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Jewels in the Jungle: hidden treasures for summer reading and listening

If mainstream entertainment isn't doing it for your muse this summer, check out these indie treasures. These are no "diamonds in the rough;" on the contrary, these books and CDs are artfully crafted, sparkling examples of high quality works that have not (yet?) hit the mass market. Mr. G and I recently watched a movie in which a feverish man throws a handful of cut, polished diamonds into a muddy pool in the jungle. These gems are like those--you might never know they were there, but if you just know where to look, they shine through the murk of obscurity.

Without further ado...

Here are two fellow bloggers' books that I've promoted before but are worth mentioning again. I would categorize these as "beach reads with bite." If the chick lit is putting you to sleep, you'll want to stay up all night with a flashlight with these sharp stories.

If you're looking for a fast-paced read with high drama, dark fantasy, and twisted romance, get yourself a copy of Michelle Davidson Argyle's Cinders. If the words "happily ever after" have ever given you the heebie-jeebies, or at least a shadow of suspicion, you will love this continuation of the Cinderella tale. Cinders is a book that was intended to be self-published from its conception, but it has nonetheless gone through extensive professional writing and editing. Even the cover was professionally photographed and designed--how convenient that the author happens to be a photographer as well!

If nonfiction is your forte, watch for the imminent release of Marie Simas' Tampons Take Your Virginity: A Catholic Girl's Memoir. Shocking yet familiar, horrific yet hilarious, and faithful yet brutally honest, this is a must-read for all my Catholic and raised-Catholic peeps. Marie was one of those lucky bitches who was discovered by a publisher after posting bits of her memories online. Check Marie's website for release details.

And for your listening pleasure, here are two albums of rare beauty that you won't hear on the Top 40 station. They are both mellow, rich, and deeply moving.

Mountain Man is a newly signed trio of three young women--including my college roommate's little sister!--who are currently jetting around the world on a tour of the United States and Western Europe, singing Appalachian-style folk music to rave reviews. We're talking, uncomfortably orgasmic reviews. And Appalachian folk singing isn't exactly the hottest thing anywhere outside of West Virginia, so you know they're something special. I just picked up their debut album, Made the Harbor, and I'm pretty sure that Baby G is loving it from inside the womb. These are truly the voices of three earthy angels.

My last recommendation is not of a new album or artist but one that I've been trying to find for years. Ever since I studied in Rome for five months in 2003-04, I've been kicking myself for not purchasing a copy of In Circolo by Perturbazione. It's some of the most heartbreakingly bittersweet music I have ever heard in my life, and CDs released in poor countries often disappear into the forgotten past all too soon. I figured I could just buy it on Amazon or something when I got back to the States, arrogant American that I was! Not so. I went years without hearing that music except in dreams and memories.

Finally Mr. G surprised me by acquiring the song files in mp3 form, and I came home from work to find the house filled with the melody of "Agosto," my favorite song from the album. This was one of the first music videos I saw in Rome when I arrived in the hottest, deadliest August in Italy's history. The song and video were perfectly in tune with the picturesque decay, simple pleasures, and stark poverty of Italian suburbs and towns. It harmonized magically with the cold loneliness of the hottest month, when nearly all the people flee the cities for the coast and leave the windows shuttered and the streets empty save for those few left behind.

The lyrics are, with English translation below each line:

è il mese più freddo dell’anno
is the coldest month of the year
L’inverno si sposta sei mesi in avanti
The winter comes six months in advance
e non è il polo sud
and this is not the South Pole
qui non è il polo sud
here is not the South Pole

La sveglia che rompe il silenzio
the alarm that breaks the silence
Qualcuno è in vacanza
someone is on vacation
e lei suona per ore
and it rings for hours
che freddo che fa
how cold it is

ti affacci su un cuore malato
it reveals the sickness in your heart
le cinque di sera ed è già buio pesto
five in the evening and it’s already dark; I step on
l’inverno d’agosto
the winter of August

Il ghiaccio
The ice
si posa e ricopre le cose
settles and covers things
l’attesa del caldo congela anche i morti
the wait for warmth freezes even the dead
che freddo che fa
how cold it is

Se non è vero che hai paura
If it isn’t true that you are afraid
non è vero che ti senti solo
it isn’t true that you feel alone
non è vero che fa freddo
it isn’t true that it is cold
allora perché tremi in questo agosto?
then why do you tremble in this August?

è scritto sul tuo calendario
is written in your calendar
forse hai dormito sei mesi
perhaps you have slept six months
ma sei così stanco
but you are so tired
tanto stanco
so very tired

è il mese più freddo dell’anno
is the coldest month of the year
nell’altro emisfero lo chiamano inverno
in another hemisphere they call it winter
in August

And what about you, friends? Have you found any jewels in the jungle this summer?


  1. Thank you for these fantastic recommendations! You have such great taste. I LOVE that music. I must check out more of that and maybe buy some off iTunes. And thanks for the shout out about Cinders!

  2. No jewels right now, but I have tagged you on my blog... ; )

    Hows mini G coming along? All well in the Genie Household?

  3. I haven't found any jewels yet, but thanks for the recommendations. That Catholic Girl's Memoir looks hilarious! I was raised Catholic, so I can relate.

  4. Hi Michelle! I like to think I DO have good taste, in literature as well as music. ;)

    Tessa: Mini G is getting bigger by the day, and we are slowly preparing the house.

    Susan: It is hilarious, but also pretty raw. Readers must not be squeamish!

  5. Hi,

    I found you through the Blog Hop. I took a look around and thought that your blog is great! So I decided to follow you. Anyway, check out my blog as well:

    I'm an aspiring writer with a novel in the works

    Warmest regards,
    John Smith (pen name)

  6. Welcome, John! Your blog is cool, too. I've added it to my "StoryTelling" list in the sidebar.


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