March 28, 2017

Early Voting in Chicago (and in states that allow it)

usflagI strongly recommend casting your vote early if you live in a state that allows it. My wait was only 20 minutes at 4:30 pm on a weekday. Chicago has early voting up until the day before the election. With multiple voting locations and convenient hours, you have no reason to miss doing your civic duty this November.

To find your local Chicago voting venues:

If you live in the 48th Ward in Chicago, one of your voting options is:
Edgewater Library, 6000 N Broadway
Monday, Oct. 31 to Friday, Nov. 4: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday, November 5: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday, November 6: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Monday, November 7: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

For other states:

The Good Lord Bird by author James McBride

I had only a vague recollection of abolitionist John Brown and his attack on Harpers Ferry before the Civil War, but James McBride’s historical fiction account,  The Good Lord Bird, makes this time period burst to life. The main character is Henry, a young slave who is mistaken for a girl and spends the majority of the book in a bonnet and dress in the orbit of “Captain Brown” who dubs her “Onion.” Not since Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn has there been such an endearing and infuriating young character.

Brown with Onion at his side fights battles against slave owners in Kansas and Missouri, visits Frederick Douglass in Rochester, NY and Harriet Tubman in Canada and finally prepares for a grand battle at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Both black and white  people, sometimes reluctantly, join Brown’s rag tag group to further the cause of slavery abolition in the United States. Brown’s campaign was seen as a great failure at the time, but history shows him to be the harbinger of the Civil War to come which finally dealt a fatal blow to slavery.

James McBride who won the 2013 National Book Award for “The Good Lord Bird,” is the son of an African-American preacher and a Polish Jewish mother. His memoir “The Color of Water” is now read in high schools and universities across America.”The Good Lord Bird” is sure to find its way onto academic reading lists as well.

I listened to this work in audio book form using the  Chicago Public Library’s Overdrive app, masterfully narrated by actor Michael Boatman who brought out the comedy as well as pathos in McBride’s writing.

Hoopla: Libraries deepen their electronic presence

I still love the feel of a non-virtual book, but I find myself using the Chicago Public Library’s digital audiobooks on a regular basis. The real discovery has been Hoopla, a web service with music albums, movies, television programs and audiobooks to rent for free if your local library is a member. My Chicago library card entitles me to six media downloads per month from the digital service’s vast collection.

You won’t necessarily find all the latest movie, tv, book or music blockbusters in the selections, but there are old and newer works worthy of attention. I am currently watching a Swedish detective series called “Beck” from the television collection.

“The Iron Lady” with Meryl Streep or Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil” might be one of the free movies you would rent for 72 hours. Likewise the TV mini-series “Lonesome Dove” or the BBC’s “Inspector Morse” series could be your cup of tea. The audio music selections include artists like Alabama Shakes, Josh Groban, Frank Sinatra, Jay-Z or Mumford and Sons, among many others. Your audiobook taste may be satiated with a biography of Tiger Woods, a self-help book entitled “Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight” or perhaps a Robert Ludlum thriller.

The site brags that they have hundreds of thousands of movies, books, albums and tv programs. If you have a current library card, a web browser and a desktop, smart phone or tablet, why not see if your local library is a member? You just might find exactly what you were looking for. For free.

Hundreds of libraries all across the nation are members. Here is a current map of participating libraries:

The Girl On the Train: Current Fiction Thriller

The thriller book du jour appears to be “The Girl On the Train” by Paula Hawkins. I gauge how popular a book is by how long the public library makes me wait for it. I requested this popular work of fiction at the beginning of the year and finally received a copy which I literarily inhaled.

I was reminded of last season’s fiction hit, “Gone Girl” which was also a page-turner. And “The Girl On the Train” is a compelling read. Three women give journal-like entries to the lead-up, occurrence and aftermath of a murder. The entries are not always in chronological order with the crucial scenes being held back until the latter part of the novel. The alcoholic heroine passes a home along the train tracks of her daily London commute and becomes intrigued with the good-looking couple that lives there. As luck would have it, this seemingly ideal couple lives down the street from her ex-husband and his new wife and child. Complications ensue as we get to know the cast of characters.

This isn’t great literature, but the writing is descriptive and the plot keeps you reading just “one more page.” Come to think of it, this would be perfect train or bus reading fare if you are not similarly addicted to people-watching during your journey.  A film adaptation surely must be in the works. I can just imagine the movie billboard now, seen from my red line train window.

Jean Echenoz: current French novelist

Although very little known in the U. S., Jean Echenoz may be one of France’s best living fiction writers. Being interested in World War I novels, I came upon “1914,” Echenoz’s slim but elegantly incisive novel on the vagaries of life during the war of trenches, mustard gas and “No Man’s Land.”

As a musician, I was next drawn to his diminutive book entitled “Ravel, loosely based on the composer’s visit to America and his head injury incurred in a taxi accident.

The comedy novel “Piano” is about a fictional concert pianist with debilitating stage fright and rampant alcoholism which alleviates it. Purgatory and banishment to the “urban zone” figure into the pianist’s journey as Echenoz fashions a modern day nod to Dante in this spare novella.

The winner of ten literary prizes, Echenoz has 12 books listed in his wikipedia biography so I have nine more chances to enjoy his distinctive and amusing prose.





All written by Jean Echenoz and published by The New Press

LibriVox, for the Audio Book Lover

Did you like being read to as a child? A company called LibriVox may just bring back some of those memories for you on your computer, smart phone or tablet. LibriVox features free public domain audiobooks  which means they have mostly older classics that no longer are owned by the author or their estates. Not only do they have full length novels, but a variety of writings. If you are a Mark Twain fan, for example, not only do they have “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” but they have his journals, letters, speeches and his newspaper articles.

I myself have been listening to things like “Kidnapped” by Robert Louis Stevenson, short stories featuring Arsene Lupin, the French Sherlock Holmes written by Maurice LeBlanc and Jules Verne’s “Voyage To the Center of the Earth.” One can find many titles read to you in French, Italian and other languages as well as English.
As a kid, I read the Classic Comic version of “Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott. As an adult, I wanted to experience the work as originally written, but the prose defied me if I sat down with the physical book. Now thanks to Librivox, I am listening to the unabridged novel in my car thanks to a connector that links my iphone to my vehicle stereo.

If you yourself want to exercise your voice-over skills, Librivox also allows people to volunteer their reading services for the site. For the most part, these amateur recordings are quite good, my only quibble being the occasional reader who mangles pronunciation.

Now if only I could finally listen to “Beowulf” without risking falling asleep at the wheel!

Printed Music in the Digital Age

While some musicians are now playing almost exclusively from electronic scores, most of us are still playing and singing from good old paper sheet music. Most sheet music stores have gone the way of the dinosaur, so one must now take stock of where to get sheet music on-line.

If you need popular music right now, your best bet is You open a Musicnotes account with your credit card information and are able to print purchases from your own printer. Most pieces allow you to transpose to a different key with a handy voice range listed to facilitate choosing the correct key for your voice. Music notes has not gone to the trouble of re-voicing accompaniments however, so be forewarned that if you go more than a third away from the original key, the sheet music may be more difficult to play with notes off the ledger lines. You may also get lots of double sharps and flats due to the less intuitive automated transposition program that Musicnotes must be using. Still, having your song in the proper key may be better than hoping your accompanist can transpose on the spot. If  you are a repeat purchaser, you may want to consider becoming a Musicnotes Digital Club member to get 10% off all of your purchases. You can sign up for the Musicnotes newsletter which keeps you abreast of what is selling on their site, the sheet music equivalent of the “top 40.”

I find myself going to Sheet Music Plus when I have the time to order sheet music that will be sent via snail mail. They have a large selection of printed music, especially in the classical department. They periodically run sales on music from select music publishers like Carl Fisher or Alfred. Sheet Music Plus also features digital printing, but I am less familiar with this area of their business.

If you are searching for a piece of classical music that is in the public domain, the Petrucci Music Library should be your first stop. The site has thousands of pieces of music that are absolutely free. You can search by composer or title and once you locate your piece, you can easily download and print the sheet music file. The site is continually adding new material.

Don’t forget about your local library which allows you to check out sheet music. Your library system may allow you to request sheet music which would be transferred to your home library for pick-up.

A future blog post will discuss sheet music use on your iPad or PC tablet. (Music Notes) (Sheet Music Plus) (Petrucci Music Library)