An overlooked American Classic, Edge-of-your-seat Anime action, and a Visceral Music Experience

Book: The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hawthorne is typically associated with his short stories. He’s even more typically associated with the austere New England setting of his work. However, in this lesser-known novel, Hawthorne takes the reader to Italy, into the heart of old Rome. The Marble Faun is one of the first of the American international novels, a form perfected later in the century by the likes of Henry James. James himself had high praise for the book, which I will not quote because James was clearly writing before the advent of the “spoiler alert.”

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The themes of the work are the usual ones for Hawthorne: guilt and repentance, morality and sin, heaven and hell. Hawthorne’s work benefits from the historical setting, and the additional room afforded by the novelistic form. More than any other of his works with which I am familiar, The Marble Faun displays the author’s uncanny ability to deliver, in the midst of describing a scene, an observation that speaks directly into the heart of an apparently unrelated matter. This book is one of those few which are not considered American classics, but should be.
– David Shelton

 

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Anime: Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) original manga by Hajime Isayama, anime directed by Tetsuro Araki
Yes, my roommate got me into an anime. It also happens to be one of the top animes of all time. In this world, all of humanity (mostly German) lives behind a wall to protect themselves from human devouring Giants called Titans. When the wall is breached, death and tragedy ensue.attack gif Titans are impervious, mindless, eating machines. The show is full of tragedy, complex relationships with well developed characters, a theme song you CANT skip, and gore galore. The first season is on Netflix, but you’ll have to wait along with the diehard fans for season two that’s been postponed for three years, even though it’s nearly complete! It’s hard not to binge watch this action filled thriller.

– Richie Gowin

 

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Music album: A Man Alive! By Thao Nguyen and the Get Down Stay Down (2016)

I’ve loved Thao Nguyen ever since she sang “As sharp as it stings / As sharp as I sing / It still soothes you doesn’t it / Like a lick of ice cream” in 2008. This fourth album from Thao Nguyen was produced by Merrill Garbis of tUnE-yArDs (both artists are from the San Francisco/bay area). Thao explains how many of her new songs explore feelings of abandonment and recovery from her father leaving when she was young. In her World Cafe session/interview she says that she has been acutely aware of the fact that her father isn’t dead. He left and still exists somewhere in the world. She could find him. He is a man alive.

Thao’s lyrics carry powerful emotion and convey raw vulnerable questions. With lines like “We’re not born for departure / But we do learn to take it” and “Leave me here / In disbelief again” in the song “Departure”, the artist sings honestly about her own experience with hurt. Her poetic and striking lyrics are backed by incredible tracks that incorporate dissonant/discordant beats and noise with driving melodies that pair perfectly with Thao’s voice and circling choruses. The sound has descriptions like “a driving banger fueled by a chopped-up hip-hop beat and analog squelches” (NPR’s Mike Katzif on “Meticulous Bird of Prey”) and “a cool-down strut sounds like its slinked off some mid-’70s Rickie Lee Jones record” (Stuart Berman for Pitchfork on “Guts”). The songs on this album often evoke a little girl putting on a brave face. She combines an innocent straightforward expressiveness with a questioning that borders between wounded and accusative. The swinging arc of the album shows Thao’s visceral reaction to her father’s abandonment, but simultaneously displays a fierce liveliness that shows strength and willingness to confront trouble head on. The final track, “Endless love”, doesn’t offer the listener concrete resolution. The simple lyrics, “I’ve got an endless love no one can starve / I don’t want it, carve it on out of me,” sound less like a nice tidy end and more like a lament. It would be easier not to feel than to be vulnerable to the world. Despite this final line the artist hasn’t gotten rid of her capacity to feel, instead she allows herself to be transparent with her audience in a beautiful, tender yet resilient and accomplished body of work.

– Jessica Webster

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The Conversation Collective

The idea for this website began developing on a long scenic drive from Phoenix Arizona to El Paso Texas. After the wedding of a friend where I talked with both familiar and new people I began thinking about the way people recommend things in conversation. It begins with a common interest and like wildfire you start volleying back and forth. “Have you heard of…?” “I think you would really like…” “That reminds me of this other thing” and so on and so forth. I was reliving some of those conversations and reveling in the feeling of finding something I’d never heard of. These referrals build on one another infinitely. In a world where people are constantly creating it’s exciting to share in discovery and learning with those around you. One problem was that I am separated from so many people I have, or could have, these experiences with. This collective will be an experiment in an effort to bridge gaps of distance and time, to build community, and to share life.

Recommendations will encompass a virtually limitless spectrum. From a new book you’re reading to an old one you’ve loved, an article that sparked your interest, music you wish the whole world could hear, art that moves and inspires you, a story you wrote, a website that needs to be shared, a business worth patronizing, an activity someone else should try, an idea sprouting in your head, or anything else you want to share.

To begin:

Music album: b’lieve i’m goin down by Kurt Vile:

This record was perhaps easy to miss, but easily could snuggle its way into anybody’s ‘best-of 2015’ list.  Do you know Kurt?

Kurt Vile:  Likeable Kurt Vile:  Father Kurt Vile:  Unheralded anti-prodigy Kurt Vile:  Sophisticated Funnyman Kurt:  Vile

I first saw the man whilst he was opening a set in the Hollywood Cemetery for Connor Oberst’s Bright Eyes (Don’t even trip dog! Bright eyes ruled and you know it.)  He was hidden behind long dirty locks of hair but the sound he offered that night made the tiny hairs on my neck give up any notion of getting distracted.  Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t run out and snatch up every record he’d ever made (and there’s a grip I tell you) in fact I listened to relatively little of his songwriting after that.  Listening to this album felt like catching up with an old friend: The friend that never judged you The friend whose face never changes but that you can’t quite picture The friend who will be there 20 years from now even if you don’t speak until then. The songs on ‘B’lieve I’m Goin Down are the perfect companion for road trips, airplanes, soundtracks and bedroom corners.

(also see: Feel-good-not-feeling-good-tunes)  

– David Webster

Book: If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino:  Not a new book, but a great one. Calvino’s postmodernist narrative explores the idea of beginnings by never losing sight of them. The reader finds herself questioning the relationship of the reader to a text, of the text to it’s author, and to other writing.  In reading this book I am at once distanced from the story, and forced to relate to it more intimately than with most books where I am simply the observer. Since starting this book I’ve been challenged to be a more responsible, aware reader and freaked out a little by how Calvino seemed like he was in my bedroom watching me read it.  – Jessica S Webster

Anime: Code Geass: Rightly so, Anime has a bad rap of being something that is hyper sexualized, primarily constructed for the geeky inclined and a place for adults to prolong that season of their lives consumed with cartoons.  Though I believe a majority of anime can rightly be criticized for the above, Code Geass stands apart. It is the story of a boy on a quest for vengeance, against a malicious father. The boy, Lelouch Lamperouge, attempts to remake the world in his vision of justice through what we can safely call magic and wit. I love this story because it is a classic “strike against the heavens in self-righteous disdain”. It has awesome robot fights, scorned love, and asks freakin huge questions like can justice be brought about through power and is hope the final opponent to peace. 50 episodes, 19 mins each, total time 16 hours.  justchris