Category Archives: reads

Celebrating books and the written word. Featuring book reviews and more.

Adventures in Record Collecting

Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting by Eilon Paz

There is something beautiful about a record collection. This book captures that perfectly with amazing photographs. Every picture has a quotation that gives us an inside glimpse into the collection itself and the mind of the DJ, music lover, radio host, or musician. It’s vinyl porn with a purpose.

William “The Gaslamp Killer” Bensussen says, “Even after the apocalypse you could still get vegetable oil and run two tables and speakers. That’s what I hope to be doing at the end of the world – spinning all this wonderful music, dancing, and being in love.” 

I have no idea how that would work. I am sure there are ways to power a turntable with conventional activity. You could manually spin a record and it would still produce sound, so this is a very romantic idea.

Rich Medina suggests getting plastic sleeves to protect your collection. He admits that they are expensive but “totally worth it for preserving the cosmetic and sonic integrity of your stash.” He has damaged records and learned this lesson the hard way. He believes in protecting your records in as many ways as possible and closes with this thought, “the record you disrespect in storage will soon embarrass you in front of a dance floor.”

There is plenty of discussion in the book about classic samples including this one. Do you recognize this from rap songs?

I love everything about this book. I read it from cover to cover even though it begs for you to open it up randomly and discover something new. There are great interviews with Questlove, Giles Peterson, Four Tet, Joe Busard, and more.

Let’s close off with this thought, “Records are time capsules. They’re emotional, spiritual, energetically bound pieces of vinyl. They were cut with force and energy, not by a programmer.”

My List of 2018 Reads – a continually updated account of everything I read this year (coming soon)

5 Storytelling Secrets from the Masters of Radio

Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio by Jessica Abel

I love the art of radio. The power of this medium is absolutely incredible. I listen to all sorts of broadcasts from hip-hop mixshows to interviews to spoken word shows. That’s why this book jumped out at me when I was scanning the bookshelves at the public library. Storytelling secrets from the masters of radio. I want to know what those are.

I pride myself in creating great radio programming. I do in-depth interviews with musicians and in so doing, let the artists tell their stories through their music and the conversations we have around their discography.

Jessica Abel loves radio too and it’s obvious from this book she has created. It’s a graphic novel exploration of what goes into making narrative radio shows that use personal stories to explore greater ideas and issues. She speaks to writers and creators of some of the most popular radio shows in the genre including; This American Life, The Moth, Planet Money, Snap Judgement, Serial, and more.

I like this mix of art and information in this book. It’s an easy read that illustrates things that might have been a little difficult to describe in text alone. Here are some of pieces of the text that resonated with me. I think they will help me make better radio in the future.

1) Compose Logs of the Interview Tapes

Ira Glass says, “A log is like a transcript, but less exact. You don’t need every word. You can type ot handwrite. They key is: you want to take notes on what’s in the tape without every stopping it.”

I have tons of interviews in the can. I have transcribed some of them but have many more that I just can’t find the time to do. I can take the time to listen to them all once though and create some logs. Then I will be able to use those logs to create anthology shows of themes that keep coming up in my interviews, This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Now, I have a strategy to help make that happem.

2) Place Your Microphone Correctly

Mic Placement – “Make a recording with the mic 4”, 8”, and 12” from your mouth, Listen. When the mic’s closer, your recordings sound richer, with more frequencies present, with less hum of the room. When you ask a question, point the mic back at yourself. Otherwise, the question won’t be loud enough on tape. At the end of the interview, record a half minute of room sound, without anyone talking; you’ll need this editing.”

3) Use Music Cues Effectively 

“Sometimes there’s obvious music cues, like, somebody will introduce a new character, or they talk about some event, or some feeling, and you bring in music which speaks to that in some way . . . and sometimes you bring in music where there isn’t an obvious cue and create a beginning. We start music where a sequence of action begins or starts to build. It adds to the drama.

… and you always take out the music when there’s a big idea that you really want people to pay attention to. You lose the music so it stands out.

This! I had to learn this by trail and error, but it is so profoundly true: if there is music under a person speaking, an then it stops, whatever is said next is really powerful, it sounds more important. It’s like shining a light on it.”

4) The Importance of Signposting

“Signposting – You’re being told, ‘This is the important part. Notice this. Remember this.’

Why signpost? – The hard, hard thing about radio is that if you take a step that the listener doesn’t follow, it means they can’t concentrate on the next thing and if you can’t concentrate on the next thing the person is saying, then you get even more confused and never catch up.

So one moment like that can derail the story. You have to be entirely positive that people are following you.

Signposts are crucial. But they’re one of the hardest parts of the story to write with the help of an editor. . . . The moment when the listeners are sitting in the middle of the big landscape of information and they’ve lost their way, is the moment where you as a storyteller failed.

And sometimes it’s as simple as saying, OK, look, this is going to get a little bit tricky, but just stay with me. It’s going to take three steps, But it will be worth it.

Right before something happens, drop in a little phrase like, “and that’s the moment when everything changed…” or “”and that’s when things got interesting.”

Those phrases are like little arrows that tell the listeners: Pay attention to what’s about to happen, because it’s important.

5) Places to Find Out More About Radio Online – huge site full of information on how to make radio. – a collaborative database of Creative Commons Licensed sounds that lets you download and share sounds.

Soundsnap – a library of sound effects and loops. Pay per use or subscribe

A Great Read!

I really enjoyed this book. I might have to look for her previous book: Radio: An Illustrated Guide by Jessican Abel and Ira Glass. And maybe even try this form of storytelling. I’t quite captivating.

My List of 2017 Reads – my annual reading log with links to every title I read

Doctor Who Comes to Life on the Page

Doctor Who - Weapons of Past Destruction

Doctor Who – Weapons of Past Destruction

I miss the 9th Doctor. This book reminded me of why I used to love seeing Chris Eccleston in the role of the title character. The artwork is amazing and Cavan Scott has penned a tale that feels like a Series One episode. I could hear Chris’s voice coming off of the page. I laughed out loud at few times and reveled in the total experience.

I like that the book tells a story that we wouldn’t have seen in the television show. The special effects are larger than life and would have been quite expensive to produce on film. This is where graphic novels have immense power. The universe is wide-open, as it were. It’s a huge canvas that the creative team of Scott, Blair Shedd, Rachael Stott, and Anang Setyawan utilize brilliantly. I highly recommend reading this. I want to find more of this series and keep experiencing more adventures with the Ninth Doctor.

Doctor Who - Four Doctors

Doctor Who – Four Doctors

Four Doctors, and one of them isn’t the 9th Doctor. We don’t actually find out who this surprise Doctor actually is until late in the book, so I won’t spoil it for you here.

It was nice that the 50th Anniversary television special featured the current Doctor, Peter Capaldi in the final scenes (even if only for a moment). Here, we get to see him interact with the 10th Doctor, David Tennant, and the 11th Doctor, Matt Smith.

This book doesn’t evoke the same feelings I had when watching that television event, however. The story seems a little bit forced and it doesn’t come to life in the same way the book above does.

IMG_7010 (2)

Free Comic Book Day – Four Doctors 

Many of the free comics you are able to get on Free Comic Book Day are simply teasers for books yet to be released. Either that, or they give you a snippet of a story so you will have to buy an additional book to continue reading it. This book has a complete story and it features four incarnations of the Doctor. It’s an even better story than the one above. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The only problem with it is that the Doctors don’t interact with each other. It’s one story that takes place over four lifetimes, as it were.

Doctor Who - The Eye of Ashaya

Doctor Who – The Eye of Ashaya

This was a fun book that brings back a few characters from the 10th Doctor’s era. It was really nice to see Christina De Souza again.


And this book reminded me how much I miss Amy and Rory too.

It was also cool to see a character who was introduced during David Tennant’s run as the Doctor getting the chance to meet Matt Smith’s incarnation.

All in all, it was a nice trip through Space and Time this week as I read brand new Doctor Who adventures.

My List of 2017 Reads – my detailed reading log for the year

5 People Write Every Pop Song Heard on the Radio

The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory by John Seabrook

Everything changed though back in 1992 when Ace of Base was unleashed on the world with their debut album, The Sign.

There wasn’t anything spectacular about this band. They might not have gone anywhere if it wasn’t for a broken car stereo.

A music producer played their demo tape in his car and wasn’t impressed with it. He probably would have ejected it and not given it a second thought but his car stereo had other ideas. It wouldn’t eject the tape. And there was no way to switch back to the radio when the cassette was engaged. As such, he was more or less forced to listen to the tape over and over again.

One day, after multiple listens, Denniz Pop heard something in it and decided that he would produce them. He majorly overhauled their songs and created something that would have lasting effects in the world of pop music.

He created Cheiron Studios with Tom Talomaa and with the success of songs like The Sign and singles like All That She Wants and Don’t Turn Around they went on to produce and create some of the biggest pop artists the world has ever seen.

Max Martin is the one of most prolific writers in pop music history. He has written a produced dozens and dozens of number one hit songs. You can probably sign along to every one of these hits even though you may have never heard his name before now. There  is only one song writing team ahead of him when it comes to hits and he will probably surpass them soon. I am talking about Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

There are several other Swedish hit factory teams that have written co-written, and even manufactured some of the biggest groups over the past thirty years. It’s no secret that Backstreet Boys were able to ride the success wave for boy bands created by New Kids on the Block. I always hated the song writing of their songs, however. The lyrics barely made sense but apparently they didn’t have to. The world ate it up and the Backstreet Boys became the biggest act in the world.

The producers knew that someone would copy their formula and offer some competition to them.  They thought, if someone is going to do it, it might as well be us. So, they created NSYNC, used the same producers, song writers, and management to create the rival group.

I found this tidbit fascinating. I assumed that NSYNC was an answer to the Backstreet Boys. Lyrically, their songs seemed to make more sense and they even appeared to be more authentic. They were on different labels and the songwriting teams and production machine were pretty invisible, so this was easy enough to assume. However, they were manufactured in the exact same way, produced, and even managed the same.

It’s unfortunate that song writing has been reduced to a formula and that only a handful of producers are responsible for almost everything that we hear these days. I guess that explains a lot. Pop music songs are rarely distinguishable from one another. And people in the background continue to get paid exorbitant amounts of money to churn out these hits.

The reach of these Swedish writers is absolutely incredible. It seems as though they have written every major pop song twenty five years. Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Maroon 5, and even Taylor Swift have had some of their biggest hits written by the song factory machine.

I have to admit, I am a little disappointed that Taylor Swift used them for her latest album. She used to be an original voice and now sounds like every other act on the dial. Of course, I still enjoyed her album. I knew she wrote her own songs and assumed nothing had changed.

Overall, this was a fascinating read. John Seabrook turns forty years of music history into a narrative that entertains and sheds light on this hidden song writing factory. I recommend checking it out, and maybe looking closer at songwriting credits. You might be surprised at what you find.

My List of 2017 Reads – 36 books and counting

The March Trilogy is Complete

March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

This is the final book of a trilogy series that focuses on the challenges and horrors faced by those in the Civil Rights Movement as they fought to be recognized as human beings and awarded the rights that go along with that. It is told by one of the movement’s most pivotal figures, John Lewis.

In March: Book One we get to see him finally see the day when a black man could become president. It’s a touching moment to see him interacting with Barack Obama and reflecting on the long journey it took to get there.

The story is horrific and I have a hard time believing that these atrocities were happening only fifty years ago. It’s amazing to see the strides that were made with the non-violent protests that were staged. The men and women who fought the injustice and poor treatment of their race didn’t take up arms. They didn’t retaliate any of the violence that they were shown. They simply stood up and demanded to be taken notice of. It truly is inspiring and I am glad this story has been told.

March (Trilogy Slipcase Set)

The entire trilogy is now available in a slipcase set that includes all three books in a beautifully illustrated case.

My List of 2017 Reads – with links to detailed posts on every title I read this year

Running Can be Terrible and Wonderful

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by The Oatmeal

When I saw this book, it called to me almost immediately. I love running and the title and art were quite compelling.

Now, first off, I have to admit that I am not a long distance runner. I run for less than 40 minutes at a time. Generally, I cover anywhere from 5 to 10 kilometers during one run. This is often referred to as “middle distance” running.

The author of this book runs much further than that. He opens the book with a story of running an ultra-marathon that took him 11 hours. I have always thought that long distance runners were slightly crazy. What would make someone push themselves to that extreme? Why not stop at a respectable distance or time-frame?

The Oatmeal, who is a person (I always thought that it was simply a satirical website), explains exactly why he runs. He does so with humour that made me laugh out loud a few times. The art and words are married together in a seamless way. Once you start reading it, you will have a hard time putting it down. I read it in two sittings but could have done it in one.

My wife saw how much I was enjoying the book and asked to read it too. That’s unusual because she has tried reading some of my graphic novels and really doesn’t like the medium. But she liked this book. I think you will too.

The author shares one of my philosophies when it comes to running – run outside and find a loop.

I regularly look for new places to run outside. I explore trails and have documented quite a few of the, here.

And I continue to write a book review for every title I read.

My List of 2017 Reads

Invincible or Infamous Iron Man?

Invincible Iron Man – Vol 1: Reboot

Tony Stark has new armor and it is truly remarkable. There is a stealth mode, it can change colour, and it is incredible easy to get in and out of. Unfortunately Pepper Potts is not at Stark Industries anymore and Tony doesn’t have anyone to rely on to run the business.

Invincible Iron Man – Vol 2: The War Machines

Mary Jane tried to get away from super-heroes. She moved to a city where she thought she’d just could open up a night club and live a normal live. But fate had different plans for her.  A demon invaded her venue and it took Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and Victor Von Doom to stop it. That’s right, Doctor Doom. He seems to want to help, but Tony doesn’t trust him at all.

With Mary Jane’s club destroyed, she reluctantly starts to work for Tony, and he is very lucky to have her on the team.

Invincible Iron Man – Vol 3: Civil War II

The second super-hero Civil War is a major crossover event that spans almost all of the Marvel monthly titles. The main story was quite well done, but there are pieces of the story missing if you only read that and then jump into this series.

I wish the book editor had put a few notes in this story to fill in some of the knowledge gaps I had. This volume pretty much assumes you know what is happening in the MCU (Marvel Comics Universe) and I didn’t.

That being said, having read the Civil War trade paperback and the Miles Morales Spider-man arc, I pretty much knew what was happening (for the most part).

I was really surprised to see this series come to an end as well. It will be continued in the next volume of the title and start again with Issue #1. I don’t see why either. This could have continued in an on-going series instead of a limited run volume.

Infamous Iron Man – Vol 1: Infamous

When Tony Stark went undercover and let the world believe he was dead, Victor Von Doom decided to step up and become the new Iron Man. In the three graphic novels above, we can see that he had been trying to turn over a new leaf. But it is hard to trust that he is not up to his old Dr. Doom ways.

Ben Grim aka The Thing of the now defunct Fantastic Four certainly doesn’t trust him and will do whatever it takes to bring him to justice.

I was hoping this title might have been as good as Superior Spider-man when Peter Parker’s arch enemy, Doc Ock took the mantle and was determined to be the best Spider-man yet. It’s not quite as good, but it does have some potential. I am curious to see where this title goes next.

It’s nice to see Bendis and Maleev working together again. Their iconic run on Daredevil is still one of my favourites.

My List of 2017 Reads – my annual reading log (continually updated)

Digital Daredevil

Let’s get caught up on some Daredevil reading, shall we?

Daredevil / Punisher – Seventh Circle

The Punisher is trying to exact his own form of justice on a criminal who is set to stand trial in Texas. Daredevil would rather let the legal system decide his fate, however. So, he tries his best to get the mob boss there and prevent Frank Castle from murdering him on route. Of course, if the mob boss really is guilty, then he would likely be subject to capital punishment. Either way, this man is as good as dead and the Punisher would rather make sure it happens than wait for the court.

Daredevil – Road Warrior

This digital comic brings Daredevil to life in a way that a regular comic cannot. I read it on the Marvel Unlimited app which allows you to tap the screen to advance to the next panel. The artists made great use of this feature by overlapping elements, showing motion between frames, and illustrating what Daredevil sees through his enhanced senses. The story involves his beating a Man Bull and then pursuing a man who has no heartbeat. It’s a four issue series that was very well done and a great read.

Daredevil – Dark Nights

Matt Murdock battles an intense snowstorm that plays havoc with his senses. Petty criminals take advantage of the blind man in a storm and rob him. Injured, he ends up in the hospital and learns about a little girl who needs a heart transplant. When the helicopter crashes, he takes it upon himself to go back out into the cold to retrieve it and save her life.

The second story features Misty Knight, who you might be familiar with from the Luke Cage television show. She has a bionic arm for some reason in this one. But her and Daredevil make a great team.

Daredevil / Deadpool – Annual Vol 1

This story wasn’t really anything special. I’m not a big fan of Deadpool in the comics. I enjoyed the film version, but very comic I’ve read by him so far has fallen kind of flat. This one is no exception. Typhoid Mary is the villain in this one. If you enjoyed her in the regular series, you might like this follow up.

My List of 2017 Reads – comics, novels, and more

Hip-Hop Formed in Clay in an Amazing Way

What is Hip-Hop? by Eric Morse and Anny Yi

This book is incredible for so many reasons. It celebrates hip-hop in a way that shows respect for the art and culture. It not only pays tribute to some of the pioneers of the art form, but it does so in a way that is quite entertaining to both young and old.

Eric Morse breaks down the history of hip-hop by recapping some of the artists and innovations we have seen over the past forty years.

In the beginning,
there was a beat
Two records spinning,
and the crowd got on its feet.

It might be hard to believe but that is the essence of hip-hop right there. It started with the DJ and the goal was to simply get people to dance. It moved to huge heights after that simple start and it’s nice to see that we are at a point in time where we can look back and celebrate those humble beginnings and see where we’ve come.

Anny Yi’s art really put a smile on my face. She beautifully captures the essence of hip-hop in her sculpted clay-art dioramas.

I love this spread. LL Cool J is dressed in his old school gear with the iconic radio from his album of the same name on the ground beside him. The background brings to life the visuals we saw from one of his biggest hits, “Mama Said Knock You Out.” The mama is question, his grandma, is even in the scene.

Of course, we have over forty years of history to cover and a typical picture book can only begin to scratch the surface. But some of the stories and legends that don’t get told are represented in the inside cover.

If I was reading this to children, I would tell them stories about Rick Rubin’s brilliant production and how it captured the true sound of hip-hop as heard on the stage. I would tell them about the business savvy of Russell Simmons, and how MC Lyte and Lauryn Hill can rock the mic like no one else.

My only criticism of the book has to do the rhyme scheme. I mentioned this in the last picture book I reviewed. It’s okay for a picture book to not rhyme every single line. Also, this is a book about hip-hop, so I think the rhymes should reflect what is heard on stage and in the records. So the A-B-A-B rhyme scheme that starts off the book seems wrong. Thankfully, it did move into the more familiar A-A-B-B rhyme scheme quickly.

There is one small error in the book, the author seemed to attribute a Queen Latifah song to Krs-One. I understand the sentiment. They both preached unity, but only one of them spelled it U.N.I.T.Y.

It ends with a prediction of the future that remains true to the past.

By now the culture’s spread
to every corner of the globe
. . .
But hip-hop remains, deep down at its heart
a unique expression, and urban form of art.

Make sure you pick up a copy of What is Hip-Hop?

when it drops on September 5th

It will be available wherever you buy books.

My List of 2017 Reads – novels, comics, memoirs, and more.

Sonya Sahni and the First Grade

Sonya Sahni and the First Grade: Its International Day! by Soma Mandal and Tim Williams

Having a foot in two different worlds can be difficult for anyone. Even more so for a kid trying to figure out how to fit in with her friends at school and please her parents at home. Sonya tries her best  to do just that in this bright, colourful picture book.

Sonya doesn’t like that her parents push her Indian culture on her. She wants to assimilate into American life and not have to worry about traditional clothes and food that looks and smells different from her peers.

She doesn’t understand that it’s important to acknowledge who she is. She doesn’t have to give up her heritage to fit in at all. To help her see this, her teacher decides to celebrate all of the cultures in the class on International Day. The students fly two flags that day. Sonya sports an Indian flag in one hand and an American one in the other. Her fellow students do the same thing with flags of their ancestry.

The teacher worked with parents to make sure different foods were available for everyone to try. Sonya saw all sorts of different foods that didn’t look like the regular lunches her fellow classmates bought or brought. She started to appreciate the differences and embrace her own heritage.

It is very important for children in our classes to see themselves reflected in the texts we have available. That is why I will be proud to add this to my classroom library.

One criticism I have of this book is that the entire story is written in rhyme. There are times where this seems forced. This story could have been told without the consistent end rhyme. It might have even been more powerful that way.

My List of 2017 Reads – continually updated with every new book I read this year

Teaching Tip Archive – over 200 great tips, tricks, lessons, and inspiration from my classroom to yours.