2/15/13

Every Day an Intriguing Novel that Probes Identity Questions


 EVERY DAY  (20120
By David Levithan
Knopf, ISBN 978-0307931887
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Remember the movie Groundhog Day in which Bill Murray’s character got stuck in a repeating loop in which each day was a fresh February 2 no matter how the previous day ended? Author David Levithan takes this to another level. What if you had no body of your own and every day of your life you inhabited someone else’s body and memories for exactly one day?

Every Day is classified as a young adult novel, but it’s a bit like The Hobbit or The Hunger Games series in that it’s well written and can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. Its protagonist is certainly among the most elusive of recent literature in that he/she/it is, by most measures, a rather typical 16-year-old who simply doesn’t exist corporeally and has no memory of ever having done so. For sake of organizing its own conscience independently of its hosts, it calls itself A, but it doesn’t spend a lot of time working a detailed identity. A has no control over where it will awake or inhabit. A has been male and female, straight, and gay. A has awoken inside athletes’ bodies, a Beyonc√© look-alike shell, those of corpulent slobs, and those of drug addicts. A has been rich and poor, of different races, and a non-English speaker.

If you were A and had never known any other existence, would it seem odd to you? Would you try to break the cycle? Probably not, unless something snapped you to another level of awareness. In A’s case, it’s an encounter with Rhiannon. In the most typical of all sixteen-year-old experiences, A has fallen in love. Rhiannon is in a bad high school romance with a jerk named Justin, whose body A used and reformed for a day. Can A express love for Rhiannon? Once A thinks about it, who would believe such a story, let alone put up with the logistical problems associated with being with someone whose physical presence changes every day? Moreover, A has learned to erase (most) of the 24-hour memories of his hosts and adheres to a strict non-interference policy. In other words, A has always been a good houseguest. But there’s something about Rhiannon that calls A back to her. Can he violate his own code? Would doing so trip unleash chaos theory’s butterfly effect?

The novel is mostly about A’s relationship with Rhiannon, though it’s also a veritable sampler of the variety of sixteen-year-old minds. What is A? An alien? A demon? A trill √° la Star Trek? A higher level of consciousness? A 24-hour virus? A parasite? Or just a normal 16-year-old who simply happens to have no body? Are there others like A? You read and you decide.

I steamed through this book is just two sittings. Is it a YA book or something else? The only label I’d slap on it is “intriguing.” --Rob Weir

2/13/13

Walter Strauss Guitar Virtuosity

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Walter Strauss
Planet Solitaire
Self-Produced
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Walter Strauss is dedicated to stretching the guitar’s boundaries, most recently through explorations of African music. On half of Planet Solitaire’s tracks his guitar emulates the kora. “Djimbashe” is a real tour de force, with cascading showers of notes, twisted and bent strings, and accented rhythms flying out of his hands. Africa meets Europe on “Gypsydish,” with the Spanish guitar melodies linked by fleet ngoni-like runs. Later he captures the feel of the tambura on a remake of George Harrison’s “Within In You Without You.” He even serves some country blues in a jazz-laced reworking of Woody Guthrie’s “The Great Historical Bum.” Both guitar and vocals are dreamy in ways that command close listening and occasionally feel unapproachable in their virtuosity and moodiness. But the talent speaks for itself.--Rob Weir

Strauss and local artist Jonathan Stevens will appear at the Signature Sounds Parlor Room on February 21.

2/11/13

Do Not Try This at Home

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Memories of the Winter of 1981

Alas, not the kind of VW I drove back in 1981! 

As those of us on the East Coast dig out from under the snows deposited by Storm Nemo, I am reminded of the winter of 1981, when I did something very stupid. If it’s not the dumbest thing I’ve ever done, it’s in the top two.

I was a high school social studies teacher in northern Vermont back then, a job I really loved (except for dealing with parents). But one day made me consider a career as a banana grower in Belize. To say that big snowstorms don’t faze Vermonters is akin to saying that police officers kind of expect that some people will break the law. If you live in that part of the world and you let snow get you down, you live in a state of constant anxiety from roughly mid-October to mid-May. I lived ten miles from the Canadian border and if less than six inches of snow were expected, local radio announcers forecast “flurries.” Teachers knew it took at least ten inches on the ground with more falling before schools would be cancelled.

It was a Friday toward the end of a February. It had already been a “tough” winter–Vermont understatement for the kind of cold and snow that would drive lesser mortals to the loony bin. Moreover, as any teacher will tell you, Fridays are not the optimal teaching days. Lots of us did review sessions, audio-visual presentations, and free-form discussions on Fridays–anything to distract our charges from the reality that the weekend began at 2:45 pm, not 8 in the morning. There was no reason to expect that this Friday would be anything unusual–a few flakes were falling, but so what? Except that by the time the buses starting arriving at around 7:30 the flakes were getting bigger and they were coming down exceedingly fast. And they kept coming.

By 10 am more than six inches of new snow had fallen and teachers and students alike were checking out weather updates. “Yup,” one of my colleagues proclaimed, “The radio says it’s gonna be a big one. Maybe more than three feet.” A foot of that had already fallen by lunchtime. Surely schools would be closed and they’d send us all home. Except “they” didn’t! Some faculty members quickly decided it would be a good idea to sit with the kids at lunch, something we often did anyhow because–no matter what the Tea Party tells you–most teachers really like their kids. But this time it was all about crowd control. Put bluntly, the kids were bouncing off the walls and we teachers were thinking, “Uh, oh–prime food fight conditions.” I recall grabbing the arm of one of my students who was about to launch some spaghetti and saying to him, “Hey man! What are you doing? Your mom works in the cafeteria and she’ll have to clean up this mess.” A quick, “Sorry Mr. W–wasn’t thinking,” and we were cool, but it was the longest single afternoon of teaching of my career. Forget the zombie apocalypse; my students had been transformed into little anarchists, each just waiting for me to turn my back before lighting the fuse and tossing a bomb. I did everything I could to distract them–jokes, videos, impromptu discussions about how local decision-making worked…. I recall that I actually showed one class a filmstrip (remember those?) hiding in the back of my desk; it was titled “Your Friends in the Tungsten Industry.” I invited students to come up with their own snarky commentary (and pretended not to hear anything NC-17).   

The only concession made to the weather was that the administration allowed teachers to leave the same time as students instead of staying an hour later to close up shop. By then it was hard to tell how much snow had fallen, as the winds had picked up–just perfect for my three-mile commute along the open banks of the Lamoille River and up the steady hill to my road. I had a VW Rabbit back in those days, more of a snow sled than a snowplow. It weighed less than a ton even when loaded with four adults. It took nearly an hour to navigate to the foot of the hill, which I inched up knowing that if, at any point, I began to spin, I’d have to back down and start again. I made it, but the day had taken its toll and I was fried. Then came the last horror! I turned on to my dirt road and beheld a driveway buried under approximately two feet of virgin white blanket.

It seemed so rational at the time. “I’ve had it!” I thought. “There is no frigging way I’m shoveling this sucker until morning.” The Greeks had a word for such defiance of the gods: hubris. Did I heed it? That would be no! I carefully backed up my car to the end of the road, dropped the transmission into drive and gunned the engine. I made an abrupt sliding turn into the driveway, sheering a spray of snow in several directions. The next thing I knew, I was staring at the sky as if I were Neil Armstrong inside an Apollo space capsule. My maneuver served only to lift the front end up the VW straight into the air with about 4 feet of snow resting under the car. I opened the car door and tumbled down my stupidity-built cascade.

The next step was to call a colleague who knew about cars and ask him if it was okay to leave the VW aimed at the moon. After he stopped laughing, he told me that would be a very bad idea as I had probably compacted snow around the engine block. That needed to be removed he told me, or the hoses would probably freeze and break, as might the radiator or perhaps even the engine block itself. By the way, he advised, I had to be careful to shovel the car level so that it came down evenly and not with a jolt. It was vital that I level the car and take a broom handle and gently tap away as much snow as I could from vital working parts. Need I tell you that the moon was high in the sky by the time I finished? I would add that it was also the moment in which I also decided that I didn’t want to be an astronaut. But Belize sounded like a good idea.--Rob Weir