Thursday, November 24, 2011

What I've Been Reading (and some music TV)

Okay, this is an even more random edition of What I've Been Reading (and Watching) than usual -- I hope some of it speaks to some of you out there! 

1.
Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges (2006, 2nd revised edition), by Loren Pope. The college application thing is such a rat race, isn't it? So stressful, so depressing, so many assumptions about what's best (name-brand schools), so many messed-up notions about how to decide who is and isn't "smart." When I was choosing a college, I bought into all of that completely. I thought it was all about rankings and scores. I think differently now. And yeah, I'm happy with the path I took, not that it matters, because I wasn't really in a place then to take any other kind of path. But if I had to go to college now, knowing all I've learned, I might choose one of the colleges in this refreshing book I've been reading, called Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges (2006, 2nd revised edition). It's by Loren Pope, who, according to the book cover, is also the author of a book called Looking Beyond the Ivy League.

High schoolers, if you're stressed out about all this crappy crap, you might want to pick up this book. Please note that the tone can be old-fashioned, some of the reports of complete collegiate bliss make me suspicious, and I have the occasional quibble with the author. For example: "Agnes Scott is one of the best colleges around. It is a women's college that has all the advantages of a coed one, and, the women there say, a lot more besides. First, there are thousands of attentive young men at seven heavily male institutions nearby, eager for dates." ...SRSLY? This is the very first thing to be said about this stellar institution?

But that's not the point. Reading about colleges that approach admissions, education, and/or grading a little bit differently from the norm but are still extremely challenging, still passionate about learning, and still produce all those quantifiable results everyone is crazy about -- it might just help you break out of the trap so many of us are/were in when the time comes/came for applying to colleges. Much of this book involves students and alums talking about their experiences in their own words. (By the way, an aside in case you don't know, from someone who does know: a lot of the schools in this book -- and outside this book -- a lot of small, private, expensive schools -- have extremely generous, need-based financial aid. You may actually be able to afford to go to the school you think you can't afford to go to, and without taking on terrible debt. There are probably books out there to help with that jungle, too... I just did a search in my library catalog for college financial aid and came up with a bunch of titles.)

Anyway. After reading a few of the college profiles in this book, I had to stop myself from sending a copy to my sister, codename: Cordelia, to give to my nieces to read. They just turned two. They can't actually read yet. Do you think it's too soon?

(By the way, another book kicking around my house that I haven't had a chance to look at yet but I'm mentioning just in case it's helpful for people to know it exists: Peterson's Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities or AD/HD. And I just did another search in my library catalog; college learning disability comes up with a lot of titles.) 

2.
Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather. I've tried to read this book so many times in the past, and was never able to get into it. Now I'm realizing I was just trying on the wrong days, or something. It's SUCH a wonderful book -- quiet, not a lot of plot, but a lot of substance and character stuff. I'm allergic to plot summary... it's about an archbishop in the American West in days of yore. He dies. ^_^ But! The imagery!  "At one moment the whole flock of doves caught the light in such a way that they all became invisible at once, dissolved in light and disappeared as salt dissolves in water. The next moment they flashed around black and silver against the sun." This book contained so many moments like that. 

3.
Toning the Sweep, by Angela Johnson. This is a tiny little book, Johnson's first novel, leaves you with impressions of the desert, light, heat, color, family, memory, grief, and healing. Read it. 

4. 
Skim, by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. This is a graphic novel about a high school girl in Canada going through some pretty normal life stuff, especially loneliness. Understated, and I just loved it. Take it out of your library or take a peek at it the next time you're in a bookstore; see if it appeals to you. Or, if you want to know more about the themes or whatever, go to goodreads and see what people are saying. 

5.
There Devil, Eat That, by JonArno Lawson. I've blogged about Lawson's poetry before. It is a quiet delight. JonArno has given me permission to share a couple that spoke to me particularly -- because it's so much easier to show you the poems than to try to explain what they're like!

From a section called "Travels":

iv.
305 Rue Marie-Anne est
(or How my past self tried, unsuccessfully, to disown me)

I know more about him than he thought I'd know.
Looking back, he didn't know much.
He couldn't guess well --
Certainly he didn't know that I'd come someday

Straight to where he hid in the past
Not to disown him
As he disowned me,
But to gather him back.

And one more:

Here Comes the Wind

Here comes the wind
to push your goat over the side of a mountain
to sadden a wall
to darken the sky
to rattle a little tin can --
It comes to toss a tired bird beyond reach of the shore --
here comes the wind
oh friend of the wind
to rid me of your ashes.


******

Now, we should all feel free to look beyond the Ivies, but HAVING SAID THAT, I would like to point out that there is a young man who sings in Dartmouth's all-male a cappella group, the Dartmouth Aires, who, as far as I can tell, was born to be a big Broadway star. His name is Michael Odokara-Okigbe, and while the entire group is talented and fun and energetic and funny, I think Odokara-Okigbe is the biggest reason the Aires have made it all the way to the upcoming finale of NBC's slightly quirky a cappella reality competition show, The Sing-Off (link opens a video with sound). Judge Shawn Stockman (of Boys II Men) said to him once, "What were you thinking of doing outside of singing?"

This video will give you a sense of his voice and presence. (Sorry about the ads. Props to NBC for posting the vids so we can embed them legally -- but of course with ads, sigh. Wait... suddenly I wonder if this video will work overseas. If it doesn't and you want to search elsewhere, the song is "Shout," the group is the Dartmouth Aires, and the show is The Sing-Off.) (BTW, the music only lasts 3 minutes -- the rest of that space is judging.) (ALSO. Last parenthetical: if you get my posts as emails, you may need to go to my Blog Actual to see the vids.)



And here's a really fun performance of the Aires doing a Queen medley (the music is only about 3:30 long). I think this was the moment when I first thought to myself, Could I please see him on Broadway someday?:



In the meantime, my favorite group on the show is Pentatonix, who do not actually sound like Florence and the Machine, except for when they're singing Florence and the Machine (music lasts 2:45):



(If you love them, here they are again with an adorable version of "Video Killed the Radio Star".)

What I love about really good a cappella is that you can try to deconstruct what's happening while you're watching it -- who's doing what, and how? Sometimes it helps you deconstruct what the original artist does, too. It made me laugh to listen to a group of five vocalists put on the Florence and the Machine sound -- I think I would've recognized it as F+tM even if I hadn't known it was her song! Anyway. The finale is Monday on NBC; I'm guessing some pretty good music is guaranteed.