Totally Random Lists 2019: Take the Fifth

Editor’s Note: This year our Half Price Books calendar once again features books, movies and music grouped together in weird, unexpected ways. You might even call them Totally Random Lists, which is what we did because, well, we had to put something on the front cover. We like the lists so much, we’ll be sharing them on this blog throughout the year.


Five is a mystical number representing balance and the five senses. We’re not saying a writer’s fifth novel, a director’s fifth feature or a band’s fifth album is automatically great because of this, but judging by our list, we just might be onto something. Continue reading

Totally Random Lists 2019: How ‘Bout Them Apples?

Editor’s Note: This year our Half Price Books calendar once again features books, movies and music grouped together in weird, unexpected ways. You might even call them Totally Random Lists, which is what we did because, well, we had to put something on the front cover. We like the lists so much, we’ll be sharing them on this blog throughout the year.


Symbolizing knowledge, immortality and temptation, the apple is no ordinary fruit. More likely to star in media than a second banana, apples are a juicy subject for any author or auteur. Here’s a bushel of titles to keep the doctor away. Continue reading

Totally Random Lists 2019: One Syllable is Enough

Editor’s Note: This year, our Half Price Books calendar once again features books, movies and music grouped together in weird, unexpected ways. You might even call them Totally Random Lists, which is what we did because, well, we had to put something on the front cover. We like the lists so much, we’ll be sharing them on this blog throughout the year.


When an author chooses a one-word title, they’re basically saying, “this one word is all I need to capture my creation’s powerful essence!” Here are some of our favorite books, movies and albums that say it all with a single, memorable syllable—on the cover, anyway.

BOOKSOneSyllable Stack 3 BLOG
Holes, Louis Sachar
Night, Elie Wiesel
Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson
It, Stephen King
Room, Emma Donoghue
Jazz, Toni Morrison
Watt, Samuel Beckett
Dune, Frank Herbert
Crash, J.G. Ballard

MOVIESalbums 1
Babe
Jaws 
Big
Mask
Up
Brave
Elf
Speed
Pi

MUSIC
Blue, Joni Mitchell
Pearl, Janis Joplin
Damn, Kendrick Lamar
Go, Dexter Gordon
Tusk, Fleetwood Mac
Bad, Michael Jackson
So, Peter Gabriel

For a longer list of monosyllabic titles, visit HPB.com/syllable.

The Christmas Song: A Deep Dive into a Holiday Chestnut

This year our holiday theme at Half Price Books is “Make the Season Bright.” Those four words appear in one of the most ubiquitous and aptly-named Christmas songs ever written, “The Christmas Song.” You might know it better by its opening lyrics: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”

Our line comes in the second section of the song: “Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe help to make the season bright.” We’d argue that books, music and movies also do the trick.

Here’s a closer look at the history of this holiday classic. Continue reading

Holiday Albums You Love—And Others You Should

Now that it’s December, it’s time to dust off those records that live in the back of your collection, the ones that only get played one month out of the year: Christmas albums. In this post, I’m taking a look at some of the albums on Billboard’s list of the ten top-selling holiday albums of all time. Chances are you own some of them, and maybe you can’t imagine Christmas without them. But the thing about traditions is, you have to add new ones from time to time. In that spirit, I’m offering some alternative holiday albums that might be less familiar and a little fresher to your ears.

Gigantic Bestseller:
ElvisElvis’ Christmas Album – Elvis Presley
Released in 1957, Presley’s first Christmas album—the top-selling record on Billboard’s list— features secular tunes on side one and sacred fare on side two, including a few non-Christmas gospel songs that had been previously released. The King is solemn on the religious tunes but loosens up for the secular stuff, including originals like “Santa Claus is Back in Town” and “Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me).” Personally, I can’t stand Elvis’ version of “Blue Christmas,” but it’s here, too.

Alternate Choice:
James Brown’s Funky Christmas – James Brown
Let the King rest in heavenly peace this year and invite the Godfather of Soul over for Christmas instead. This compilation features tracks from the three holiday albums Brown recorded at the height of his funky powers between 1966 and 1970, including “Go Power at Christmas Time,” “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” and “Soulful Christmas.” Brown shows his socially-conscious side on tracks like “Let’s Unite the World at Christmas.”

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3 Reasons Bob Dylan Should Be Taught In Schools

It’s been interesting to see how the literary community has responded to Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize win. Many authors complained that it should have gone to a more traditional writer. However, acknowledging the power and merit of words in any format is a huge win for language lovers. The argument that writers can only be of value if they stick to prose or poetry on the page seems counterintuitive.

While teaching middle and high school English, I found that using well-written, complex lyrics was an effective way to teach reading skills and literary analysis. Here are three reasons why Bob Dylan’s lyrics make the grade.

1. Bob Dylan’s songs are concentrated literary pieces full of figurative language and poetic devices — skills students are required to master. “Chimes of Freedom” alone contains personification, metaphor, alliteration, imagery, assonance, repetition, rhyme and rhythm. That’s a week’s worth of lessons in one song.

2. The messages in Dylan’s songs are a great thematic companion to novels and poetry. It is common practice in the classroom and on standards-based tests to pair a reading passage with a poem to test higher-level thinking skills.

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Books Can Take You Places: London

Already this year, we’ve taken a trip to 11 different cities and our journey around the world is far from over!  This month let’s londonexplore all that London, England has to offer.

I had my first visit to London when I was eight-years-old. I remember reading Michael Bond’s A Bear Called Paddington and so wanted to visit Paddington Train Station. Now as I prepare for my umpteenth trip to England, I have just finished reading Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. I so want to visit the London Below. I just need to find the Floating Market.


With over 2,000 years of glorious history under its belt, London’s influence on the English language, world literature and Western culture in general is impossible to overstate. From Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens to Lennon, McCartney and Jagger, enough legends have lived and worked here to fill a few dozen double-decker sightseeing buses.

HOW TO GET THERE

music-note-21 Abbey Road, The Beatles • book Bleak House, Charles Dickens • slate_film-512 Blow Up slate_film-512 A Clockwork Orange book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling • book High Fidelity, Nick Hornby • book The Importance of Being Ernest, Oscar Wilde • music-note-21 The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society, The Kinks • music-note-21 London Calling, The Clash • slate_film-512 Mary Poppins book Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf • slate_film-512 Notting Hill music-note-21 Quadrophenia, The Who • music-note-21 (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, Oasis • book White Teeth, Zadie Smith Continue reading

10 Classic LPs for Your Growing Vinyl Collection

The improbable resurgence of vinyl records began around 2007 and hasn’t slowed yet. In 2015, vinyl sales rose 32% to $416 million, their highest level since 1988, the year the format was overtaken by the compact disc. Why is vinyl being embraced by millennials and revisited by older types who sold their collections 20 years ago?

Sure, vinyl has a warm sound and a retro appeal, but there’s something else that makes it ideal for true music lovers: vinyl is wonderfully inconvenient. It forces you to interact with it—to lovingly take an LP out of its sleeve, put it on the turntable and flip it over 25 minutes later. And since skipping tracks is a pain, you’re more likely to listen to an album straight through, with the songs in the order the artist intended.

There’s also the satisfying physicality of records and sleeves, with big, beautiful artwork, liner notes, lyrics and credits, none of which you get with a digital download.

All of this makes vinyl perfect for those who crave a deeper listening experience and a stronger connection with the artists they enjoy.

If you’re looking to start or add to your vinyl collection, consider giving the ten classic albums below a spin. They’re undeniably great on any format, but they beg to be experienced on vinyl. Note: While lots of new music has been released on vinyl in recent years, for this list I’m focusing on the original era when the vinyl LP ruled.

intheweesmallhours

In the Wee Small Hours, Frank Sinatra (1955)
With a program of thematically connected songs about loneliness and lost romance, this record is often cited as one of the first-ever concept albums. Timeless tunes from the Great American Songbook, sparkling Nelson Riddle arrangements and Sinatra’s inimitable phrasing combine to create an intimacy and atmosphere perfect for late-night listening.

alovesupremeA Love Supreme, John Coltrane (1965)
Kind of Blue by Miles Davis may be “the one jazz album everyone should own,” but Coltrane’s masterwork is a more cohesive and emotional statement. The album is a four-part original suite born of Coltrane’s gratitude to God, but make no mistake—it’s not churchy or prim. On the contrary, this is deeply felt, deeply swinging, powerful music performed by Trane’s classic quartet, arguably the best band in jazz history. Supreme, sublime, essential music. Continue reading

Books Can Take You Places: Nairobi

Already this year, we’ve taken a trip to 10 different cities and our journey around the world is far from over! Nairobi This month let’s explore all that Nairobi has to offer.

No longer just a hub for safari tourism, Kenya’s capital city boasts a vibrant cultural scene encompassing music, film, art and literature. While many of the best-known books set here were written by Europeans during times of British colonization, Kenya has a long storytelling tradition of its own. Today, important Kenyan authors are increasingly making their voices heard around the globe.

HOW TO GET THERE

music-note-21 Benga Blast!, Daniel Owino Misiani and Shirati Band • slate_film-512 Born Free book Coming to Birth, Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye • slate_film-512 The Constant Gardener book Dreams From My Father, Barack Obama • music-note-21 En Mana Kuoyo, Ayub Ogada • book The Flame Trees of Thika, Elspeth Huxley • book A Grain of Wheat, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o • music-note-21 Mama Africa, Suzzana Owiyo • slate_film-512 Nairobi Half Life book One Day I Will Write About This Place, Kenneth Binyavanga Wainaina • book Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen • book Unbowed, Wangari Maathai • music-note-21 Unbwogable, Gidi Gidi Maji Maji Continue reading

Music Meant for Vinyl

Before there was Record Store Day there was National Vinyl Record Day, a day to celebrate the flat disc with grooves.  The following is a small sampling of titles now in stores or soon to be released that just sound amazing playing from vinyl, even with the occasional surface noise.

Prince-Purple Rain (180gm)- $24.98
I was there, across Reunion Arena in Dallas.  It didn’t matter where you sat.  He was electric, shifting from bathtub with a microphone to stage with a guitar.  We counted down to the New Year, after which he sang Auld Lang Syne and THEN ended the night with Purple Rain. Masterful musician, memorable night.

Prince

purple rain

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