Bats in the Band by Brian Lies

I only had a few minutes in the library and needed a Halloween-themed book to read to my son on Halloween night. After flipping through the shelves in vain for a while, I stumbled on this book with bats in it. It was a little long, which doesn’t generally make for very good bed time reading to a tired kid with short attention span, but I was out of time and desperate.

As it happens, this was an absolutely wonderful little book.

The rhythm and rhyme of the text has a great flow, so it was fun to read out loud and held my son’s attention despite the book’s length. It also uses words like “hibernation,” which is something we’ve been talking a lot about as the weather gets colder, so it was lovely to be able to show my son an example of an animal in a story doing it. There’s also a reference in the story to echolocation (though the word isn’t used), so we got to talk about that as well.

The bats use a variety of instruments and make music in several different styles, so that gave us some more conversation pieces. The morning after we first read it, we opened the book again and, with YouTube, looked for examples of all the musical styles referenced in the book. We tried to match up the instruments being played by human musicians to the ones in the book, talked about the sounds they make, to beat, etc.

In other words, the book has tremendous value as a learning launch pad.

The artwork is lovely and very detailed, with a lot going on that we could talk about (in particular, my son loved the recurring image of the parent bat carrying a baby bat in a carrier). Unfortunately, it being bats, the images are a bit dark. If I had enough light to read by, the glare made the images a little hard to see. This may have been an issue with the texture of the pages, which is slightly matted. I’m not sure. But in any case, it didn’t detract from the overall wonderfulness of the book.

I highly recommend it for the toddler and preschooler set.

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Carnival Music in Trinidad by Shannon Dudley

Read: 4 August, 2007

The book begins with a discussion of carnival and its place within Trinidad’s society. From there, it discusses the various settings for carnival music (including “on the road” (or during the masquerade march) and in the tent) and some of the more popular artists. Calypso is discussed a great deal, as is the multiplicity of Trinidad’s cultural heritage (including those of European, African, and Indian ancestry). Several musical styles are described. The book includes a CD with samples from various artists and styles discussed, as well as activities that include listening to certain songs on the CD while paying attention to certain elements.

Certainly not an exhaustive exploration, this book is best for where it was intended – in the non-Trinidadian classroom to give students their first exposure to a foreign culture and musical style. It is a great book for musicians looking to expand their stylistic influences and for students of culture looking for a starting point in their research. The inclusion of a CD adds much to the experience of reading the book and helps to bring the text to life.

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6 Steps to Songwriting Success by Jason Blume

Read: 3 August, 2007

The six steps covered are how to develop a successful song structure, writing effective lyrics, composing memorable melodies, producing a successful demo, the business of the music industry, and how to develop realistic expectations. All in all, the book covers every step of the creative and marketing aspects of songwriting. It includes a number of fun exercises to practice the concepts discussed.

Overall a great addition to any aspiring songwriter’s library. If you are interested in making music or in the music industry, this is a great read. Even if you are merely a performer and do not write your own songs, the later steps on marketing may still prove useful. I am not a songwriter myself, but I do have an interest in writing poetry. Even in this field, I found many of the sections applicable. By far the best (though only) book on songwriting I’ve come across.

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Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen

Read: 10 July, 2007

Jack Tagger’s career as a reported was destroyed when he criticized his new boss. He now writes the obituaries – a job he was assigned in the hopes that he would give up and quit. But Jack isn’t quite ready to give up yet. He waits for the day that someone famous dies in his territory so that he can write the obituary that would save his career. When Jimmy Stoma of the Slut Puppies dies under mysterious circumstances, Jack believes this time has come. He must fight his editor and discover the secret to Jimmy’s death, a search that leads Jack into the very bowels of the music industry.

With all this talk of once great reporters reduced to anonymity by an oppressive newspaper structure, I begin to wonder if Hiaasen isn’t verging on the autobiographical. When a theme is repeated in two or more of an author’s works, I begin to question just how fictional that theme may be. Similarly, the “baddie” characters are again killed (in similarly gruesome fashion). Now, in this case there doesn’t seem to have been much of a peaceful solution (though the characters never propose simply going to the police). Even so, a normal (non-psychopathic) individual might still feel a little guilty for what happened. Not these characters, though! So what is it about Hiaasen that compels him to write about such brutality with total lack of feeling? Finding this in one novel was unnerving. Finding it in two is downright scary.

Other than that, however, the novel was fantastic. Again, I adored the writing style and the humor. The references to Neil Young and other musicians I rightfully should not have heard of at my tender age prejudiced me in favor of the story. The jokes about modern pop music sealed the deal, so to speak.

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