Category Archives: reads

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

Iron Fist Finds Himself

Iron Fist – The Trial of the Seven Masters

This is the first Iron Fist comic that I have ever read. It’s not the first time I’ve come across the character, however. I have read stories that featured him in several different titles, but I never really got into the character. I enjoyed the Netflix series though, so when I saw this book at the library, I figured it was worth the read.

It starts out with Danny Rand being in a rather low point in his life. He hasn’t been able to access his chi for a while but still feels the need to fight, so he goes into several underground fight clubs. He wins but still feels empty.

After one of these fights, he is approached by a fighter with skills that appear to equal his own. He gets invited to a tournament on an island he has never heard. Urgent to find himself again, and with very little options, Rand agrees and follows him to the island.

Will Rand find himself once more, or is this secret island society using him for some purpose?

This was a good read. It hasn’t sold me on the character though. I am not left eager to read more of the title. But I would like to see a second season of the Netflix show.

My List of 2018 Reads – coming soon

Toronto Sounds Terrible (And it Shouldn’t)

Toronto Sound: Vol. 1 – A Memoir of the City’s Rising Producers by KLFTN

I was really looking forward to reading this book. As a hip-hop historian, I wanted to dive into the history of beatmakers and producers from Canada. The cover art is amazing and looks great when the book is completely unfolded. Unfortunately, that is the only thing impressive about it.

Don’t get me wrong, the stories in this book are ones that hip-hop fans in Canada should know. They are just told in a way that is flat and boring. I had to stop reading the book due to the blatant grammar errors that distracted me from both the history and the stories. It is really difficult to read a book that has not had any editing or polishing done to it.

Horrible sentence fragments like this one, “Then the labels would pay attention with the exception of Beat Factory” are used throughout the book. Unnecessary words, awkward phrasing, and persistent grammar errors made it impossible for me to enjoy the book. I had to stop reading it.

I wasn’t sure that I should even write about it here on my blog. In fact, I have been wrestling with this for months now. I thought perhaps I could come back to it later and see something worthwhile that would allow me to continue reading. Unfortunately, it really is a terrible book that would have benefited from having an experienced editor or co-writer shaping it into a book worthy of publication.

The book covers thirty years of hip-hop history with a focus on the groundbreaking event series “Battle of the Beatmakers.” Superstar producer Boi-1da began his career at the very first edition of the event back in 2005. He took home top prize three years in a row and went on to create some of the biggest records to come out of Canada.

It would have been nice to have been able to read about the event and how it helped shape young producers. It did a great job in developing the scene and giving producers a chance to grown their skills and showcase their talent. These kinds of competitions have become even more popular in the last several years. Canada’s history in it is fascinating as well. Unfortunately, this is not the outlet to tell the story. Either that or a major reworking of the book is necessary.

Since the book has “Volume One” in its title, and I hopeful that they will be able to craft an improved second chapter with a new writer, co-writer, or editing team. If they do it right, I will read it. If not, it will end up in the recycling bin (which is where this one belongs).

My List of 2018 Reads (coming soon)

My List of 2018 Reads

I like to keep track of what I read and I think this is a great platform to do that. I blog about every single book I read, keep track of the number of books and the genre, and put them all together in a annual reading log that I update frequently. This is the 2018 edition of my personal reading log.

I hope that you will find it useful as well. Maybe you can learn about a book you would like to read. Perhaps I can influence  you to read something you might not otherwise of read.

Since starting this series back in 2012, I have read, on average, 65 books a year. This includes graphic novels, teaching-related books, non-fiction, and novels.

Let’s see how I do this year.

Happy Reading!

NOVELS

Mr. Mercedes

GRAPHIC NOVELS

coming soon

TEACHING RELATED BOOKS

coming soon

WRITING BOOKS

coming soon

MUSIC RELATED

Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting
Hip-Hop DJs
Toronto Sound: Vol 1

NON-FICTION

Start With Why

MEMOIR

coming soon

Total Books Read in 2018: 5

Always Start With Why

Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Remember when Oprah gave away a car to everyone in the audience of her talk show?

Do you remember what car she gave away?

Or even what brand of car it was?

My guess is that you do not.

According to Simon Sinek, this is because this giveaway didn’t tie in to what the company was all about.

Sinek writes, “For a message to have real impact, to affect behavior and seed loyalty, it needs more than publicity. It needs to publicize some higher-purpose cause or belief to which those with similar values and beliefs can relate. Only then, can the message create some lasting mass market success . . . Why the stunt is being performed, beyond the desire to generate press must be clear.”

The Oprah car event benefited Oprah because she seemed to really care about her audience. She was generous on her program often. This stunt fit into her “why.” It was what her show was all about. Conversely, no one was sure why the car manufacturer donated their cars. It didn’t make sense to their “why” and so their role in the stunt was forgotten.

Creative Zen vs the iPod

“Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player but it clearly ruled the market and completely eclipsed the original creator and manufacturer, Creative Technology.”

Creative is responsible for the Soundblaster audio technology that enabled home computers to have sound. This was a huge development in home computing and paved the way for the iPod. The curious thing is that Creative came out with a much superior product well before the iPod was launched.

Apple didn’t introduce the iPod until nearly two years after the Creative Zen entered the market. “Given their history in digital sound, Creative is more qualified than Apple to introduce a digital music project.” So why did they fail?

Here is the answer . . . We didn’t feel the need to own an MP3 player until the iPod had become popular. Apple gave us a reason to have such a device, whereas Creative simply told us what their product was. The very succinct phrase, “1,000 songs in our pocket” was all we needed to buy in. The why was there and it was very apparent.

I didn’t know this history at the time, but did a lot of research before buying an MP3 player. I decided to purchase a Creative Zen because, for all intents and purposes, it is a superior product. Creative could have ruled the market if they had put forth their message of why instead of what.

This was an interesting read. It is something that I have known in education for some time. If I want to motivate students, I need to teach to a sense of purpose. The students need to know why we are doing what we are doing in class. This helps them buy into the work and enhances learning. Maybe starting with why is what we all need to do.

My List of 2018 Reads – coming soon

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

Transom.org – huge site full of information on how to make radio.

Freesound.org – 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.

IMG_7011

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