Friday, October 18, 2019


My poetry reading is still in the beginning experimental stages. Being a novice, I pick poetry books like I pick most others, I'm captured by a cover. Such was the case with Mike Bond's The Drum that Beats Within Us, which called out to the beast and nature lover in me. How could I lose when the insides seemed destined to be full of connections between humans and their surroundings?

Bond believes poetry was born the moment we began to speak. It existed before then in "what whales and wolves sing." Every clan needs stories and lessons from the past, and to make them more memorable, the stories were often told in rhythm and rhyme. Poetry and stories are "how we find meaning in the incomprehensible, beautiful, tragic and sacred mystery of life."

This line sums up how I feel about poetry: "What counts is what we learn emotionally. When something hits us emotionally it stays in our experience..." Poetry feels like the ultimate in emotional connection. I can't tell you what poetry is, what different meters and rhythms mean. I can only tell you what I happen to connect with emotionally, what gets me in my gut. Mike Bond's work does that, and I connected with the themes of the havoc we are wreaking on the earth:

Hungry Magpie

A hungry magpie
is a world
out of order,

when after so much killing
there's nothing left
to die.

The earth barren
as the raw red skin
of Mars,

the seas deadly
as the toxic

And to think
one little biped
did it all.

Paradise Ducks

Paradise ducks don't know
about men and steel.
In rainforest rivers
they love
and raise their young,
always paired, the
dark multicolored male
and white-necked female.

Paradise ducks so easily fly,
don't know about airplanes
carrying men halfway
round the world,
shotguns in their baggage,
men who shoot thousands of ducks
for fun,
who have shot ducks in Brazil,
Mongolia, Canada, and now
in the far south
of the South Island
of New Zealand.

Paradise ducks mate for life.
Men don't.
A duck never kills.
Men do.
Ducks love misty dawns
that men sleep through,
flashing rivers and skies
blue as the gun barrels
that the men to love
to kill ducks
look down
before they fire.

Most Evil Thing

The most tragic thing
humans do
is war,

our greatest joy
is life's

The most evil
is to call one
the other.

*  *  *

Mike Bond is an award-winning poet, ecologist, and war and human rights journalist. I loved his no-punches-pulled approach, addressing the our vanishing natural world and calling us to account. This is a book I will buy for my growing poetry shelf and reread with pleasure.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

GUITAR :: David Schiller

I don't play the guitar. I'm not sure I've ever even picked up a guitar and strummed it (odd, that). But I love guitars. Their sound, of course, acoustic or screeching metal. More so their mere presence and craftsmanship, the many forms and artistic impressions they carry. All of which is what prompted me to read David Schiller's Guitar: The World's Most Seductive Instrument. I came for the pictures and good stories and I found them.

Some of the writing was over my head. This is a book for guitar aficionados, which we have already confirmed I am not. But boy is it a beauty. An encyclopedia of guitars, a photo of each accompanied by the name, model, builder, and type. Then, the stories. Stories of Elvis, Eddie Van Halen (who boils his strings, who knew?) and his "Frankenstrat," Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, the Beatles, Prince, and on and on.

Schiller's love of the guitar shines through in his writing: "[W]hat's most special about a guitar is the physical bond it creates. A guitar has a body. A voice. It has a look we can admire, show off, modify, identify with. Players can spend hours, days, a lifetime with it, cradled in our arms. We pack it up and carry it everywhere, and when we meet a fellow guitar lover, we can geek out and speak about guitars for hours. It's both universal and deeply intimate, as ubiquitous as any other consumable...and yet , transcendent. It even falls prey to the most believed-in romantic myth: 'The one' is out there, just for you. But unlike said myth, no guitar lover ever needs to settle for just one! So turn the pages, and maybe you'll find your next true love."

Despite not knowing or understanding the technical nature of the guitar ("it looks like an archtop, with its f-holes, but also like a flattop, with its familiar pin bridge. Yes those are pickguards hugging the f-holes..." Wha?)  this book was a joy to flip through and would be a great gift for any guitar lover.

Monday, October 14, 2019

BEYOND THE TREES :: Adam Shoalts

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

"Are you insane?" he was asked. Professional adventurer Adam Shoalts wanted to do something "that hadn't already been done" in celebration of Canada's sesquicentennial. What he came up with combined his passion for paddling wild lakes and rivers with his desire for a challenge that would raise awareness about our vanishing wild places. His plan was "unlikely to succeed" and questions regarding his sanity were many, even with respect to the "easy" parts.

Beyond the Trees is the result of Shoalts surviving a months-long, 2,500-mile trek across the Canadian Arctic with nothing but his canoe, a backpack and two barrels crammed with rations (more than 170 pounds of dead weight). He faced down grizzly bears and muskox (sometimes right at his tent opening) and battled severe winds, chunks of ice drifting like jigsaw-puzzle pieces and hordes of blood-sucking insects. Most remarkable (and perilous) was that to chase the ice melt, Shoalts's route required he travel upstream, against the flow of rapids that generally called for parties of six to 12 to travel down safely.

Shoalts approaches the many dangers with smarts and aplomb, while also transmitting the tension in his recounting. Despite the risks Shoalts conveys, Beyond the Trees is an earnest love story to one of the last portions of the Earth that remains undeveloped and where large animals still roam free. Peppered with Shoalts's corny humor and legends of lone trappers' unspeakable deeds, this white-knuckle affair is a travelogue, adventure story and horror-movie-in-waiting that sparks an urge to get out and go.

STREET SENSE: An intrepid explorer paddles and portages the vast and treacherous Canadian Arctic, sharing its unparalleled beauty and crucial need for its preservation. Nature lovers, risk-takers, travel nerds alike will dig this one.

COVER NERD SAYS:  Pretty picture, passable fonts with good balance. Subtitle here passes muster, as the title needs a little more explanation. I will say this photo makes the trip look much more peaceful than it was. A little more urgency or danger might have added to it, but overall a great looking cover.

Friday, October 11, 2019


A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

"They're all gone." These enduring words of sportscaster Jim McKay announced the murder of 11 Israeli Olympians by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Games. Three Seconds in Munich adeptly scrutinizes the infamous basketball tournament between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that took place at the same Games, and sportswriter David A.F. Sweet (Lamar Hunt) strikes a perfect balance in discussing both events.

Sweet takes the gracious risk of losing his audience to anguish by leading with the hostage crisis and not paying mere lip service to the horror. In doing so, he gains crucial trust in a story calling out collusion and game-fixing at one of the highest levels of sport.

Mere days after the massacre, following an undefeated 36-year Olympic streak spanning a "borderline-ridiculous sixty-two games," the U.S. lost to the Soviets 51-50 in the gold medal game. But officials twice added three seconds back on the clock--once after time had expired and the U.S. had won the gold.

Three Seconds is painstakingly researched. While Sweet exposes conspiracy and wrongdoing, he does not discount other elements working against the U.S. team, including coaching style, politics and a dearth of players due to rules prohibiting professional athletes (seemingly overlooked on the Soviet front).

Sweet does a stellar job of pulling emotional strings and revealing how "encountering the evil of terrorism and suffering an excruciating, unjust" loss in only a four-day span continues to affect the players.

STREET SENSE: I remember this Olympics vividly. Where I was (vacationing in Santa Cruz) and who I was with (my family and old family friends). The Olympics were always a special time. I wasn't even 10, but I remember the hostage-taking. I remember zero about the basketball tournament. I felt those old emotions come out as Sweet discussed the tragedy of those Games. This is a recommended work for anyone curious about the Games, athletics and politics, and sports in general.

COVER NERD SAYS:  This cover makes the content clear and the photo captures some of the ranging emotions and reactions to it. The title and subtitle are both smart (one dramatic, the other clarifies). There is nothing earth-shattering here, but any effort to be overly dramatic would be an affront to the content, I think. Overall, well done.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

WILDHOOD :: Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

Advice on "how to ask out a whale" may not seem a typical means to teach about adolescence, but evolutionary biologist and physician Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and science journalist Kathryn Bowers make such compelling and scientific connections between humans and animals that readers will come to believe that one can learn a trick or two from our fluked friends. In Wildhood, a follow-up to their acclaimed Zoobiquity, the authors explore the crucial stage between childhood and adulthood across the animal kingdom.

Safety, status, sex and self-reliance are the four universal challenges adolescents must navigate while transforming successfully into adulthood. Each is illustrated through one of the following points of view: Ursula, a king penguin who risks death from a voracious Antarctic predator she has never seen before on her first trip away from her parents; Shrink, a socially adept hyena pup born on the bottom of the ladder who rises through the hierarchy; Salt, a humpback whale who learns the complicated dating rituals of her species; and Slavc, a young wolf who sets out on a solitary journey to find his forever home.

Having identified the "core four" competencies to be mastered by every adolescent on earth, the team presents their cross-species theories in a highly entertaining yet skillfully informative format that will engross animal lovers and parents alike. Without anthropomorphizing, one still can't help but fall in love with these animals and, by association, hopefully gain some understanding and empathy for human adolescents. Wildhood is a roller-coaster ride through nature's wonders.

STREET SENSE:  A cool cross between the human and animal worlds, I fell in love with each of these creatures (some more than others, not always in direct correlation with how interesting the point of the arc was) and also did come out with more empathy for human adolescents. Who can be such a true pain in the ass (Not talking about you, KRK!) I dug this one and it was apparently recently highlighted on NPR, so I'm going to check that out and also will be reading Zoobiquity.

COVER NERD SAYS: Fuckin' baby lions. Pretty much says it all.

Monday, October 7, 2019

THINK BLACK :: Clyde W. Ford

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

Clyde W. Ford struts to his first day at IBM with "a ballooned Afro, pork chop sideburns, [and] a blue zoot suit with red pinstripes," knowing only shades of the legacy he carries. In 1971, more than two decades after his father's hiring as IBM's first black systems engineer, Clyde, 19, is told he "doesn't get it"--"it" being the IBM way of a dark suit and tie, button-down shirt and matching attitude. 

As Clyde digs into his father's experience, he gains fuller understanding of John Ford's path and the burdens of treading it. In Think Black, Ford winds through their lives and the corporate behemoth that influenced them. Being first carries risks, and John felt the pressures of representing his race in the face of racial codes, false diversity, sabotage and working harder for less pay. He brought change to IBM at a cost, deepening his "wound of color."

Ford illuminates the profound interaction between technology and race. A progression of machines and coding (Ford learned at a young age from his father--"For a ten-year-old, deriving 1,008 decimals from 1760 octal is no easy feat") parallels IBM's sinister history in the service of racial purity and oppression.

The Fords did not take the same path in answer to the question of who they were as black men in a society that resents their very being. In Think Black, Ford shares a peace his father never found, and food for thought for a country that hasn't come nearly as far as they did.

STREET SENSE: IBM was a huge force during my childhood in Silicon Valley, but I learned so much from this book I had no idea about. A fantastic relationship story as much as a corporate history lesson, I did glaze over at much of the tech-talk. Dude, Clyde would have kicked my ass by the time he was 5. The first description of him won me over entirely.

COVER NERD SAYS: Cover images don't come much better than this one. So cool (though I would love to see a color photo of Clyde as described in the opening). I also love the interplay of the title and the IBM logo. Sneaky smart.

Monday, September 30, 2019

AXIOMATIC :: Maria Tumarkin

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

When Australian literary legend Helen Garner says, "No one can write like Maria Tumarkin," one sits up and pays attention. Cultural historian Tumarkin teaches creative writing at the University of Melbourne while writing novels and essays. Axiomatic testifies to Tumarkin's captivation by and insight into sociology; these five extended essays explore themes that stir intriguing communal reaction and response.

In "Time Heals All Wounds," several youth suicides rock a school community. Students grieve through English papers, "submitting their heartbeats as assignments." Tumarkin delves into the cultural reaction to suicide. The school's administration tries to comfort, but Tumarkin signals the particular difficulties with suicide by deftly contrasting the handling of multiple student deaths in a car accident.

Perceptions of historical trauma and the inadequacy of children's courts are depicted in "Those Who Forget the Past Are Condemned to Re--." A Polish couple abducts their grandson and hides him in a Melbourne "dungeon." Discounting the grandmother's argued protection of the boy as a misapplication of her own trauma (hiding from Nazis to survive the Holocaust), authorities prosecute her and send the boy "home" to unfit parents.

Tumarkin's writing is often hauntingly beautiful, but the exploration of the generational influences of trauma, addiction and suicide always feels journalistically balanced. The past marks us, but is only one element on the road to "junkie or philanthropist," businesswoman of the decade or abject failure. There are no Hollywood endings, just a fascinating reflection of life in the tarred trenches.

STREET SENSE: Tumarkin is a cultural historian with a knack for exploring how communities and bureaucracies handle various traumas and crimes, as well as the generational impact on those affected.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  Nothing is more human than the experience of feeling trapped. And everything's a trap, your past, family, genes, addictions, loneliness, that feeling that pretty much everyone else is galloping gaily ahead while you are crawling backwards like a lobster or lopsided baby.

COVER NERD SAYS:  Covers for a collection of essays feels like they would be more difficult than a straight story or non-fiction arc. That leaves me grading this cover with a less heavy hand. It's a fine cover, but I have no clue what these essays are about, or even that it's a collection of essays. But I knew this was an Australian author writing about Australian things, so I didn't really need to be sucked in by the cover. Had that need been there, I can't say this cover would have attracted me. (Though the Helen Garner quote would have, crimping my "blurbs are the worst" theory.)

About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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