Sunday, October 31, 2021

Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of Genius (Harry Freedman)

Leonard Cohen’s work has been the subject of many pieces of writing from individuals trying to guess or figure out the meaning of his words. Cohen was known for poems and songs often filled with spiritual and sexual meaning and often, the two themes were unified into one. Cohen could also wax political, personal, philosophical and interchange between those themes within a song.  Harry Freedman’s book, Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of Genius, is an attempt to tackle Cohen’s musical works from a spiritual and mystical perspective.

Freedman divides the book into four sections, starting off with a central theme behind each of the categories and then citing songs from Cohen’s several decades of work as examples. For example, “Bible as Allegory”, one of the categories, dives into several songs where Cohen takes a biblical account and reshapes it into a different context. In addition to Cohen’s heavy biblical references, he also draws upon the Talmud and Kabbalah as influences in his music, the Talmud being a major historical repository of Jewish law and custom and Kabbalah as Judaism’s mystical side that has influenced pieces of New Age and modern Christianity as well. Freedman incorporates timely and appropriate quotes from interviews Cohen gave to help guide the book’s narrative.

Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of Genius is heavily researched and well-written. I particularly enjoyed seeing how Freedman interpreted Cohen’s multi-faceted musical mind and how Cohen drew strongly on his faith and spiritual side to help shape much of what he wrote.



Friday, October 29, 2021

Big Summer (Jennifer Weiner)

There's no question that Jennifer Weiner is a successful author with scores of fans. Some of her books have even been made into movies. But as I'll explain soon, I'm not quite sure what her novel, Big Summer, is trying to be. 

Daphne Berg is enjoying her career as a plus-size influencer when her ex best friend, Drue Cavanaugh, comes calling. Daphne and Drue haven't spoken for years, so Daphne is shocked when Drue asks her to be the maid-of-honor in her upcoming wedding. Daphne reluctantly agrees and packs up to spend Drue's wedding weekend at a Cape Cod mansion. 

All of this would have made Big Summer a breezy read perfect for the beach, but then it turns into something else entirely -- a mystery. Some books are successful at switching genres midstream, but this one...not so much. To me, it felt like Daphne and her mystery-solving friends turned into the Scooby Doo gang halfway through the book, which basically ruined it for me. I didn't love this one.


Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Cuba: An American History (Ada Ferrer)

Cuba’s history - and that of the United States - intertwine closely despite the two nations having vastly different experiences as colonies and nations. Cuba: An American History, is Ada Ferrer’s account of the intimate to distant relationship the two countries have had over the centuries.

Ferrer’s well-researched book documents the influence that the United States has had over Cuba from before the United States declared its own independence up through the present day, helping scuttle revolutions and political movements, sometimes trying to annex Cuba, often influencing its politics and its domestic affairs up until Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Ferrer’s account weaves a narrative that Cuba’s story is as much a struggle for its own voice as it is about its complicated relationship with its much larger neighbor (the United States).

Covering five centuries of a geopolitical relationship is not an easy task. Details may get missed or omitted - such as Radio Marti’s attempts to broadcast to the Cuban masses and Cuba’s jamming of radio signals from overseas or the Elian Gonzalez story in the late 1990’s. However, Cuba: An American History is a well-rounded, well-researched look at two countries who share a lot more in common than their leaders sometimes care to admit and how one neighbor’s dominance in that relationship has very much influenced the behavior of the other.


Monday, October 11, 2021

A Brief History of Motion: From the Wheel, to the Car, to What Comes Next (Tom Standage)

Motion and movement have propelled us from a hunting and gathering populace to one that lives in major cities, can travel around the world in a matter of days, or have goods shipped to us through the power of our phones. From the first wheels several thousand years ago to the advent of travel by chariot, carriage and car, motion and movement have helped humanity develop, prosper, and arguably wreak havoc on others and on our environment.

Tom Standage’s A Brief History of Motion: From the Wheel, to the Car, to What Comes Next, explores the evolution of transportation and how it has impacted us over the millenia and offers a projection of what Standage sees in its future. A chunk of focus is on the automobile and how much upheaval it unfurled on society. Automobiles were not popular with all initially, and the rules enforcing automotive travel took decades to standardize with the noted variance of driving on the left versus the right side of the road. However, cars changed how the world was administered and how cities were laid out. 

While many urbanites feel that the current modes of transportation are not sustainable for the long haul, there are questions on how those modes change going forward. Standage closes out his book by talking about those likely changes - autonomous vehicles, ride sharing, electric bike and scooter sharing, and other methods. While the car may not fully go away, and Standage does not argue that the car will become obsolete, he does argue that how we commute and where we commute will very likely do so. Some of that is due to the impacts of COVID and realizing that work from home in part or in full is a viable option, and much of it is due to the impacts of technology on transportation.