Happy 25th birthday to The Wedding Album! (Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day!)

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This year, I wanted to spotlight 1993’s The Wedding Album for Duran Duran Appreciation Day. Though it’s actually the band’s second of two eponymous albums, fans widely refer to it as The Wedding Album. Its nickname comes from Nick Egan’s cover art, wedding photographs of the then-four bandmembers’ parents.

Released 11 February 1993 (when I was in seventh grade), this was the band’s seventh studio album and a giant comeback after flagging success. Unfortunately, they didn’t choose the best followup to sustain this great momentum.

The album was recorded and edited from 1991–92, though the band’s new management company, Left Bank, pulled from its release schedule due to less than positive perceived public response. The music industry derided Left Bank for trying to revive the careers of several musical acts seen as outdated. As always, they cared more about the next hot act instead of performers who’d been around past an arbitrary expiration date.

But when this album was released, the music industry had to eat its words. It was #4 in the U.K., #7 in the U.S., #6 in Italy, #8 in Canada, #18 in Finland, #20 in Australia, #21 in Sweden, #22 in Germany, #23 in The Netherlands, and #32 in New Zealand. It was certified Gold in the U.K., and Platinum in the U.S.

Additionally, the album yielded two big hit singles, and a third lesser hit.

This is the track listing:

“Too Much Information” (#35 in the U.K.; #45 in the U.S.; #43 in Canada; #48 in New Zealand)
“Ordinary World” (#1 in Canada; #2 in Italy; #3 in Ireland, the U.S., and New Zealand; #16 in Germany and The Netherlands; #18 in Australia and Finland; #20 in Belgium)
“Love Voodoo”
“Drowning Man”
“Shotgun”
“Come Undone” (the song and music video that flipped the switch and made me into a Duranie on Valentine’s Day 2011!) (#2 in Canada; #6 in Italy; #7 in the U.S.; #9 in Ireland; #13 in the U.K.; #16 in New Zealand; #19 in Finland and Australia; #42 in Belgium and Germany)
“Breath After Breath”
“U.M.F.” (stands for “Ultimate Mind-Fuck”)
“Femme Fatale” (originally done by The Velvet Underground and written by Lou Reed)
“None of the Above”
“Shelter”
“To Whom It May Concern”
“Sin of the City” (about the Happy Land nightclub fire of 25 March 1990 in the Bronx; mistakenly gives the death toll as 89 instead of 87)

It took a couple of listens for me to get fully into this album, but I slowly but surely came to really love it. However, some fans aren’t wild about the experimental tracks “Shotgun” and “Drowning Man,” and others feel the last few songs aren’t as strong as the earlier ones. I kind of agree with that criticism, but the album has such strong material, it helps to cancel out the weaker links.

My favourites are “Too Much Information,” “Breath After Breath,” “Sin of the City” (which I’ve heard as the soundtrack to at least one dream), and, of course, “Come Undone,” the song that made me come undone.

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WeWriWa—Fedya’s Christmas presents

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. To mark Russian Orthodox Christmas (7 January), this week’s snippet comes from Chapter 66, “Somber Christmas,” of my third Russian historical, Journey Through a Dark Forest.

Nineteen-year-old Fedya Konev recently married his sweetheart Novomira. Getting married before enlisting in the army was so urgent, he got special permission to marry during the Nativity Fast. Orthodox weddings are normally forbidden during fasts.

The newlyweds are home with their families in Minnesota for the holidays. Fedya’s youngest brother Ilya has insisted he open his presents first, since he’s leaving that night.

Fedya tries to keep a straight face as he accepts package after package—cards, razors, shaving brushes, cologne, candy, and crossword books from Igor and Ilya; homemade socks and a blanket with little ikons sewn on from his mother; stationary and a picturefold of chronological family photos from his father; a picture from Sonyechka; embroidered handkerchiefs from Katya; a purple homemade scarf from Irina; a pocket-sized prayerbook with an embroidered cover from Tatyana; a pocket watch from Nikolay; and a sketchpad, colored pencils, a fancy comb and mirror, and a bracelet with an elephant charm from Novomira.

He already knows there are more presents waiting for him at his in-laws,’ the Vishinskies,’ and back in New York.  It’ll be a wonder if he’s able to take all this with him when he goes to basic training, in addition to his necessary, regular possessions.

“We got you a couples’ present too,” Ivan announces, handing over a pink parcel. “I read about this idea in a magazine recently, and thought it’d be really nice to have before your separation.”

Fedya unwraps a blue glass bauble with an English-language inscription in gold ink, “7 January 1942, Fyodor I. Konev and Novomira A. Kutuzova-Koneva, First Christmas Together.” The inscription is ringed by a wreath, with doves and hearts on the other side.

“I’ll put this on Vera and Seva’s tree every year until the war’s over,” Novomira proclaims. “I hope it’ll be over by next Christmas, but you never can tell.”

Fedya squeezes her hand, too embarrassed to do anything more personal in front of his entire family.

As it turns out, Fedya is given 21 days at home with Novomira after enlisting, instead of taken straight to boot camp as he imagined. Had he known there’d be a mandated break between induction and reporting, he wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of getting special permission to marry during a fast season. The wedding could’ve taken place after Orthodox Christmas.

Novomira’s birth surname was Kutuzova-Tvardovskaya, but she took a page from the Spanish naming customs by keeping her mother’s surname and adding Fedya’s. When Tatyana, Fedya’s older sister, married Novomira’s older brother Nikolay, she went from Koneva to Tvardovskaya-Koneva.

WeWriWa—1939 becomes 1940

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s lines are the ending of the book formerly known as The Very Next, my chronological second Atlantic City book.

It’s the end of 1939, and Cinnimin Filliard’s family goes upstairs and outside to take part in a local New Year’s tradition of setting off an egg full of fireworks. Two years later, this tradition goes horribly wrong when Cinni’s frenemy Violet stuffs the egg with stink bombs instead of fireworks!

This has been slightly edited to fit ten lines.

A minute before midnight, everyone crowded onto the fire escape.  It was neighborhood tradition to stuff a large plaster egg full of fireworks, light a fuse, and send it plummeting to earth so it would explode at exactly the moment the old and new year changed places.  This year, the Filliards had stuffed their egg with purple fireworks.

Cinni proudly held the egg as Babs struck a long match and held it to the fuse, and at a signal from Mr. Filliard, Cinni let go, throwing it with as much force as she could, to ensure it exploded better than anyone else’s egg.  Her family always won the unofficial block competition, and best of all, this year the Vallis had joined them, so there was one less egg to compete against.

“Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.  Happy 1940!”

The purple fireworks showering in all directions gave Cinni hope the new decade would be much happier than the depressing decade which was now the stuff of history books, no matter how ominous future signs were.  It was like the butterfly emerging from Pandora’s Box and giving the chained, tortured Prometheus hope in spite of everything.  Life is nothing without hope.

2017 in Review (Books read)

Some of the books I read in 2017 were:

I highly recommend this book by a fellow Pittsburgher. It tells the amazing story of how, of all the 27 known hominin species who’ve walked Planet Earth, Homo sapiens sapiens emerged as the only one left standing. (Hominin is the more scientifically up-to-date term, and refers to both anatomically modern humans and our ancestors. Hominids are modern and extinct great apes, and include non-human primates such as orangutans, chimps, and gorillas.)

So many seemingly little things, like neoteny (having a childlike appearance into adulthood), a shortened gestational period, and the development of a sense of right and wrong, led to major evolutionary advantages contributing to our survival and emergence as the world’s most dominant species.

The book also examines the other hominins who’ve walked the Earth, some of whom have only recently been discovered. A number of these hominins inhabited the Earth at the same time, contrary to the formerly-held beliefs casting human evolution as a simple, direct line of descent.

Our 26 cousins may be long gone, but at least two of them, the Neanderthals and Denisovans, live on in the DNA of those of us with European and/or Asian ancestry.

By hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence), the authors (a married couple) had just had twins when their proposal for this book was accepted in 2007, and decided to take some time off to focus on their babies. Had they gone ahead and written this book by the September 2008 deadline, it would’ve immediately become obsolete. So many amazing new discoveries have come to light in the years since.

This book can feel a bit academic at times (esp. the sections on stone tool-making), but I really enjoyed it. There’s also a section on Neanderthal tourism, listing museums and archaeological sites linked to our awesome, unfairly maligned cousins.

The authors are committed to accurately portraying Neanderthals and trying to undo the damage from over a century of slander and misinformation. Like them, I can’t stand when someone with no knowledge of paleoanthropology uses the word Neanderthal as a synonym for stupid, brutish, unenlightened, behind the times, grotesque, etc.

The Neanderthals were good people, the closest cousins we ever had. Many Homo sapiens sapiens aren’t as kind, helpful, and loyal as Neanderthals were.

This book introduced me to the modern development of spelling Neanderthal without an H. It’s because the modern spelling of the German word thal (valley) is tal. I’ve long pronounced the name without an H (since that is the authentic pronunciation), but it’s a little harder to adapt to the new spelling as well.

This book examines the paleoanthropological and cognitive science evidence to show how Neanderthals may have thought about many things (family, love, hunting, security, etc.). They also speculate on what Neanderthals may have dreamt about, and how they used symbolism and language.

This book presents a cultural history of Chanukah in the U.S., going from the Colonial era to the modern day. Chanukah didn’t become a prominent public holiday, or associated with gift-giving, until about the mid-20th century, for reasons we can probably all figure out.

The book also examines the history of Judaism in America in general over the last few centuries, and how hard it was to maintain a religious lifestyle as a minority. Many Christians in the 18th, 19th, and even early 20th centuries matter-of-factly pressured their Jewish friends and neighbors to convert.

As late as the 1940s, it was perfectly legal to have numerus clausus (anti-Semitic education quotas), employment restrictions, limitations on where one could reside, bans on staying by hotels, and many other barriers to the Jewish community’s full, equal participation in American life.

Women were one of the primary forces in shaping Chanukah into an American holiday, since that was one of the relative few religious rituals they could perform in that era. This wasn’t a time when most Jewish women could expect to have a full religious education or role in public life.

The embrace of Chanukah as a major holiday also perfectly illustrated its lessons of staying true to one’s identity and resisting conversion attempts. Chanukah falls at a time of year when we’re most keenly aware of our minority status.

I enjoyed this memoir, one of several books I’ve read about Easy Company since watching the Band of Brothers mini-series. I love how Sgt. Malarkey noticed the exact same thing about the Stephen Ambrose book as I and many other readers did, how he focused WAY too much on bit player David Kenyon Webster!

The WWII generation is dying out, and Sgt. Malarkey himself passed away this September. We’re so lucky so many of them have left behind memoirs and recorded testimonies.

This was a cute collection of Dr. Seuss’s early cartoons and stories, many from college newspapers and humor magazines of the 1920s and 1930s. He wrote and drew many of these under the name Dr. Theophrastus Seuss. A particularly strange story is about his purported sex ed lessons to his nephew, where he says a whole lot of nothing.

I really enjoyed this book about the women of Paris during WWII and the early postwar years. It covers women from all walks of life, who did all sorts of things during the war. There are sheroes as well as victims and women with complicated actions. Some of them never had normal lives again, even the survivors or the ones who were rehabilitated after suffering national degradation.

Real history is often much more complicated than declaring such and such a person or action 100% good or 100% evil. There are so many shades of grey.

WeWriWa—Unwrapping more presents

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a bit after last week’s, when arm amputee Patya found a brand new hook hand from his wife Vladlena.

Seven-year-old Karina said she’d tell all her friends her papa has a brand new hand, and Patya reassured her she’s got a somewhat normal father again, in spite of how a little girl next door thinks he’s a monster.

Karina says she doesn’t think he’s a monster, since he’s her brave, special papa, and a great war hero.

Patya points out the suspected pastels to Bruno, who smiles and toddles over to fetch the yellow box.  As soon as Bruno hands it to him, he tears through the wrapping paper with the hook and finds exactly what he thought, a fine wooden box of the twenty Sennelier colors he requested.

“Which do you like more?” Vladlena asks. “I think you’ll spend more time playing with the hook than drawing today.”

“I think I will!” Patya goes over to the tree and picks up a very large present by putting his hook under the ribbon. “I believe this is yours, for being the best wife ever.”

While Vladlena unwraps her first present, Karina unhooks Bruno’s stocking and then gets her own stocking.  Vladlena periodically looks up to smile as her children squeal over the contents of their stockings.