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How much thought have you given to your voice?

Not the way it sounds, mind you. We’re not talking about the words that you might say or the notes that you might sing, but rather the actual voice itself. The physiological and neurological underpinnings of how we as human beings are able to harness its many complexities.

If you’re at all curious, then you desperately need to sit down with John Colapinto’s “This Is the Voice” (Simon & Schuster, $28). It is a deeply researched and incredibly informative plunge into what proves to be a surprisingly robust topic, one that digs into not just the nuts and bolts of how our voice works, but some ideas about WHY it works the way it does.

This unapologetically wonky book is rife with fascinating facts about the origins of human voice, packed with interviews that address the topic from all angles. Through delving into the physical, emotional and cultural connotations of voice, Colapinto illustrates just how vital a part the voice plays in our world – who we were, who we are and who we may yet become.

The fundamental idea that this book explores is a simple, yet far-reaching one. Basically, Colapinto argues that the ability to speak – not just to make sounds, but to SPEAK – has been the key to humankind’s evolutionary journey to the top of the heap. That ability to communicate concisely and flexibly is what truly separated us from the pack and allowed for the many developments that led us to our current status.

And it all started with a song. Kind of.

Published in Style
Wednesday, 27 January 2021 13:22

The grievances of airing – ‘Talk Radio’

What does it mean to be part of a community?

In small towns all over this country, people are constantly seeking ways to connect. Even in places where everybody knows everybody else, we can struggle to really be heard. Finding an outlet – any outlet – where one’s voice can ring out (figuratively or literally) is a vital part of the human experience.

Ham Martin’s “Talk Radio” (Black Rose Writing, $20.95) offers a unique and idiosyncratic look at what can happen when the opportunity to be really and truly heard is offered up to the people of a small midcoast Maine town. Taking place largely over the airwaves of a small community-oriented radio station, it’s a story that explores that need for connection, that desire to be heard … and what happens when not everyone is willing to listen.

Published in Style

I love words.

The English language is a rich tapestry, one filled with weird lexicography and etymological dead ends. There are just so many words, with more coming into being every day. And of course, the reference of choice for any lexophile worth their salt is the dictionary.

But what if you found out that you couldn’t trust it?

In “The Liar’s Dictionary” (Doubleday, $26.95), the debut novel by Eley Williams, we find out. Unfolding in two distinct storylines – one past, one present – the book explores what it means to trust wholly in something that ultimately proves unreliable, either through one’s own actions or the actions of another. It is also a celebration of language and the people who devote their lives to studying and recording its many iterations.

All that and it’s wildly funny as well. Plus, you might learn something. For instance, did you know this word?

Mountweazel (n): the phenomenon of false entries within dictionaries and books of reference. Often used as a safeguard against copyright infringement.

I’d never heard it before, but it plays a vital role in the action of this delightful book.

Published in Style

The end of the world has long been a mainstay of speculative fiction. Or at least, the end of the world as we know it. So many stories have been written about the aftermath of some cataclysmic event, something that has destroyed civilization, or at least radically altered it. You’ve got your post-apocalyptic stories, your dystopian stories – so many of them spring from that singular (and sometimes literally) Earth-shattering event.

What we get less often is the story of what leads up to that event, the tale that goes from the beginning of the end to the end.

That’s what Claire Holroyde’s debut novel “The Effort” (Grand Central Publishing, $28) gives us. It’s a story of mankind’s attempt to stave off the extinction-level event heading their way, all while dealing with the harsh reality of what it might mean when the fact that the end is nigh becomes widely known. It’s a taut, thrilling story of people committed to saving the world even as the world turns against itself.

Published in Style
Wednesday, 23 December 2020 12:13

‘From Hang Time to Prime Time’ a slam dunk

The NBA is big business these days.

Players are global icons, recognizable to billions of people. They are literally world famous, making eight figure salaries and signing even bigger endorsement deals. On the ownership side, TV contracts and ever-escalating franchise values mean big profit for anyone with a piece of an NBA team.

It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always this way.

Pete Croatto’s new book “From Hang Time to Prime Time: Business, Entertainment, and the Birth of the Modern-Day NBA” (Atria, $27) takes us back to a time, not so long, when the NBA was a pro sports afterthought, a league that struggled to gain any sort of foothold in the cultural consciousness. The public perception was mixed and the product on the floor was uneven; outside of a few cities, the league was barely holding on. You couldn’t even watch games live; even the Finals were infamously aired on tape delay.

But thanks to some savvy league officials, some smart business moves, a handful of transcendent players and a few lucky bounces, the NBA transformed itself. The period from the early ‘70s through the ‘80s was transformative, a time when the league went from also-ran to clubhouse leader. It was a long journey, and not without obstacles, but ultimately, the NBA got where it wanted to go.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 01 December 2020 14:18

Ball don’t lie – ‘The Big Three’

Winning an NBA championship is hard; the road to a title demands a lot of the players on the floor. But one could argue that assembling a championship squad is even harder, a delicate dance involving winning trades, quality drafting, good signings … and more than a little luck.

Michael Holley’s “The Big Three: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and the Rebirth of the Boston Celtics” (Hachette, $28) tells the story of one such squad and the titanic trio that operated at its center. It’s an in-depth look at how the 2008 Celtics championship squad was assembled, from the 2003 purchase of the Celtics by a new ownership group to the hiring of Danny Ainge as general manager to the acquisition of Garnett and Allen to the eventual breaking up of the band to move the franchise forward.

It’s a remarkably well-reported book, a detailed exploration of the many ups and downs that came along with trying to assemble this sort of next-level team. Through conversations and archival research, Holley crafts a portrait that focuses on the people involved as opposed to the numbers, a fine juxtaposition to Ainge’s ongoing insistence on refusing to allow the personal to interfere with his plan.

Published in Sports
Monday, 30 November 2020 14:46

Turn the page: 2020’s recommended reads

Despite everything that we’ve been through this year, it hasn’t stopped the literary machine from continuing to churn; we’ve seen many tremendous literary offerings hitting shelves in 2020.

Reviewing books is one of the best parts of my job. As part of that job, I’ve read dozens of books over the course of the past year. I freely admit that I tend to seek out works that I know will resonate for me – and hence usually enjoy the books I review – but even with that degree of curation, there’s no denying that there are always some that particularly stand out.

This is not your traditional “best of” list – not my style. Instead, consider this a collection of recommendations. These are suggestions; I enjoyed them, so I thought that you might as well. I’ve also included selections from my writings about these books (please note that the full reviews are available on our website). Bear in mind that this is not a comprehensive list – there are scores more books out there, exceptional works that I simply never got a chance to read.

I’m not arrogant enough to call these the best books of the year – it’s all subjective and this is just one man’s opinion. What I can say is that every one of these works captured my imagination and my attention … and perhaps one or more of them will do the same for you.

And now, without further ado, here are my recommended reads from 2020.

Published in Cover Story

There are few authors out there who can match Jonathan Lethem when it comes to literary genre-bending. Just a handful are even close – and none are better. He has long been a proponent of embracing the possibilities inherent to genre exploration, leading to work that is insightful, engaging … and wildly entertaining.

His latest effort is “The Arrest” (Ecco, $27.99), a post-apocalyptic tale that offers a glimpse at one possible ending for civilization as we know it. Neither a utopia nor a dystopia, but something in between, Lethem’s landscape is one is thoughtful and laugh-out-loud funny. It’s a story of survival and isolation, a story about what it means to live in a society.

It’s a condemnation of overreliance on technology that also pokes fun at those who view tech as some shadowy all-encompassing bogeyman. By viewing the world through the lens shaped by the titular event, Lethem peels back the layers and gives us a glimpse of what we might try to put together if everything fell apart.

Published in Style

Sometimes, all it takes is a title.

I usually read and review 60 or so books over the course of a year. And I consider several times that many. A fair amount of the coverage is somewhat predetermined – if certain authors have new work coming or a new book is generating a lot of buzz, attention tends to be paid – but there is a degree of wiggle room, allowing me to occasionally take a chance. These chances don’t always pay off (though I should note that I rarely review the misfires), but when they do, they pay off big time.

With Julian Herbert’s “Bring Me the Head of Quentin Tarantino” (Graywolf Press, $15.99), I hit the jackpot.

This collection of short stories by the noted Mexican writer, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney, captured my attention with its title. Upon closer investigation, I discovered an assemblage of excellence, 10 short works that captivate and confound. These stories are surreal and absurd even as they uncover certain realities – harsh and otherwise – about the Mexican experience.

As I said, it was the title that caught my eye – no surprise, considering my affinity for the work of Mr. Tarantino – and the description was certainly intriguing, but I didn’t anticipate … this. It’s rare to encounter fiction that functions effectively both as commentary and as pure narrative, but these stories do just that. They are weird and visceral and deliberately difficult to define, but each of them has the power to work its way into your imagination. Funny and poignant, driven by moments of hilarity and sadness and fury, “Bring Me the Head of Quentin Tarantino” is an exceptional reading experience.

Published in Style

There is perhaps no game show in the history of the medium as universally beloved as “Jeopardy!” For nearly 40 years, we have been welcoming the show into our homes to give us the answers to which we must provide the questions.

Claire McNear, writer for sports/pop culture website The Ringer and many other outlets, has penned a book about the iconic game show. Titled “Answers in the Form of Questions: A Definitive History and Insider’s Guide to Jeopardy!”, the book delves into the inner workings of the show. After months interviewing former contestants, producers, staff and Alex Trebek himself, the book has arrived to question all of your answers about “Jeopardy!”

In a freewheeling Zoom conversation, McNear shares her thoughts on the show, on writing the book and reveals some of the surprises that awaited her on her “Jeopardy!” deep dive.

(Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before Alex Trebek’s passing. Our full review of "Answers in the Form of Questions can be found here.)

Published in Buzz
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