Trying a new database backup system. (Apparently the first time I tried, it was misconfigured, so it dragged all my sites down for almost an hour!
  • Doing research for a new wordpress site I’m about to build. Building this site — and getting it right will literally save me hours or weeks of time — and I have still not gotten around to starting.
  • Troubleshooting a user interface problem on my blog editor. (It’s kind of fixed). I need to upgrade this current blog as well.
  • dealing with the usual CSS and testing BS for ebooks.
  • Also on ebooks: Troubleshooting and reducing encoding errors, consistency of m dashes and n dashes and Microsoft’s smart quotes.
  • Figuring out why some multimedia projects are not working (this will have to wait until I buy the next computer).
  • Being called in by family members to solve their own technical problems (most of which involve iPhones, which I have never owned).

I’m a creative person. I’d prefer to be writing stories and working on new blogposts and essay topics. Instead I’m living in a state where things are always underperforming, messing up or being vulnerable to hackers. Every day I have to reassess my priorities: job search or fix the blog? Write this old client or do online research? Research new business opportunities or contact potential employers to pay bills in the meantime?

My current life problem is that I keep putting off creative projects in order to master the business of publishing and catch up on job search (and lose weight and start an exercise program, etc). During several periods of my life, I suffered through being unable to do any writing. While working abroad with Peace Corps, my word processor broke in the first month or two, and so I literally wrote nothing for 2 years. Between 1999-2003 I was caught up in trying to upgrade my technical skills (and going to grad school and trying to maintain an ill-fated long-distance relationship). Then between 2009-11 unemployment made it hard to concentrate on writing at all. Then in 2014-Spring 2016, I spent every waking moment preparing for my teacher’s certification, trying to prepare for class, trying to teach myself how to teach better– and then ultimately giving up when I couldn’t find a job. During 2017-2019, my writing productivity improved, but 2020-now I’ve done very little writing to speak of (though I have been very busy with publishing business stuff).

This is hard enough. When you throw technical problems on top of the heap and a little poverty, suddenly you feel perpetually stuck. Objectively, I know it shouldn’t paralyze me. You should slowly patiently prioritize and try to eliminate one obstacle at a time. On the other hand, it’s important to recognize sometimes that a problem won’t go away easily — that sometimes it is better to leave it alone or work around it or pay someone to handle it for you.

In the technical world it can be easy to get sidetracked by the tantalizing nature of a problem. A good example is with Windows issues. Sometimes the time it takes to figure out a Windows issue is greater than the time of wiping everything clean and starting over. I often solve many of the same problems over and over, but I do it so rarely that I often forgot how I did it last time. Better documentation might help, but not always. It still takes a lot of time to reacquaint yourself with old problems.

As I come closer to being an ancient geek, I see the value in just paying somebody to do it or just figuring out that I don’t need to do X after all. Sure, if you can fix your own computer, you save a little bit of money. On the other hand a competent amateur can miss out on many new opportunities when most of their time is consumed by learning how to do a repair on their car and trying to devise a Visual Basic solution to your Windows problem.

After a while, the average geek like me develops a tolerance for (and even a blindness to) being perpetually behind, putting things off as much as possible and learning to live with less than perfection.


Robert’s Roundup #19 (May 2021)

View the Roundup series || View Raves & Reviews || Mike’s Likes ||  Read how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section || Commercial Disclosures

View Previous Roundup and Next Roundup (View All)

Abbreviations: KU means Kindle Unlimited, LE means that lending of this Kindle title is allowed, and APUB means it was published under an Amazon imprint.


none yet

Indie Author’s Spotlight

none yet

Smashword Sales

none yet

Ebooks published by Amazon imprints

Some of the Amazon imprints produce very inexpensive ebooks of varying quality. Some titles though are superb — and you should check previous roundups for my recommendations — I frankly ignore most of the genre stuff and focus on the international authors and biographies. Follow this link to see which titles are 99 cents for the month.  (check previous columns herehere and here), so maybe my recs will be sparser than usual. All are KU APUB, (but not lendable!).

Under the Radar

Beethoven: A Life in Nine Pieces by Laura Turnbridge. I’m beginning to love arts biographies, and this one presents Beethoven’s life by presenting 9 pieces. The price has been 3-4$ for over a week.

Olive Branches don’t grow on Trees by Grace Mattioli.

Sentience: A Science Fiction Exploration of AI Through An Epic Turing Test (Book 1) by Courtney Hunter.

Blink and It’s Gone Sales

none yet

The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes’ Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, & Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne.

Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. Unusual personal story about an author’s relationship with the Crow species, with some biology and ecology thrown in. As usual, I love this stuff.

Creative Commons /Academic /Public Domain

none yet

Once in a Lifetime Deals

none this time

Review Copies Received

none this time


Between Worlds: A Poetry Collection

Stumbling Toward Happiness: Haibun and Hybrid Poems by Kat Lehmann.

Library Books & Printed Books bought (better world, Amazon, etc)

none this time

Ebook Reviews


Literary Articles and Essays


Literary Audio/Multimedia


Personville Press Giveaways and Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. You can buy DRM-free copies of ebooks from Smashwords (and often at a substantial discount over the ebook’s price on Amazon). Alternatively, you can buy ebooks from GoogleAmazonBNApple and Kobo. During May 2021 Soldier Boys and Abruptions will be regularly discounted to 99 cents. Check them out! In May 2021 you can sign up for the Personville Press mailing lists to stay informed about upcoming sales and publications.


Social Media Dump: May 1-16 (2021)

See also:  April 16-30, May 17-31 (View All)

NETFLIX FILM RECOMMENDATION: Stowaway is a thoughtful and suspenseful sci fi drama/adventure about a Mars-bound space mission gone awry. Top-quality acting and script, fairly realistic action (although the movie’s premise seems slightly implausible). Still, this recent Netflix-produced film is much more focused and interesting than the overlong Netflix mission to Mars series, AWAY. By the way, don’t watch the trailer — the less you know, the better!

Russian analyst Anders Aslund and Maria Snegovaya write a long report (PDF) about the state of the Russian economy under Putin: It has the startling conclusion:

Western sanctions have hit the Russian economy badly. Since 2014, it (the Russian economy) has grown by an average of 0.3 percent per year, while the global average was 2.3 percent per year. They have slashed foreign credits and foreign direct investment, and may have reduced Russia’s economic growth by 2.5–3 percent a year; that is, about $50 billion per year. The Russian economy is not likely to grow significantly again until the Kremlin has persuaded the West to ease the sanctions.

Here’s a long Washington post profile of Mary Ann Vecchio, the girl who was photographed crying in grief at the Kent State shootings. What makes this particularly poignant is that even though Vecchio was on a college campus, she was actually only 14 years old (she was unusually tall for her age at 6 feet). She was a teenage runaway

Silly story about a young Japanese man who dated 30 woman purely in order to get them to buy him birthday presents. One reader comments, “He’s an awful person, but I envy his time-management skills,” 

If Texas Workforce commission rejects your claim for unemployment benefits or (as in my case) accidentally removes you from the eligibility list because of a bureaucratic mistake, it can take up to 18 weeks for the appeal board to consider your case. I’m in my 11th week of waiting for my case to be resolved. It’s funny how my initial attitude of “they should be able to correct this mistake fairly quickly” has turned to dismay and even anger (and I’ve only been waiting 10.5 weeks).

XKCD sums up scientific research papers. People think was a satirical look at papers, but I see it as scientists just doing their jobs.

TEXAS COMEDY CLASSIC! I’m astonished to see that YouTube has a 50 minute production of the original GREATER TUNA play available. Apparently the show’s creators did a production specifically for HBO in 1984. I had actually seen their sequel GREATER TUNA CHRISTMAS at a Houston theatre in the early 1990s. It was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen. (All the characters — including the females –are played by 2 men).

AMAZING! Two days ago I visited BEST BUY to recycle/dispose of some old computer equipment. To my surprise, I learned that BEST BUY would accept all of the items except my monitor. Apparently Best Buy’s new policy means that they charge $29 to dispose of 1 computer monitor. So the next time you buy a monitor (or big screen TV), you should factor in the costs of having to dispose of it later.


Social Media Dump: April 16-30 (2021)

See also: April 1-15, May 1-16 (View All)

RECOMMENDED (FREE!) EXERCISE APP: I really liked J&J’s exercise app for doing indoor exercises. Lots of levels to choose from, plus animation to illustrate each movement. This trainer worked with the New York Times to produce this app — which is phenomenal on a tablet. Here’s a long NYT page explaining the different exercises, Here’s a 5 minute summary of these exercises (boring but useful), Here’s a 50 minute discussion between the NYT reporter and the fitness trainer who invented it.

I’m actually trying to exercise more and lose weight (to take off those COVID pounds!). After reading about it on wirecutter, I started using the Bodyelastics Stackable Tube Resistance Bands. It’s great equipment and offers a range of exercise options. One major problem with this exercise method is that the exercises take a while to learn and the enclosed booklet is not well-organized. Indeed, it took 6 months just to get around to figuring out to do the exercises! The main problem is that book lists the resistance bands as attached to the top, middle or bottom part of the door, but it’s in random order in the book; also, you have to switch bands and alternate between using handles and straps. I printed out a summary of the exercises for easy reference.

Food critic and high school friend Mike Riccetti wrote about his favorite pizza restaurant in Houston: it’s Tiny Champions on the East side of downtown Houston. A while back Riccetti wrote about three great restaurants right next to one another on a bland shopping strip. It always has been crazy how many restaurants Houston has — there are several Venezuelan/South American restaurants in the Katy area where I live, and I haven’t even gotten around to eating there.

This comedy sketch reveals why it’s always better to make sure your translator is competent. Another reveals things only women would understand.

My secret Youtube obsession is watching old Craig Ferguson clips. Most of his shows seem to be flirtatious double-entendres with beautiful young actresses. Here’s Kristen Bell, Brittany Murphy, Alison Brie, Actually Conan O’Brien’s interviews are also great. Here’s a dating coach’s explanation of Ferguson’s appeal. Hey, here’s another 55 minutes where you can watch the master in action.

A FB friend alerts me to the fact that bitcoin mining is nullifying the gains from solar power production. According to a Techcrunch article, newer cryptocurrencies like Ethereum might have a smaller carbon footprint. Some proposals to do carbon fee and dividends do cross border taxes to implement a fair carbon price, but it seems hard to imagine doing this for cryptocurrencies. According to Forbes,

A single bitcoin transaction uses roughly 707.6 kilowatt-hours of electrical energy–equivalent to the power consumed by an average U.S. household over 24 days, according to Digiconomist. On a yearly basis, bitcoin consumes more energy than all but 38 countries, falling in line with countries like Finland, Chile and Austria.

I imagine that the huge carbon footprint affects the perception of value, and so eventually it will lead to a decline in price. On the other hand, governments can and should accelerate this process; I mean, it’s not as if jobs are at stake here; it’s just computer cycles.

WE ARE BEHIND ON ELECTRIC CAR ADOPTION: If every new vehicle sold today was an electric vehicle and it was entirely powered by renewable energy overnight, it would take 10 years or more for us to achieve a 50% redeuction in greenhouse gases. (Chris Atkinson, engineering professor). “We are not going to be able to meet the target with new-car EV sales only, said Aakash Arora, a managing director with Boston Consulting Group and an author of a study on electric vehicle adoption. “The fleet is too big.”

As it happens, I’ll be on the road until the end of the month and relying on a substandard laptop, so postings will be lighter than usual.

As family and friends can attest, I have an uncanny knack for predicting which film will win Best Picture at the Oscars months before the nominations are announced — and before I even am able to watch the movies. (I predicted Nomadland in early January). I can finally reveal my secret: I am a time traveler. If you have any questions you need answering about the next 12 months, feel free to ask them before I make my next jump.

NEWHART AND COMMUNITY THEATRE: This 80s sitcom was known for its droll humor and unpredictability; this episode is about Bob’s wife pressures Bob to direct an old play he wrote for the town’s community theatre. I love this show to death. Amusingly, while watching the DVDs for season, one extra (produced in the early 2010s) had commentary from the actresses who said it’s now apparent their wardrobes and makeup and hairstyles looked ghastly. They were exaggerating a bit for the camera, but they had a point.


Musical Discoveries April 2021 #4

See also: March 2021 and May 2021 (View all)

Capsule Reviews of my Collection

I like to start out the month with a blank template and then add to it over the month. Stay tuned for more content!

Musical Mystery Meat

none yet

Articles about Music

none yet


Here’s the lovely Sesame Street closing song, with improvisations on the harmonica. I’ve been searching for this special closing number, and the name of that harmonica player is Toots Thielemans.

Every so often I watch documentary excerpts about musicians — especially the Wrecking Crew. Here’s a nice piece about Carol Kaye , There was a Wrecking Crew documentary a few years ago. You should check out Polyphonics’ other musical analysis. Here’s a fascinating vid about Fleetwood Mac’s Rhiannon (which is based on and a fantastic 1976 live performance for Midnight Special and an early 1975 audio from a Boston concert. Tusk, as I mentioned before was one of the earliest albums I actually bought, and holds up very well.

Speaking of childhood, I never can get enough of Schoolhouse Rock. Here’s a TED talk with Bob Dorough (he performs 2 songs). Here’s a clip of Bob Dorough and the original singer Jack Sheldon singing Conjunction Junction.

I made a Fito Espino playlist (he’s a Panamanian accordionist who was popular decades ago.

I’ve been downloading and listening to lots of South American music as I download emusic albums. Here’s a beautiful duet between Joan Baez and Mercedes Sosa where amazingly Baez plays backup. Apparently they are singing a beautiful Violeta Parra song called Gracias a La Vida (which apparently is world famous). Here’s Parra’s own famous version of the song.

Apparently Ishkur finally revamped his guide to electronic music. In the 2000s Ishkur made this amazing interactive website which used flash player to help explain the evolution of different subgenres of electronic music. I’m pretty well-schooled in EDM, and I don’t know 90% of the artists or genres listed, so it’s a delight to rediscover a bigger and badder version of the original site.

Emusic Purchases

  1. Wisconsin Mining State by Thet Liturgiske Oswasendet
  2. Golden Voices of Africa by Miriam Makeba. 4.99, 67 minutes. I was hearing and watching the incredible music video Makeba by the French singer Jain (which she wrote in Makeba’s honor). Then, Pomelo Records has this and several other compilations (see below).
  3. Folklore Argentino by Atahualpa Yupanqui, 6.99, 140 minutes.
  4. Piano y voz con su orquestra by Mexican composer Agustin Lara, 40 tracks, 120 minutes, 6.50.
  5. Te recuerdo Amanda by Victor Jara. 27 songs, 90 minutes, famous Chilean guitarist and folk singer who was brutally tortured and murdered at the age of 40.
  6. Sus primeros exitos by Rocio Jurado. 6.49 60 minutes. Spanish traditional singer, with orchestra.
  7. Voodoo Chicken Shack & Dirty Blues by Southbound Snake Charmers. $4
  8. Albums by Quilapayun (long running Chilean folk band). I bought the s/t and Q3
  9. Albums by Violeta Parra (a Chilean folk singer from the 1960s).
  10. Walk with Me by Pepper Adams. 6.49, 1 hour. I fell in love with a budget jazz album (The Adams effect) by this saxophonist when I first signed up for emusic. That album fell from emusic, but luckily this one is still here.
  11. Very Best of Antonio Machin. Vol 1 and Vol 2. Machin is a Cuban singer and musician who recorded in the 1930s and 1940s. I thought Volume 2 had better sound quality and better songs.

Bandcamp Purchases

Freegal Downloads & Library CDs

  1. Outrospective by Faithless. British trip-hop band fronted by Dido’s brother. Also No Roots.
  2. Varios by Mercedes Sosa
  3. Various by Olga Guillot.

Robert’s Roundup #18 (April 2021 Edition)

View the Roundup series || View Raves & Reviews || Mike’s Likes ||  Read how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section || Commercial Disclosures

View Previous Roundup and Next Roundup (View All)

Abbreviations: KU means Kindle Unlimited, LE means that lending of this Kindle title is allowed, and APUB means it was published under an Amazon imprint.


The last 5 years has seen a revolution in ebook pricing, and the best way to learn about it has been deal newsletters. So far I have been looking at Bookbub, Bookgorilla, etc, but recently I’ve noticed that some deals are happening on publishers’ own newsletters. I actually read and enjoy Simon & Schuster’s newsletters — though it is true the deals are mostly in the 2.99-3.99 range.

On the publisher’s side, many authors have been using personal newsletters to promote their brand and publicize discounts. I’m in the process of creating a monthly newsletter for Personville Press (which will wrap many things up — including parts from this column). You can talk about whether it’s possible to keep up with so many emails from individual authors, but there’s no doubt that individual authors are likely to pass along deal announcements to subscribers.

After reading about the multiple scandals involving literary biographer Blake Bailey, I now realize (too late, I’m afraid) that I should have stayed in academia to write literary biographies. I certainly enjoy reading them and would have enjoyed writing them too. No matter. A good literary biography can include history, gossip, cultural history and even literary criticism. Frankly, when I read biographies of people from previous centuries, I am amazed at how much material is available for the author to cull through and how some biographers do it admirably.

Indie Author’s Spotlight


Smashwords Sales

(Skipping this time).

Ebooks published by Amazon Imprints

For a few weeks, Amazon had their World Novels promotion. Basically, they are publishing and promoting translations by distinguished authors from around the world. Here were their freebies for this year:

  • At the End of the Matinee by Keiichiro Hirano, Juliet Winters Carpenter
  • A Single Swallow by Zhang Ling, Shelly Bryant
  • The King of Warsaw: A Novel by Szczepan Twardoch, Sean Gasper Bye
  • The Strange Journey of Alice Pendelbury by Marc Levy, Chris Murray
  • The Son and Heir: A Memoir by Alexander Münninghoff, Kristen Gehrman

Some of the Amazon imprints produce very inexpensive ebooks of varying quality. Some titles though are superb — and you should check previous roundups for my recommendations — I frankly ignore most of the genre stuff and focus on the international authors and biographies. Follow this link to see which titles are 99 cents for the month.  (check previous columns herehere and here), so maybe my recs will be sparser than usual. All are KU APUB, (but not lendable!).

Under the Radar

Thin for Life: 10 Keys to Success from People who have lost weight and kept it off by Anne Fletcher (2.99). Use this for shedding your extra COVID year pounds. I discovered this 2003 book the last time I tried losing weight. Although Fletcher is a dietician, the most interesting thing about the book is how she identifies what behavioral strategies worked for successful dieters. Fletcher didn’t spend much time talking about nutrition or what to eat or how to exercise — and in fact, this makes the book still current today. I’m now trying to lose weight, and my first thought was go back and read this book again.

Invisible Pyramid by Loren Eiseley. 1.99

Emotional Rescue: Essays on Love, Loss, and Life–With a Soundtrack by Ben Greenman

Shakespeare’s Secrets – Romeo & Juliet: Essays and Reflections on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet by David Blixt.

Blink and It’s Gone Sales

Penthouse Uncensored series (I have to admit, I enjoyed reading one of these).

Leg over Leg: Volumes One and Two by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq. I spent $10 on this translation of a classic Arabic literary work. I only did this after realizing that I was willing to pay 9.50 for a used copy of this book, and then thought, why not pay 50 cents more and ensure that the author actually received the royalties?

An Event, Perhaps: Biography of Jacques Derrida by Paul Salmon. I can’t explain it, but I’m interested in biographies of significant people in the arts and literature. Perhaps intellectual history is more accessible than reading the works themselves.

Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr. Remarkably, I bought it after seeing this professor’s interview on Trevor Noah.

Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M. John Harrison (author website).

Heaven’s Edge by Romesh Gunesekera. Sir Lankan novelist. Mary Whipple comments,

Sometimes enigmatic and even a bit preachy, the novel is at once magical and nightmarish, full of myth and allegory at the same time that it offers haunting, cautionary tales about the past and the use of violence to change the present and affect the future. Echoes of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, the fall of man, legends about peacocks and leopards, and episodes telling the importance of love and respect pervade the novel, giving it immense color and depth. Clearly a pacifist, Gunesekera says, “The art of killing cannot be our finest achievement…Nothing is inevitable.”

Creative Commons — Academi/Public Domain

This is just a teaser, but I will soon be digitizing a monograph containing 3 public lectures from the 1950s by Robert Hillyer, Richard Wilbur and Cleanth Brooks. Apparently it’s in the public domain. Expect it next month!?

Once in a Lifetime Deals

There There by Tommy Orange.

Indie Titles/Other ebook distributions

None this time

Review Copies Received

None this time

Library books & Printed books bought (Better World, Amazon, etc)

Bought a haul from Better World Books this time.

Love, Life, Goethe: Lessons of the Imagination from the Great German Poet by John Armstrong.

Goethe: The Poet and the Age: Volume I: The Poetry of Desire (1749-1790) by Nicholas Boyle

Collected Stories by Carol Shields

Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems by Mark Doty

Terminal Experiment by Robert S. Sawyer. I enjoyed the TV adaptation of his Flash Forward book, so I’m trying to read his others.

Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. Called by several people the best sci author and this is his best book.

Starting Over: Stories by Elizabeth Spencer

Festival of Insignificance: By Milan Kundera. Crap, I just realized that I bought the wrong book. I had meant to buy the essay collection, Encounter instead. (I probably will end up buying it). Just bought it.

What Light Can Do by Robert Hass — essays on poetry

Hell or High Water by Joy Castro (college friend)

Question of Bruno: Stories by Aleksander Hemon. Also, Love and Obstacles.

Pomegranate Lady and her sons: Selected Stories by Sara Khalili. Autobiographical stories by Iranian woman from pre-Shah days.

American Poetry Since 1970: Up Late by Andrei Codrescu. Alternative anthology of Codrescu rounding up stuff by his friends. Some really off the beaten path poets here, including Lorenzo Thomas. (UPDATE: This out-of-print anthology is really good especially at the price I paid for it. Highly recommended!

Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami. Really looking forward to this. Story about a Muslim who explored the Gulf coast of America in the 1500s with Cabeza La Vaca (and based on real events!)

Also, I’m going on a diet, so I found two books on that: The Diet Myth: Why the Secret to Health and Weight Loss is Already in Your Gut by Tim Spector and The FastDiet – Revised & Updated: Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, and Live Longer with the Simple Secret of Intermittent Fasting by Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer. Update: Diet Myth consists of a series of articles on popular diet subjects for BBC. Well written and summarizes research well, but isn’t earth-shattering. FastDiet (in praise of intermittent fasting) is pretty innovative and very interesting, but is only one approach to the subject. (Here’s what Harvard School of Public Health has to say about it).

Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past By Simon Reynolds. Excellent musical and cultural history though a bit too cerebral about what should be a light-hearted and uplifting art.

Unknown Woman by Alice Koller

Suburb by the Sea by Robert Hillyer. I bought this to complete my collection of Robert Hillyer’s poetry.

Ebook Reviews


Literary Articles and Essays

Maria Popova has a wonderful short essay about the unrequited loves of H.C. Andersen. His permanent infatuation with Jenny Lind is well documented (aka, the Swedish nightingale), but apparently he had tender/erotic feelings for a man named Edvard Collin. In a related post, Popova writes of the intense relationship that Emily DIckinson had with Susan Gilbert:

To make art out of heartache is, of course, the most beautiful thing one could do with one’s sorrow, as well as the most generous — no artist knows how the transfiguration of their pain into beauty will salve another heart, give another sorrower the language of their own truth, the vessel for navigating their own experience.

Popova of course has a famous and wonderful literary newspaper which always amazes me every time I find time to read it. Apparently portions of Popova’s essays are found in the very expensive ebook Figuring (which despite the price is always something I’ve wanted or planned to buy).

Here’s a great elegy by poet Edward Hirsch on Adam Zagajewski: (Hirsch’s website and Z’s website)

Adam challenged those students. He chided them gently, “So you all have been writing a lot of small poems about small things. I would like for you to try something larger.” He assigned one class to write elegies to the 20th century. He made space for students to probe big questions with utter seriousness and depth. The course titles speak for themselves: The Imagination and Its Enemies. End of the Century, End of the World. Memory and Oblivion. Poetry and Doubt.

Here’s another fine obituary without a paywall.

He preferred to use traditional free verse (“Rhymes actually irritate me, a bit like the bell calling you to kneel in church”) and avoided poetic experimentations as his focus was on communication and understanding, yet still engaging in “a dialogue with the imagination”. He demanded that poetry tell the truth (“we write to understand the world,” he claimed), and once wryly concluded that “some French poets say Polish poetry is just journalism, because you can understand it”.

As an aside, I’m depressed at how expensive poetry books are. Apparently if you sign on with a prestige publisher, the price of your ebooks stay above $10. Who on earth has the dough to pay that much!? I have bought a few expensive poetry books in my day — usually they are collected poems, not individual titles. I remember that at grad school I paid $20 for a collected works of Richard Wilbur and another for Howard Nemerov. Also, one for Elizabeth Bishop. More recently, I paid $10 for a collection by Paul Otrembra, a young Houston poet who died recently. I suppose you could say that I’ve paid a handsome price for a nice bilingual collection of sonnets by Petrarch, a collection of Bhartrahari poems and Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry : From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century by Burton Watson. Maybe if the poet is extremely well known and beloved, I could justify paying 9 dollars, but even then I bitch about how expensive it is.

Literary Audio /Multimedia

U. Penn has an incredible website of poets on audio. Notable poets included here are Gertrude Stein, John Ashbery, Ezra Pound, Donald Hall, HD, Kenneth Rexroth, Ferlinghetti, Jorie Graham. Lots of names I don’t recognize, looks like there’s a NY/New England bias, but still just an incredible number of names here!

Here’s a brief and funny exchange between Neil Gaiman and Harlan Ellison about why film critics always blame the writer instead of the filmmaker.

Cool Things Coming Soon!

In about a month I should finally have created the Personville website. Shortly after that, I will have a gigantic book promotion of upcoming titles. Should be monstrously great.

Personville Press Giveaways and Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. You can buy DRM-free copies of ebooks from Smashwords (and often at a substantial discount over the ebook’s price on Amazon). Alternatively, you can buy ebooks from GoogleAmazonBNApple and Kobo. In May 2021 you can sign up for the Personville Press mailing lists to stay informed about upcoming sales and publications.


Social Media Dump: April 1-15

See also: March 17-31 and April 16-30 (View All)

How well do over-the-counter food allergy test kits? Not well, reports several doctors and a medical group.

Wow, funny, just realized that I am saving a lot of links on twitter instead of in my browser (or my blog!).

Immigration and Border issues are becoming big political issues again. Here’s an Atlantic piece about it:

Here’s a shocking but compelling story about the time Cicero defended a powerful man against the crime of assaulting an actress (thanks to Mark Oliver for writing this one up):

She lived with that memory to the end.

It was a cruel reminder that, no matter how much horror a man put her through, nobody would do anything to protect her.

But she’d done something. There’s no way she could have understood the significance of what she did, but she’d changed history.

Countless Roman actresses went through what she’d endured before her, and countless more suffered through it long after she died. But her story is the oldest one we’ve found of a woman like her standing up to a man like Plancius.

She didn’t get justice, but she lived to have her story told, and history remembers that she said no.

At the moment I have spent almost all day prepping my computer for a Windows Update. I’ve been trying for weeks to apply updates, but they’ve been failing. I kept delaying these updates until a convenient time. I actually spent a few hours updating a backup laptop which I used just in case my main PC fails to start.

Wish me luck! See you on the other side!

Whew! I’m back. Lessons from the whole updating experience:

  1. Windows is basically forcing your hand by not letting you choose which updates to apply. The only tool you have is pausing the Update temporarily and choosing not to do the optional updates.
  2. Some of the updates for the previous build just never worked. Then after I did the feature update to 20H2, all the other updates ran perfectly.
  3. The Update History panel has improved by breaking down Updates into several categories: Feature Updates, Quality Updates, Driver Updates, Definition Updates (for MS Defender) and Other Updates. Bravo, MS, well done.

For some reason, my computer would not sleep at all after the update. That is a big problem because it turns my bedroom into a heatbox. Aside from that, the noise is really really distracting for me. When the PC goes to sleep, my blood pressure literally goes down 10 points — even if I have music playing.

There’s a lot of outdated information on the web about how to solve sleep/power issues, but the short answer is that you run powercfg -requests in a Windows command window in Administrator mode; that will show what process is keeping you from sleeping. In my case, it was Windows Search; apparently something about the update forced a reindexing of all the files. All I had to do was to wait for this to finish (6-8 hours), and then everything worked peachy.

Another thing I accomplished: buying a webcam and a USB microphone. The webcam was a good-but-not-great Logitech; the microphone I chose was Razer Seiren Mini USB Streaming Microphone (Amazon) which some youtube guys raved about.

Jimmy Kimmel interviews 4 perfectly named people.

Youtube about Andy Rooney on why Ernest Hemingway was a jerk. FUN FACT: Andy Rooney and I took a class with the same professor while at college! Orson Welles has another fun anecdote — he narrated a documentary did in the 1930s about the Spanish Civil War, and ended up having a fisticuff with Hemingway.



Social Media Dump 2021: March 17-31

See also: March 1-16 2021 and April 1-15(View All)

Wow, that’s a first. I ended up moving a portion of this linkdump into a separate post. (See below). But what do I fill up the rest of my space with?

I’ll be getting my first COVID shot today. That’s worth a sentence (or two!).

US COVID DEATH RATE BY AGE: When compared to the risk of people 5-17 years of age, 18-29 years old are 15x more likely to die from COVID; 30-39 years old are 45x more likely to die; 40-49 years old are 130x more likely to die; people 50-64 years old are 400x more likely to die; people 65-74 years old are 1100 more likely to die; people 75-84 years old are 2800x more likely to die and people 85+ years old are 7900x more likely to die. What’s interesting is that the likelihood of getting COVID does not vary that much by age group; people 18-29 years old are 3x more LIKELY to get COVID than people 5-17 years of age; for all the other age groups, the risk of getting COVID is twice as high when compared to 5-17 year olds. (Data from Feb 2021)

I get my COVID shot Wednesday (first dose!) I’m excited. From NYT, here’s an interesting story about parosmia — losing one’s smell or experiencing phantom smells or awful smells while having COVID. Related but not the same: A long Brooke Jarvis piece about the Mysteries of Smell A long investigation and meditation about smell and what it means to us as humans. Jarvis is a science writer whose other pieces are here.

“KING OF THE HILL” RETURNS?!: BRENT FORRESTER, A TV writer & former producer for KING OF THE HILL tv show announced today (unofficially on a REDDIT AMA) that a sequel is in the works. QUOTE: “I am sure Greg Daniels and Mike Judge will murder me for sharing this but… HELL YES. They are in hot negotiations to bring back King of the Hill. The Trump administration made it suddenly very relevant again. The characters have all aged 15 years. The project is sooooo good. Okay I’ve said too much 🙂 ” My interpretation is that the project has not yet been greenlit but there is serious interest.

Speaking of which, I’ve heard rumors that Frasier might be coming back in some form. Also, I’m hoping — praying that they come up with that Community movie — or else I’ll be stuck watching reruns for the rest of my life.

This interesting analysis by anthropologist Jason Hickel suggests that using GDP to measure wealth and poverty in pre-20th century times is misleading. This leads to an excellent response to Stephen Pinker (who wrote the book, Better Angels which portrayed a generally optimistic vision of the current world in history).

My favorite quora topic: Why doesn’t Captain Janeway have to specify the temperature of her coffee, like Picard does with his tea?

I’m a little obsessed with the NBC Community show on Netflix. Here are some zany compilation clips on youtube: Annie’s gasping, Annie awwing and Community characters freaking out — here’s one of Annie freaking out. Here’s a compilation clip of “Anne Perkins” from Parks and Recreation.

Rothko Chapel documentary. It’s a little dull, but part of it is indeed the point (great external shots of Houston btw). For those who don’t know, Rothko Chapel is a great hidden secret in Houston; it’s next to Menil Museum and is a small meditation chapel which is nondenominational and based on Rothko’s dark solid color portraits. I’ve visited there several times; it’s a nice place to relax and be alone with your thoughts. I’ve also seen some small performances inside the building and some larger events outside — a Peace-oriented event with several Nobel Peace winners, Jimmy Carter and others…


Chevron vs. Donziger…. (continued)

This 11 minute video from 2019 talks about how CHEVRON/TEXACO got away with not paying for a 9 billion dollar judgment against it for polluting Ecuador and never cleaning it up. The human rights lawyer who narrates this piece has been under house arrest by a NY federal judge for 1.5 years — despite protests from Amnesty International, 55 Nobel laureates, and Marty Garbus (the lawyer who argued for Nelson Mandela’s freedom, defended Ellsberg, Andrei Sakharov, Cesar Chafez) etc.

From a recent interview with the head of Amazon watch:

“The real thing that’s going on here is Chevron is attempting to literally criminalize a human rights lawyer who beat them. He’s never been accused, let alone convicted, of a crime anywhere. And now Chevron’s machinations by Lewis Kaplan, this federal judge, and Preska, the judge that he has appointed, are on the cusp of turning him into a criminal because he didn’t comply with Kaplan’s outrageous contempt of court orders.”

And so, Steven Donziger, for Chevron, is a tactic. It’s a tactic for them to avoid talking about what they actually did, and have the world not look at what they actually did in the Ecuadorian Amazon. And what we want, as the human rights and environmental justice community, is for this new administration to check the corporate power that has manipulated the judicial system to turn Steven Donziger into an example of what will happen if you stand up to corporate power in the United States. And it’s a seriously chilling one.

Democracy Now interview, March 15 2021

An Intercept piece gives the full sordid history in the case.

“On the basis of (Judge) Kaplan saying, ‘I believe this witness; I find Donziger guilty of the crime of bribery of the judge’ — on the basis of that, he’s been destroyed. That is the pinnacle element of all of the other claims against him. And if you take that one out, the rest of them — they’re just not there,” said Charles Nesson, an attorney and Harvard Law School professor. “He has effectively been convicted of bribery by the finding of a single judge in a case in which bribery wasn’t even the charge,” Nesson said of Donziger. “I teach evidence, that you have to prove what you assert. But the proof in this case is the thinnest.”

Charles Nesson, Harvard law professor,

I’ve looked at some of the briefs on both sides and the various judgments. The bribery/RICO charges seem wild and incredible; also, it seems ludicrous to apply RICO to a case where a lawyer is trying to fund a lawsuit by promising to the law firm a percent of the amount recovered.

Leaving aside the case of Donziger’s arrest, several things about the case have been shocking:

  • Chevron’s attempt to change the venue from US and Ecuador and then after they lose after multiple appeals in Ecuador, they try to vacate the judgment through US courts:
  • The amount of money Chevron has paid in legal fees — and the legal tricks they have employed to drain the funds of the litigants and their attorneys. I saw one estimate that the amount of legal fees spent by Chevron to be over a billion dollars.
  • Kaplan’s judgement was shocking; but also shocking was that the judgment was upheld on appeal, and when it was appealed en banc to the 2nd circuit court of appeals, it was unanimously denied. Later, the appeal to the Supreme Court to grant certiori was denied.
  • After reading the evidence on both sides, I remain very skeptical that Donziger’s team was involved in any way in bribing the original judge in Ecuador. If anything, there was information sharing (sharing documents and undoubtedly copying and pasting parts of legal briefs). That is insufficient to establish a case of bribery, RICO and fraud. Donziger once said that sharing MS Word files was commonly done in Ecuador when drafting judgments. The Ecuadorian judge (who was actually well-respected in his home country and flown in to testify in the NY courtroom about how he made the decision) said that the case was gigantic and overwhelming, but he and his secretary did manage to draft the judgment without outside influence — though there was cutting and pasting where applicable.

I have a small personal connection to the case. My dad worked for Texaco in the 1960s and 1970s, and once my dad bought me 2 shares of Texaco stock as a way to help me learn about the stock market. Interestingly I remember periodically receiving a glossy stockholder portfolio containing corporate information and financial disclosures. I didn’t really understand it, but I clearly remember that the brochure includes photos of oil drilling in Ecuador several times. In the 1980s my dad (who had become a lawyer) and I were both filing the Penzoil vs. Texaco case which Texaco ended up losing a 10 billion judgment for not honoring a contract between Penzoil and Getty. Texas was egregiously in the wrong, and in fact their legal defense team was incompetent as well (for not disputing the damage claim).

In the 1970s Texaco was making a ton of money — and so were its competitors, but Texaco seemed to be the least law-abiding of the majors.

Last Christmas I listened to an amazing podcast series Drilled, where a podcaster tried to follow the long history of the case and interview the major actors. I know a lot of this already (following this case was almost an obsession with me over the last 20 years), but the thing that surprised me the most was an interview with an expert on multilateral arbitration about how awful it is and how easily corporations can avoid the civil and criminal courts on the country level. (See this great interview on S5 E 4 “THE SECRET TRIBUNAL” Oct 16 2020 corporate wrongdoers evade enforcement and how it makes enforcement of environmental lawsuits practically impossible. It even grants to corporations remediation by the government for changing their laws about multinational corporations. Wow, how convenient.


Social Media Dump 2021: March 1-16

See also: Feb 15-28, March 17-31

Outrageous! Emily Holden reports that gas companies in Texas have steered municipal power companies in San Antonio and Austin towards more reliance on natural gas and slower implementation of decarbonization plans. Climate change Emily Atkins wrote a column praising Holden’s articles, and I agree.

Thejuicemedia is an Australian-based video agitprop company which make “Honest Government Ads” — videos resembling corporate or official announcements. In fact these “press people” are in fact delivering cynical/condescending/paternalistic messages that make clear that the office is in fact pure evil. Everything is supposed to be satire, and this anti-Trump video . Also, you have why conservatives are incompetent at managing the economy. (Hint: it has to do with spending cuts, tax cuts and more subsidies for fossil fuel development).

There are a lot of Australian-themed ads (which is only logical and occasionally interesting to Americans — see this takedown of Kyoto carbon credits — wow! Recently they have been making revisionist history disguised as satirical tourist ads — See the ones for Puerto Rico, Hawaii and E. Timor.

Actually alongside these satirical ads are interview podcasts on Youtube with well-known liberals.

A GREAT REPUBLICAN! Sen. Bob Dole announced his presidential campaign on Letterman. David Letterman invited him back to the show a few days after he lost. Here he was relaxed, gracious, self-deprecating and very respectful both to Clinton and the institution of the presidency. Here is a man with class. He also is extremely funny too!) About a decade later, I happened upon a humor book edited and written by Bob Dole. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to.

COMING 2 AMERICA — FRIDAY ON PRIME! I am genuinely excited that the sequel to Coming to America will go on Amazon Prime this Friday…. It’s a nice and silly fairy tale with lots of great lines and comic performances. This sequel should be great as well.

Hadley Freeman writes a much-needed defense of Woody Allen after the release of the “true crime” style documentary of his alleged child abuse. I kept an open mind about the subject until the last time the scandal eeked out again 5-10 years ago. Then I read all the related documents in a single day. The investigation in the 1990s established that there was no evidence of child abuse, that at worst, Allen was a strange/neurotic (but loving) father, and that there was a good chance that Farrow was “poisoning the well” in her children’s minds. I’m sure Dylan believes that she was abused (and chivalrously, Ronan Farrow has come to her defense), but the film presents no new evidence, and I’m more inclined to trust the doctors and judges and investigators closer to the time of the event. What is true is that Mia’s charges have already wrecked a director’s movie career even if they were poppycock. I’m not that much of a fan of Woody Allen’s films (so I am not personally invested in whether he did it). But his account of events remains highly plausible to me — while Dylan as an adult seems to have adopted an unprovable claim which only hurts herself and her adoptive father in the long run. Ultimately to me the case doesn’t seem to be about sexual molestation than the use of an inflammatory accusation to pressure the court to refuse child custody to Allen. (Lawyer Alan Dershowitz was probably responsible for such scorched earth tactics).

Here is a long interview from Sun Yi Previn in 2018 . It criticizes many things about Mia Farrow’s parenting skills; and even if Sun Yi’s version of events includes a degree of self-interest, it’s hard to read it without concluding that Mia Farrow was a bit of a nut job herself and a bit too obsessed with children and adoption.

MOVIE RECOMMENDATION: Totally loved the COMING 2 AMERICA sequel (which premiered on AMAZON PRIME yesterday). It was exactly what I expected; a big Hollywood film with most of the original cast and lots of celebrity cameos. Jokes and snide references to the original movie were everywhere. The pagaentry was a feast for the eyes: great costumes and choreography and extravagant silliness. The soundtrack also could not be beat — a mixture of 80s classics and recent funk and comic songs. (like this song).

REVISITING SPINAL TAP: Here’s new footage of Spinal Tap which was used to promote it on SNL. Here’s video of Tony Hendra (who played the group’s music manager) about what it was like to be in the movie. Hendra — who was a British comedian with lots of experience had several major failures and letdowns before showing up at the set — and he found Spinal Tap so relaxing, so easy to improvise for, calling it “practically a documentary” of Heavy Metal fans who expected that kind of music to take over the world. Here’s a Moth story by Hendra about being a teenage Catholic boy seduced by an older woman.

Ebook /Technology blogger Nate Hoffelder has lots of “power user” tips for using gmail. Funny I’d been using gmail for a long time and hadn’t heard of many of them. RELATED: Nate rags on a new Dell laptop which gave him lots of grief.

I’ve been enjoying Ezra Klein’s NYT podcast . Some good interviews with environmental writer Elizabeth Kolbert (Feb 9) and productivity expert Cal Newport (March 5).

Speaking of which, someday I should write a post about my productivity habits.

BERNIE SANDERS AT THE MALL: You may already know that when Bernie was mayor of Burlington, VT in the 1980s, he used to take a camera crew out and ask random people about their outlook on life and put it on Public Access TV. Here’s a fun (and actually insightful) interview with 2 punk students at a shopping mall. Perhaps Bernie’s true calling would have been a talk show host in the spirit of Donahue or Oprah. According to Wikipedia, after the Department of State forbade unsanctioned contacts between US dipolmats/businessmen/journalists with USSR, Sanders set up a “sister city” program between a Russian city and his own.


Musical Discoveries March 2021 #3

See also: Feb 2021 and April 2021 (View all)

Many people don’t realize this, but many public libraries have a service called FREEGAL, which lets you download 3-5 albums per week for free. Their selection isn’t great and they often don’t let you download tracks longer than 10 minutes,

For Saint Patrick’s Day, I relistened to some albums by the Cranberries — and realized that I hadn’t heard their last few albums.

Capsule Reviews of my Collection

Here is an extremely pleasant and upbeat collection of Panamanian tunes from the 1960s and 1970s with an awesome and jamming accordion. I’m assuming that Espino plays the accordion and sings. The female singer is also lots of fun.

Musical Mystery Meat

Last month I mentioned how I regularly download this gigantic stash of audio tracks by all sorts of musicians who perform for South by Southwest. I was bowled over by Nigerian Afropop sensation Yemi Alade; here’s an infectious song bumbum (she also sings in English and Nigerian language), and almost all her songs have well-made vids. These songs are just about dancing as they are about the melodies. All the songs have a joyous — get off your feet quality.

Articles about Music

I have noted early about my love for the Ukrainian electronic-folk band Onuka who did this dynamite debut as the “interval act” during Eurovision. Here’s a nice interview of the lead singer Nata Zhzhchenko in a Kiev publication and a profile in Odessa Review. Lots to chew on in both articles, but delighted to learn that her husband’s band Maneka is on the same label, and the two frequently collaborate. Here’s a nice live concert (with a popin from Nata in the middle).

Maybe you already know this, but the song You Light Up My Life was written by a serial rapist named Joseph Brooks, and Debby Boone ended up having to re-record the song after the original singer for the movie soundtrack (Kasey Cisyk) refused to sleep with him, and Brooks wanted to take revenge. It got pretty sordid. Cisyk’s singing of the song was nominated for an Oscar for best song and won, but Brooks instead had Debby Boone perform it at the Oscar ceremony and removed Cisyk from the song credits in the movie and album. (She later sued and won. 3 decades later, NYC indicted Brooks for 90 charges of rape, and he killed himself before he got to trial). Strangely Debby Boone was in the dark about all this — and admitted that she was told simply to copy the original singer’s performance for the recording, and she sang it as if it were a religious song.

Here’s Cisyk’s version . It’s an excellent version and not very different from what Boone did. Although this was a definite low point in her career, she did a lot of singing in US commercials — and recorded a lot of Ukrainian folk albums in the 80s before dying of breast cancer. But you have to wonder, what would have happened if the version with the original singer was released and not Debby Boone’s version. For the record, my sister loved this song when we were growing up… and I couldn’t stand it….

Emusic Purchases

  1. Blow Up by Television. 6.99, 13 tracks, 82 minutes.
  2. Sale% by the Maneken. 61 minutes, 6.49, 14 tracks. On the Vidlik label (the same label that produces Onuka). Maneken is married to the lead singer of Onuka and kind of runs that band. Here he is doing Bruno Mars like pop stuff.
  3. Lost Art of Longing by BT. I have downloaded several BT albums. Great EDM stuff — very frenetic and energetic. This one feels slower, more relaxing, more like Robert Miles’ dream trance. This is great stuff to listen while taking a nap — never too intense or harsh — well, the remixes are somewhat more intense
  4. Sketches in D Minor by Hardy Tree, 99 cents
  5. Summer by Iorie
  6. Fiesta by Chick Corea. 99 cents, 5 tracks, 34 minutes.
  7. Gran Riserva by Dzihan & Kamien
  8. Singing through the Hard Time: Tribute to Utah Phillips. 39 tracks, 6.49 130 minutes. Nice performers of songs for an acclaimed writer of folk songs.
  9. Slugger by Sad13. 35 minutes, 11 tracks for 6.49. (BC page).
  10. Several releases from Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records: Make it Beautiful by Sara Lee (10 tracks, 48 minutes, 5$), Dilate by Ani DiFranco (same), Knuckle Down by Ani DiFranco and Binary (4.99, 11 minutes, 49 minutes). Will buy some more of that label later.
  11. Hofors 1975 by SBB, 1 hour budget purchase which seems like jazz fusion with a hard rock and drum sound.

Bandcamp Purchases

  1. Tough Love by Hamell on Trial. (BC, Pay What You want), Songs with an Attitude. Actually about half of his albums are PWYW. I really love the guitar jamming; these are real bluesy rock songs! Update: Ok, there’s some bluesy rock, but there’s also punk a la Violent Femmes. Versatile, never know what to expect.

Freegal Downloads & Library CDs

  1. Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple. Grammy winner.
  2. Bubba by Kaytranada. EDM Grammy winner
  3. Afro-Peruvian Classics. Great compilation.
  4. Roses by Cranberries — an album released shortly before Delores O’Riordan’s death.
  5. Revolutionary Love by Ani DiFranco. Hey I bought a few other DiFranco albums, I deserve this freebie!

Robert’s Roundup #17 (March 2021 Edition)

View the Roundup series || View Raves & Reviews || Mike’s Likes ||  Read how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section || Commercial Disclosures

View Previous Roundup and Next Roundup. (View All)

Abbreviations: KU means Kindle Unlimited, LE means that lending of this Kindle title is allowed, and APUB means it was published under an Amazon imprint.


3/7/21. The 1 week Smashwords sale starts today so I’ll do a quick search of quality titles and list them ASAP. I’ll add other non-Smashword titles as I go along. 4/1 I’m leaving the titles discovered on the sales even though most probably snapped back to the “normal” price by now.

Indie Author Spotlight

Paul Hina is a prolific author and poet who has been producing quality fiction and poetry for over 2 decades. My review of Other Shore is below. It’s hard to categorize an author on the basis of one book, but I think he inhabits the genre of short “pensive romances.” I already grabbed his Lavender Haze: Three Stories of Flirting with an Affair and Golden Boat. By some crazy coincidence, Hina lives in the same city as Jack Matthews (the author my Personville Press has been publishing). His ebooks are discounted semi-regularly on Smashwords and stay in the budget category on other ebook distributors.

(Read about indie authors profiled in previous months).

Smashwords Sales

First, Smashwords lets you search/sort by Publisher, which is really helpful. Here are the most interesting presses I’ve seen so far on Smashwords: Unsolicited Press | Fomite Press | Whitepoint Press | OpenBooks (interesting but overrpriced?), Bold Venture Press (republishes classic, pulp and genre fiction | Lethe Press | ReAnimus Press (established scifi press which republishes lots of things) | LDB Press | Black Opal Books | Propertius Press (too expensive though) | Atthis Arts | Leaf Garden Press (mainly poetry — see here). Also I would be remiss if I didn’t link to my own Personville Press titles — great stuff — all discounted!

I haven’t checked all these presses yet, but after superficial browsing, it appears that all of Unsolicited Press titles are heavily discounted. They publish mainly literary fiction and poetry, all of it great. Below are some interesting titles I haven’t seen or bought before. Keep in mind that I’ve recommended some other Unsolicited titles in previous roundups — see here and here. I’m guessing that these titles are also discounted.

  • Anne Leigh Parrish, What Nell Dreams, (Author website). Parrish is one of the literary stars on Smashwords and one of my favorite discoveries. The 3 other titles on SW are good also, but several other titles are Amazon only.
  • Tin Can House and Other Stories by Susan Pepper Robbins. Actually her earlier collection Nothing but the Weather has 2x as many words, so it must be twice as better — right?! Here’s an interview and a published story.
  • Biography of a Body by Lizz Schumer. (Author Website) Schumer is a young “Jackie of all Trades” writer who writes a lot of nonfiction for well-known publications and (according to her bio) does fiction and poetry as well (not yet published). Book excerpt and short video
  • And Yes She Was by Tsipi Keller. Keller is a Prague-born author and translator who lived in Israel and now Florida. No home page, but her fictionaut page lists a lot of fiction titles, books and bio (she lists a lot of European titles as faves). This title — the only one on SW — is about a disintegrating marriage.
  • Bread and Salt by Valerie Miner (author website). Story collection by a prolific author and Stanford prof of feminist studies. By the way, SW only has one of Miner’s books (1.99 this week). I just wanted to point out that Open Road Media promotes all her other books, so despite the high sticker price, her other ebooks gets regularly discounted to 1.99. Miner is a regular guest on podcasts (see here) , so you can see and hear her in several places. Here’s a page collecting reviews of her ebooks. Here’s one review of Bread and Salt: “she deftly moves readers across the seas with lush prose and razor-sharp insight. The collection’s stories celebrate the musical complexity of language while addressing real world themes of immigration, suicide, gun violence, and state terrorism.”
  • The Minors by Chris Ludovici , a novel about baseball (presumably the minor leagues). Here’s an author interview and a nice book review:
    “This is a character-driven story, and Sam and Nick and the others have the nuance and beauty that comes from genuine affection on the part of the author. Such writerly love is infectious; it only took a few pages for me to care about Nick and Sam. The story’s premise about the nature of people and adulthood is fundamentally compassionate; people aren’t bad, Nick contends, they’re “just stupid.” They make mistakes and stumble through their relationships. In The Minors, coming of age is the acknowledgment that no one has really made it out of “the minors,” that everyone is trying their hardest and there are good moments and bad moments to life.

I raved about Paul Hina‘s “literary romance” title (see book review below). He’s still been writing poetry and fiction, and his Smashwords titles are free this week.

Ever since I discovered Harvey Havel on SW, I’ve been interviewing him, writing book reviews and ultimately maintaining an active correspondence. His books are mostly free now this week on Smashwords.

Moskowitz Code by Joel Bresler (Humor book).

Ebooks published by Amazon imprints.

Some of the Amazon imprints produce very inexpensive ebooks of varying quality. Some titles though are superb — and you should check previous roundups for my recommendations — I frankly ignore most of the genre stuff and focus on the international authors and biographies. Follow this link to see which titles are 99 cents for the month.  (check previous columns herehere and here), so maybe my recs will be sparser than usual. All are KU APUB, (but not lendable!).

Under the Radar

Sorrows of Young Mike (KU, LE, 0.99 ), by John Zelazny (FB Page) Several years ago Zelazny wrote a modern retelling of Goethe’s Werther, using instead a horny college student travelling around the world. Intriguing premise — hopefully with a different ending than the original Goethe! He’s a music journalist who also published Past Deadline, his reporting one year from the Aspen Music Beat festival.

Lisette Brodey (author website) is a prolific California author born in Philadelphia who is also a super-blogger. To my amazement, she has 17 pages worth of interviews with other authors (several authors per page!) — which is quite a feat. (I can’t wait to browse through them). Lisette’s Book Page is here, and prices range from 0.99 to 2.99 on Amazon (LE, KU). In addition to writing a YA Paranormal series, she has written several ebooks for adults which are periodically discounted. I grabbed Crooked Moon about two friends who grew up in Philadelphia meet again 20 year later. Here’s an interview she did with blogger/author Deborah Nam-Krane about her story collection Hotel Obscure. Quote: “..(B)ecause I think that most of us have misconceptions/stereotypes about groups of people, no matter what the common denominator, I wanted to focus on this small population of people, bring them out of obscurity, and let their individuality shine. Too many people are hidden away in real life and categorized as someone or something very different from who they genuinely are.” Also interesting: Squalor, New Mexico (a mother refuses to talk about her sister around her daughter) and Sum of Our Sorrows, a tale of how a family tragedy affects one of the daughters.

Brodey worked in communications and acting both in NYC and California, so she probably met a lot of interesting people along the way. Almost forgot: Brodey produced a collection of her mother’s poetry, My Way To Anywhere by Jean Lisette Brodey.

Geek who Came from the Cold: Surviving the Post-USSR Era on a Hollywood Diet (Free!, KU, LE) by Leon Kaminsky

True Porn Clerk Stories by Ali Davis (99 cents, KU, LE). Hilarious first person tale of a young female comedy writer and performer who worked at a porn store in the 1990s. I read this a decade ago and laughed really hard. More recently, she’s been interviewed on Soundcloud . Highly recommended!

Built to Fail: The Inside Story of Blockbuster’s Inevitable Bust by Allan Payne. (99 cents, LE). In the 1990s Payne managed the San Antonio HEB video stores (called “Video Central” ) and later was hired by Blockbuster to turn around failing Blockbuster stores. This price probably won’t last, but I have people who worked at both stores in the 1990s.

Coldness of Objects by Panayotis Cacoyannis. (99 cent sale, KU, LE). (author website). I’ve corresponded briefly with this Cypress-born UK author — who is related to the famous Greek director. He’s written several acclaimed literary novels, and I can’t wait to read them (and dang, PC just released another one). This one is a Kafkaesque post-Covid political satire

Seeing the Grocery Store through Seinfeld Eyes by R. Scott Murphy. I definitely get the sense that humorist Murphy is trying to hang on Seinfeld’s fame by putting his name on the titles, but this is an earnest book of humous observations.

Blink and It’s Gone Sales

(books which go temporarily on sale for a day and then jump back to regular price; to hear about them, you generally need to set up price alerts on ereaderiq).

Edge of Reason by Julian Baggini (author website). He is the author of the readable classic Pig who wants to be eaten (which was used skillfully by a high school teacher I observed to get students into philosophical questions)

Apropos of Nothing by Woody Allen. 1.99 I bought it because I knew it would be a brooding but entertaining read.

Eros of Everyday Life: Essays on Ecology, Gender and Society by Susan Griffin (1.99). A feminist philosopher, whose book I read in the 1990s. She’s written several

Quirky: Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles and Genius of Breakthrough Innovators by Melissa A. Schilling. A great 99 cent bargain business book. Without even trying I’d read the first two chapters about Musk and Einstein.. There’s general insights here, but the lives depicted here are so iconic that it’s worth revisiting.

Writer’s Library: Authors you love on the books that changed their lives by Nancy Pearl, etc. 1.99 Why am I such a sucker for these books?

Creative Commons — Academic — Public Domain

Nothing here yet

Once in a Lifetime Deals

None this time

Indie Titles/Other ebook distributors

None this time

Review Copies Received

None this time

Library Books & Printed books bought (Better World Books, Amazon, etc)

I bought all of these books at bargain prices!

Cranky Uncle vs. Climate Change: How to Understand and Respond to Climate Science Deniers by John Cook. Book is a brilliant mind behind Skepticalscience.com which is used to fight conservative misinformation about climate change. He’s a great science communicator, as this video shows.

Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge EO WILSON BIOLOGICAL GENIUS

Calculated Risks: How To Know When Numbers Deceive You by Gerd Gigerenzer. GOOD BOOK ON STATS

The Apple Trees at Olema: New and Selected Poems ROBERT HASS — FAMOUS POET. Also, Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry by the same poet.

New Frontiers: A Collection of Tales About the Past, the Present, and the Future (BEN BOVA) I’ve always wanted to read more sci fi.

The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World by Carl Safina, ZOOLOGIST AND MACARTHUR GENIUS WRITES ABOUT NATURE — I READ HIS OTHER BOOK, BEYOND WORDS.

Unknown Masterpieces: Writers Rediscover Literature’s Hidden Classics (New York Review Books Classics)



Levee by Paul Otremba. HOUSTON POET WHO DIED IN HIS 30s 2 YEARS AGO.. read library copy – thought it was terrific

Ebook Reviews

Other Shore by Paul Hina (book cover)
I love this book!

Other Shore by Paul Hina (Author home page and twitter account)

In the novella “The Other Shore” Paul Hina captures romance and domestic drama with psychological nuance. He writes incredibly well and with tenderness about unique relationship situations and flawed but complex characters. The first novella in the volume is remarkable: a son of a famous poet returns home to mend his relationship with his dying dad and deal with his sexual attractions to a grad student at his dad’s department while dealing with his own rocky marriage. The story may have ended in a predictable place, but I really enjoyed getting to know all the people. My only “complaint” (maybe it’s a lament?) is that everybody is so rational and well-spoken that it’s hard to imagine them really fighting for long. This book is a beautifully told tale; it’s both a multi-faceted love story and an exploration of the protagonist’s ambivalence about marriage. Compare to DH Lawrence or possibly some realistic writer like Anne Tyler or Somerset Maugham.

Literary Articles and Essays

Salon’s Laura Miller interviewed Norton Juster about Phantom Tollbooth. (Juster died a few days ago, and remains one of my favorite authors).

Remember those wonderful Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) novels for kids. There have been many attempts to recreate the magic of those novels in ebook form — without much success. By accident I stumbled upon the Choice of Games website. Apparently some developers built a software platform and a programming language to make it easier to display CYOA games. These guys have been around for almost a decade; they publish CYOAs as mobile apps — selling them for about 5 dollars. Alternately you can create one of your own and host it on the User-made Games portion of the site. All apps are free for download, and you are allowed to read 3 chapters before they prompt you to buy the whole thing. I downloaded one CYOA and thought it was very well written. (I’m actually playing with the idea of writing one myself)..

Lauren Gross on the forgotten genius of Nancy Hale.

Nancy Hale’s voice has become a quiet and internal intelligence that over the past months I have begun to rely on; finishing the book gives me a gentle, bittersweet tang. She once said, according to her granddaughter Norah Hardin Lind, that the work of a great writer makes it feel as though we are “sitting on some cosmic front porch together, rocking, exchanging long, gratifying accounts of our happy or unhappy lives. At any moment the writer is trying to make it seem that the reader can break in upon the writer’s stream of discourse crying, Why, that is just the way it was with me!” Many times in reading for this volume, I had that same slippery sense of connection with a keen and perceptive mind that saw pieces of my life more clearly than I could. A small, ignoble part of me even wants to keep her as my own brilliant friend without having to share her with the rest of the world; a joy held secretly within the heart can illuminate a dark time or a difficult day, and there have been plenty of these for all of us in recent months.

Here’s an interview with author Joy Castro whom I briefly knew at Trinity University where we studied together. Here’s an interview with author Joy Castro whom I briefly knew while at Trinity University. She mentions taking an English course on Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, and Lawrence Durrell where classes met each week at a different bar. Wow, that’s a class I must have missed! (and besides, by that time, I was too preoccupied with European fiction to deign to read anything written by Americans — though those 3 did travel a lot….) Castro has written fiction — which I have not read, but would probably be interesting. She’s written several essay collections and several memoirs (including Truth Book, which was a harrowing tale about growing up in a chaotic Jehovah’s Witness family.

Literary Audio/Multimedia

If you have been reading this blog, you will know that I am working tirelessly to digitize a lost classic by Pulitzer-prize winning author Robert Hillyer (1895-1961). I can promise you, publication is less than a month away! Hillyer is mostly known for his poetry, but I never in my wildest dreams expecting to come across audio files of Hillyer reciting poetry at poetry events. Apparently U. of Delaware has hours of audio from his last decade of life. Hillyer reads a combination of famous poetry and his own. He also introduces his good friend Robert Frost to a poetry reading, which also is a treat.

Here’s a great TV interview with Katherine Anne Porter for a short-lived Day at Night TV show run SUNY in the 1970s. The interview show only lasted a year, but it had a nice guest list: Norman Lear, Irving Howe, Ray Bradbury, Christopher Isherwood, etc (too lazy to make the links)

Personville Press Giveaways and Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. You can buy DRM-free copies of ebooks from Smashwords (and often at a substantial discount over the ebook’s price on Amazon). Alternatively, you can buy ebooks from Google, Amazon, BN, Apple and Kobo. In May 2021 you can sign up for the Personville Press mailing lists to stay informed about upcoming sales and publications.


Social Media Dump 2021: Feb 15-28

See also: Feb 1-14 March 1-15, 2021

Glad to be with power again — whew! Out for 2 1/2 days. I know the snow and low temperature is not that unusual, but I was surprised at how long it took to get online. I spent most of the time reading, checking twitter, napping and counting the minutes (and the charge on my cell phone)……

“If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be antifa pretending to be a duck to make ducks look bad.” (random sarcastic political tweet found on Twitter)

I watched the nice documentary, FRAMING BRITNEY SPEARS (which I recommend). Spears had some great moments doing SNL comedy sketches such as this one. She was referenced in the most recent Saturday’s SNL sketch (played by Chloe Fineman here ).

Speaking of which, I was truly moved by Craig Ferguson’s 2007 defense of Britney Spears and reflection on the nature of “mean jokes.” Ferguson is really one of the funniest, smartest and flirtiest talk show hosts. He has his schtick and apparently all the leading ladies enjoy him.

Kids tell jokes on the David Letterman Show. “Is Mom tired all the time?” Here’s Dave with a 4 year old toothpaste “expert.” Here’s a hilarious Letterman sketch where he visits a letter writer to be weird.

PILE ON TIME? I’m no fan of Ted Cruz (in fact I disagree with him about on just about everything), but it’s crazy and humorous that people from all sides are getting on Cruz’s case about flying to Mexico during the subfreezing power outage. Don’t we have more important things to worry about?

I’ll go into detail later, but I am totally obsessed with the TV show Community which is on Netflix. More lately.

5 Trump Amendments has made to the constitution.

NETFLIX RECOMMENDATION: I’m not usually a fan of Judd Apatow’s movies or TV shows, but I’ve been loving the Netflix show called “LOVE” starring Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust. Both as a dramedy and a look into the underclass in Los Angeles. (Gilian Jacobs was a hilarious cast member in Community, but in this role she plays a toxic/addictive and sad personality).Apparently it was not renewed for a 4th season, but the first 2 seasons seem interesting, light-hearted and occasionally profound.

HILARIOUS SKETCH ABOUT AUTHORS (5 minutes): Here’s a brilliant sketch written and performed by Merrill Markoe — former head writer for the David Letterman Show (also an author herself). Here’s another live performance of a dog sketch which is one of my favorites.


Robert’s Roundup #16 (Feb 2021 Edition)

View the Roundup series || View Raves & Reviews || Mike’s Likes ||  Read how I compile this list. || How to Submit Smashword deals || How to Submit your own Ebook Deals in the Comment Section || Commercial Disclosures

View Previous Roundup and Next Roundup. (View All)

Abbreviations: KU means Kindle Unlimited, LE means that lending of this Kindle title is allowed, and APUB means it was published under an Amazon imprint.


I am creating this post at the start of the month and add to it over time. So for the first half of the month at least, this post seems fairly empty. By month’s end, there’s a lot more there. When I list a price, that means that I was able to buy it at that price, but if you are reading it days or weeks later, there’s a good chance that the price is no longer valid on Amazon or other places. But sale prices do return periodically; that’s why I set up Amazon price alerts on ereaderiq. They will email you when the price on a book reaches a certain price.

Indie Author Spotlight

(Read about indie authors profiled in previous months).

This month’s spotlight is on translator Chris Wen Chao Li (author website) who wrote an entertaining, scholarly and irreverent translation of the Analects of Confucius (1.99). I do a brief book review at the bottom of this blogpost. I provide a link to Smashwords, but actually What Confucius Really Said is available everywhere for the same price.

Sales on Smashwords

Wow, just noticed that Don Q Public by John Opsand Sutherland (author website) is now free. I blogged about this before — recommended!

Ebooks published by Amazon imprints

Some of the Amazon imprints produce very inexpensive ebooks of varying quality. Some titles though are superb — and you should check previous roundups for my recommendations — I frankly ignore most of the genre stuff and focus on the international authors and biographies. Follow this link to see which titles are 99 cents for the month.  (check previous columns herehere and here), so maybe my recs will be sparser than usual. All are KU APUB, (but not lendable!).

Halsey Street (0.99, APUB, KU) by Naima Coster (author website) is a

Under the Radar

Kapka Kassabova (author website) is a Bulgarian-born poet and travel writer who has written a lot about the Balkans (even though she writes in English and has traveled to many countries around the world. Bulgaria was always one of my favorite countries to visit (it was close to Albania where I lived, and I traveled there several times). I’m sure it’s gotten commercialized by now, but the vacation resort of Nesebar was very scenic and beautiful. I bought Street Without a Name: Childhood and Other Misadventures in Bulgaria at 1.99, but the other creative books also look interesting (alas, no discount)

Back at Poetry Parnassus, I discovered that the poet from Turkmenistan Ak Welsapar
lives in Sweden, and Nikola Madzirov, the poet from Macedonia lives, in his own
words, out of a suitcase. The poet from Australia, John Kinsella, is so opposed to
nationhood that he once asked for a Red Cross passport (he was denied it). When I
asked Christodoulos Makris, the poet from Cyprus who lives in Ireland, how he felt
about the Olympic thing, he said: Well, I could equally be representing Ireland, or
Britain. Many poets of course lived in their original homelands and wrote in their first
language. The point is, this Parnassian gathering was a mini-nation in itself: a nation
of Poetry. I was among my people – those for whom poetry is more important than
other things. I felt at home, because home, as the poet Christian Morgenstern said, is
where they understand you.

On the question of home, here is a haiku by the 17th century poet Basho:

‘Even when I am in Kyoto
When I hear the call of the cuckoo
I miss Kyoto.’

I’ve never been to Kyoto, but I miss Kyoto too, because this haiku is not a patriot’s
song, it’s a spiritual incantation. A yearning for the union of the material – which is
not enough – with the imagined. Kyoto chiming with the idea of Kyoto.

Paradise High by William Henning (99 cents)

War of the Roses by Warren Adler (Author Website) (99 cents) This novel was later adapted into a comedy film.

Rainbow like You by Andréa Fehsenfeld (author website and blog)

Blood and Wine by Katie O’Rourke. (author website and blog) 99 cents, LE, Arizona-based author whose books are about family melodramas, sagas, etc. 5 books so far, this one is about a runaway (good first chapter).

Blink and it’s Gone Sales

(books which go temporarily on sale for a day and then jump back to regular price; to hear about them, you generally need to set up price alerts on ereaderiq).

If you follow the literary world, you certainly know who Bradford Morrow (website) is. He’s a Bard professor who edits the long running litmag Conjunctions. He’s also a pretty good fiction writer — I’ve read things here and there and have a few BM novels on my tablet. I subscribed to Conjunctions about 20 years ago — used to love reading it. (Update: I think I might have subscribed to it in 1990 or 1991 when the mag was first coming out) The issues were not chronological, but just fat issues released 2x a year around a theme. The art was beautiful, and it was chock full of poetry too. Occasionally it published lots of theme issues (fiction around a certain theme — Exile, Other Aliens, Radical Shadows, New Wave Fabulists). Then the Internet happened and everything changed.

A few years ago Conjunctions started digitizing their issues and selling them as ebooks on Amazon. Price was typically 7.99, but 1)most of their issues are also on Kindle Unlimited and 2)they regularly are discounted to 1.99. (Conjunctions has been using Open Road Media to promote their issues). I basically set an author alert on Amazon and everytime something reaches $2 I buy it. This issues are gigantic (500 pages) and contain a nice mixture of contributions of grad students and well known names who were presumably solicited or offered by agents or publishers. In terms of value, I also recommend buying these — and really who cares when they were originally published? Most of the time, litmags are fascinating time capsules into the imagination of a certain generation.

Allison Lurie (who died last year at the age of 94) has written many fine books, and I’ve read two of them so far. Many of her ebooks are discounted often, and I just chose Imaginary Friends (2.99), which is about sociologists who infiltrate a cult for the purpose of research. Here’s the author website.

Creative Commons — Academic — Public Domain

None this time?

Once in a Lifetime Deals

None this time?

Indie Titles/Other Ebook Distributors

HUMBLE BUNDLE: I’m not entirely comfortable with comic books, but this $25 bundle of comics from indie artists sounds amazing. Some are sci fi, some are fantasy, some are adaptations of classic literature. Here’s how to view these things on your devices. Apparently the CBZ files are about 1/3 of file size of epub/PDF, and all the CBZ files are between 25-30 MB. For that reason Humble Bundle recommends adding them to your SD card on your tablet instead of uploading them. (Either you use Moon+ or Adobe Digital Editions to read).

Review Copies Received

Two Books by Clay Reynolds

Library Books & Printed books bought (Better World Books, Amazon, etc)

Tune In

EBook Review: What Confucius Really Said

What Confucius Really Said, Translated by Chris Wen Chao Li, 1.99 ebook, 2019, (Available on Smashwords, GPB, Amazon, etc).

Summary: A brilliant, inventive and original translation using contemporary idioms

I’d read bits and pieces of Analects in college, but found it dry and not as provocative as other classic texts like Chuang Tzu (for example). Then I encountered this wonderful and clever translation. It’s one of the most original and delightful translations of a literary work I have ever encountered. Here’s the conceit. Chris Wen-chao Li, recognizing that English-speaking readers might not understand the historical context of Analects, decides to translates all the aphorisms using U.S. slang and American pop culture references — as though Confucius were some hip comedian making snarky remarks about Obama or California on his Twitter feed. At first it sounds strange and almost irreverent, but after a while you get used to it and even enjoy it. After all, if Confucius were alive today, why WOULDN’T he be all over Twitter? I read a large chunk of this book on an airline trip and chuckled aloud multiple times. It’s hilarious! I’m sure Chris Wen-chao Li took tremendous liberties here, but the book provides ample footnotes about what the original text was like and what the original cultural references were. I cannot comment on the textual accuracy of the translations (though I did compare certain passages with David Hinton and others and saw nothing seriously amiss). But the English phrases are elegant, compact and always fun.

This was easily one of my favorite reads of 2019. It brings Confucius to life in unexpected and readable ways; it combines the best of both worlds: solid scholarship with a highly readable (and entertaining) text. The Confucius in this translation jumps off the page and seems more relevant than ever to adventurous readers.

Literary Articles and Essays

Must read books set in Los Angeles. If you haven’t seen it, Andrew Dansby wrote a great Best of Texas fiction column a few months ago (More titled toward recent titles, but still a good list).

Interview with Valerie Trueblood by Roxanne Gay. (Maybe I blogged about her before, one of my fave authors). Trueblood’s books are all at Counterpoint.

John Barth is 90; a former student reflects on his fiction and laments that his later novels have been ignored. (FYI, I studied under Barth at the JHU Writing workshop. I had a picture taken of me at a picnic with Stephen Dixon and John Barth. I remember I was wearing an extremely tacky shirt, but alas, I lost the photograph. I confess I haven’t read enough about Barth. Here’s a Lannon interview video with Barth.

Kafka Translator Stanley Corngold on Kafka:

Seven years later he died a terrible death from tuberculosis of the larynx. But he is a man of many contrarieties. For many years he visited brothels, swam robustly, climbed steep hills, and rode around the countryside on a motorcycle. He spent his mature days as a competent, highly valued in-house lawyer at a partly state-run institute for workmen’s compensation. There, he innovated safety devices for Bohemian factories and advocated the founding of a hospital for shell-shocked war veterans, which was a novelty. He had many interests, including gardening and reading Platonic dialogues with friends, but also social work, especially on behalf of war refugees from Eastern Europe.

Personville Press Giveaways and Deals

I run Personville Press, a small literary book press where all the ebooks cost less than $4. All the titles are discounted on Smashwords for less that price — and usually under $1.50. Pay attention to any 100% coupon codes which I occasionally list below — they can be redeemed only a small number of times, so first come, first serve. Smashwords only sells epub versions of these titles, but you can easily convert them to Amazon’s mobi format by using Kindle Previewer or Calibre.


Musical Discoveries Feb 2021 #2

See also: Jan 2021 and March 2021 (View all)

One of the funniest scenes from Schitt’s Creek was Alexis’ Rose wacky audition for a musical with her “hit song.” Here’s a live performance of her hit song with another Texas singer named Kelley. Even better is a folk-acoustic duet version starring Noah Reid (who also is an actor from the show).

Recently I’ve fallen in love with Brandi Carlile, especially the song Stranger at my Door. How about these lyrics!

I have seen the fire watcher’s daughter
Watching fires burn from smoke to black
There’s nothing she won’t burn
From Styrofoam to urns, to someone else’s ashes in a sack
You can scorch the metal, you can even melt the glass
You can pass the time here, fire lives into the past
An all-consuming flame, that refines and new begins
It’ll take your family heirlooms,
But it can take your darkest sins
It’s a good ol’ bedtime story, give you nightmares ’til you die
And the ones that love to tell it, hide the mischief in their eyes
Condemn their sons to Hades
And Gehenna is full of guys, alive and well
But there ain’t no hell for a fire-watchers daughter
We exercise the demons of the things we used to know
The gnashing of the teeth become the remnants of our homes
We think we’re moving on, from materials we long
To forget we ever sold our souls to own
There’s a chilling absolution that we’re given from our birth
A powerful delusion and a plague upon the earth
But nothing scares me more
Then the stranger at my door
Who I fail to give shelter, time, and worth
Let the good ol’ bedtime story, give you nightmares ’til you die
And the ones that love to tell it, hide the mischief in their eyes
Condemn their sons to Hades
And Gehenna is full of guys, alive and well
But there ain’t no hell for a fire-watchers daughter..

I don’t pay much attention to lyrics, but sometimes it’s fun to look up an English translation of lyrics to see what the hell the song is about. There’s an amazing Ukrainian song by a Ukrainian group Время и Стекло (Time and Glass). I looked up the lyrics online to find that the song was called Love.net (pronounced Love.nyet!)

No love dot net, no love and it is our final point
The curtains are drawn and light is switched off
no love dot net, I am not waiting for a call
I do not believe in love, no love dot net

For Franco’s song, sometimes the song has a very specific meaning: the outstanding song Azda is simply the music to a car commercial. Another song — the moving Kinshasa Mboka Ya Makambo (Kinshasa Town of Problems) is about friends who betray him. A rough translation online:

The same friends i used to work with want hurt me because they’ve lost their medals.
Please, authorities , grant them a medal so they won’t try to hurt me anymore .

(Musicians had been spreading lies about Franco’s life and career after his success). Franco’s guitar solos in both of these songs are just incredible!

Good live acoustic version of Sheryl Crow singing Love is a Good Thing. The yell isn’t as piercing, but it’s still cool and that song is just so dazzling — love that harmonica solo! Her voice is so versatile and expressive! Other Crow live versions: Gasoline/Gimme Shelter

Here’s a song by Japanese punk group Otoboke Beaver which can’t be unseen. Here’s another from these scream queens.

I’ve been listening to songs from a gigantic stash of songs from the South By Southwest bit torrent — the heroic collection and distribution of 1000s of songs by musicians who perform at that Austin festival. But 2020 was an anomaly. We had the torrent, but none of the musicians showed up! I’ve been collecting all 15 years, and I generally try to rank songs on a 1-5 scale. I delete the 1s immediately, but I keep the rest. After I finish rating all the tracks, I relisten to the 3s to decide if I want to increase their rating. The reason I do this is when I create playlists, I use only 4s and 5s — sometimes only 5s!

By far the hardest part about rating everything is listening to every single rap/hip hop song. That’s not my genre admittedly, but the average rating for the rap tracks is pretty low; it is painful to listen to all 150-200 rap songs every year. Some styles (the so called “Trap rap”) is choppy and more playing on sounds than the meaning of words. Sometimes the bass is really heavy and sometimes these rappers rely too much on autotuneAlso, some songs are laced with obscenities, expressions of violence or anger. I mean, a little of that is okay — especially if there’s a social message here, but sometimes it seems gratuitous or just hammy. That said, I do identify some rap songs deserving of a 5; I end up becoming a superfan of these artists. Here’s what I’ve found so far:

Musical Spreadsheet

In 2014 I decided to start a simple spreadsheet of albums I liked. I created a simple Google form which allowed space for a short review. I ripped/downloaded and listened to so much music that I needed to keep track. I haven’t been super-conscientious about filling it in or even writing trenchant criticism, but so far I have 416 reviews. This is just a small fraction of music I have listened to (and even loved), but generally I’ve hit the main discoveries since that time. The simple fact is that it’s hard to keep names and albums in my head — especially for indie albums or instrumentals.

Filling out the form has been useful. It has forced me to try to assign categories to music and to look up basic information (such as when I downloaded it and reviewed it). Actually, the biggest challenge has been to describe the music in a memorable way. For a classroom exercise for English learners, I would play mysterious pieces for students and ask them to describe it metaphorically – using familiar language. I provided helpful vocabulary, but I realized at the time how hard it was to do this. For a nonmusical type who hasn’t studied music in any way, you can’t throw in musical terms (and maybe you don’t recognize what a chord progression is or even what instrument is even playing). Even lyrics can be hard to decipher or understand the meaning of (Luckily there are multiple lyric songs and lyric translation sites…not to mention Google Translate). But I’ll be honest; I don’t pay all that much attention to lyrics whose language I actually understand. While living overseas, I realized that the best thing about country music was that you actually could understand and appreciate the lyrics. That’s not nothing.

Reviewing albums is hard, and frankly I don’t see how Robert Christgau or the writers at Pitchfork do it.

Brief Reviews of my Collection

Morskaya (Nautical) by Mummiy Troll (1997): Quirky, fun and Russian rock album by a goofy singer who looks like Mick Jagger but sings strange/nonsense lyrics in a relaxed /sarcastic way like David Byrne. Mummiy Troll has survived the Russian music scene for 20+ years, but this album has staying power — esp with Utekay and Zabavy. The rock band’s arrangements keep it lively and rocking — with certain effects — like the guitar reverb for the refrain of Zabavy. This album doesn’t impress at first, but I’ve keep coming back to this 1997 album.

Laurie Anderson’s Homeland (2010): Another series of great fine poetic songs for a hybrid-avante pop album. Melodies still have occasional pop resonances (Bodies in Motion), albeit with subversive political messages (Only an expert) and Eastern spirituality. There’s a lot of stillness, long pauses, subdued violins and slow-motion chanting — with occasional gongs to mark time. Despite the vocals, the energy comes from the violins and eerie reverberations from god-knows-what. Songs are soothing, but troubled and dissonant. The only song my ears couldn’t tolerate was a slow-moving 11 minute chant-story with sound effects (and sung with a deeper voice). The songs keep returning to the decline of America and civilization(Dark Time in Revolution). Novices to Anderson’s oeuvre might find the songs plodding, but I found  them intense and all-enveloping. I don’t think anyone is doing this kind of thing in the pop world (maybe Suzanne Vega or Yo Lo Tengo), but I am finding echoes of Brian Eno, Philip Glass and John Cage.

Law of the Playground by Boy Least Likely To. These upbeat lyrical songs seem lovely, deliberately insubstantial, with the simple hummable melodies you’d find on a kid’s show. Underneath that are sophisticated arrangements with banjos, electronic toots, , an emphasis on concrete images from childhood (balloon, butterflies, worm, lemonade). The vocals seem a little too airy and muttering (and possibly monotonous?). Group with Mike Viola or Eliot Smith.

Firewatcher’s Daughter by Brandi Carlile (2015). Lovely mix of upbeat country rock and lilting ballads. It’s melancholy and wistful. That pounding energy reminds one of Johnny Cash (especially STRANGER AT MY DOOR which is chilling and very poetic — also BEGINNING TO FEEL THE YEARS). The band knows how to belt out some tunes, and the singer feels country at times (Allison Moorer) and at other times more contemporary (like Sheryl Crow or Bonnie Raitt). As a song lyricist, Carlile’s talent is unsurpassed (somewhat introspective, but more cautionary and story-oriented), and all of the tracks are unadorned enough that they’d probably sound even better as live performances.

How Can We Be Silent by BarlowGirl (2007). BarlowGirl sing epic Christian progrock with soaring electric guitars and heavy metal drums. It has the full symphonic sound of a Boston or Metallica, feisty chick energy (Heart) and generally upbeat song lyrics. The vocal harmonies emphasize the power and unity of the message, and there’s enough slow lyrical parts to showcase the great singing chops of Alyssa and Lauren Barlow. Despite the limitations of Christian message music, these songs are refreshingly original, would definitely appeal to teens of all persuasions and the studio arrangements are divine. I have to wonder how these would sound in a pared down performance. Update: It needs to be said that I love almost every BarlowGirl album — but that group has long since disbanded.


Sorry to hear that jazz great Chick Corea has passed away. Unfortunately it reminds me of the time in the early 1990s when I won free concert tickets from a radio station. After I picked up the Chick Corea tickets, I asked a girl I had recently met at a college mixer to come along. She said yes and we agreed to meet at a cafe so we could drive together to the concert. As it happens, on the evening of the concert, the girl “forgot” and wasn’t home to hear my phone message asking where the hell she was. So no Chick Corea concert for me. That night I learned a valuable dating lesson: if you are asking someone on a date to a concert, you should ALWAYS meet them at the concert venue so if the woman ends up flaking, you can still enjoy the concert! Here’s a Tiny Desk concert from 2016.

Emusic Purchases

Okay, even though I know that browsing through emusic is a pain in the neck, I’ve decided to pay for another $200 credit (costing $75) to keep downloading away. I rationalize it by saying that there are a few quality labels still there that if worse comes to worse, I can just buy out their inventory.

  1. Journey into the Sun Within by Travellers. 5.49, 6 tracks, 52 minutes. (review) Outstanding prog-rock from the Polish Metal Mind label. Wojtek Szadkowski from Satellite formed this amazing one-time band.
  2. Nostalgia by Satellite. 7 tracks, 57 minutes, 2.99. More from Wojtek’s original band.
  3. Live by Alpes, 4 tracks, 20 minutes 99 cents.
  4. Whoop Dee Do by Muffs, 6.49, 37 minutes, 12 tracks. Muffs are a great punk bad led by Kim Shattuck (who died in late 2019). Released in 2014 (after they had their moment in the sun and also after Shattuck finished her 6 month stint with the Pixies), this well-received album stays lively and silly — and yes, there’s a lot of screaming. This was their last album, but it feels as fresh as what they were pumping out in the 1990s