Friday, August 18, 2017

Experiencing the Art of Hélio Oiticica

I glimpsed a nicely dressed barefoot patron when I stepped off the elevator on the fifth floor of the Whitney. This was my first clue that the
Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium exhibit was going to be a bit different from typical museum fare. I walked around the galleries while waiting for the tour to start and was, quite frankly, baffled. Why were there people enjoying a game of pool? Why were people lying in hammocks with Jimi Hendrix playing in the background? It would all be revealed in due course.
The pool table is thought to be a
reference to van Gogh's "Night Café."
The sound of the balls hitting one another
also engages another different sense.
Hélio Oiticica was the first artist to create happenings, our docent explained. My ears perked up at the term, which reminded me of a crazy "happening" my friend Danita and I stumbled into more than 25 years ago in California. I didn't know at the time that happenings are a type of audience participation performance art. All I knew was that it was fun. 

Wearing a Parangolé
Oiticica's initial works progressed from 2D to 3D to 4D (with the fourth dimension being time). Colors were moved off the plane of a painting and into the viewer's space. The colors change as you look at them from different perspectives. Some works allow participants--Oiticica's preferred term--to walk through them and move panels, adding another element for both the participant and the bystander. In today's art world, this might not seem particularly radical. But the concept was "mindblowing" when Oiticica introduced it in the 1960s. His approach is given further import when placed in context against the backdrop of Brazil's repressive military regime. Oititica's art gave participants a bit of control otherwise lacking in their daily lives.

As interesting as these works were, they were just the beginning. Participants became an even more integral part of the art with Oiticica's Parangolés. The pieces are "mobile sculptures" made of cotton, plastic, and other materials. I happily donned one but drew the line at dancing the samba as Oiticia intended.
Then there were the fully immersive pieces. Tropicalia is one of Oiticica's Penetrables, works that participants can literally walk into and experience. The ground was covered with sand, and the floor of each structure had a different texture--rocks, woodchips, even water.  (This piece explains the shoeless patron, although I don't think he was supposed to be wandering barefoot in other galleries.) A (live) parrot shrieked in the background.  Plants enlivened the landscape.

Our docent once again put the work in context. "Think of 1960s London where Tropicalia was first introduced," he said. "Men who visited museums wore suits and ties and had to roll their pant legs up before wading in." I loved the visual.

Jimi Hendrix "Cocoon"
Perhaps not surprisingly, cocaine became a big part of Oiticica's life. He used the drug frequently, feeling that it expanded his horizons. More intriguingly, he used the drug in his artwork -- literally.

Oiticica's fertile imagination envisioned nine "environmental pieces." Only five were realized during his lifetime, including a "nest" comprised of mattresses on which participants lie while listening to music and viewing pictures streamed onto the walls. Oititica intended for participants to file their nails while lying on the mattresses, creating cocaine-like flecks of white. (The Whitney skipped that component.)

But I preferred the hammock "cocoons" to the nests. The images on the walls and ceiling in the room were photographs on which Oititica had painted using cocaine for the pigment. Jimi Hendrix music enveloped us. It makes no sense, but the experience was extremely relaxing. In the hammock next to me laid a mother nestling with her small child. I felt like I could have rested there all afternoon, but I had places to go and people to see.

And so concluded another satisfying visit to the Whitney. Once again, my concept of art had been pushed beyond its previous limits with a knowledgeable docent leading the way. I loved it.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Taking a Look at Punta Gorda's History

Let's face it -- Most people are not going to visit a town's historical society and pore through dusty tomes to learn about bygone days. But in Punta Gorda, our town's history is on display all around us, thanks to the Punta Gorda Historic Mural Society. Dave Bise and I had the chance to talk with Kelly Gaylord, President of the Mural Society, for our Partnership for the Arts podcast.  It gave me an even greater appreciation for the work of this organization.

Hotel Charlotte Harbor, painted by Charles Peck
The Mural Society was founded in 1994 by Dr. Bob Andrews after a vacation to Vancouver, Washington. He enjoyed learning about Vancouver's history through its murals. Why couldn't Punta Gorda capture its own history in the same way?  The City Council immediately embraced the idea, and it wasn't long before a mural featuring the Hotel Charlotte Harbor graced a wall of the Punta Gorda Mall.

I can hear some people asking now, "What mall?" Sadly, the mall -- along with the mural -- was destroyed by Hurricane Charley. In total, ten of the then 20 murals were destroyed by the storm. All but two have been recreated.  The Hotel Charlotte Harbor is now memorialized on the walls of the Charlevoi Condos through two murals highlighting the hotel's history. 

Hotel Punta Gorda, painted by Charles Peck
Kelly explained that the Victorian-style hotel went through several iterations. It was built in 1886 when the Florida Southern Railway expanded into Punta Gorda. The Hotel Punta Gorda had 150 rooms and was the largest hotel in south Florida. (It only had four bathrooms per floor, though. Times have definitely changed.) The tower provided a vantage point for visitors like Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt to view the river. Other famous guests shown in the mural include Clarence Darrow and Andrew Mellon. The hotel shuttered its doors in 1914.

In 1925, Baron Collier purchased and revitalized the hotel, renaming it Hotel Charlotte Harbor. The $250,000 in renovations corrected the bathroom deficiency and added two floors, with the fourth floor used by Collier as a personal apartment and the fifth floor featuring a glassed-in ballroom. The hotel's glory days lasted only five years before the Depression took its toll.  In 1956, the hotel was converted into a health spa that never operated in the black. It burned down in 1959 in a fire that could be seen for 25 miles.

Our First Firehouse, painted by Skip Dyrda
Each of Punta Gorda's 29 murals conveys an equally interesting story. Happily, there are numerous ways to learn about them. You can, of course, do your own tour of the murals. Each mural now has its own QR code that allows people a bit more tech savvy than I am to easily access the information on the Mural Society's website. Better yet, you can take a class with Kelly at FGCU's Renaissance Academy. One version walks students through all 29 murals--450 years of history--from the comfort of their seats in the classroom. During the season, Kelly also offers a walking tour that covers more than 15 of the murals. Participants in these tours also learn about the hidden symbols embedded in the murals. Information about both options is available on the Mural Society's website, which can be accessed by clicking here.

And if you really get the mural bug, check out the Florida Mural Trail.  The trail was established a couple of years ago--thanks, in part, to Kelly's efforts--to celebrate this fun form of public art. To qualify for inclusion, a town only has to have a couple of murals, so be sure to check out the numbers before you hit the road. The more important criteria is an organization responsible for maintaining the art. Lake Placid, with 48 murals, is definitely on my list.

To hear Kelly talk about Punta Gorda's murals, including the new firehouse murals, listen in to our podcast by clicking here. (Just scroll down a bit and you'll get to the interview.)  She also talks about what's involved in the creation of a mural, from the funding to the painting.

Happy learning! 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Arts in Medicine at Shands Hospital

Medical Grand Rounds creator
Dr. Tony Gil
You wouldn't expect a program called Medical Grand Rounds to appeal to someone whose medical experience is limited to playing "Operation" as a kid. But the program's lectures focus on the connection between medicine and music and are presented in an accessible manner. As a bonus, the program supports our local Charlotte Symphony Orchestra through sponsorships by area medical professionals. Since its inception five years ago, the program has raised $125,000 for the CSO.

The most recent Medical Grand Rounds lecture featured Andrew Sanchez, a graduate of the University of Florida who's heading to Columbia Med School. While at UF, Andrew became involved with Shands' Arts in Medicine program.

Andrew Sanchez
Andrew was quick to distinguish arts in medicine programs from art/music therapy.  Music therapy, such as the work done by Dr. Oliver Sacks, is goal-oriented. A striking example is the work being done with non-verbal Alzheimers patients who respond to the music of their youth. By contrast, arts in medicine is process-oriented. Giving patients--and their families--the opportunity to listen to music or engage in an art project is a welcome distraction from dealing with whatever led to the hospitalization.

Andrew also noted the program "rehumanizes" patients in a time when they are referred to as "healthcare recipients" being treated by "healthcare providers." When enjoying music or art, patients are no longer defined by their condition. They get to just be people again, if only for a short time. And they regain some control by having the power to decide when and how they want to participate.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. First, a bit of history. Duke was the first hospital to launch an arts in medicine program in 1975. The program initially took the form of monthly concerts in a public area. (The CSO participated in this type of program last year when it performed a holiday concert at Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida.)  The idea spread, with the University of Iowa pioneering an aesthetic experience for patients with a focus on art and design.  UF's Shands joined in the late 1980s and is the first institution to have a formal artist in residence program. Today nearly 50% of hospitals have some kind of arts in medicine program.

The Shands program is quite expansive and includes everything from doing craft projects to collecting oral histories. Each area has artists in residence who are paid employees of the hospital. Their jobs include not only performing but auditioning volunteers and providing training. On the musical side, performers can often be found in public areas, including the tunnels between the pediatric hospital and the cancer hospital. Some patients get bedside visits from musicians like Andrew. (In case you're wondering, the instruments used in the program stay in the hospital and are sterilized before each bedside visit.) Andrew told us a bit about how he was trained to approach these visits.

"It all starts with a knock on the door," he explained. The knock isn't random, however. Each patient's doctor has suggested that he or she might enjoy participating in the program. The musician then works to develop a rapport with the patient, explaining why he's there. The patient is given the opportunity to talk about herself and let the volunteer know if she's feeling up to the visit. If so, she's then given some choices. Andrew's repertoire isn't broad enough to permit song selection, but he does ask whether the patient wants to hear something fast or slow. (He performed examples of both for us, and his playing was a joy.) 

To see a moving example of a bedside session, click here to watch guitarist Ricky Kendall with heart transplant recipient Jamal Davis. As you will see, Jamal happily gets in on the act.

While arts in medicine programs aren't goal-oriented, Andrew noted that positive benefits have been reported. Patients who participate in the program sometimes experience less stress and anxiety. Some require less pain medication. The medical professionals benefit as well, with increased job satisfaction and a greater sense of community. The programs are truly a win-win for all involved.

A huge thanks to Andrew Sanchez for taking the time to share his experiences before heading off to med school. I can't wait to find out what the Medical Grand Rounds series has in store for us next. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

EdFringe Here We Come -- Again!

I wasn't going to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh this year -- honest! And, for the record, neither was Wendi. We had agreed that we were taking the year off, despite it being the Festival's 70th anniversary. There are just too many other places to see and things to do.

So you can imagine my surprise when Wendi dropped the news in May that she was going to this year's Festival for five days.  My first response was, "Without me???!!!"  My second reaction was, "But you'll only be able to see about 30 shows!" (For those unfamiliar with the Fringe format, each show runs about an hour, so you can fit alot in in one day if you're willing to run all over Edinburgh and forego sit-down dining. We see at least six shows each day; hence, the number 30.)  She mentioned several performers she'd be seeing whom we'd enjoyed in the past. I was tempted, but still on the fence. Until, that is, I opened her email entitled "A True Sign."

The email had a link to a show by a comedian we saw our first year -- Hannah Gadsby.  Her show provided insights into famous works of art, and it was pretty darn funny.  She hasn't been to EdFringe since, so it was nice to see that she'd be back.  But I couldn't figure out why I would be sufficiently excited about her return to push me over the edge. Did she somehow call out my name? The answer is -- yes.  Quite ridiculously, her show is called Nanette.

The show description reads, "Hello, I have another show for you. It's inspired by a woman called Nanette. Although we didn't exchange a single word or even a glance, Nanette has changed my life. She hasn't, but she did prompt me to think about some things, and those things I thought have become this show." Nanette won Best of Show in this year's Melbourne International Comedy Festival.  I am taking some credit.  And, obviously, it's at the top of the list of shows I'm excited about seeing this year.  (To read my review of Hannah's 2014 show The Exhibitionist, click here.)

Also on the comedy front is another returning performer to whom Wendi and I have taken a shine -- Trygve Wakenshaw. Trygve is a charming and funny Gaulier-trained clown whose talent works in both intimate venues and large auditoriums. (We've seen him in both.) This year he's doing two shows. The one I'm most looking forward to seeing is Trygve vs. a Baby. Yes, this consummate performer is going up against a baby to see who's more entertaining. And not just any baby -- his own one year old son Phineas. This could go wrong in so many ways.  I can't wait. (To read my review is Trygve's 2014 show Kraken, which included some pretty funny nudity, click here.)

Letters to Morrissey features Gary McNair, yet another actor whom we've seen at a previous EdFringe. McNair's one man show revisits the letters his character wrote to the English singer Morrissey 20 years ago as a lonely 11-year old boy trying to make sense of the world.  Has he changed or has the world?  McNair is a terrific actor, and his A Gambler's Guide to Dying was a sell-out in 2015. My only concern about this show is that it's first up on our first day at the Festival (as, coincidentally, was Gambler's Guide). A potentially quiet show in a dark theater isn't overly compatible with jet lag. I will be sure to have a Diet Coke at the ready.

I'm intrigued by a two-part show entitled Speaking in Tongues: The Lies and Speaking in Tongues: The Truth. The shows' age-old themes of love, deceit, and scandal make for good theater. But what's intriguing is the physical set-up of the productions. In an inversion of theater-in-the-round, audience members sit in the center of the stage in swivel chairs that allow you to choose which characters to follow. It sounds like an opportunity for confusion and a lot of knee-knocking with your neighbors, but the shows have gotten good reviews. And the truth is that whether or not I give Speaking in Tongues lots of stars in Wendi's and my finely honed rating system, this is exactly the type of outside-the-box theater I go to Edinburgh to see.

These are just five of the seven shows Wendi and I will take in on our first day of EdFringe. We expanded our stay from her original plan of five days to eight, but we know we're going to miss lots of good theater. Our schedule only includes 42 shows so far, so we have a few slots to fill.  I'll be sure to report back upon our return. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Talking Music with George Mancini

George Mancini
I'm a sucker for pianists. While I enjoy the music, what really grabs me is watching their fingers fly up and down the keyboard in a seemingly effortless manner. So it wasn't a hard sell when my friend Tony Gil invited me to Sheraton Four Points to hear George Mancini's jazz trio play. Within moments of entering the room, I realized Mancini is the real deal. The time flew as I bopped along to jazz standards, with a ridiculously wonderful version of Duke Ellington's "Caravan" closing the show.

Dave Bise and I had the chance to chat with George for our Partnership for the Arts podcast. After a lifetime as a professional musician, George has more than a few good stories. But perhaps none is more interesting than how he got his start.

With a name like Mancini, it's no big surprise that George is Italian. Music is an integral part of many Italian families' homes, and the Mancini household was no exception. From an early age, George was introduced to classical music and opera. It was a given he would learn to play an instrument, but his parents left the particulars up to him. And so a five year old George found himself standing outside a music store with his mother looking over his options. "Which one do you like?" she asked. George confesses that he couldn't even name most of the instruments. But he was intrigued by the colors and buttons on -- wait for it -- the accordion. They marched into the store and bought a woman's accordion for George to play. (I love the visual of a five year old George hefting his new possession.)

But there was a hitch. George's hometown didn't have any accordion instructors. Undaunted, George's parents signed him up with a violin instructor and an organ teacher. Together, they figured it out. George says the experience taught him early that playing an instrument isn't about the mechanics; it's about the sound. It didn't take long before George's musical talents had drawn some attention. By the time he was eight, he was performing on a weekly TV show, playing his own take on whatever style of music was called for. 

George's life as a professional musician was just getting started. A scholarship to a German university launched him into the international world of music (via a KLM propeller plane). Although he'd taught himself to play jazz piano, it was his first formal piano training. Later, he traveled the world as a clinician for The Hohner Group, showing off the versatility of the accordion. For more than a decade, he logged over 100,000 miles annually between his piano and accordion concerts and his work as a clinician. 

Whenever George found himself in a location for an extended period of time, he took on students. Despite his success as a performer, his true passion is teaching. Language was never a barrier, a fact to which his German, Japanese and Dominican students will attest. Music, he says, "transcends nationality." And learning the accordion at the knees of instructors who didn't know to play the instrument taught him the importance of aural training.

George's unique educational experience has also made him a proponent of critical thinking, a skill he teaches his students through the techniques of music. He works with them on math and science as well as music. It's all interrelated, isn't it?

He tells a funny story about a kid who couldn't get the concept of tied notes. George had tried all of his usual techniques to teach the concept. Finally, he asked the student, "What do you think of when you think of tied?" "The detergent my mom uses to wash the clothes," the child replied. George laughed, took off his shoes, and tied the laces together. "This is the type of tied I'm talking about," he explained. It was a reminder for this veteran teacher about the importance of communication.

As you can probably tell, I've become a huge George Mancini fan. He's charming and incredibly talented and fun to watch perform. His trio--comprised of George on piano, Ron Harris on drums and Isaac Mingus on bass--appears every Monday night from 7:00-9:00 at Sheraton Four Points in Punta Gorda. No cover. Just stop in, grab a bite or a glass of wine and enjoy some great music. There's often a guest musician as well, sometimes one of his talented children (a story for another day) and other times one of his students.

George's daughter Michelle Kasanofsky
And if you want to catch George on the accordion, he'll be performing this week with daughter Michelle Kasanofsky at Venice Theatre in her show "To All the Men I've Loved Before." (Michelle is the choral director at Port Charlotte High School and a fabulous pianist in her own right.)  Performances are on Thursday and Friday, July 20-21, at 8 p.m.  Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.

Last, but certainly not least, to hear our interview with George, click here.  (Just scroll down a bit to get to the interview.) I hope you'll enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed chatting with him. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

What's on My Nightstand

Unpacking the books I brought home from BookExpo was like opening a Christmas present I'd picked out for myself but couldn't quite remember.  (That's how we do it in my family, at least!)  I was immediately excited about most of my new books, although a few left me somewhat bemused.  Read on for descriptions of what's made it to my nightstand.

"The Resurrection of Joan Ashby" by Cherise Wolas (out September 12th). I was intrigued by this debut novel the second I opened its cover. The first page is an article from a literary magazine entitled "(Re)Introducing Joan Ashby." Ashby wrote two astonishing story collections in her youth, leaving readers anxious for more for over three decades. The article includes an excerpt from a notebook a 13-year old Ashby kept entitled How to Do It with nine precepts that would govern her life as a writer. Among them were "Do not entertain any offer of marriage," "Never ever have children," and "Never allow anyone to get in my way." Also included in this article are two excerpts from stories she wrote.

Not surprisingly, Ashby's life didn't go quite as she had planned. I was immediately engrossed in the plotline, but it's the excerpts from her stories and other writing that are truly phenomenal. Part II liberally quotes from her interrelated stories about a character named Simon Tabor. I ratcheted up from my usual flag noting a passage I like to a large post-it on which I scribbled, "I desperately want to read this story collection." I wrote Wolas' editor to find out if a book of stories was forthcoming. (Sadly, unbelievably, it's not. Surely she wrote more than just those excerpts, given how incredibly vivid and compelling they are.) 

I finished this the last--534th-- page of "The Resurrection of Joan Ashby" yesterday wanting more. I loved it.

"Mrs. Fletcher" by Tom Perrotta (out in August). I am a fan of Tom Perrotta, with the exception of his "The Leftovers" about the rapture. (I apparently was in the minority, since this book was adapted into a hit HBO series.) His latest features Eve Fletcher, a divorcee struggling with empty nest syndrome.  Eve becomes obsessed with a seemingly errant text message she received that read, "U r my MILF!" (Like Eve, I have no idea what that means.) Simultaneously, her son is getting a bit off-track at college, as he struggles with an environment that challenges his white privilege background.  Time magazine has called Perrotta "the Steinbeck of suburbia."  I'm eager to plunge back into his world.

"The Twelve Mile Straight" by Eleanor Henderson (out in September). The premise of this book pulls me right in. In 1930 Cotton County, Georgia, a white sharecropper's daughter gives birth to twins -- one black and one white. A field hand is accused of rape and, inevitably, murdered. Henderson's narrative envisions the aftermath of these events. Interestingly, Henderson's own grandfather was a sharecropper in south Georgia during the Depression. As a result, she grew up hearing stories of her father's rural youth. "When I began to imagine the world of Cotton County," she said, "I wanted to capture the innocence of these country stories and also to fracture it."  Count me in.

"The Golden House" by Salman Rushdie (out in September). Although I've never read Salman Rushdie, I've always been fascinated by him. You probably remember that his "The Satanic Verses," inspired in part by the life of Muhammad, prompted Ayotallah Khomeini to issue a fatwah against Rushdie that was in effect for nearly a decade.  And then, of course, there's the fact that he was married to Padma Lakshmi, perhaps the world's most gorgeous foodie. But I digress.

Random House characterizes Rushdie's latest novel as "equal parts The Great Gatsby and The Bonfire of the Vanities as it tackles contemporary politics and culture.  The book begins, "On the day of the new president's inauguration, when we worried that he might be murdered as he walked hand in hand with his exceptional wife among the cheering crowds, and when so many of us were close to economic ruin in the aftermath of the bursting of the mortgage bubble, and when Isis was still an Egyptian mother-goddess, an uncrowned seventy-something king from a faraway country arrived in New York City with his three motherless sons to take possession of the palace of his exile."  Whew!  I can't wait to see where this story goes.

"Grist Mill Road" by Christopher Yates (out in January). For me, no book list would be complete without a thriller. It was hard to overlook the blurb on the cover of this book from NPR's All Things Considered, which reads, "The highly anticipated new novel from the author whose [2017] debut was called 'the smart summer thriller you've been waiting for..'" Somehow I missed last year's hype over Yates and his Black Chalk.  But the quote did its job -- I was primed.

The first sentence of "Grist Mill Road" leaves no question about what kind of novel this is. "I remember the gunshots made a wet sort of sound, phssh, phssh, phssh, and each time he hit her she screamed."  What did leave a question--for me at least--was the description of the book as a "Rashomon-style tale." A quick Google search revealed this means a story told from the perspective of several different characters in an unreconcilable way. (The term derives from a 1950 Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa of the same name.)  It sounds like a great book to read with a friend so you can sort out what's happened when you get to the end.

By the way, if you're interested in getting a better sense of what BookExpo is like, click here to read an article I wrote about this year's experience for Florida Weekly. Happy reading! 

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

Short stories generally aren't my genre. I like my characters to have the chance to develop. And so, despite having loved Anthony Marra's "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena," I was resistant to reading his "The Tsar of Love and Techno." But weeks after finishing this collection, I am still marveling over these intertwined stories. A big thank you to my friend Althea, who put this book in my hands.

The book starts with an intriguing epigraph: "It's a minor work." The quote is attributed to Pyotr Zakharov-Chechenets regarding his 1843 painting Empty Pasture in Afternoon. While Zakharov was a real Russian artist of Chechen descent, no such painting ever existed. But the role Empty Pasture plays in story after story made it as real as any painting on the walls of my home. Such is the power of Marra's writing.

Marra's first story -- "The Leopard" -- introduces us to Roman Osipovich Markin, an employee of Russia's Department of Propaganda and Agitation. He is a "correction artist," whose job it is to modify paintings and photographs to remove evidence of those who have fallen out of favor with the State. 

"Last July I had the opportunity to correct one of my own paintings," Roman tells us at one point, "A scene of the October Revolution oiled a decade ago, in 1927. Amid an ardent proletariat uprising, I had mistakenly included the figures of Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenv, who couldn't have been there, not after having been proven perfidious in a recent public trial  I replaced our villains with our hero; Stalin was there, is there, is everywhere..."  

Roman is a villain in his own way. When removing evidence of the existence of dissidents, he often inserts an image of his brother in their place. It's a dangerous--and traitorous--action. His brother, you see, was executed after being found guilty of religious radicalism for his belief in the existence of heaven. While this sly act of treason isn't what trips Roman up in the end, it does create a trail of breadcrumbs for another character to follow.

In "The Granddaughters," Marra moves from Leningrad to the Ukrainian city of Kirovsk. We meet Galina, a character whose claim to fame is a grandmother who was a prima ballerina with the Kirov. Sadly, Galina didn't inherit her grandmother's talent. But her great beauty becomes her own passport to another world.

We also meet Kolya, a character about whom Marra says, "If we could we would airbrush him from our story....Kolya was a hundred meters of arrogance pressed into a two-meter frame, the kind of young man who makes you feel inadequate for not impressing him...In another country, he might have grown up to be an investment banker, but here he grew up to be a murderer..."

The two fall in love, with their lives crossing paths repeatedly in later stories. Trust me when I say this is no ordinary love story.

Anthony Marra
Each story in "The Tsar of Love and Techno" is a gem. But it's the way the stories build on one another that makes this book so extraordinary. I was torn between racing through it and savoring each story. I wanted to read it again as soon as I had finished. I want to read it again now that I've been paging through the stories. In case I've left any question, I loved this book.

For some insights from Marra into the book and his writing process, click here to read a terrific interview. (I particularly enjoyed learning about the epigraph.) If you're still on the fence about the book, this should catapult you right into your nearest bookstore to grab a copy. Don't overlook the mixtape playlist Marra put together that appears after the reader's guide. It's a marvel in and of itself, a bonus story of sorts -- and you can listen to it on Spotify. 

Happy reading!

Experiencing the Art of Hélio Oiticica

I glimpsed a nicely dressed barefoot patron when I stepped off the elevator on the fifth floor of the Whitney. This was my first clue that...