Friday, October 12, 2007

Hooray for the Small Press--and the Web

If all we had to read were the selections made by bigbox bookstores, how impoverished we would be. Not every book is destined to be a million seller; as in Nature itself, there are niches for an enormous range of books.

For example: longtime contributor Charlie R. recommended a book written by a friend of his, Dwight Rounds: The Year the Music Died, 1964-1972 which is subtitled: A Commentary on the Best Era of Pop Music, and an Irreverent Look at the Musicians and Social Movements of the Time. (The author's website is Animals to Zombies which refers to band names, of course.)

Here is a book which takes unalloyed pleasure in the rock/pop music of the 60s, and in making unabashed value judgments on the relative merit/greatness of the groups and their albums/songs. Mr. Rounds is a knowledgeable fan of the era's music, and if you lived through the era, then the book's lists of songs and fun trivia will bring it all back. If you are too young (lucky you) to have lived through the late 60s, then this book may give you the flavor of the times and help you understand why gray-haired pony-tailed guys and gals remain so enthused by this music.

(You may also find that music you thought was original in the 80s, 90s and new century is actually recycled 60s innovations.)

The author is refreshingly unapologetic about dividing listeners into "Elite" and "Proletarian" categories, with the elites naturally hesitant to admit to liking any popular band. His commentaries on Elite choices is often amusing and spot-on.

As a Beatles fan, I enjoyed his heavy emphasis on that band's players and music. Fans of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, for instance, may well feel he underplays the genius of those musicians. But the fun of the book is in Rounds' strong opinions, and your right as a reader to disagree.

For instance, he doesn't consider the Beatles' "And Your Bird Can Sing" as one of their very best, while for me, it is a continual source of pleasure as a guitar player--certainly one of the most musically interesting (and challenging). If you're a musician, play these chords of the bridge, noting that the song is written in E major:
G#m G+ B C# E F#m B

The way the bridge incorporates the major key chord sound so right--and is so rare in rock or pop music. The double-string lead (played by one guitarist, not overdubbed) is one of the most challenging and unusual in rock music; even the structure of the tune (bridge, guitar lead repeated as interlude, bridge repeated with new lyric, then last verse, then guitar lead completes the song) is interesting.

So in other words--the more you know, the more you will enjoy debating the opinions of this knowledgeable writer. It is great fun, I read it in one three-hour sitting, hearing dozens of songs play in my mind as I went through the lists and commentaries.

Speaking of knowledgeable readers, Lloyd L. submitted a wonderful list of books on World War II in response to Monday's entry:

Given the current interest in WWII and your seeding the topic with the book list of October 8, I offer these additional selective recommendations for serious students of this conflict. I have read all of them, and can compare with many others of this type in my role as a would-be military historian. As far as I know, all of these are currently available from one outlet or another. I will limit my "reviews" to save space.

Flights of Passage: Recollections of a World War II Aviator Samuel Hynes
You may have seen Sam Hynes in (the PBS series) "The War". His writing is as thoughtful as his onscreen remarks were. A very good portrayal of what it meant to qualify and fly as an "underage" military pilot in the Pacific. George H. W. Bush was not alone.

Thank God for the Atom Bomb Paul Fussell
One of my very favorite authors; please look into his other works. This book is a good essay on why the WWII generation welcomed this gruesome scientific "achievement". Fussell is a very gifted writer -- his "The Great War and Modern Memory" is a masterpiece (WWI and the lives and death of the British "soldier-poets").

We Few: The Marine Corps 400 in the War Against Japan Bill Dickenson
A straightforward and interesting tale of a unique, special group of young USMC officers-to-be as the Pacific battles killed off those they would replace, and what happened to them. I had a relative in this group -- he was 19 when commissioned as a 2dLt, and wounded severely at 20 on Okinawa.

My Father's War: A Son's Journey Peter Richmond
A moving tale, well done -- young newsman decides to visit the trail of his now deceased father, set in the island battles. Since his father was a very early participant in the Solomons struggle, and the holder of high decorations for valor, his piecing together of the story is quite fascinating. Good and worthwhile account; fine writing.

Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb George Feifer

This is by far one of the best military history volumes I have ever enjoyed. Very large, incredibly detailed but easily read, this professor of history dissects the tragedy that was Okinawa from every angle, with much space devoted to the suffering of the civilian population. Please do not miss this book if you are interested in our war with Japan. Helmet For My Pillow Robert LeckieA sometimes humorous and delightful though sobering early WWII personal account by a talented writer. Young men rushing into the Marines and their extremely hard existence in the years that followed.

Iwo Jima: Legacy of Valor Bill Ross
Of the many books covering the Iwo Jima assault, this is one of the best, penned by a combat correspondent. Accurate and informative. Fewer personal anecdotes and more tactical day-by-day commentary.

The Peenemunde Raid: The Night of 17-18 August 1943 Martin Middlebrook

Take a good look at all of Middlebrook's works -- they are exceptional, including his many efforts covering WWI. This particular book presents in terrific detail the British Royal Air Force attempts to eliminate the V-rocket experimental center in north Germany. The impacts on RAF aircrew and military and civilians at the German facility are very soundly researched and dramatically presented.

Tarawa: The Story of a Battle Robert Sherrod
A classic of direct observation war reporting by a talented newsman. Sherrod was in the landing boats and under fire with the Marines as they were cut to pieces in this 1943 assault. Horrifying and fascinating. Very little of this battle and its true casualties was revealed to the American public until later in the war.

Stopped at Stalingrad: The Luftwaffe and Hitler's Defeat in the East, 1942-1943
Joel Hayward
One of the best of many books on Stanlingrad -- this one takes in the role of the Luftwaffe in considerable detail, with many formerly unknown disclosures. For the ground battle in detail, try Cornelius Ryan.

Saving the Breakout: The 30th Division's Heroic Stand at Mortain, August 7-12, 1944 Alwyn Featherston
This is a riveting tale of smaller US Army units in the days following the D-Day invasion at Normandy. Mortain was a critical road junction and the heroism of the US troops holding without reinforcement against strong German attacks is one of the lesser-known actions of the war in Europe.

Hell in Hürtgen Forest: The Ordeal and Triumph of an American Infantry Regiment Robert Rush
Another long, deadly and demoralizing part of the campaign in Europe involving tired US divisions against Germans resolved to keep them out of the Fatherland. Rush presents valuable information clarifying the lack of tactical skill exhibited by US generals and the effects on the ground forces. Hurtgen Forest was hell, most certainly, but is typically overshadowed by combat in the "Bulge".

A Bridge Too Far: The Classic History of the Greatest Battle of World War II Cornelius Ryan
Another of my favorites; I re-read it every year or so. A massive and detailed work in the Ryan style; numerous personal stories knitted together in a dramatic picture of this failed Allied offensive in Holland. Read the book, and see the movie, if you have not already. Both are rewarding.

The Fall of Berlin 1945 Anthony Beevor
I believe this is superior to many competing books about the battle for and capture of Berlin by the Russian armies in 1945. Beevor is a very gifted historian (has another excellent book on Stalingrad).

Thank you, Charlie and Lloyd, for the excellent recommendations.

Thank you, Dorothy S., ($50.00) for your very generous donation to this humble site and also for your many insightful commentaries. I am greatly honored by your contribution and readership. All contributors are listed below in acknowledgement of my gratitude.

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