Two more of my favorite books of 2015…just under the wire

Notorious RBG

Notorious RBG, The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Irin Carmon & Shana Kniznik

After reading this fantastic ‘biography of a badass’, I realize that appointing her to the Supreme Court was probably the best thing that Bill Clinton did.  The book is written by two young women who portray her life with lots of anecdotes, graphics and notations. Lately, she has been the Supreme Dissenter in so many 5-4 decisions. When asked what number of female justices on the bench would be enough, she said 9. For RBG, abortion rights are not about ‘privacy’ but about equality. Here is her dissent in Gonzales v. Carhart: “Women, it is now acknowledged, have the talent, capacity, and right ‘to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation’.  Their ability to realize their full potential, the Court recognized, is intimately connected to ‘their ability to control their reproductive lives.’ Thus, legal challenges to undue restrictions on abortion procedures do not seek to vindicate some generalized notion of privacy; rather, they center on a woman’s autonomy to determine her life’s course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature.”  The quotes within my quote are from Justice Kennedy, reminding him of his words in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, from which he was now departing. She always has the long view, constantly working on changing hearts and minds, especially the other justices’, about what “We the People” really means…that is, full rights for everyone.

the trip andy warhol book

The Trip: Andy Warhol’s Plastic Fantastic Cross-Country Adventure, by Deborah Davis.

This incredible book documents a road trip that Andy and three friends took from New York City to Los Angeles in 1963, with the author seemingly riding shotgun. For most of the trip they travel and get their kicks on Route 66, the highway my family took when moving from Providence to Los Angeles in 1958. At the end of Route 66 is Santa Monica, CA, where the author describes the amusement park at the beach, Pacific Ocean Park, of which I have many fond and fun memories. The Trip is the centerpiece this riveting biography of Andy Warhol, but it includes so much more. Davis describes Pop Art, the movement he created, in great detail, especially how it developed from designing for department stores and other ‘commercial art’, which he elevated to fine art. There is a fascinating section on how Andy decided to make his Campbell Soup can art and how it was initially received.  She has also done her research on Andy’s shy, outsider social life, his relationship to his mother, his wigs, and his great difficulty finding intimacy with anyone. During The Trip, JFK was assassinated and he created his famous silkscreen of the mourning Jackie Kennedy. This is a fun and thoroughly entertaining and informative book about Andy Warhol during a critical period of American art and history.


My Favorite Music of 2015…in chronological order

no music no life

Cris Williamson: 40th anniversary of the album The Changer and the Changed. This album, produced by Olivia Records, created Women’s Music. The house was packed with 60-somethings who came of age in the 70s with this music. Berkeley’s Freight &  Salvage was ‘filling up and spilling over’ for both Saturday and Sunday nights.

January 11: March 2: Phillip Glass concert at San Francisco Davies Hall. I first discovered his music in 1982 in the film Koyaanisqatsi, and then loved his 2002 score for The Hours. He is one of the creators of ‘minimal music’.  Earlier this year he published his memoir, Words Without Music, which I loved. Listen: 

May 20: Lana Del Ray at the Shoreline Amphitheatre. with Grace and Stella. Listen: 

June 16: Joey Arias does Billie Holiday at The Great American Music Hall, with Linda Z. Watch and listen: 

July 3 Opera in the Ballpark: Marriage of Figaro with Melinda. Take a quick peek: 

August 2: Rhiannon and Alive‘s 40th reunion at the Freight and Salvage with Marta. Watch and listen: 

October 1: Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell at the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga with Nancy. Watch and listen: 

November 12: Grace Cathedral Clarinet summit with Anat Cohen, Don Byron, David Murray and Todd Marcus at Grace Cathedral, with Linda. Watch and listen to Anat Cohen:

December: Adele performs in NYC, on tv. Watch and listen to a new song (NOT Hello!): 

Digging my Karaoke machine. Singing so many favorites. Patsy Cline, Crazy; Jefferson Airplane, White Rabbit, Elvis, Teddy Bear. Conway Twitty, It’s Only Make Believe.

Singing along with my new guitar: In the Still of the Night; Our Town and Let the Mystery Be by Iris Dement; Blue Moon of Kentucky, Elvis style; Deep Purple, April Stevens/Nino Tempo; Blowin’ in the Wind’ Four Strong Winds; Love Me Tender; House of the Rising Sun; so many more songs from my younger years.



My Best Books of 2015

imagesHere are my My Top 9:

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. This psychological thriller is set in London and told from the perspective of three women: unreliable narrators, treacherous marriages, internalized misogyny…well done and VERY suspenseful.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July. Psychosomatic, obsessive-compulsive Cheryl Glickman, manager of a women’s self-defense studio, is the protagonist of this story of a real awakening. July creates an odd world of outsiders, violence and eroticism that you won’t see coming.

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison.  As always, Morrison’s theme is the experience of African-Americans, particularly women. She has a way of interweaving mythic and poetic themes into her novels. This story is about the journey of a woman born too black, unloved by her mother, trying to become a woman herself, the path that led her on and the mistakes she made because of it all. It is a triumphal story of Lula Ann, who changes her name to Bride, and her story of neglect and child abuse. It’s also about perseverance and the lies we tell ourselves to justify our actions. The novel is less than 200 pages and the prose is poetic. Highly recommended.

The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine by Alexander McCall Smith. This is the 16th No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novel. Our heroine, Precious Ramotswe goes on a vacation, but cannot help herself, so funny and wise, as she unravels another family mystery and tragedy. This series is precious to me, and you will always get a happy ending.

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela VidaFrom my review from earlier this year: As I opened the book I was immediately thrown off my center as it is written in an unusual second person narrative style, i.e., “You say your name”, “You pick up your suitcase”.  “You” is traveling to Casablanca, and even though her guidebook says that when you get to Casablanca you should leave immediately, she doesn’t. What starts off as a novel about the nightmares of foreign travel, turns into an intriguing exploration of identity change.

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar. I am so familiar with Virginia Woolf and her family, as well as The Bloomsbury Group, but this novel helped me see it with fresh eyes. It is written from Vanessa’s point of view, Virginia’s less brilliant but more stable sister. Brilliantly describes complex family and personality dynamics, and in particular, Virginia’s emotional breakdowns. Very well done.

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah. The story of two very different sisters in occupied France…one does her work out of love, the other for social/political activism, enduring incredible, unimaginable circumstances.

On The Move by Oliver Sacks. This is neurologist Sacks’ memoir where he finally comes out of the closet, thankfully, because, sadly, he passed away this year. He lived an amazing life, as you know, and it is beautifully documented here. Here’s the New York Times’ review, I couldn’t say it better: On The Move.

The Gay Revolution by Lillian Faderman. From the NY Times’ review: “Faderman is often called a “lesbian historian,” based on her distinguished work in the field, notably “Surpassing the Love of Men” (1981) and “Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers” (1991). She brings the heft of a career to bear here — of the more than 150 interviews she draws on for this new book, some date back decades, like her 1987 interview with the lesbian pioneers Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. An expert in lesbian history certainly has an advantage in writing a truly balanced account of the movement as a whole, given that such accounts have often heavily favored men.” Faderman also interviews Melinda’s father, Bob Basker, when he was involved with the Miami-Dade county movement against Anita Bryant. She brings everything to this huge and very comprehensive book, and the stories come alive in a way that no has before her.

Here are some other Good Books I can recommend:

Dietland by Sarai Walker

Mislaid by Nell Zink

M Train by Patti Smith

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Art of the Memoir by Mary Karr

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Perry

Negroland by Margo Jefferson

Here is the New York Times’, my greatest resource for reading, 100 Notable Books for 2015.

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