Tag Archives: Thomas Dunne Books

Home Is Where the Hearth Is

Making of Home Amazon

The Making of Home: The 500-Year Story of How Houses Became Our Homes by Judith Flanders (Thomas Dunne Books, $26.99, 368 pages)

Display had become the essence of the house. This public display of the private was considered to have a moral dimension, too. Immanuel Kant thought that “No one in complete solitude will decorate or clean his house… but only for strangers, to show himself to advantage.”

Judith Flanders presents her survey of the evolution of the house into a home in an unmistakable textbook format with glossy color illustrations, notes, bibliography and index. The writing is a bit stilted; however, Ms. Flanders is British. This may just be her natural style. She takes a close look at what we believe to represent past times and daily practices and brings a logical scene to her reader.

Apparently, those of us who are inclined to study interiors from the distant past have done so only at a superficial level. There’s more to what was meant in those historic paintings of rooms such as Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding Portrait (1434). Social mores, values and fantasy are often present in the form of innocuous fabrics, colors and subtly placed items.

The evolution of relationships (men, women and children), geography and personal values are all determining factors in what was the place for sleeping, cooking and keeping animals – a house, and what we now call a home.

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The cadence of the narrative evens out once the reader is past the first few chapters and becomes more of a lecture rather than a heavily laden introduction to the concept of a dwelling.

Well recommended.

new small house

The New Small House by Katie Hutchison (The Taunton Press, $32.00, 217 pages)

On the heels of the recession there was a resurgence of interest in small houses, and even smaller retreats.

Residential architect and small dwelling advocate Katie Hutchison follows in the illustrious footsteps of Sarah Susanka, author of the Not So Big House series. Both women are experts in the use of materials, site and scale. Taunton Press has added to their coverage of housing possibilities with The New Small House.

Smaller is better for a certain segment of the house-buying public. Ms. Hutchison focuses on dwellings that are not just small (at 1700 square feet or less) but also smartly laid out, sited and built with carefully selected materials. Her 10 small house strategies are defined up front and eloquently illustrated through a series of in-depth reviews of homes and retreats across the United States.

961 square feet

The book is a guide to what makes for a successful new small house. Hutchison goes into specific details about each of the beautiful and unique dwellings. The icons that alert the reader to the strategies employed are posted with each selection. Several of the owners are fellow architects who are clearly kindred spirits of hers.

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The New Small House is meant to prompt thoughtful consideration of how we can live with less and make better choices. It also gives the reader plenty of ideas for downsizing or building a personal retreat.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

1965

1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music by Andrew Grant Jackson (Thomas Dunne Books, $27.99, 352 pages)

1965 could have been a direct, engaging and entertaining account of that year’s music. Instead, this nonfiction story begins with Acknowledgements, a Selected Time Line, an Introduction, and a Prologue before it actually starts. The ending is, naturally, followed by an Epilogue. And instead of simply discussing the music of the 12-month period, Andrew Grant Jackson proceeds to attempt to cover all of the political and social developments of the time, with far too much attention paid to psychedelic drugs. (Boring, “oft-covered” territory.)

One or two factual errors might be excusable, as Jackson was not alive when these events occurred. But there are far too many in 1965. Jackson writes that the Beatles tried to out-jingle-jangle the Byrds with the song “Nowhere Man.” No, it was George Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone.” He lists the Beatles’ “Think For Yourself” as a song about politics and free expression. No, it was a break-up song. He writes that the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” was a remake of “Baby Love” by the Supremes. Not even close. And he cites “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys as a drug song. It was a remake of a West Indies traditional folk song earlier recorded by the rather benign, innocent Kingston Trio.

There are other statements that are questionable. Jackson writes, for example, that the Rolling Stones based their single “Paint It Black” on “My World Is Empty Without You” by the Supremes. Maybe, maybe not. One of the highly doubtful statements made by Jackson is that Brian Wilson based his classic song “God Only Knows” on the lightweight song “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” by the Spoonful. C’mon, now.

1965 is also plagued with no small amount of repetition. Jackson often makes the claim that specific rock song introductions were based on Bach’s classical music. In a couple of instances, he is likely right, but he goes on to state that this is the case for a large number of songs. Again, this is questionable.

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Every now and then Jackson does uncover something of interest. He may have discovered the song that Paul McCartney heard as a very young boy in the early 50s, which subconsciously inspired him to write “Yesterday.” Well, maybe.

aftermath-usa

The book’s subtitle claims that 1965 was the most revolutionary year in rock music. Really? Pet Sounds and Blonde on Blonde and Aftermath were released in 1966, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band followed in 1967. I’d argue that these were the most significant, revolutionary years in rock music.

One final point is that Jackson often attempts to connect one type of music to everything else, musically and otherwise. You can love the music that Frank Sinatra recorded in the 60s without tying it to what the Beatles, Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones were doing at the time. There are different types of music, and some music is created without reference to the political struggles or happenings of the time.

1965 is a book that had a lot of potential. Due to its strangely formal structure and its errors, the potential was largely wasted.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on February 3, 2015.

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Do You Remember

Cowboys and Indies: The Epic History of the Record Industry by Gareth Murphy (Thomas Dunne Books, $27.99, 400 pages)

This book held out the promise of being a fascinating look into the radio and record industries, from 1853 until the present day. Unfortunately, it’s a bit more pedestrian than exciting as the account veers between focusing on record executives and producers, and the artists themselves. It’s more successful when it does the former; the latter is a pretty standard history of rock and pop music.

The story at times becomes incomprehensible, as in Chapter 30, “Bubblegum Forest,” where one reads that, “The gaudy covers of manufactured bands (in 2000-2001) paid their way into the end caps and began scaring away older audiences.” What?

Cowboys and Indies succeeds when it focuses on small, interesting tidbits of information, such as telling us about the production of Millie Small’s breakthrough cover of “My Boy Lollipop” in 1964. There’s also some good stuff on George Martin and the history of Abbey Road (whose studios were last significantly refurbished in 1931). And kudos to the writer for pointing out that the debate about the compression of music has been going on since 1953 – when John Hammond wrote a New York Times article “blaming modern production methods for compressing the sound on jazz records….”!

Cowboys

All in all, this book is likely to be too much “inside baseball” for most readers. There are other, truly fascinating, books out there about the music trade.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Note: Publishers Weekly stated that, “Murphy captures the ever-changing nature of the record industry as it ebbs and flows…” However, the publication also noted that this is an “oft-covered topic.” Indeed.

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A Nightmare on Elm Street

Mean Business (north book)

Mean Business on Ganson Street: A Novel by S. Craig Zahler (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 304 pages)

An opening chapter filled with violence is standard fare for writers such as Lisa Unger, Deborah Crombie and Lee Child. Thereafter, the story settles into an exploration of the characters and their motivations that eventually link back to that initial shock. The reader is provided red herring possibilities for the solution to the mystery – who dunnit?

Author S. Craig Zahler has penned a “novel” that is, in fact, a snuff movie on paper. Sadly, the Warner Brothers studio has optioned the book and the author is working on the screen adaptation. His vision may spring to life. My hope is that it will be X rated. Anything less will mean that the gore and violence splattered on most of its pages has been insinuated and a younger audience will be admitted for viewing.

The contrasts set up between Detective Jules Bettinger, formerly of Arizona, and the sworn officers in Victory, Missouri are punctuated by crude epithets hurled every which way. Bettinger is exiled after being less than helpful when the former son-in-law of the mayor comes to the police station to secure assistance in locating his missing would-be bride.

Bettinger is alternatively a well-spoken man with an education, a loving husband and father and a guy out for revenge. Regardless of his role, he’s only marginally likeable. Zahler is sadly lacking in his female character development. Each of the women in his tale is one-dimensional. Even Bettinger’s wife fails to experience authentic feelings.

If trash talk and gory, sadistic and gratuitous violence are your preferred criterion for selecting a book, have at it. Everyone else should steer clear! To be clear, this book is not recommended; far from it.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Coming Up Next…

Mean Business on North Ganson Street

A preview-review of Mean Business on North Ganson Street: A Novel by S. Craig Zahler, which will be released on September 30, 2014.

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Midnight Confessions

The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best-Kept Secret by Kent Hartman (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 292 pages)

Carol Kaye is the female bass player/musician who came up with and played the opening notes on “The Beat Goes On” (Sonny and Cher), “These Boots Were Made for Walkin'” (Nancy Sinatra) and “Midnight Confessions” (The Grass Roots).   She also came up with the opening notes for Glen Campbell’s first hit, “Wichita Lineman.”   These are the kinds of unique, Behind the Music-style, facts cited in The Wrecking Crew, a book whose second subtitle is, “The unknown studio musicians who recorded the soundtrack of a generation.”

Kent Hartman writes about most of the hit songs recorded between 1962 and 1975, starting with “The Lonely Bull” (Herb Alpert) and ending with “Love Will Keep Us Together” (Captain and Tennille).   Special attention is paid to 19 specific songs, and if one or more of these happens to be a favorite of yours, you’ll want to read Hartman’s account to find out how the song(s) were written and recorded.   Here’s the list (I’m eliminating the quote marks here for the purpose of clarity):  California Dreamin’; Limbo Rock; He’s a Rebel; The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena); What’d I Say; I Got You, Babe; Mr. Tambourine Man; River Deep, Mountain High; Eve of Destruction; Strangers in the Night; Good Vibrations; Let’s Live for Today; Up, Up and Away; Classical Gas; Wichita Lineman; MacArthur Park; Bridge Over Troubled Water; (They Long to Be) Close to You; and Love Will Keep Us Together.

Back in the day when these songs were first released, not too many radio listeners and record buyers realized that the Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds, Jan and Dean, The Beach Boys, The Grass Roots, The Monkees and others were not playing the instruments on their songs.   A group of select musicians, informally known as The Wrecking Crew, recorded the music in Los Angeles studios while the “performers” played the songs on stage when they toured.   It was generally a “win-win” situation for both the high-paid touring musicians and the highly paid studio musicians, and it allowed Brian Wilson to create and record on his own while the official members of the band that he created were off touring.

To his credit, Hartman does cover the occasional conflicts that arose, especially among the musicians – such as Creed Bratton of The Grass Roots and Mike Clarke of The Byrds – who felt insulted by not being permitted to play on their band’s “own” recordings.   Most of the musicians who couldn’t handle the public fame but private shame were shown the door; one exception being the four members of The Monkees, who eventually gained enough power to overrule their managers and record their own songs.The Wrecking Crew (nook book)

MacArthur Park is melting in the dark, all the sweet green icing flowing down…  Someone left the cake out in the rain, and I don’t think that I can take it, ’cause it took so long to bake it, and I’ll never have that recipe again.   (J. Webb)

The stories of how some of these songs came to be written are perhaps even more engaging and intriguing than the tales of how they were recorded.   And likely the most interesting of all the composition stories is that behind the song “MacArthur Park” and the song suite by Jimmy Webb that eventually became the best-selling album A Tramp Shining by Richard Harris.   It turns out that Webb was quite gun-shy about offering the suite to anyone after it was soundly rejected by the soft-rock group, The Association.   The story of how Harris came to hear what he was to sing as “MacArthur’s Park” is almost worth the price of admission itself.

MacArthur Park

One caveat about The Wrecking Crew is that Carol Kaye has some personal objections to the book which she has expressed on Amazon.   (I won’t attempt to summarize her concerns here.)   Still, this is a worthwhile read for music fans, musicians and future composers.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Wrecking Crew is also available as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition e-book, and as an unabridged audiobook.

Note:  The personal story of the musician Glen Campbell (pictured on the cover of The Wrecking Crew) is covered in some detail in this book.   Campbell was a member of The Wrecking Crew for several years, as well as a member of The Beach Boys touring band.   Interestingly, he went on to record a relatively successful cover version of “MacArthur Park.”

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Coming Up Next…

A review of The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best Kept Secret by Kent Hartman.The Wrecking Crew (prev.)

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