Tag Archives: summer

My 2020 Summer Reading Recommendations

June 22, 2020

Reading Books

I love reading books, and I read books ALL THE TIME. Generally, I read two fiction books for every nonfiction book I finish. Engaging, well-written stories and topics I am curious about fill up a lot of my leisure reading time.

Since it is now the month of June, I thought I’d take time to recommend three books that I enjoyed reading, in case you might be at a loss for something wonderful to devour during these long, sweltering days. I chose these books simply because they are excellent and give off an aura of the summer season in their bones.

Don’t worry. I hate it when people give away the ending of a book when they are trying to describe it. That’s not me.

Without further delay, check these books out:

1. The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel
Author: Nina George

There is a valid reason why this book is an international bestseller. It is a sweet and whimsical story that had me wishing it would never end. It has characters who I would actually befriend if they existed in real life. The story mostly takes place on a bookshop that is housed on a barge that is tethered to a dock along the Seine in Paris. Its owner considers himself to be a literary apothecary with the ability to prescribe a book to any customer based on their proclivities and life experiences. This book is just dripping with charm. I’m surprised it hasn’t been made into a film yet. Fill your summer afternoons with this pleasant and adventurous gem of a book.

All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr

This book takes place within the tumult of World War II and documents the separate lives of a blind French girl and a German boy who enlists to fight. Their paths eventually converge, but the meat of the book is in the struggles and hardships they face. What struck me most about this book is not only its two endearing protagonists but also its many tender, bewildering moments within the narrative that add so much depth and character to the story. There is a sizable degree of sadness in this book, but it is the origins and machinations of this sadness that make this book so heart-breakingly beautiful.

How To Do Nothing
Author: Jenny Odell

I won’t give it away, but there is actually something sneaky and clever about the title of this book. To my delight, this non-fiction piece was incredibly informative and well-researched. Its author speaks from a voice that is clear, gentle, and unapologetic about where she stands. She looks critically at the modern digital landscape of cell phones and social media that have taken over the world and offers a rich perspective into how we can reimagine the spaces within which we occupy our time. If the previous sentence sounds strange and intriguing to you, then you should read this book. I had at least a couple of solid and useful takeaways from it, and I’ve thought of them often since I read it. Read this book and learn how to do nothing.

Whether you read these books or others of your choosing, I hope you enjoy being immersed in some other space, time, and emotion—all the while appreciating the careful attention and finely-honed craft that the author imbued into those pages.

Relax, take a deep breath, and open a book to read. Make your summer days more potent and satisfying.

My Summer Reading Review

September 8, 2019

Culture and Society / Reading Books / Roque Recommends

Alas! With the Labor Day holiday now come and gone, our summer days have now passed us. The last three months away from school has given me a lot of time to rest and do more of the other activities that I enjoy outside all of the academic work.

One such activity is reading books. This summer, I read seven books, and I wanted to highlight some of the more noteworthy ones here.

Dazzle Camouflage by Ezra Berkley Napon

In the interest of transparency, I actually know the person who wrote this book as well as a few of the people whose work are documented within. This book chronicles theatrical styles of grassroots activism that have been carried out in various regions of the US. If you are interested in the type of activism that extends beyond the usual protests, rallies, and boycotts, this book provides a striking view of the ways to incorporate performance art, satire, and unconventional artistic expression into all kinds of public advocacy work. The writing is easy to understand, and the historical anecdotes give clear examples of how this kind of activism can be done.

The Secret Piano by Zhu Xiao-Mei

I was drawn to this book primarily because I actively seek out books about pianos and pianists. Needless to say, this historical fiction and autobiography certainly met that criteria and then some. This story shares the struggles of a young pianist who has to survive the harsh conditions of a work camp along with the ravages of the Chinese totalitarian Communist regime that sent her there. It shows how her love for playing piano sustained her spirit during the tumultuous and dehumanizing cultural revolution in China.

Well–paced and thoughtfully written, there is a delicacy and sweetness to this story that makes the whole saga purely satisfying to read.

A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles

Simply put, I loved this book. It has the makings of classic historical fiction. The book’s central character Count Alexander Rostov is an endearing and enigmatic man of many passions. I could not help but cheer for him as he lives a simple but rich life living under house arrest in Russia’s iconic Metropol Hotel in Moscow. There are flashes of whimsy, intrigue, romance, and sheer delight in this fantastic narrative. The writing displays the author’s commanding gifts in the arts of storytelling and descriptive prose. I would emphatically recommend this book to anyone looking for a well-written and dynamic story. This is the best fiction I have read so far this year.

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

I have been making changes in the way I engage with social media and the digital aspects of modern life. This book has inspired so many ideas for me that I wrote about it in a recent blog post:

I have read many of Newport’s books and follow his blog. This book finds him in top form dispensing thoughtful ideas and practices toward combating the perils of modern technology (like cell phones and texting) and addictive social media usage. For anyone trying to live a life that is more engaged with actual human beings and the physical world around us and less entrenched in corporatized technology and websites, this book is for you.

Now that fall has more or less arrived, I have a set of new books to explore as the weather gets cooler and the beautiful fall colors start to arrive in my forest neighborhood. If you have any great book recommendations, let me know.

Find a wonderful book to settle into, and open up your world to limitless possibilities!


Roqué Recommends: Summer Music Playlist

June 16, 2019

Culture and Society / Roque Recommends

This week, I wanted to share some of the music that I have been getting into over the last couple of months.

Call me old school, but I still enjoy full albums from artists. These days, everything centers around releases of singles. The market for music is so crowded that it is easier for one song from an artist to break through than a whole album. The huge decline in album sales over the last decade has been a significant factor. The music business is a business after all, and when the bottom line suffers, change becomes imminent. The world of streaming in which the average music enthusiast curates their own musical listening experience is the new normal.

Well, here at Tropical Shade of Green, the album still gets all of the love. I appreciate the time and thoughtfulness an artist invests in creating a full-bodied artistic statement. Every song is a facet of a complete creative vision. These are the kinds of works that I feast over.

Here are my music recommendations for Summer 2019. All three of the following albums are masterpieces that make resounding, uncompromising, and powerful statements.

  1. Madonna: Madame X

This past Friday, June 14, 2019, was commonly regarded by Madonna fans the world over as “Madame X” Day. As a long time fan of her work, I would be remiss not to recommend the bold and masterful new album that she just unleashed. Madame X is the persona who inhabits the universe in which the songs in this collection exist. She is a spy who travels around the world living multiple lives and spreading her own subversive manifesto of love and freedom.

What makes this album so unique is its experimental nature. The music literally takes unexpected, and often abrupt, changes in tempo and style. Madonna raps, uses vocodor distortion on her voice, and once in a while lets her natural vocals soar into tender moments of vulnerability. For example, there is a song sung completely in Portuguese and another one that uses a children’s choir backed up by a magnificent and euphoric disco inferno of Madonna’s own conjuring (see below to press play).

The words “weird” and “bizarre” have been used by major news outlets to describe this album. I personally would take that as a compliment, but clearly, they missed the memo that this album is political and defiant. It creates its own unconventional sonic landscape to make its perspectives clear. This album is a portrait of an established and iconic artist who has nothing more to prove but is taking enormous creative leaps and risks in her work.

Above all, Madame X has a complete work is beautiful. It feels like a journey to colorful and exotic places infused with modern production, SICK beats, and the emotions of a woman who has found her own way. Get a beverage of your choosing. Finding a quiet place. Listen to this album all the way through. Take in every subtle nuance and drastic turn, one glistening and magical layer at a time.

Here is one of several standout tracks from Madame X. Give it a minute to let it break its own ground at the beginning. If you happen to be standing on a dancefloor, it won’t be long until you are skybound into this piece of disco heaven . . .

Here is the video to one of the recent singles released from this album. It is a retelling of the Joan of Arc story portrayed by a queer, trans-identified, openly HIV-positive, African American rapper name Mykki Blanco. As a film, this is quite striking . . .

2. Kishi Bashi: Omoiyari

I am relatively new to the music of Kishi Bashi, but I was instantly mesmerized when I saw him perform at a show at the Basement East in Nashville a couple of years ago. His work is stunning, and this album lives up to his growing legacy of elegant pop music layered in textures of strong melodies and evocative arrangements. Along with a lovely and soothing voice, Kishi Bashi is a multi-instrumentalist and composer. His live shows are more than worth the price of admission.

This new album delves deep into an unsettling period in US history. Its songs are meditations on the unjust internment of Japanese immigrants during World War II by the US government. Thousands of them, including whole families and children, were kept in concentration camps against their will for periods of up to five years. The precedent that this created has paved the way for the numerous detention centers housing thousands of immigrants indefinitely all over the US today.

This album is gorgeous. With its references to such a unforgivable period in history, the music itself is light, airy, and even whimsical at times. You would expect a more heavy-handed and angry expression, but Bashi imbues this album with a softness and delicacy that invites thoughtful introspection. There is a subtle and quiet sense of mourning that colors each song. It is refreshing that no guns are blazing and no indictments are made. Sweeping melodies and harmonies lift up the courage and resilience of the people who were interred. This music is a testament to their strength.

Here is a lovely track and video from the album called “Violin Tsunami” . . .

3. Sara Bareilles: Amidst the Chaos

I have been a casual fan of Sara Bareilles for a while. The tone of her singing voice is among my favorites of the many occupying our music landscape at the moment. The songs on her newest offering really caught my attention.

Here new album Amidst the Chaos is largely a reaction to the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election and her grief at losing Barack Obama as President. A sense of loss and a gritty struggle to maintain composure in a time of unrest are palpable themes in the music. The songs are confessional and intimate. This work feels less like a pop album and more like a hard but necessary and emotional conversation.

The lyrics are poignant and strong, and more than any other instant that I can remember, Bareilles vocals absolutely soar. If there was ever any doubt that she could really sing, this album would violently shut up the haters. The beauty of it is that she’s not over-singing or trying to impress anyone. There is an understatement that serves each song perfectly and fully.

Here is a live performance of one of the album’s standout tracks called “Saint Honesty”. I love this song. (In case you’re wondering, the album version is just as good.)

These three albums sustain a depth and vision that have clearly been refined and honed with the greatest effort. I want to honor the work of these incredible artists by inviting you to enjoy what they have created.

Find Madonna, Kishi Bashi, and Sara Bareilles on the streaming platform of your choice and enjoy the bountiful feasts they have spread before us.

They will give you a nourishing that will feed your soul and sustain your spirit.