Play It Like It’s 1986

0385368267.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell ★★★★⅓
Source: National Library OverDrive Collection
Narrators: Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra
Edition: Listening Library (2013), Unabridged MP3; 8h56
Original publication date: 2013

When new girl Eleanor shows up on the school bus one day, things start out very badly for her when nobody wants to make room for her, even though there are still plenty of empty seats left. She’s overweight, has long wild curly, very red hair and is dressed pretty strangely, and though this is 1986 and new wave music and punk rock rule, her kind of weirdness just doesn’t fly. Park happens to be a misfit of sorts too, being the only half-Korean in an otherwise all-white or black Omaha, Nebraska, though he’s managed to fly under the radar with strategic friendships and alliances, and he’s not sure he’s willing to compromise that for the new girl, but he can’t help himself from wanting to help Eleanor when he bluntly tells her to just sit next to him on that first day, and there she’ll sit henceforth on their daily trips to school and back. He doesn’t find Eleanor attractive exactly, but for some reason, he starts sharing his beloved comic books with her, like the Watchmen series, and then introducing her to some of his favourite music like The Smiths and The Cure and Alphaville and Elvis Costello (and the list goes on and on as the book progresses).

Eleanor has never heard any of this music, so he makes her mixed tapes, but in her typical brusque way she refuses to take the first one, till he finally figures out she’s refusing because she has no way of listening to it; she then just as rudely refuses when he helpfully offers to loan her his Walkman, till his kindness and insistence wear her down. They’ve soon got a friendship going, based on all the things Park likes, including many more mixed tapes, which prove to be a salvation for Eleanor, because her home life is a living hell. Her mother’s taken up with a violent alcoholic called Richie who doesn’t hesitate to hit on his wife on a whim and threaten Eleanor and her four younger siblings with unnamed injuries. They’re so poor they don’t have a phone in the house, in which the bathroom and the kitchen share a space and aren’t even separated by a door. To add to her misery, Eleanor is being bullied at school, persecuted by one of the most popular girls, and then regularly finds disgusting pornographic inscriptions on the covers of her school manuals which she has no idea who could be putting there.

As friendship progresses to declared love, Park invites Eleanor into his home. Eleanor knows the respite she finds there with his parents, who slowly come to accept her despite her strange appearance and awkward ways, can only be temporary, because her parents, and especially Richie, are bound to find out about this relationship, which over the months she’s been passing off as time spent with a fictitious girlfriend, and she also knows without a doubt there’ll be a price to pay when Richie finds out. Only, things keep getting better and better with Park, who fills her life with music and makes her feel things she never knew she had the capacity to feel before.

Many people on LT raved about this book and I remained skeptical about whether I’d like it too since YA fiction doesn’t always do it for me, but it ended up being a big winner. I happen to be the same age as our two main protagonists, so was just as influenced by most of the music which is mentioned in the book (The Smiths were my all-time favourites back then), and though I thankfully never had the kind of nightmarish home life Eleanor has, I could definitely identify with her feeling like the odd girl out and the bullied misfit at school. Rainbow Rowell writes sensitively and realistically about what it feels like to be a teenager and to experience first love and complete bewilderment and fear, all this in a way that also makes for compelling reading. She also has an interesting take on the parents, who each deal with challenging life situations in their own individual ways, some showing willingness to grow and evolve, and some, not so much, just like real-life people in other words.

***

This book ended up causing me to spend a small fortune on iTunes. I haven’t been listening to much music of late because am constantly plugged into audiobooks, but I was compelled to create my own “1986” soundtrack and made lots of new additions to my golden 80s oldies collection. I partially based myself on Rainbow Rowell’s own playlist as posted on her blog; music which inspired her as she wrote the various scenes of the book, then added a few from a list the songs mentioned in the book. I added to that all my favourite Smiths songs missing from my catalogue beyond How Soon Is Now (I’d forgotten how arty the music video was), like Shout by Tear for Fears, which was a huge deal when it first came out one day at school, when everyone just went nuts over it, banging on every available surface. Added too a nice serving of The Psychedelic Furs and other music from Pretty in Pink, and a bunch of other music I remember listening to back when I was 16 (The Cure anyone?) And I can’t believe I’ve survived with only 3 Suzanne Vega songs up to now! (Fixed). Not sure when I’ll make time to listen to it all, because audiobooks really are my thing lately, but I’ll make time for it here and there; Alphaville’s Forever Young and A Flock of Seagulls’s I Ran (So Far Away) while I was walking in the sun with Coco happily running around in the park yesterday really made my day.

Currently Listening To…

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On audio, picked up The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir last night. No big shock that after completing the Matthew Shardlake Dissolution series, firmly set during King Henry VIII’s reign, I’d feel inspired to pick up a work of non-fiction on the big man’s women, especially as Harry’s last 5 queens are featured in the novels rather prominently. I’m now at the point where Catherine of Aragon has just been married to H8’s older brother Arthur, Prince of Wales and the question of whether the marriage was likely consummated or not has just been covered. Fascinating stuff, in light of my fairly recently acquired interest in the Tudor era, ever since I picked up Wolf Hall exactly two years ago, and now just finished all five voluminous Shardlake novels in under 4 weeks… a record for me in more ways than one.  I’ll be putting down my thoughts on books 2-5 soon and posting mini-reviews about them, and will have to be patient till book 6 comes out later in the year.

Woke up from nearly 2 hours napping, with a pleasant tune playing in my mind, which I’d been singing to myself in my most recent dream as I traipsed around a lovely make-believe home I shared with my mum. Probably inspired by the fact that after reading my recent review of The Cuckoo’s Calling, she was inspired to send me a link to a Joan Baez song she used to listen to when I was a child called When You Hear Them Cuckoos Hollerin` (link to YouTube clip). My dream air was just two bars of music, and I’m fairly sure they are of my own composition, which I tried singing to myself when I awoke, and I must say, thought I’m no kind of singer, do sound rather lovely and timeless (in a moody medieval/folk kind of vein). If I could remember how to take down music scores, I should put it down for future remembrance.

You’ve got to listen to this!

I’d never heard of The Idan Raichel Project before, but Kerry, a friend on LibraryThing has been quietly posting some links to great music on my LT thread lately (including The Hobbit’s Song of the Lonely Mountain).

The following directly from the The Idan Raichel Project site:

The Idan Raichel Project burst onto the global music scene in 2003, changing the face of Israeli popular music and offering “a fascinating window into the young, tolerant, multi-ethnic Israel taking shape away from the headlines” (Boston Globe).

Idan Raichel, the creator and leader of the Project, began his musical journey by inviting collaborations from artists of different generations, multiple ethnicities and singing in languages as diverse as Hebrew, Spanish, Arabic, Amharic and Swahili. The resulting albums shattered sales records in Israel, made Raichel his country’s biggest musical breakthroughs, and sold over half a million records worldwide. The Project was honored as the “Musical group of the Decade” in Israel in 2010, and the song “Mima’amakim” was selected the “Best Song of the Decade”. As described by The New York Times, “His arrangements bind the voices together in somber minor-mode anthems paced by electronic beats, earnestly seeking to uplift.”

The Project’s blend of African, Latin American, Caribbean and Middle Eastern sounds, coupled with a spectacular live show, has enchanted audiences worldwide. They have headlined in some of the world’s most prestigious venues, including New York’s Central Park Summer Stage, Los Angeles’ Kodak Theater, The Apollo Theater, the Sydney Opera House and Radio City Music Hall. They have also performed across Europe, South & Central America, Hong Kong, India, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Singapore to enraptured audiences of all backgrounds.

“Mostly Nearly Authentic”

The real thing; NOT taken from tonight's performance.

Well, this evening L and I went to see the Balinese performance and were both immensely disappointed. For starters, it turns out the listing for the show was quite misleading as it was not at all an authentic affair, which came as a huge disappointment and is very strange, considering the event was held at the museum of fine arts, from which one would expect a certain level of excellence. Out of 20 musician, only one was a confirmed Balinese, and maybe one other was (presumably) Indonesian, while all the others were very much local white-as-chalk French Canadian. There were 4 dancers, three of which were from some Asian descent and reasonably good (one had the most amazing hand gestures), while the other a very very tall, very blue-eyed, blonde French woman. The acoustics were not at all right for that kind of music, which sounded like a bunch of loud noise made by countless out of synch percussion instruments, with plenty of cymbals and clanging. When the French dancer came out and did a solo dance in the full Balinese attire, the whole thing just seemed completely incongruous. She was much too tall and all the facial and eye expressions she made just seemed totally ridiculous. The worst part was that she seemed to do a pretty good job of the actual dancing, but it just didn’t come off right at all. Then, to top it all off, one of the troupe’s very nervous members gave not one, but TWO very long, very boring, very inept speeches, mostly in French, which added nothing whatsoever to the performance. He asked the audience to stay after the last dance as the group had apparently prepared “a surprise” for us, and already at that point, I could tell most of the audience wanted to leave, and we were only half an hour into the hour-long affair! And a very long hour it was too. At least the costumes looked good. A couple next to me did leave right before the “surprise” was sprung on us. In one of the two speeches, the so-called presenter actually said that “this show is mostly nearly an authentic Balinese experience”, which made me groan with discouragement. In other words, a major dud. L was especially upset because she felt responsible, since she was the one who had picked out this show for us, but as I said to her, how were we to know we would have this mockery foisted upon us? At least I got to spend some time with my new friend. That was the best part really, along with a simple dinner we had afterward at the Holt Renfrew café. I still hear the clanging noises in my head and just might have nightmares about it. *Big Shudder*

Tea & Company

Today was a very fun day. When I finally did manage to drag myself out of bed (at nearly 3 o’clock in the afternoon!—med adjustment making me drowsy again) I got myself a bowl of cereal and sat in front of the computer to read my email, and thank goodness I did, because I had a reminder that I was supposed to meet a friend at 3 on the dot at a café a few blocks away. I don’t think I ever got ready so fast in my life before. Somehow I managed to get there just 5 minutes late. It’s this place called Lili & Oli which is really laid back; they allow dogs and I just love the casual and warm ambiance. I took these photos a few weeks ago when it was uncharacteristically quiet, but gives an idea of the place. I like to go there with Coco after a trip to the library which is practically next door, and sometimes bring my laptop with me too like most people there do as well.

I was meeting a brand new friend, a girl I met at a bookstore a couple of weeks ago. She and her partner had arrived from England a week or two before as he’s gotten recruited for a big job in the aeronautics industry. She was a sociology teacher and is going through the motions of finding a job here. Really lovely girl with a beautiful attitude and very chatty like me, which makes for a pleasant time. We talked about everything but books somehow, though she did tell me she’s getting together with a book group tomorrow. When I met her, she was looking for Let the Great World Spin by Column McCann, which I heard great things of and which is what they’ll be discussing tomorrow. Michelle told me if this group seems interesting she’ll bring me along next time they get together, which is something I might really enjoy. Continue reading

Playing at a Train Station Near You

I just love these flash mob videos. Here’s a flash mob at Copenhagen Central Station with the Copenhagen Philharmonic playing Ravel’s Bolero on May 2nd 2011. Conductor is Jesper Nordin. Just sent to me from my uncle in Israel. Music never needs a passport to get around. Watch it full screen if you can to get the full effect.

R.I.P., Amy Winehouse

The singer Amy Winehouse has been found dead at her flat in north London at the age of 27. The award-winning artist, famous for hits including Rehab from the critically acclaimed album Back to Black, was discovered by police in the late afternoon. Her death was being treated on Saturday night as “unexplained”. – guardian.co.uk