High Concept and Low Concept

Sometimes, if you’re discussing books that you read, games that you play, shows that you watch, music you listen to – basically any media you consume – you need some specialized ideas and terms to help you describe and discuss it. “It was great” or “It was bad” or “I thought it was OK” are all very well and good, but it’s so much more satisfying if you can also talk about WHY you liked/disliked something. If you want to win arguments and impress your friends, remember your ABCs – Always Backup Criticism.

Have examples, of course, of things you like or don’t and why. But, sometimes, you need some special vocabulary and ideas in order to help you with your critique. That means it’s time to add another idea to your toolbox: high vs. low concept. This is all about how much concept a work of art contains, not how good the concept is. Think of it as a matter of the amount the concept itself contributes to the total content of the work.

Jane Austen’s novels are generally low concept. The idea of the novels – that people in various economic circumstances need to get paired up (or not paired up, or not paired up the way they thought) – is nowhere near as important to the books as the interactions between the characters, which is why people read them. Here’s an example pie chart, based on a very precise and academic guesstimate:

There’s also works that split it pretty much right down the middle, generating interest in equal parts from the idea that drives them, as well as the execution of the plot and characters:

On the far end of the scale, there’s also works that are high concept – that get their interest mostly from the ideas that drive them. I can think of no better example than 18 Days (an adaptation of the Mahabharata), which breaks down about like this:

The library has the concept art book, if you want a look at the idea, but, sadly, they didn’t get full funding for the series as it was originally conceived. Instead, you can watch it in a few different languages on the Graphic India YouTube channel. Still pretty awesome, though.

Whatever the level of concept in your media, now you have a new way to talk about the things you love: is it high conceptlow concept, or a balance of the two?

Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman by Box Brown

Andy Kaufman skirted the line between nonsense and reality in his performances where during his comedy career; he brought many unique characters to life.  Two of the most recognizable are Latka Gravas, a lovable kook on the TV series Taxi, and Foreign Man, a character he created for Saturday Night Live. Kaufman and his work  were immortalized in a film called Man on the Moon, where Jim Carrey portrayed him.. Author Box Brown has now brought Kaufman’s life to another generation in a biographical graphic novel, Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman.  

The novel follows his life beginning as child and his appreciation of performing arts, music and wrestling.  He enjoyed wrestling so much that he created parodies of his favorite stars bit of humor to the violent world of pro-wrestling. For a time, he put his dream of becoming a wrestler on hold while honing his showman skills with improvisational comedy and television appearances.  However, he felt this was not the direction in which he wanted to go. He finally jumped into the wrestling ring, putting on amazing acts and stirring up trouble along the way. His most notable appearance was the controversial debacle with former wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler.

Box Brown’s simplistic pencil drawings and limited color illustrations capture the story of a young man who was sensitive, thoughtful, and very funny. He uses traditional boxed-in scenes throughout the entire book which reads like an original comic strip. The nostalgic style draws (pun intended) you into the story, while moving swiftly through Kaufman’s short life.  Brown has made this book more than a biography of Kaufman by including footnotes about the world of professional wrestling without interrupting the flow of the story.  There is also an in-depth bibliography of references, websites, television episodes, and personal interviews, as well as a list of books by people in the wrestling industry.

If you enjoy this journey into the life of a comedian turned wrestler, check out Brown’s book about another famous wrestler, Andre the Giant.  

Format Available: Graphic Novel

Review by Micah, St Matthews Branch

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Anna Fox is agoraphobic, unable to leave her home.  She hides away and has her groceries (and plenty of wine) delivered.  She spends her time watching old suspense movies and spying on her neighbors.

When a new family moves in across the way from her Anna immediately starts watching them through her camera lens.  By all looks of it they appear to be the perfect family; a father, a mother and their teenage son.  But when Anna looks out her window one night she sees something she shouldn’t, something horrible.  When Anna attempts to contact the police about what she saw, her world begins to unravel. 

As the reader you begin to question Anna’s memory, her ability to discern fantasy from reality and you begin to realize something is off in Anna’s family as well. I love a good unreliable narrator and The Woman in the Window is a superb twisty thriller.  Finn sets the story against the background of film noir seamlessly.  The level of Hitchcockian suspense is so perfectly delicious and chilling that every time I had to put the book down I just couldn’t wait to get back to it!

Formats Available: Regular Type, Large Type, Audiobook, eBook

Review by Heather, St. Matthews

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths, the first book in a new series, finds archaeologist Ruth Galloway entangled in a murder case; something she didn’t quite want. Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson shows up at Ruth’s office because the police think they have found the body of Lucy Downey, a young girl who had been missing for ten years. Unfortunate for the police, but an awesome find for Ruth, the body is actually that of an Iron Age girl.

However, Ruth’s expertise draws her deeper into the case when another young girl goes missing.  Then Inspector Nelson starts getting letters again much like the ones he received when Lucy Downey first went missing. Nelson shows them to Ruth because he hopes that she can help him divine what clues they might hold.

I didn’t know what to expect with The Crossing Places going in because I tend to read cozy mysteries. I hadn’t picked up an actual crime novel or forensic mystery since I graduated college with my Criminal Justice degree. I went into this one completely on a whim (other than the fact that I picked it for my February mystery book discussion). I figured the police, the archaeologist, and a forensic plot would be a change for the group.

After reading The Crossing Places, I felt that Galloway and Nelson are something of a British version of Bones, but better. I was never able to get into the Temperance Brennan series by Kathy Reichs, which Bones is based on. With The Crossing Places, I didn’t seem to have that problem. I guess it’s because I love BBC dramas and mysteries so much, and this book reminded me of them.

Right now the Ruth Galloway series is a 10 book series, of which the library currently has books 1-9. I look forward to the next book in the series, The Janus Stone.

Formats Available: Book, eBook

Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

The Great American Read

On April 20, 2018, PBS released a list of America’s 100 best-loved novels, chosen in support of The Great American Read, a new PBS series that celebrates the joy of reading.

Check out the full list of America’s 100 favorite novels, which were selected through a demographically representative national survey conducted by YouGovThe books that were chosen span five centuries, from Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes to Ghost by Jason Reynolds. Authors from 15 different countries are represented, with genres ranging from beloved children’s classics such as Charlotte’s Web by

E.B. White to modern best-sellers such as Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.

The series began with a two-hour episode on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. Over the following months, PBS will count down the books from 100 to 1. Americans are encouraged to vote for “America’s Most Beloved Book,” and results will be released on October 23, 2018.

Remember that LFPL’s Summer Reading is beginning and that many of these books are age appropriate for children and teens. They would be great selections for kids to read or to have read to them. For more information about the Summer Reading program or the 2018 Cultural Pass, stop your local library branch or call our JustAsk line at (502) 574-1611.

 

Lou Reed: A Life by Anthony DeCurtis

William Burroughs commented on Paul Bowles‘ autobiography, Without Stopping, saying it should have been, “Without Telling.” The opposite is true of this new bio on Lou Reed. It could be subtitled TMI.

Some called Lou names like The Prince of Darkness, Darth Vader of Rock, and those were the nice ones. His fans called him Lou. Andy Warhol called him Lulu. He called Warhol, Drella. A lot of people today don’t know who Lou Reed was (that’s fine…here is your shot to learn), or they confuse him with Lou Rawls (not cool). I call him the 2nd greatest songwriter ever, slightly behind Nobel Prize Winner Bob Dylan.

Lewis Allan Reed was born into an upper middleclass Jewish family on March 2, 1942. He was in Doo Wop and Rock groups as a teenager. He was on record by age 14, but his “true fame” wouldn’t come until after he finished College at Syracuse and had a lot of out of the norm personal experience. His parents had electroshock treatments performed on him, either because of his bisexuality (Lou’s version) or his according to his mother, doctors thought he may be schizophrenic.

Although, college was a dreadful experience for the non-conformist and drug user, Lou met someone there who changed his life. Delmore Schwartz was a renowned poet/professor on his way down. He had been a top poet in the 30’s but paranoia and speed had caught up with him by the 60’s. Of course, Lou chose him as a mentor. Schwartz would hold court at a little off campus bar and read James Joyce to his followers. Schwartz told Lou that if he ever “sold out” his talent as a writer, his ghost would haunt him. And it did to some degree.

After graduation in 1964 with a B.A. in English, Lou moved to NYC and became a songwriter for a small company called Pickwick, which produced cheap exploitation albums of the newest musical fads. He also made frequent trips into Harlem to buy heroin.

Lou and his fellow musicians wrote a song called, “The Ostrich,” that got some notice and airplay. It was recorded by studio musicians, so when a local TV station wanted the band (The Primitives) to perform, that had to search for a stage band quickly. One of the guys chosen was John Cale because he had long hair. Cale was an avant-garde classical musician from Wales. In time, the band evolved into The Velvet Underground. They played dives in NYC and got fired, but were discovered by Andy Warhol.

On July 11, 1966 Delmore dies. Lou was in the hospital for Hepatitis C and checked himself out to attend Delmore’s wake. So, in Warhol, Lou had found another 2nd father and genius to learn from. Andy is credited with producing the first Velvet Underground album. VU would go on to record 4 studio albums from 1967-1970, and go through many personnel changes (Lou was difficult to work with.) Lou fired Andy, but stayed friends until a later falling out.

Along the way Lou became a great guitarist noted for his use of distortion. When Lou left VU on August 23, 1970, he had had enough of the R&R business. VU had not been a financial success and they were only famous among the people living outside the mainstream. He had legal problems and was burned out on every level.

So he moved into his parent’s house and worked as a typist in his father’s business for $40 a week. Eventually he drifted back into his only true love. From 1972 to 2011, he released 22 solo albums, 13 live albums, and 16 compilation albums. He married 3 times to three distinct women. Lou was polysexual and experimented with various drugs, mainly speed, heroin, and alcohol. He was at times sweet and violent, and his songs reflect this. Some are soft and sensitive, others will offend most. In the end, after AA and laying off most drugs, Lou was mellow most of the time. Although reporters and critics were always fair game for him.

Lou died on a Sunday (Oct 27, 2013). One of his sweetest and most haunting songs was titled, Sunday Morning. For me, Lou had a good soul – wild, free, and full of anger as a young man. But in time, he would find some peace in the world.

A young writer named Vaclav Havel on a visit to the U.S. in 1968 bought the 2nd VU album. He would go on to lead the Velvet Revolution and become President of Czechoslovakia in 1989, and the First President of the Czech Republic. Lou interviewed him in 1990 and they became friends.

Lou was influential to many younger musicians and he could be called the Father of Punk, New Wave, Glam, and Alternative. All his albums are distinct. Read the book and listen to his albums! You’ll be glad you did.

Format Available: Large Type, Regular Type, eBook

Reviewed by Tom, Main Library

 

Before I Let You Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Kyra is dead. Kyra was Corey’s best friend. Corey will not let Death slip quietly away without answers and Death will not give them up without a fight.

Lost Creek, Alaska is a closed, tight knit community. You either belong or you don’t. Kyra and Corey were born in Lost, grew up together, and were best friends. But things change, businesses folded, times got harder, and Kyra began to have manic episodes. The good people of Lost didn’t just avoid Kyra, they feared her.

So, why after her death were they idolizing her? Her paintings were everywhere but the most disturbing was one of a girl floating under the ice, Kyra herself. Everyone said it was an accident but the painting suggested suicidal thoughts. Why hadn’t someone tried to get her help before she died?

Why hadn’t Corey answered Kyra’s letters more often? They had plans to leave Lost to go out into the world and do things. Kyra saw a therapist and took medication. When she had one of her episodes she painted beautifully, madly, and hated it. Corey wanted to study the stars, Kyra wanted to gather people’s stories, she loved life.

When Corey’s mom got a job outside of Lost, the family moved. Corey promised to keep in touch with Kyra, but the first year of college changed things again. She had room mates and friends that she could openly talk with and do things, so different from life in the closed up town of Lost. More and more, Kyra’s letters got pushed back in a drawer to be read and answered at a later time. Now Corey keeps asking herself why hadn’t she answered Kyra’s letters more often?

Now it was too late.

Everyone said Kyra’s death was inevitable, it was meant to be, that she had even predicted it. Corey didn’t believe any of it, Kyra had promised to wait for her to return to Lost. She hadn’t been there when Kyra needed her now she was determined to find out what happened.

We see Lost and its people through Corey’s eyes but Nijkamp draws the reader in with her words. You feel the cold and isolation of a town that has lost hope for the future and then latches on to a young girl they believe sees a brighter future for them. Corey and Kyra’s story is shared in alternating chapters that carry us back and forth in time. We learn of the girls’ friendship, their dreams of the future, the old spa they would escape to, their attempt to make more of their friendship, and meet some of the town’s people. Most of all you read of the love, disappointment, acceptance, and heartbreak that friendship can bring.

A suspenseful thriller of a mystery that tells the story of friendship, warts and all, from beyond the grave. It also a coming of age story where one girl grows up and the other lives on in memories. In the end, we see that everyone has a side of themselves they keep hidden, sometimes even from their selves.

Format Available: Book, eBook

Review by Katy, Shawnee Branch

 

Black Ink: Literary Legends on the Peril, Power, and Pleasure of Reading And Writing, Edited by Stephanie Stokes Oliver

Some time ago, a friend and I were discussing what it might be like to lack the ability to read and write. How many people today lack the wherewithal to decipher the black squiggly lines and put meaning to the words? Many of us cannot remember a time before we couldn’t read.

For a moment, place yourself in a foreign country that displays signs, names of streets, buildings and warnings, of which  none are in English. How will you find your way around or locate some place to eat or sleep?

Step for a time into the shoes of those whose rights were stolen, particularly the right to read. How would you feel? Frustrated? Powerless?

Be thankful that you have the ability to read and understand the essays edited by Stephanie Stokes Oliver and walk in the footsteps of those who suffered, struggled and overcame great difficulty to learn something you were given before you could miss it, knowledge of the written word.

Stephanie Stokes Oliver presents the book in three parts with writers of the various time periods; The Peril (1800-1900), The Power (1900-1968) and The Pleasure (1968-2017). This essay anthology follows the journeys of a multitude of African-Americans throughout history from Frederick Douglass to former president Barrack Obama on the importance of the ability to read and write. As you read each essay, you see how notable people lived their lives with a burning passion, the voracious need to decipher the written word, to express themselves in writing, to make a better life for themselves.

In The Peril, the reader will meet people like Solomon Northup. In his memoir, 12 Years as a Slave, Mr. Northup writes of his desperation to get a letter to a dear friend. He painstakingly boiled white maple bark to create the ink and plucked the wing of duck to use as the pen.

Did the letter reach its intended reader? You will have to read Black Ink to learn the answer.

The largest portion of essays are in The Power, a time period which includes comments from people like Maya Angelou. Angelou credits Ms. Flowers, who gave her lessons in life starting with reading, in part for her ability to read.  They shared classic books, such as A Tale of Two Cities, and after a time Ms. Flowers gave her a book of poetry for which Angelou memorized a poem she could share, strengthening her reading skills.  Why was this time period so filled with power of the written word?

In The Pleasure section, we hear about Roxane Gay* who recalls what drove her passion of reading was the desire to read the Sweet Valley High series.  “I waited for new Sweet Valley High books the way other kids waited for new comics or movie releases.”  What was so compelling about this series for Roxane Gay? To learn what the draw was behind this serialized storyline, read Black Ink.

My need to read this title came from the 2018 Read Harder Challenge from BookRiot.com as it fulfilled the challenge of reading an essay anthology.  In my opinion, the passion, the need and the love of reading from the various time periods through the decades are at the heart of these stories.  Oliver’s final summary is succinct and it drives home an important lesson for all, “Reading matters.  Writing matters. People matter.” Reading is an inalienable right for everyone.


*Roxanne Gay is a regular contributor to the New York Times and released a memoir last year called Hunger.


 

Format Available: Book, eBook

Review by Micah, St Matthews Branch

Born to Run in the U.S.A.

What can anyone say about this album that probably hasn’t been said a million times before?  I mean, it is a transcendent slice of American rock ‘n’ roll that made rock ‘n’ roll fun again without losing any punch as to the stories it told. The album’s tales nearly burst from exuberance and hope. The young and disenfranchised protagonists still believe they will, as the title track puts it, “get out while [they’re] young,” and will enjoy themselves along the way.

Well, how about saying Born to Run is a forgotten classic?  This may strike many as a weird statement considering the long shadow that The Boss has extended over the American rock landscape in his 47 years (as the very first version of the E Street Band – known then as the Bruce Springsteen Band – was formed in 1971). Yet this characterization really is apropos because while familiar with individual tracks in some form, usually a live version, many haven’t listened to the original album at all or in the manner it was meant to be listened to at the time of its release.

In 1975, the full length album was meant to be a total experience, over and above any tunes that might get cut from it to play as singles. Often the album versions of songs varied in length or composition because the album was for the musician and lovers of music while the single was for the radio and the casual listener.  Further, there was no easy way to change the artist’s presentation of his or her music.

Tape recorders – which would have made it possible to reorder the album – were only just making headway in the market but had not yet become dominant as they would only a few years later when punk broke in the U.S.  Only DJ’s had the equipment to mix songs but these (just emerging) hip-hop techniques were still found only in the ghettos of New York City, cultivated by an audience that completely eschewed the kind of music Springsteen played. Singles – with their radio-friendly edits and B-sides – were about the only way to listen to an album in a different way other than to go to a concert.

What is so striking about Born to Run is that it feels like you are listening to a live band. No, not the kind of cheesy live albums with canned crowd noise that would make Kiss famous. Born to Run definitely has some studio polish with music business veterans Mike Appel and Jon Landau behind the boards but they so well capture the energy of the road-tested E Street band that this album seems as if it’s being played right in front of you, and by a much faster, louder band. After all, the album mostly sticks to mid-tempo songs!

So, no one in the 33 1/3 series – which I highly recommend for music fans with  time constraints – has written on Born to Run (yet). But Geoffrey Himes, music critic for a number of publications but particularly the Washington Post, did pen a really interesting look at the writing process and production of Springsteen’s 1984 classic, Born in the U.S.ABorn in the U.S.A., much like Born to Run, captures its own time period in a striking way. However, we find similar characters to those on Born to Run, years older and much more jaded, looking for some kind of recognition that their wild dreams of youth have been endangered by the economic shifts that struck American industry and towns in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Review by Tony, Main Library

As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti

Did you ever wish upon a star?  Careful what you might wish for…

In the city of Madison, people don’t need a star. They have a special place that gives them one wish on their 18th birthday. Eldon’s birthday wish is coming up in just 25 days but he still isn’t sure what he wants.

Ebba, his little sister, is on life support after an accident. Eldon lost the star spot on the football team. And the girl he loves dumped him for the Calvin, the new star of the team. Now there is nothing left but his wish.

His mother is pressuring him to wish for a way to bring his sister back. His father is consoling but ineffective, locked into a life controlled by his wife’s life-long wish for his love, a love that has made both of them miserable. So what can Eldon wish for that will make the world right again in his eyes? After all, there is always someone who can wish away what his wish has given him?

Those under eighteen dream of their wish, long for the moment they can will get their greatest desire. Many who have made their wish now live with regret or are ruled by their greed for power or money. In high school it has even become part of the curriculum to discuss what to wish for and how to word their wish.

Eldon has the answer, he thinks. Merrill, his best friend, and he join forces with Norrie, a very religious young lady in a town of non-believers, to set out and talk with those who have made their wish. What did they wish for, why and how did it turn out? Along the way Eldon will see a side of himself he never saw, the way others see him, arrogant, self-centered and quarrelsome.

In his search for wisdom, he makes a hash of things. Eldon’s behavior includes fighting, letting others (especially his father) down on the football field, drinking, and even divulging the town’s long-kept secret to outsiders. Intertwined with Eldon’s growing realization of himself and how others view him, are the stories told by those who have already made their wish, why and how it changed their lives.

Before and after they wish, people are driven to protect their secret source. This effectively closes off the town from outsiders and what goes on beyond its limits. Eldon and others, who have yet to wish, are so focused on what will give them their heart’s desire, they forget that life is full of choices and one bad choice/wish shouldn’t control your future.

Merrill and Norrie, with their common sense and vision of a possible future outside Madison, are a good balance for Eldon’s self-centered attitude. So, has Eldon gained any wisdom from his mistakes and from listening to other’s stories? Will he simply make a wish for himself or one that will change Madison forever?

We don’t get the full picture of all the characters in this book but you don’t need it to walk with Eldon, see his mistakes, watch him grow and meet some curious characters along the way. This is a story of how being given something you don’t have to work for rarely makes you happy. It’s also the tale of a town, closed off to the opportunities from the larger world, given the chance to grow up as well.

Match As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti with Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters for an example of what happens when small town secrets are shared with the world. Learning from other’s mistakes in life means listen first and then make your own choices.

Format Available: Book, eBook

Review by Katy, Shawnee Branch