Thursday, May 25, 2006

Bare by Annie Lennox (CD)

Music Review by Zinta Aistars

# Audio CD, Price $18.98
# Original Release Date: 2003
# Number of Discs: 1
# Label: J-Records

Annie, you really do something to me...

I've long been a fan of this truly awe-inspiring musical talent: Annie Lennox. In an age when female "musicians" (and there's a reason I put that word in quotes) dress and dance to distract (because they must) the audience from their lack of musical talent, we have Annie. An artist. The woman is beautiful in the only way that matters: outside, sure, but without degrading herself, and inside, yes, most of all, with a honed talent and upper level passion that have produced a CD that instantly ranked top slot in my collection. I knew it would the moment the first track flooded into my room. Oh yeah...

Bare shows off a voice that is strong and sure, rich in range, and unmistakeable Annie. Her lyrics have the courage to reveal a hurting heart, the kind that hurts so good, yet has you believing in healing again. The music itself is the kind that lingers in the mind long after play is over, pure and clean, soulfully haunting. The combined effect -- woman, musician, music, lyrics -- is unforgettable. I'm a first row fan.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Simple Truths: Clear and Gentle Guidance on the Big Issues in Life by Kent Nerburn

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

# Hardcover: 112 pages
# Publisher: New World Library, 1996
# Price: $16.00
# ISBN: 1880032929

"Life is a creative experience," begins author Kent Nerburn in his slim little volume of basic truths on which to build a life of value for oneself and others. They are, as the title states, basic and simple truths, but it is these simple truths that have been lost in the muddle and busyness and confusion of modern life marked by an embarrassment at claiming a value system. Nerburn continues in explanation of why we must reconnect to these simple truths: "We are shaping ourselves at every moment by every decision we make."

And so we are. A moment taken to consider carefully the meanings and values of topics Nerburn has chosen here are moments well spent. To ponder these truths and to absorb them clears the path ahead and moves us forward with peace and conviction.

Short chapters illustrate in clean prose the values of education and learning ("without knowledge I could not play the violin. Without wisdom, I could not play the music"); work ("we are what we do, and the more we do it, the more we become it"); money ("be a giver and a sharer... in some unexpected and unforeseeable fashion, all else will take care of itself"); possessions ("possessions are as likely to make you unhappy as they are to make you happy, because they define the limits of your life and keep you from the freedom of choice that comes with traveling light"); giving ("you have the power to create joy and happiness by your simplest gestures of caring and compassion"); travel ("if we don't offer ourselves to the unknown, our senses dull. Our world becomes small and we lose our sense of wonder"); loneliness and solitude (the first is a void, the second a sense of self-fulfillment); love ("treat what love brings you with kindness"); marriage ("if you believe in your heart that you have found someone with whom you are able to grow, if you have sufficient faith that you can resist the endless attraction of the road not taken and the partner not chosen, if you have the strength to embrace the cycles and seasons that your love will experience..."); parenthood ("in the bondage to a child you will find a freedom you never imagined, but neither should you seek parenthood as a way to fill an emptiness in your life. A child will hold a mirror to your life..."); strength ("true strength does not require an adversary and does not see itself as noble or heroic. It simply does what it must without praise or need of recognition... strength based in love is strength people crave"); tragedy and suffering ("they are the fire that burns you pure"); the spiritual journey ("spiritual understanding never becomes deep unless you subject yourself to the spiritual discipline of practicing your belief"); elders ("they were you and you will be them"); death ("it brings us to a judgment, so it is ours to control by the kind of life we live"); and concludes with an epilogue on embracing the mystery.

"If we have played our part well - offering love where it was needed, strength and caring where it was lacking; if we have tended the earth and its creatures with a sense of humble stewardship - we will have done enough."

Simple, yes, and shining with a timeless truth.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Women & Other Animals by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

# Paperback: 208 pages
# Publisher: Scribner, 2002
# Price: $12.00
# ISBN: 0743203070

Utterly impressed with Bonnie Jo Campbell's novel, Q Road, I eagerly picked up her story collection, Women and Other Animals. I do realize that most every writer has strengths that fall into one genre, usually, more than another, and after reading Campbell's stories, I believe this author's strength is long prose such as in novel form. These stories, however, do show the master stroke as well.

In 16 stories, Campbell writes about a memorable array of girls and women. I understand the collection title to signify that in each of these characters there is something of the basic survivor, the animal that we all are in the sense of seeking out what we need to live and, hopefully, to thrive: sustenance, companionship, the occasional adventure. These are not women who live easy lives. Dealing with hardships, whether poverty, abuse, or abandonment, or simply cruel strokes of misunderstanding, these are women who do what they must to make it through the day. Each has a kind of eccentricity to her that has, perhaps, been born of her ability to survive, the way a tree grows around the wire fence that cuts into its bark. Each story seems to have a common thread connecting all with some form of abuse, or hint of, that drives the character forward and gives them each a voice uniquely her own.

Campbell's writing style is skilled, and she allows for just enough local flavor to make the stories come alive but not so localized that they don't resonate with the common experience against all kinds of backdrops. Every woman has had to survive her tests and perhaps even every woman has had to endure some type of abuse at some point in her life, and so the stories resonate. But then, they have just enough humor, just enough "oddness," that we can sit back and read and chuckle and shake our heads, roll our eyes, and sigh with wonder that we did not join the circus, after all. Life is circus enough.

A strong collection, worthwhile reading. But don't miss this author's longer works, either. It gets even better.