Greil Marcus has been one of the most distinctive voices in American music criticism for over forty years. His books, including Mystery Train and The Shape of Things to Come, traverse soundscapes of folk and blues, rock and punk, attuning readers to the surprising, often hidden affinities between the music and broader streams of American politics and culture.
Drawn from Marcus’s 2013 Massey Lectures at Harvard, his new work delves into three episodes in the history of American commonplace song: Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s 1928 “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground,” Geeshie Wiley’s 1930 “Last Kind Words Blues,” and Bob Dylan’s 1964 “Ballad of Hollis Brown.” How each of these songs manages to convey the uncanny sense that it was written by no one illuminates different aspects of the commonplace song tradition. Some songs truly did come together over time without an identifiable author. Others draw melodies and motifs from obscure sources but, in the hands of a particular artist, take a final, indelible shape. And, as in the case of Dylan’s “Hollis Brown,” there are songs that were written by a single author but that communicate as anonymous productions, as if they were folk songs passed down over many generations.
Authored by Joshua Hammer, one of today’s most seasoned journalists, THE BAD-ASS LIBRARIANS introduces readers to Abdel Kader Haidara, a mild-mannered historian and librarian from Timbuktu who morphed into one of the world’s greatest smugglers and pulled off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven. A true story, this “vivid, fast-paced narrative” (Kirkus Reviews) is a tale of triumph and positivity that takes place in the Islamic world—something that has sadly been missing in recent months, and arguably recent years. A recent review from Publishers Weekly sums the book up beautifully: “Hammer does a service to Haidara and the Islamic faith by providing the illuminating history of these manuscripts, managing to weave the complicated threads of this recent segment of history into a thrilling story.”
Haidara’s story begins in the 1980s when, as a young adventurer and collector for a government library, he journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River to track down and salvage thousands of ancient Islamic manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. Through his efforts, the city acquired 350,000 precious volumes, many written during the Golden Age of Timbuktu in the 1500s. Tragically, his efforts nearly unraveled when Al Qaeda militants seized control of Timbuktu and most of Mali in 2012. As the militants tightened their control, Haidara organized a clandestine and dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of Timbuktu, by road and by river, to the safety of southern Mali. THE BAD-ASS LIBRARIANS recounts Haidara’s heroic and ultimately successful effort to outwit Al Qaeda and preserve Mali’s literary patrimony.
Today, the manuscripts are held in a dozen specially-prepared safe houses in Mali’s capital of Bamako, which were set up by Haidara with funding from several European countries, including Switzerland and Germany. Now that they’re safe, Haidara’s focus is digitizing and cataloging them, and fundraising for their eventual return to Timbuktu.
The Girls is the powerful debut novel from Emma Cline. In this interview she tells us more about California, her childhood and the allure of the girls who people her novel.
California. The summer of 1969. In the dying days of a floundering counter-culture a young girl is unwittingly caught up in unthinkable violence, and a decision made at this moment, on the cusp of adulthood, will shape her life....
'This book will break your heart and blow your mind.' Lena Dunham
Evie Boyd is desperate to be noticed. In the summer of 1969, empty days stretch out under the California sun. The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat.
Until she sees them. The snatch of cold laughter. Hair, long and uncombed. Dirty dresses skimming the tops of thighs. Cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. The girls.
And at the centre, Russell. Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways.
Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever?