Highly Recommended:

July 19, 2012

Music: Carole King’s The Legendary Demos is a must-listen for anyone interested in pop music. The album is what it says: the original demo versions, performed by Carole and her backers, for some of Goffin and King’s best pop songs: Pleasant Valley Sunday, Locomotion, Up on the Roof, (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman… It also includes demos for her own songs, mostly from Tapestry, which have a great, quick energy compared to the more staid versions on the finished album. I’ve written a couple times about the genius I think it takes to keep writing great pop songs, and these demos show it in its most elemental form.

Fiction: I just finished Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements.  I picked it up because it sounded like an interesting story. A family descends on their summer home to prepare for the wedding of their first daughter, and entanglements and an exploding whale ensue. I was mostly interested because a great deal of the book is from the father’s perspective, and Shipstead’s author bio said she was born the same year I was, which made me wonder how she’d write a middle-aged man. I can’t speak to how accurate that is, but the book’s depiction of family dynamics and the craziness that comes with a wedding was spot on to me.

Non-Fiction: Finishing Barack Obama: The Story, by David Maraniss. On my left-leaning newscommentary pages there was some discussion that Maraniss is a conservative critic of Obama, but I thought the book was quite well-balanced. When there’s a difference between Obama’s memoirs and the historical record, Maraniss points it out, but he’s perfectly content to ascribe those differences to the fictionalization that happens to any memoir.  A long read, and not the easiest, but offers some significant insight into a person with great depth of experience and, I think, understanding. Reading GWB’s memoir made me lose some of the sympathy I’d gained for him in intervening years; reading Maraniss’ book made me more eager to see an Obama second term.

Movie: Well, we watched American Reunion last night, which was exactly what you’d expect from an American Pie movie. Sort of like the 4th Indiana Jones, it’s just cool to see those characters again. But the movie I came to recommend is Barry Stevens’ documentary Prosecutor, about the International Criminal Court’s first Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo. As someone interested in a global approach to systemic international problems, I appreciated seeing a film that exposes the shortcomings of international criminal prosecutions while still maintaining the value of the system.