BOOKS MUSIC MOVIES
All favorites have been recommended by contributors to Slow Trains
Solitaire by Edward Abbey
Twice I have hiked about Moab, Utah, and twice I have been completely absorbed by the harsh and biblically profound landscape. It becomes real to need water in order to continue -- to be so hot at night, to lay flat out on a slightly cold slab of stone and hear the river running behind you; to swim until you cool down and then rise with the sun, walking amid arches because you slept in the park.
Abbey writes carefully of the slow encroachment of the park service as they create roads throughout our wildernesses. To protect "Wild Utah" becomes his calling, his vocation -- to create a new awareness, wherein the Earth is First.
Vox by Nicholson Baker
The distance between this novel's two characters and their anonymity at
story's start seem to serve them better in their communication than
geographical closeness and long-time knowledge do for most people.
Nicholson Baker reveals his characters to each other little by little,
masterfully. You sense a feeling of excitement when you learn more of
them, and sense the excitement each character must feel along the way
also. Some of the revelation is astounding, and the humor is ingenious yet
low-key. Invented words (calling breasts 'frans' for example) begin as
substitutes, and then acquire their own shades of meaning upon repeated use.
For over 160 pages the conversation continues (yes, it's 99.9% amazing
dialogue and storytelling) without a break. This is a new favorite of
mine, a sexy, literate, dual character study done across an arc of
The Book of Eve by Constance Beresford-Howe
More than one of the very first
truly feminist novels, more than the template for the hit Broadway play with
Jessica Tandy, this is a charming, groundbreaking love story about the fire
between an older woman and a younger man.
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
More than you could probably have guessed you wanted to know about hiking
the Appalachian trail, but a tale you'll be sad to see end. The greatest part of
the humor is in the character sketches of folks he meets or walks with on the
trail, which are incredibly funny, but never demeaning.
Kindness: A Buddhist Treasury for Children and Parents collected by Sarah Conover
The perfect book for parents who want a collection of those classic Zen buddhist tales in a format that children will love and enjoy. Best of it's kind out right now.
The Temple on Monday by Tom Crawford
A great look at the Western Mind from a poet living in South Korea. The poetry is beautiful, and will take you to places both common and amazing.
Gifts From Our Grandmothers edited by Carol Dovi
This is a hardcover collection of essays and
anecdotes about maternal wisdom by a number of widely-published women writers
from around the world. It is beautifully written, emotionally gripping, and
full of profound insights regarding the evolution of our feminist and human
heritage. This collection of essays is edited by Carol Dovi and published by
Crown, with a foreward by Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.
--Janet I. Buck
The Creative Fire : Myths and Stories About the Cycles of
Creativity audio tape, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
This is one of two books/audio that I give or recommend to anyone struggling with their creativity (the other is Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, the first book only). You can listen to these tapes on a regular basis and begin to remember what it all means -- why you want to create art, why it matters intensely, who is standing in your way, how to regain the spark, and how to live fully in your creative imagination. All of Estes' audio tapes are fabulous -- she has the voice and the wisdom of the mother/friend/ therapist we all wish we had in our lives.
Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fanny Flagg
This first novel by Fanny Flagg, the author of Fried Green Tomatoes,
chronicles the fictional life of a young girl growing up in the 50's on the
Mississippi Gulf Coast. While this could be labeled a "coming-of-age" story, it
is definitely written for an adult audience, or at least for the savvy
reader. Many times touching, but mostly belly-aching hilarious, the protagonist
shows that children are often smarter than their parents. As we watch
young Daisy Fay Harper make it through each zany scheme of her father's ever-
failing get-rich-quick mentality, we feel for her as well as struggle
with, and laugh out loud her unusual situations. Never has a book stuck with me
so tenaciously. Not only is it well-written and enjoyable, it grabs for
the heart and steals it.
--Jamie Joy Gatto
Rock Springs: Stories by Richard Ford
Richard Ford strikes me as a writer's writer. Ford's Rock Springs brings to mind Hemingway's declarative style from the Nick Adams Stories. Under the scrutiny of Ford's pen, mans mundane pursuits, trials, and tribulations take on a grander range of emotion than the usual. Ford seems to have first-hand knowledge of good men gone bad, and he posesses a powerful narrative understanding of life.
Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry by Jane Hirshfield
Intricate, profound essays about poetry from one of the best, ranging from the inner versus the outer world to the art of translation to writing and the threshold life. A book about the mysteries of art that can be read over and over again.
Where The Heart Is by Billie Letts
This is a poignant and poetic novel about a
young woman who has a baby in a Walmart store, and then goes on to lay some
glorious seeds of self and soul. Letts' style is charged with both realism
and hope, and her characters are finely tuned instruments of an unforgettable
--Janet I. Buck
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov -- audio, read by Jeremy Irons
It doesn't matter whether you've read Lolita a dozen times or seen the films more than once. When you listen to Jeremy Irons reading Lolita on these tapes, you hear the story, the passion and the language all over again for the first time. Listening to these while driving was intensely sensual-- I could not wait to hop back in my car (alone, please!) and drift back into the continuous dream of Nabokov's masterpiece of desire.
All Alone in the Universe by Lynne Perkins
A wonderful coming-of-age book from a Michigan writer. My daughter and I read it together at night, and it got us thinking about all kinds of stories we could write.   --Diane Payne
Last Call by Tim Powers
This book is a great mix of fantasy and history, and one of my required
books for anyone wanting a feel for Las Vegas. Tim Powers takes historical
facts about early Las Vegas during the time of Bugsy Siegel and twists them
into a wonderful tale surrounding a poker game played in a houseboat on Lake
Mead for souls, and the life of the immortal king of Las Vegas. I met Tim
while he was doing research for this book and I give him considerable credit
for taking the time to really learn about his subject material before
warping it into his fantasy world. He spent a great deal of time researching
Las Vegas before writing this book, something that few would-be Vegas
authors seem to ever bother with.
Memoir of the Hawk by James Tate
Tate's newest -- a brief excursion into prose poetry for him. Funny and so very dry. Dry comedic poetry at it's finest.
Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
You cannot hope to ever understand the soul of Las Vegas without reading
this book. It is quite simply the best book ever written on the subject. I
live in Las Vegas because of this book. I read it as an impressionable youth
of 16, without really understanding what he was talking about until a decade
after I had already lived here. I first watched the screen adaptation of the
book at a midnight viewing at Boulder Station on Boulder Highway with a
group of Vegas culturites. I'm not sure we ever actually left the theater.
Come to think of it, I'm still beating the bats off my windshield now and
Heartbreaker Ryan Adams
Last week a friend gave me a copy of this CD, and I haven't been able to stop listening to this guy. Normally, a title like Heartbreaker would have made me leary, but my friend is cynical, so I figured Adams' lyrics couldn't be sappy. The lyrics are raw and Adams' voice is smooth -- a great combination and a great CD.
View From the Vault II Grateful Dead
View From the Vault II, newly available via the Grateful Dead in both CD and DVD, is a complete recording of a June, 1991 show at RFK Stadium in Washington. It's the 29th unedited, complete show the Dead have released, and one of the very best. It's a very strong show from start to finish, but highlights include a magnificent "Stella Blue" -- a ballad Frank Sinatra really should have covered -- and the strange, goose-bumpily intense "Estimated Prophet," as well as the entire first set, which is as playful and simply as fun a set as you'll ever hear the Dead play. Even though it came near the end of their career, this is an excellent introduction to the band. And if you're a Deadhead already, don't overlook this one because it's not from the glory years. It's as good as it gets.
The Very Best of Aretha Franklin, Vol. 1 Aretha Franklin
A CD that keeps me moving. I remember when I got her autographed album and photo on my sixteenth birthday growing up in Michigan. Her music has stayed with me a long time.
Bad Lieutenant Director: Abel Ferrara
I was blown away by the audacity and the complete abandonment of western values in this film. The "bad Lieutenant" existed for his appetite; he was the pure, concentrated essence of a man in the grips of a dilemma, his existential angst: heady and raw, he was going down fast, a passion play within the timeline of the world series, seven games, seven chances for Harvey Keitel to pull it off.
McCabe & Mrs. Miller Director: Robert Altman
The plot is a simple one -- small time vice overtaken by its corporate equivalent
in a frontier western town. But the telling is exquisite. Robert Altman directs this
almost anti-western, and allows the strongest performance Warren Beatty has
ever turned in, and an exceptional performance by a young Julie Christy as an
opium addicted madame. Even the minor characters are distinct and eclectic in
their own right, and the film does an extraordinary job weaving this patchwork
together in a gritty tale that is never a cliché.   --Brian Peters
The Samurai Series Director: Hiroshi Inagaki
Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai trilogy follows the ascendancy of a Samurai warrior. In the first film, Takezo, with his friend, Matahachi, set out on a journey to find their fame as warriors. But the two are separated by the choices they make, and Takezo's wild nature is tamed by the quietude of a monk who teaches him the way. Eventually overcoming fear, Takezo becomes worthy enough to duel Sasaki Kojirol at Ganryu Island.   --Ron Porter
Trixie Director: Alan Rudolph
This movie is my idea of entertainment -- easy to take, but thoughtful
entertainment above all. Director Alan Rudolph has been a favorite of
mine since Welcome to LA, and has continually redefined the boundaries
of his own special world since then. He's gone through serendipitous
realities, on to dark lyricism and fantasy, and into the small-world
actions of characters like Trixie. Emily Watson is quite engaging here
playing the title role. You want to believe that any quirky person can
come up with such a stream of non-sequitors as hers, and wonder along
with some of the other characters whether she knows she is doing it. A
very lighthearted film for some of its detective story subject matter,
stylishly directed (yet not obtrusively so) and well-acted. If you'd
like to settle in with a good movie, and your mood is not suited to
Last Year At Marienbad or the latest action adventure, say hello to
Trixie.   --John Eivaz