How I spent my summer vacation

July 21, 2009
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I just returned from a vacation with family at the New Jersey shore. But, of course, I didn't leave A&E behind.

No, I didn't catch any Atlantic City casino shows -- although, I regret missing Chazz Palminteri do his one-man show, "A Bronx Tale," at Harrah's and hope such non-traditional showroom offerings catch on.

But I did a lot of CD listening on the drive. And a lot of reading once I got there. Some notes:

--The new Broadway cast recording of "Hair" captures much of what I loved about the production itself. And as I mentioned in my review a few weeks back, the women are particularly strong. I still, however, prefer the Actors' Fund benefit CD of the score which may have less consistent characterization but has a can-you-top-this, one-night-only fire that can't be beat.

--I understand completely why the musical "13" didn't cut it on Broadway. After all, do you want to go to a show populated entirely by teens? But the score, by Jason Robert Brown, is one more piece of evidence that he's the best hope musical theater has right now. His tunes are accessible without being simple. His lyrics flow and sit perfectly on the music. And I can't wait to hear what he comes up with next. Even if my 14-year-old daughter wasn't in the car, I would have listened.

--The highlight of Malcolm Gets' "The Journey Home" is a fun, Bobby Darin-esque rethinking of "It's a Fine Life" (from the musical "Oliver!"). but Gets easygoing deliver and John McDaniel's strong arrangements are a good team throughout. Gets is also one of two performers on the original cast recording of "The Story of My Life", a cringe-worthy show that inexplicably made it to Broadway last season (and left quickly). The disc doesn't make a strong case for future productions.

--After reading a galley of Nicholson Baker's upcoming intimate character study "The Anthologist," (You can read a sample chapter here), I decided to catch up a bit on the novelist, not realizing he had recently turned to non-fiction. Not what I expected, but I picked it up anyway and was knocked out by "Human Smoke," his compulsively readable account of the origins of World War II. Powerful, urgent, fresh and repeatedly insightful, it's structured in short bursts that give a day-to-day sense of our escalating involvement in the conflict. A must-read for anyone interested in who were and who we are as a country.

--As an antidote, I picked up Steve Hely's "How I Became a Famous Novelist," which presents as smart-alack fiction but ends up packing a strong cathartic punch after many laughs. A good beach read that I didn't feel at all guilty about afterwards.

--I've been waiting for someone to write a book about the creative career of composer Stephen Schwartz and author Carol de Giere has satisfied my craving with "Defying Gravity". The book is essential for anyone obsessed with "Wicked," or interested in the development of such landmark shows as "Godspell" and "Pippin." Equally insightful in a different way is Arthur Laurents' "Mainly on Directing," in which the writer of such shows as "Gypsy" and "West Side Story" pulls no punching is stating what he feels works and what doesn't work on stage.

--The final book of the trip, "A Wild Ride," is the closest to home. It chronicles, Yearbook-style, the history of Morey's Piers, the leading amusement operators in my home town, Wildwood, New Jersey (the Doo Wop architecture capital of the world).  I was there last week as the book was officially "launched" with a daredevil being fired from a canon with books in hand (See it here.) and am happy to report that the oversized volume captures the craziness of the town I love so much. While commissioned books tend to be one-sided, this one makes up for that with some great stories (I didn't know rides could vanish overseas), outrageous photos (I always wondered what happened to the giant King Kong that used to dominate the boardwalk landscape), and a sense of history both disappearing and being created.

So what have you been reading/listening to?
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  • I started the summer by devouring the four novels by Jen Lancaster, which are based on her life (see jennsylvania.com for information). Really funny stuff. She's a Hoosier and a Purdue grad so it makes for some I SO know where you're talking about! moments. I tend to read chick lit otherwise and have been plowing through books. The last one I finished was Maureen Lipinski's A Bump in the Road, and I also enjoyed Caprice Crane's Forget About It. Currently reading Mary Kay Andrews' newest, The Fixer Upper.
  • I am reading a great book by pop culture writer Chuck Klosterman called Fargo Rock City. It's a memoir about growing up in a small town in the Midwest and LOVING heavy metal. Even though I wasn't a heavy metal listener, he makes a great case for why heavy metal music should be respected as a legitimate contributor to music today. It's a pretty funny read.

    I love books. I made a commitment earlier this summer to read all the unread books on my shelf instead of buying new ones. I probably won't succeed in reading all of them, but I am putting in a good effort.
  • I'm listening to Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I've tried a time or two to read the book, but could never get through it. Listening to it on CD, though, it's been great! I've really picked up on the Dickens' wit.

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  1. I took Bruce's comments to highlight a glaring issue when it comes to a state's image, and therefore its overall branding. An example is Michigan vs. Indiana. Michigan has done an excellent job of following through on its branding strategy around "Pure Michigan", even down to the detail of the rest stops. Since a state's branding is often targeted to visitors, it makes sense that rest stops, being that point of first impression, should be significant. It is clear that Indiana doesn't care as much about the impression it gives visitors even though our branding as the Crossroads of America does place importance on travel. Bruce's point is quite logical and accurate.

  2. I appreciated the article. I guess I have become so accustomed to making my "pit stops" at places where I can ALSO get gasoline and something hot to eat, that I hardly even notice public rest stops anymore. That said, I do concur with the rationale that our rest stops (if we are to have them at all) can and should be both fiscally-responsible AND designed to make a positive impression about our state.

  3. I don't know about the rest of you but I only stop at these places for one reason, and it's not to picnic. I move trucks for dealers and have been to rest areas in most all 48 lower states. Some of ours need upgrading no doubt. Many states rest areas are much worse than ours. In the rest area on I-70 just past Richmond truckers have to hike about a quarter of a mile. When I stop I;m generally in a bit of a hurry. Convenience,not beauty, is a primary concern.

  4. Community Hospital is the only system to not have layoffs? That is not true. Because I was one of the people who was laid off from East. And all of the LPN's have been laid off. Just because their layoffs were not announced or done all together does not mean people did not lose their jobs. They cherry-picked people from departments one by one. But you add them all up and it's several hundred. And East has had a dramatic drop I in patient beds from 800 to around 125. I know because I worked there for 30 years.

  5. I have obtained my 6 gallon badge for my donation of A Positive blood. I'm sorry to hear that my donation was nothing but a profit center for the Indiana Blood Center.

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