Why Billy Joel is the Best Storyteller [With Book Recommendations!]

By David Shankbone (David Shankbone) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A few months back, I had the rare occasion to be channel surfing (I hardly ever do this, as I usually only turn my TV on when there’s something specific that I want to watch). Showtime was airing a documentary called A Matter of Trust: The Bridge to Russia and it was all about Billy Joel’s tour of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Far from being merely a “tour diary” though, the documentary examined the difficulties involved in taking the tour to the USSR and what it meant that Billy Joel was willing to take his then-wife, Christie Brinkley, and young daughter Alexa along with him amid all the tensions between the US and USSR. Brinkley was interviewed, as well as the band members who accompanied Billy Joel, and they talked about the tour and its place in history in the context of the Cold War. It was fascinating to a pop culture junkie with a music problem (like me).

Listening to Billy Joel tell the story of what inspired the song “Leningrad” got me thinking about why it is that basically everyone likes Billy Joel (especially people from New York, who rabidly adore him). There really aren’t a whole lot of singer-songwriters who have been able to bridge generations the way Billy Joel has, after all. The answer was one that seemed so simple, but was (at least for me) overlooked:

Billy Joel is an amazing storyteller.

And I don’t just mean in documentaries or during concerts. I mean that his music actually tells stories. He writes about subject matter that resonates with real people instead of just lots and lots of love songs (to be fair, he has a number of those as well, but I find his more tolerable than others).

The reader and writer in me is particularly drawn to some of those songs that tell stories that you just don’t hear on the radio. They’re working class stories. Regional stories. Life stories. Some writers can only write what they know. Billy Joel is one of those writers who is good at telling stories beyond his own experience, as well. This is very difficult to do (think about books you’ve read where the writer just couldn’t pull off the different perspective and it seemed contrived).

Of course, then I started thinking, “Well, if you like this Billy Joel song, you might like this book….” So I want to talk a little about some of the storytelling that makes Billy Joel’s music so appealing and relatable. Please note that there aren’t book recommendations for all of these, and of the recs given, I haven’t read all of them. Some of them are just based on my understanding of the book, which could certainly be incorrect. Feel free to leave kind rebuttals in the comments. Continue reading

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The Challenging Thing About Reading Challenges

photo credit: ginnerobot via photopin cc

photo credit: ginnerobot via photopin cc

Oh, reading challenges. Bookish people either love them or hate them. I have never once heard someone say, “Meh, they’re just okay.” What readers either love or hate about these challenges tends to be related to numbers — the feeling of success when you read x amount of books in a week or a month or a year.

For a long time, I stayed away from them just for that reason because I am a s.l.o.w. reader. I mean… painfully. I get really anxious that if I start reading too fast, I’m going to miss something. Like many others, I also operate on “found reading time.”

Still, while the numbers are certainly a challenge, they feel more like a checklist. A quota that needs to be met. And I don’t know about you, but I know how I am with quotas: once I’ve reached the goal, I feel burnt out and like I just want to take a break. Or a nap. Or one followed by the other.

So… it feels like work.

This is where I start to get to the root of what is, at least for me, problematic about reading challenges. If challenges are going to end that way, what have we really learned from them? Sure, it’s a challenge to meet a quota, but if you’re going to put in all the work, shouldn’t you at least get something out of it?

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Does Listening to an Audiobook Still Count as Reading?

photo credit: the bbp via photopin cc

There isn’t a time in my life that I can recall not having books around me to pick up and escape. While most kids probably enjoyed staying home sick from school to watch TV, I enjoyed it because my mom kept plastic bins full of books in my closet, and when I’d stay home sick, she’d put those two bins up on the bed with me so that I could read. Before we went to sleep every night, she read to us. (Meanwhile, my dad made up crazy stories which probably contributed to my love of creative writing, as well. He sometimes also used hand puppets and silly voices to tell those stories, which is possibly why I am amused to review books using a homemade dinosaur puppet on this site.)

Book stores, book fairs, RIF days (Reading is Fun..damental, aka free book day!), library programs, book order forms, you name it and I was bleeding my parents dry doing it. I basically never got in trouble in school unless it was for reading when I was supposed to be paying attention (or not doing my homework because I’d been lost in a book). For a period of time, I wanted to be a “book keeper” when I grew up because I thought this meant someone who collected and shared books. Aka… a librarian. (Now that I know what a book keeper actually does, I would NEVER want to do that. Ever.) I don’t even know if I played at recess until 3rd or 4th grade. I just took out a book and read. It reminds me of this great and totally true thing that one of my college friends said:

“I used to love to play outside and read. And then I kept reading and stopped playing outside, which is how I got to be what I am today: an out-of-shape English major.” 

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Frank Reads: The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

It’s been a while, Frankophiles. I’ll spare you all of my reasons for not blogging for nearly two months. I respect you more than excuses are worth because I know you weren’t born yesterday (although I have been really busy and I’m basically living out of suitcases for October). For what it’s worth, though, on Monday night, I sat down with some time to finally write that blog post I’ve been meaning to write here. And…. I ended up trashing three posts and giving up because my mind was blank.

But what really matters is that I’m here, you’re here, and so we should have some fun, yeah?

First, I have a really important question. I’m hoping that a new reader stumbles upon this and can help a sister out. Every day, Frank’s video blog on 11/22/63 by Stephen King is getting a whole bunch of hits. Because I don’t pay anything for this blog, I don’t get high-end analytics, but I can see that people from all over are coming to ye olde blarg on that post. The problem is… I don’t know where they’re coming from. I would really like to know. So if you happened to get here by way of… there… please leave a comment and let me know how you got here.

(And if you didn’t get here via an appropriately mysterious link to the video blog/post about the Stephen King book, I’d still like to know how you got here!)

And now on to business. Frank and I didn’t have much time for reading over the summer. We started The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian in June and just finished it somewhere around mid-to-late September. Below you will find Frank’s standard weirdo video blog as he reviews the book. Then I’ll share my additional thoughts (as always, the dino-sock puppet thinks for himself! … yyyyep.) Continue reading

Frank Reads: Drinking With Strangers by Butch Walker

Ermahgerd! I’m back again.

Life continues to have other plans for me as I try my best to make it back here each week and post something for you. I had a super productive day, though, and found myself pretty much done with work at 5 or 6 pm with only a few light tasks to do this evening, so, I thought… hey. You know who needs an update?

Oh, you know who needs an update.

It’s been a slow summer for me in terms of reading. I read a few books at the beach, but the last one that I started there (in mid-June) is the one that, sadly, two months later, I’m still reading. It’s not that it isn’t good, but more that I just haven’t had a lot of time to read.

So I gave Frank three options this time. He told me he was sick of vlogging about “all of that girly shit” and told me to give him something that didn’t cause tears or teen angst. There was really only one answer, and it’s one that I’ve been saving since late December/early January. In fact, the only surprise for anyone who knows me (or has ever read this blog) will be that it took me this long to get Frank’s shit together.

And so, without further ado, Frank’s newest video: a review of Drinking With Strangers: Music Lessons From a Teenage Bullet Belt by Butch Walker.

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Frank Reviews: Diary of a Mad Fat Girl by Stephanie McAfee

If I’m in a bookstore and the words “Fat Girl” are printed on the cover of anything, I’m going to take a personal interest. That’s how I found myself picking up Stephanie McAfee’s New York Times Best Seller, Diary of a Mad Fat Girl.

I was still reading One Day when Frank was consuming this one. For the record, just about the only things I do these days are reading and writing.

If you’re new to this blog, Frank is a dino sock puppet who enjoys filming his book reviews. That’s all well and good, but something weird almost always happens (and also… thanks for stopping by!).

With that in mind, I’m going to let Frank do his thing here. Then I’ll be back to do mine. This also seems like a good time to tell you that if it doesn’t make any sense at all, I have a good reason: I’ve been up since 7:15 a.m., it’s 2:40 a.m. as I write this, and I only slept for not quite four hours last night. SO…

Take it away, Frankie, baby…

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Frank Reads: One Day by David Nicholls

Frank finally carved some time out of his busy schedule last week to record his thoughts on One Day by David Nicholls. I’ve not had time to manage his YouTube uploads, so here we are the following week.

I know what you’re thinking. “Seriously, Frank/Renee? One Day?

Hey, I know, man. I thought that too. But I was pleasantly surprised with the book. I haven’t seen the movie, though. Maybe one day.

(See what I did there?)

So I’ll let Frank take over for a few minutes to let you know what he thought, then I’ll come back and add my own assessment. Also, before I forget, Frank asked me to tell you all that he apologizes that his accent started to slip a little in the middle of this production. He has been “spending too much time with Americans.”

Also, he apologizes for the times when his head is way up, almost out of the frame. We recorded on an actual camera this time instead of ye olde webcam.

Special thanks to my friend Amy who found that sweet Remington Rand Model Seventeen in her attic and gave it to me.

Over to you, Frank…

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Frank Reads: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

When I heard that Stephen King was coming out with a book called 11/22/63, my heart jumped for joy. In case you aren’t aware, I am fascinated with the Kennedys, but the uncertainty over the assassination is what most piques my interest.

When I read the premise, I was even more excited. You know who was tasked with preventing Kennedy from dying? An English teacher! In case you aren’t aware, I used to be an English teacher.

On Christmas morning I unwrapped this massive 850-pager, much to my delight, and started reading it somewhere around January 2nd. I just finished it last week. Slow reader, yes, but there was also about a month and a half when I barely read at all because my employment situation kind of exploded.

Just to warn you, this post is about to get really weird. Why? Because you’re about to watch a video of a dinosockosaurus (aka Frank) review this book for you. Oh yes.

You’ll forgive him if he seems a bit scatterbrained. This is his first time on camera. Allow me to answer a few questions for you ahead of time:

1. Yes, I made Frankasockosaurus.
2. No, I’m not sure what exactly his accent is or why it changes so often.
2a. No, we don’t hate Canadians. Duh! One of our favorite readers lives in Canada! Frank just meant that maybe he’ll have a Canadian accent in his next video (and let’s be honest, it will be totally botched anyway).

So without further ado, I give you…. Frank’s review of 11/22/63 by Stephen King.

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Goodbye, Borders. Godspeed.

When I read the news that Borders would be closing its doors for good, I cried. Not sobbing uncontrollably, but my eyes filled with tears. That might seem like a bit of a strong reaction, but I think it might be more about what this symbolizes. Sometimes I really fear for literacy, and I mean that.

You also never realize how much something meant to you until it’s gone.

Growing up in the middle of nowhere, we didn’t have trendy bookshops. We didn’t have large retail chains like Barnes & Noble, although on special occasions we’d visit the one an hour away. No, we had a shopping center with a small retailer called The Book Store that was hit or miss, and we had a shopping mall with a Waldenbooks, a subsidiary of Borders. So many of my best childhood memories involve books and begging my parents to take me to buy them. It follows, then, that this bookstore in particular has brought me much joy in my life.

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The Hopeful Reader

Last week I wrote about my Top 5 favorite pieces of escapist literature, and this week I’m here to talk books again. Specifically, I’m thinking about how reading is just as crucial as writing for mental well-being (I’m not saying that it always works, but it does help). Books don’t always need to be escapist in nature to give us something, do they? Different genres elicit different feelings, all of which are necessary for surviving the cruel, cruel world, no?

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