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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy

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Finding fiction

A tip on reading more books that I’ve found useful is to just embrace having more than one on the go at a time. Prevents any one book from feeling like a slog that is stopping you from moving on to your new, shiny books.

Personally I aim to have at least one fiction and one non-fiction book in progress. Non-fiction isn’t so hard to line up—just go with subjects I’m interested in. Fiction is tougher. I now see why so many people love genres of fiction: makes it easier if your aim is to have a bunch of mysteries, romances, or sci fi novels at the ready.

But if your genre is, basically, General Fiction? Quite a bit tougher to narrow that down. I seek inspiration everywhere.

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

Source: Spotted it in a book store (but later bought the ebook)

A love story, of sorts, between an eccentric owner of record store—as in LPs, at the time when everybody was buying CDs (and maybe cassettes)—and a mysterious young woman who swooned outside the shop one day. She claims to know nothing about music. He agrees to teach her about it.

That’s the best part of this book, to me—the in-depth discussions of great exemplars of different types of music: jazz, rock, classical, R&B… Makes you want to rush out and listen to what’s being discussed. Fortunately, the book comes with a Spotify playlist:

I do not know what the book’s main character would have thought of Spotify…

An American Marriage by Tayah Jones

Source: Barack Obama recommendation

A novel about a recently married couple in which the husband is wrongfully convicted of sexual assault. The wife has no doubt of her husband’s innocence; nonetheless, he faces a long incarceration away from her. How do you manage that?

Much of the novel is told as a series of letters. The story does not proceed on a predictable path, but it is plausible one. Thanks, Obama.

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Source: Kobo (ebook seller) recommendation

A work of fiction built around the story of a young woman who has an affair with the older, married, male Senator she’s an intern for. Shades of Monica Lewinski, yes, though that affair is mentioned in the novel as the news that drives her own story out of the headlines.

What’s interesting is that the story is told exclusively from the point of view of the women involved: the intern, her mother, her daughter (the story covers many years), and the Senator’s wife. And you’re not always sure who is who, at least not right away. I loved the approach and really got caught up in this novel.

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

Source: New York Times best books of 2018

This one didn’t work out!

The novel is in three parts. The first two seem unrelated. The third is supposed to bring them together. I read the first part, about a love affair between a young woman and much older man (a writer). They were interesting characters, but they didn’t really do much. There wasn’t much plot happening.

Before proceeding, I look into other reviews. They said that the second part was less interesting than the first, and that the supposed connection you find out about in the third is tenuous, maybe unfathomable. So, I gave up on this one.

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

Source: Recommendation from The Washington Post

Cassandra Bowden, a flight attendant and a binge drinker, wakes from drunken stupor to find that the man she spent the night in Dubai with has been murdered. What to do?

If there’s one genre I do tend to return to, it’s the thriller, and this one is somewhat reminiscent of The Girl on the Train. Unlike that novel, however, it’s clear early on in this story that Cassandra did not murder her lover. But her lack of memory about what happened complicates her situation. And her frequently poor judgment often makes things worse.

This was a pretty fun read. I got it as a library ebook and had to binge read through the last parts because someone else had put a hold on it and I wanted to know how it ended.


I’ve been in a bit of a rut here, of musician bios.

Thanks a Lot, Mr. Kibblewhite is Roger Daltrey’s breezy, easy-reading autobiography. You can tell that it was built from Roger telling his story to the writer he worked with, who assembled the pieces into a coherent narrative.

It is an interesting story, starting in the deprivations of post-war London and continuing up to closing out the Olympic Games, making a triumphant return to Hyde Park, and nearly dying of viral meningitis. With many entertaining anecdotes on the way, from Keith Moon’s antics to the many women in his life (and a number of surprise children) to The Who’s financial challenges and musical triumphs.

I can recommend this one as being appealing even to more casual fans of The Who, as Jean and I listened to the audiobook version (read by Roger Daltrey) and Jean was approving. He had a much higher opinion of Mr. Daltrey by the end of reading this than he had going in.

Unlike with Roger Daltrey’s book, which I preordered and read pretty promptly, this one has been sitting on the bookshelf for a while. I ended up quite enjoying it, though.

This Ray Davies’ second autobiography. Though it does some moving back and forth in time, it’s told in a much more straightforward fashion than his first, which employed a faux, third-party narrator. Here, Ray just writes his own story, focusing on The Kinks relationship with America, and therefore covering the period starting in the early 1970s when the band’s work ban was lifted. It includes the whole 1980s “arena rock” period during which I discovered The Kinks and became a fan, so was of particular interest.

Ray discusses some of his relationships he was in during this time, but with considerable discretion, so if you’re hoping for dirt on his volatile relationship with Chrissie Hynde, you’ll be disappointed. It’s mostly about the music, the band, and his uneasy relationship with the US itself—culminating in his shooting by a mugger in New Orleans. Getting shot is no joke, it turns out…

Another book with a soundtrack (yes, there’s also a Part 1; I just prefer Part 2)


On things sporting

Have watched The Olympics, but not obsessively. I prefer the winter ones, as more of the sports are more interesting, and Canada is more competitive. The time difference is also difficult, as most events take place before I’m up or when I’m at work.

Live-streaming is a nice thing, though. The most thrilling thing I did get to view live via that technology was the end of the women’s soccer match, including that one goal! Though I didn’t watch much of the heart-breaker soccer match between Canada and the US, I heard so much about it after, I felt like I had. So I was vested in that Bronze medal match. Christine Sinclair is a good choice to carry the flag.

Another fun live-stream was that incredibly long tennis match between Miloas Raonic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Live on TV, I enjoyed the men’s 1500-meter swim, which was surprisingly exciting for such a long race, and I managed to catch the women’s eight rowing team final.

But I am really looking forward to the Closing Ceremonies, with its promised focus on British music, including Ray Davies, Queen, and The Who. Great Britain proved themselves athletically in these games with the amazing performance of their team, but they long-ago demonstrated that they were unsurpassed in producing great rock musicians.


For various reasons, my main workout choice these days has been via exercise DVD. I like to get new ones semi-regularly to shake things up, and avoid boredom. Looking up my collected titles, you might think I’m desperate to lose weight:

  • Dance Off the Inches! Hip Hop Party
  • 10 Pounds Down! Cardio Abs
  • Fat Burning Fusion!
  • Super Slim Down!
  • Secrets to a Great Upper Body!

Which is just starting to get on my nerves. I know it’s all marketing, and there are a lot of overweight people that might be sold on such promises, but… Does “thin-ness” have to be the only selling point for these things? I mean, I have one called Fat-Burning Yoga, for heaven’s sake. Yoga. And it’s not some funky fusion of yoga and aerobics or whatever; it’s just your basic yoga stretches and holds, maybe  a little more peppy. But not so you’re going to break much of a sweat.

Thing is, inside, they’re really good workouts that will do good things for your heart, lungs, muscles, stress level, sleep, and so on. In most cases, by the end of these workouts, I feel great. That’s why I do them. Yes, I’m sure it’s helping me maintain a healthy weight as well, but that’s not what’s motivating me to keep it up.

Is that so unusual? Reminds me of having been stopped by someone selling gym memberships, and asked why I exercise. I said, “To stay healthy”, and she looked down her list of possible answers and said, “Huh. That’s not on here.” So maybe it is that unusual…


And that big toenail that I damaged on my Amalfi hiking trip? Gone! Leaving just the stub of toenail that had been growing underneath it.

It’s kind of gross, of course. And the timing is really bad, because it’s still sandal season. (I’m thinking, cover it with a Band Aid, I guess?) But it’s still making me feel unusually athletic. Me, the marathoners, and the cross-country skiers: Losing toenails in our pursuit of extreme sport. 🙂


White Wine in the Sun

Today was “our” Christmas celebration, in advance of events with the extended family on the actual days.

As a result, it seemed apropos to play the “Christmas” playlist. (Particularly as I received a new iPod dock I had to try out.) But though all 82 songs are self-selected and heavy on the non-traditional, I gotta say that it’s just not my favorite type of music.

However, there are a few stand-outs.

* Sting’s “Gabriel’s Message”, a simply gorgeous song proving that not all rock star Christmas songs for charity have to suck.
* The Kink’s ”Father Christmas”, a somewhat dark yet catchy tune, that unfortunately seems timely: A poor kid just wants cash for Christmas, or “give my Dad a job ’cause he needs one.” All those toys? Gives them to the little rich boys.
* Adam Sandler’s Hanukuah Song which, OK, isn’t about Christmas at all. But though I’ve heard all the jokes in it many times before, it still makes me laugh. “OJ Simpson… Not a Jew!”
Do They Know it’s Christmas? Truly the weirdest set of lyrics ever penned by an atheist, and ones I’m sure Geldof, now an expert on Africa (as he wasn’t then), must wince over. Still, too many good memories around this song. And I love its jingly-jangly sound.
* Last year’s YouTube discovery, Spiraling’s mash-up of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” with The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”, producing the most awesome guitar riff in a Christmas song ever.

And this year’s YouTube discovery, courtesy of @eoutwater of the KW Symphony: Tim Michen’s “White Wine in the Sun”. Lovely, funny, and true, Minchen’s explains his fondness for Christmas despite his reservations about “the commercialization of an ancient religion, the Westernization of a dead Palestinian”. But you get to be with your family in a relaxed state, and that’s what it’s all about. 5 stars.

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Old music in shiny new packages

I had some quiet days off after Christmas, during which I had the time to enjoy my newly acquired music. Though the “new” should perhaps be put in quotes…

Lowest of the Low – Shakespeare My Butt Deluxe Edition

First of all, I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since this was first released. I guess I can’t continue to refer to Lowest as one of the “new” bands that I like.

The core of this reissue is a remastering of the original CD.  But though I played it through my best available sound system, I couldn’t actually tell if it the sound quality was noticeably improved. I suspect that’s because I couldn’t help singing along with every track at the top of my lungs. (Yes, I was home alone at the time. Cats didn’t seem to mind.)

What remains apparent, though, is that this is a damn good album. Nearly 65 minutes long, with no bad songs. It’s an irresistible mix of super-catchy tunes and really intelligent lyrics. So you like the album on first listen, and don’t hate yourself for it later on repeat listens.

Below is an audio-only video of “Rosy and Grey” from Shakespeare My Butt—it appears they never made proper videos for these tunes…

The reissue also includes a DVD, where the same visuals come with two soundtrack options: Interviews and Soundtrack. On Interviews, you get various band interviews that were all news to me, because for a band I like so much, I actually knew nothing about them. Like, the band members’ names, or anything. Now, I’m better informed, and they do come across as thoughtful and decent guys. On the Soundtrack portion, you get these alternate versions of the Shakespeare songs on variety of instruments, including a kazoo! It’s pretty cool, actually, and I’ll probably replay that version more.

And finally, you get liner notes, mainly by Dave Bookman of 102.1 The Edge (so it really strikes me that in the interview segment, the band says they can’t get their newer stuff played on The Edge anymore, because they’re not on the corporate playlist) and British novelist John Donoghue, for whom this album inspired a novel of the same name.

Ray Davies: See My Friends

While this CD does consist of all new recordings, it is of older songs, redone as duets between composer Ray Davies and various artists: Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Jackson Browne, Lucinda Williams, and so on. A lot of long-time Kinks fans hate this thing, some complaining so vociferously about it that I was almost afraid to play it.

But now I think they’re just being grumpy and close-minded. True, not everything is great here: Bon Jovi doesn’t exactly improve on the original “Celluloid Heroes”, and while I’m all for women tackling songs originally interpreted by men, Paloma’s version of “Lola” just comes across as weird.

But other things work really well. There’s just a rightness to Metallica, one of the best metal bands ever, interpreting the song widely credited as the original metal song, “You Really Got Me”. And Amy McDonald made a great choice in covering “Dead End Street”, a 1965 song that unfortunately sounds like it’s describing today’s conditions. The interaction between her and Ray is also quite charming.

I also enjoyed the creative mashing of certain songs: “Days” with “This Time Tomorrow” by Ray with Mumford & Sons, and “All Day and All of the Night” with “Destroyer” by Ray with Billy Corgan. The slightly less-known songs “Long Way from Home” and “This Is Where I Belong” are nicely interpreted by Lucinda Williams and Black Francis. And if Jackson Brown doesn’t really improve on the Kinks original “Waterloo Sunset”—who could?—at least he doesn’t wreck it.

The Who – Live at Leeds Deluxe 40th Anniversary Edition

This one was my Boxing Day gift from me to me, as put it on sale from $79 to $49 Christmas Day. UPS delivered it to me on December 29. (I see it’s now back to $79, plus you have to wait 3-4 weeks for it.)

I’ve read a lot of reviews of this that basically boiled down to:

  1. Damn! I’m tired of buying this same album over and over!
  2. Wasn’t the original six-track album perfect in itself? Why keep adding stuff?

To point 1., I sympathize, but I’m not really in that boat. OK, I did buy Leeds once before, but only once, and that was as an iTunes download. I’d since been kind of regretting that, since iTunes downloads don’t have quite the full audio quality of a CD. Plus, I’d been feeling that this was one case where having the LP would be fun too, if I could find one with all the original inserts and such.

So, this package, a mondo thing that includes the original LP, a hardcover book with all the originals inserts (and other stuff), the deluxe CDs, plus another two CDs  of the previously unreleased Hull concert, and even a 45 of Summertime Blues / Heaven and Hell, was perfect for me.

And point 2—why keep adding stuff?—I thought was just stupid. I mean, if The Who had sucked that night except for the original six songs, then you might have a point, but they didn’t. The whole concert was amazing. So why wouldn’t you want it all? If you’re that nostalgic for the six songs, create a playlist of just those ones.

Nevertheless, the LP is the first thing I played when I got the set. Apparently it preserves the original cracks and ticks that were excised from the digital version, but I can’t say I found them that noticeable. And it’s good, of course, but man, is it ever short. I will say that it is impressive that the original made such an impact, despite its brevity.

And the other add-ons? Well the book is a nice collection of Leeds-related information, some of which I’d read before, some I hadn’t. Along with reproduction of album inserts, it has some great photos, and a play-by-play of each song on deluxe CD.

I’ve listened to the Hull concert a couple times. Though they did an admirable job of restoring the sound to this (in particular, bass was missing from the first six tracks and had to be Frankenstein-ed in from Leeds), there’s no doubt that Leeds sounds better overall. Hull also has a lot less of the between-song patter you get on Leeds, and I miss that, since Townshend and Moon are hilarious. But it is a great one for admiring Moon’s druming, as that’s really forward in the mix. It’s also interesting how two concerts, with identical song line-ups, two nights apart, can nevertheless have quite a few differences in interpretation. This was not a band that just went through the motions. Therefore, to me, it’s worth having both (even though I also have Isle of Wight, and Tanglewood, and some of Woodstock, all of from this same period).

I do find it slightly annoying that we get both concerts not in the original order, for the purpose of keeping all of Tommy on one CD. But that’s easy enough to rectify manually.

So, the only thing missing from this package? Video. Herewith I gave you the only footage released from the concert so far, from a Japanese release of Leeds, apparently. (This was pulled down from YouTube a while ago, but seems to be back.)

Striking to me how tiny the stage was. This was one of the biggest bands in the world at that time, and they were playing at a university hall. That doesn’t happen anymore, and that’s partly why we no longer get live albums as good as Live at Leeds.

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Odds and sods

I’d mentioned to some that the SD card from our trip had cracked right in half when inserted into the computer. Well, it turns out that Windows 7 has a feature to help you recover from such a thing. To access it, simply remove the card, reinsert it, and accept the repair option. In the end, we lost very few photos. (And I’ve finally managed the finish the web pages about the trip.)

Too bad it took us a few weeks to figure that out.


Have a new iPod classic. Well, new to me. I bought it used on Ebay. It’s in excellent shape, though; looks brand new. I was mainly after greater storage capacity, and boy do I have that now: 120 GB. Given that it’s taken me 5 years to get to 30 GB, that should be enough for some time. It’s also black, which is somewhat cooler-looking than the white. And it has a better screen, a “cover flow” feature (which I’m not entirely sure of the point of, but is weirdly compelling to look at), more information displayed about each song and playlist, and the ability to create Genius playlists on-the-fly.

The Ebay experience was a little stressful due to uncommunicative seller, but to his credit, he was very fast in shipping it out. So fast, in fact, that he didn’t even bother to remove his 60 GB of music first. So much music, so little I have any interest in. To start fresh? Click that scary, never-before-used “Restore Factory Settings” button.


More nice tributes have come in for Pete Quaife of The Kinks, including an obituary in the Globe and Mail on July 1, by one his former—but post-Kinks—bandmates. Also very beautiful was Ray Davies’ dedicated rendition of “Days”, the most perfect song to sing to a departed friend (and a song he’s often associated with Pete in the past). Ray almost loses it on the opening lines.