5 Reasons to Read ‘I Still Dream’ by James Smythe

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Still Dream James Smythe

James Smythe is one of my favorite authors. I Still Dream is the first adult novel he’s written since I wrote this piece for GeekDad, and, as ever when reading a favorite author, I opened the pages of the book with the nagging doubt of “What if it isn’t as good?”

I needn’t have worried. I Still Dream is speculative fiction of the highest order. Smythe has a way of cutting to the bone with his observations and extrapolations. His books do not paint a happy view of society and human nature, often making for uncomfortable reading.

Smythe has carved his niche by examining the effects of social media and technology on society. His novels usually take a technology on the cusp of realizing its potential and imagining what might happen to the world if it went wrong. His novels are Black Mirror in literary form. Running alongside this, usually, is the theme of memory and the persistence of consciousness. His books are often bleak, but never dull, and I find them all utterly compelling. I Still Dream ranks alongside The Machine as one of my favorite Smythe books.

Here are my five reasons to read it.

1: The Structure

Each section of the book takes place ten years after the previous one. This gives us a snapshot of characters lives, and the wider world, with a decade between each. The book opens in 1997 and with the exception of one flashback moves forwards in 10-year increments, through 2017 and into the future. In 1997, main character Laura is a teenager, and we see her grow up over the course of the novel. By using these 10-year increments, Smythe shows how much things change, but also how things stay the same.

Smythe uses his device to demonstrate how we are products of our existence. How our hopes and fears, actions, and reactions are all informed by our experiences, with none being more influential than those we have as children. The novel’s structure also allows Smythe to show how our use technology has changed over time. As the novel progresses, this backdrop provides a framework onto which Smythe hangs his extrapolations for the evolution of the technology as he looks to the future.

2: Nostalgia

Nostalgia is very important in all of Smythe’s novels, none more so than in I Still Dream. The pop-cultural references are seeped into the fabric of his stories. They’re not just plot devices, where references are chucked at you in a “Remember X? Remember Y?” manner, often without artifice (Ready Player One, I’m looking at you). Instead, Smythe crystallizes the importance of music, film, and books to our personalities and the way in which we interact with the world. In Smythe’s world, nostalgia is not something used to elicit a connection with his reader, it is something integral to the psyche of his characters.

When Smythe talks about 1997, he doesn’t just remind you of the great bands and films of the time. He captures what life was like, particularly from a technological standpoint. Life before fast internet connections and ubiquitous mobile phones is expertly captured and portrayed.

3: The Music

Much of the novel’s nostalgia comes from its references to music. They permeate the book, acting like a nostalgic glue that binds the novel together. The references are never too overt but they’re always there. Laura is a Kate Bush fan, thanks to her time with her now absent father. Her own music taste then extends to Radiohead, a band ideally suited to a novel about the evolution of artificial intelligence. Laura has a talent and passion for the making of mixtapes, possibly the most resonant cultural reference one could make about that period of time. Even in a world where cassette tapes are a thing of the past and making a playlist is as effortless as breathing, mixtapes still hold an almost mythological resonance and Smythe channels that to good effect.

4: The Depiction of AI

With its ten year increments, I Still Dream looks at the evolution of technology and AIs, examining how they did/do/might help us. I can’t go into too much detail without spoiling the novel, but the book postulates different evolution pathways for AIs. Are we going to end up with a Skynet situation? Smythe doesn’t think so and has compelling reasons as to why not. Nevertheless, he posits very definite reasons why the education of AIs should be handled carefully.

Whilst looking at technology in 1997, 2007, and 2017, Smythe looks at how our relationship with technology has changed for good and ill. He treats us to a delightful potted history of attitudes and aspirations of Silicon Valley and the nature of coding as a profession. For anybody who works in that arena, I Still Dream will make for fabulous nostalgic reading.

5: The Persistence of Memory

The nature of memory and how it makes us who we are is a repeating theme in Smythe’s books. The idea that we are the sum of our memories and that these memories degrade over time, morphing into something else. The parts that we hold on to, whether we recall the accurately or not, then go on to shape the type of people we become. Our evolving use of technology means that more and more of our memories are captured, altering the manner in which we see ourselves. There is no self-editing when everything is captured in real-time.

Is this a bad thing? There are, of course, a range of opinions about this. The news tells us that, as a collective, most of us give this information away with almost no thought to the consequences. Smythe makes no comment on the rights and wrongs of data collection, but he does offer a couple of alternative possibilities of the consequences of doing so.

The other strand to the novel’s memory theme fits alongside Smythe’s excellent novel The Machine. (Go read it now!) As time progresses, the characters in I Still Dream inevitably grow older, as do those close to them. Smythe examines the loss of memory that goes with growing old and wonders whether AIs might help us come to terms with loss and loss of mental faculty. This sets up a hopeful yet heartbreaking ending that is completely fitting with what has gone before.

Still Dream James Smythe
The UK hardback edition. With and without dust jacket.

Those are my five reasons for reading I Still Dream, but there is one overriding reason. The novel is excellent. If you have any interest in speculative fiction, AI, coding, or just the passage of time, this novel will not disappoint.

You can pick up a copy of I Still Dream here, in the US, and here, in the UK.

If you enjoyed this review, do check out my other 5 Reasons to Read posts.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book in order to write this review.  

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Gary Moore: Is fear keeping you from living your dream? | Local Columnists

I recently was stopped in the grocery store by a man who wanted to tell me he enjoyed my column. During the brief discussion, the person asked, “Do you have a degree in journalism?”

“No,” I responded, “My degree is music education.”

“How did you become a columnist?”

“I decided I wanted to write a column. I wrote a few samples and submitted them to the managing editor at the Daily Journal.”

“And they said, ‘Yes,’” I responded.

The man had a confused look on his face then asked, “Weren’t you afraid they’d say no?”

Fear for many, is debilitating. Fear keeps people from pursuing their dreams and traps them into living the life they are given rather than striving for the life they want. I think legendary motivational speaker Zig Ziglar nailed it when he said …

Most fear is only false evidence appearing real

Some fears are healthy. It’s natural to experience fear when we are in a life-threatening situation and fear is a useful tool to keep us from placing ourselves there. That type of fear was defined by Walter Bradford Cannon as “Fight of Flight” fear. It kept the caveman from being eaten by the sabre tooth tiger and keeps “most of us” from doing dumb and dangerous things. Fear of some situations and circumstances are both normal and healthy. So, when someone tells you to live without fear, that might not be the best advice. However, most other fears are unrealistic and even irrational. They are often triggered, as Zig stated, by false evidence appearing real and can keep us from realizing our dreams. So, what should you do?

The voices in our head often are untruthful. Many, if not most, of our fears are rooted in our insecurities and lack of faith in our abilities. The voices in our head that tell us we are not smart enough, good enough or talented enough, create the insecurities that manifest themselves into unrealistic or irrational fear. If the voice sounds familiar, it should … it is yours. Your internal voice raises the doubt that turns into fear of acting, while discouraging you from venturing out from the life you have into the life you want.

Author and medical professional Bronnie Ware writes in her book, “Regrets of the Dying,” that two of the top five regrets are cause only by our fear. No. 1 is “I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me” and No. 3 is “I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.” Fear of what others might think triggers both.

Authenticity takes courage …

Being who you are meant to be takes courage but even more so in becoming who you aspire to be.

I’m fortunate. I grew up in a home where there was no money for college. I had to take a job selling vacuum cleaners, door-to-door on straight commission to earn money for tuition. I was frightened almost beyond my ability to cope. The irrational fear of knocking on doors almost brought me to tears during my first few weeks, but I quickly learned that almost all the things I was afraid would happen, did not. Under most circumstances, I would have given up before I started, but my fear of not attending college was greater than my fear of having a door slammed in face. I survived the summer and earned enough to pay a year’s tuition, then came back for more each summer until I graduated from college, debt free. Along my journey, several of my friends saw the money I was earning and decided to give selling a shot, but most gave up before the first day ended. Their fear kept them from the success they could have enjoyed.

I believe that our life’s destiny is discovered on the other side of fear

If it’s worth having, it’s worth overcoming your fear to obtain it. My column now is in its second year, but I still experience the moments of doubt every Monday morning as I press the button to submit this to Mike Frey and Tim Yonke, my contacts at the Daily Journal. After three successful books, two screenplays and 53 columns, I am sure Tim can still tell you all about my writing insecurities and fears. Regardless of self-doubt, anxiety and yes …. fear, every Monday morning, like clockwork, I defy the lie and nervously press “send” and submit my column for the masses to judge. The same is true of my new video blogs on my Gary W Moore YouTube Channel’ When we produce or create work that comes from our head and heart, then put it out there for others to experience, there always will be those who disagree or criticize what we do. That’s life. At those moments, I always remind myself that no one ever erects a statue of a critic.

Former Speaker of the House Sam Raburn is quoted as saying, “Any jacka– can kick down a barn but it takes a good carpenter to build one.”

Anyone can criticize, and they will. Some will ridicule and tell you are not capable. It’s easy to tell others they “can’t,” but to accomplish something that matters, you must overcome your fear.

Be positive. Take risks. Ignore the external critics and the internal voices in your head.

Gary W. Moore is a Kankakee native and current Bourbonnais resident. He is an entrepreneur, business executive, motivational speaker, sales trainer, musician and author. He wrote the critically acclaimed book, “Playing with the Enemy,’’ winner of the 2006 Military Writers Society of America Book of the Year. Contact him at garywmoore.com.

John Lanchester · Nabokov’s Dreams · LRB 10 May 2018

There’s a joke, attributed to Oscar Wilde, that the most frightening sentence in the English language is: ‘I had a very interesting dream last night.’ If Wilde did say that, it’s a safe bet that he wouldn’t have liked Insomniac Dreams, because this short book is focused entirely on the dream-life of Vladimir Nabokov.[*] It has at its heart a record of dreams that Nabokov kept for eighty days from October 1964, while he was living at the Montreux Palace Hotel – in terms of his books, after he had finished Pale Fire and before he wrote Ada. He recorded the dreams on waking, using the set-up he employed for writing his books, in his neat pencil handwriting, on lined A6 index cards.

The usual reason people take an interest in their own dreams is to divine their meaning. That wasn’t Nabokov’s motive. The inspiration for his project came from An Experiment with Time, a book by J.W. Dunne, published in 1927 and renowned in its day. Dunne’s theory was that time doesn’t only run forwards in a linear direction, and that, as a result, dreams can contain glimpses of the future. Not that dreams, in Dunne’s view, are only predictive: they mix past events, future events, and random mental fluff. The experiment of recording dreams at the moment of waking was to get evidence for precognition, through a contemporaneous record of dream-predictions which subsequently turn out to be accurate. An Experiment seems kooky now, but H.G. Wells took an interest, and so did the Tolkien/Lewis Inklings, and J.B. Priestley, among others. Dunne was an aeronautical engineer and former soldier, and part of the appeal of his book was probably that he dressed his speculations with the correct amount of scientific apparatus. It is also evident from reading him that he believed his own theory – so he might be a visionary and a fool and a crank, but he wasn’t a liar or a con man.

On that basis, Nabokov gave it a go. He already had a long-standing interest in dreams, which often crop up in his fiction. Gennady Barabtarlo, the Nabokov specialist who compiled, edited and wrote the commentary for Insomniac Dreams, puts together a chapter of dream-extracts from the fiction, divided into categories – filial, precognitive, erotic, ‘oneiric realism’ and so on. The varieties of dreams in the fiction are unsurprisingly similar to those in the dream-diary. Barabtarlo puts the dreams, and the project of recording them, in the context of Nabokov’s troubles with insomnia, which were spectacular. Nabokovians have long known that their hero had problems with sleep – only a lifelong insomniac could have made the beautiful, terrible observation of Transparent Things, ‘night is always a giant’ – but the specifics are grim even so. ‘My usual extent of sleep (apart from periodical insomnias), even if induced by more or less potent pills (at least thrice daily) is a 3+2+1 or at best 4+2+2 or at frequent worst 2+1+1+2+1-hour affair with intervals (+) of hopelessness and nervous urination.’ This doesn’t sound like much fun at all. A night’s sleep:

August 21 [1975]: Sample of a ‘good’ night. Fell asleep around 8.45 slept till 8.45 with the following toilet interruptions at

10.05 pm
11.05
12.35
1.40 am
2.20
3.45
5.35
6.20
8.45

Let the record show that, on the evidence of the photograph on the book’s inside jacket flap, Nabokov’s sleep hygiene was poor. There he is, writing in bed! Vladimir: bed is for sleep! Sleep Hygiene 101! Another ignored lesson from Sleep Hygiene 101 is don’t look at the time. But you can see that sleep and waking blurred into each other; he might well have been too knackered to write anywhere else. It’s tiring to fight a giant.

There is no single key to Nabokov’s dream-life: Insomniac Dreams doesn’t produce a conclusion or even have a central thesis, and is none the worse for that. There are no revelations in the dreams, not least because we already knew what his dreams were like from his books. As for how the experiment went, he found a couple of bits of evidence for what he thought was precognition, but these seem thin – for instance, a TV programme that appeared to have been foretold by a dream three nights earlier. This doesn’t convince, not least because, as Barabtarlo points out, the dream also echoes (as Nabokov didn’t realise) one of his own short stories from decades before.

Does it make sense to think that a great writer will have more interesting dreams than the rest of us? Barabtarlo, though he can be unbuttoned (‘the English term “novel”, a secondhand Italian import, is feckless’), is careful not to make that claim, correctly I think. The dreams are quite difficult to read, not through any density of prose or complication of thought, but because they are not really written – they are not finished prose. Comparison with the inevitably dazzling extracts from Nabokov’s fiction make this point. The dreams are not so much fragments of writing as fragments of not-writing or near-writing or pre-writing. Another odd thing about the project is that Nabokov not only had no interest in the interpretation of dreams, he was specifically and explicitly opposed to it. The same was true of Dunne – which is one of the reasons Nabokov was attracted to the Experiment. That’s fine, but a large part of the relevance of dreams, for people who are interested in them, is in their interpretation: that’s where the meaning is to be located. Abandon the idea of interpreting a dream, and what of interest is left?

I may be biased. A reader’s attitude to this whole project will be influenced by her attitude to literary dreams. I’m neutral to sceptical. ‘I don’t read dreams,’ a critic (a good critic) once told me flatly. He meant, dream sequences in novels. Every time I come across a dream sequence in a novel I remember that remark and am tempted to skip. In brutal truth, if you do, you don’t miss much. Cyril Connolly once said that if we threw out every novel written by a writer under the age of thirty, it would be ‘amusing to note how little is lost’. If you skip dreams in prose fiction, how much are you really missing, in terms of the canon? I can’t think of a single great sequence set in a dream in any major novel. Pretty much by definition, dreams don’t tell you much about plot or character, so their primary function in fiction is as mood-music. This is often how Nabokov uses them, as a form of emotional syncopation, a kind of psychological off-beat. It may be that if a book is having to resort to a character’s dream for mood-music, something about its daylight life is not fully resolved.

That said, the dream diaries have their charm, meaning, they have Nabokov’s charm. His tendency to act out versions of his loftiest, lordliest self – a ‘set of attitudes, prejudices, habits, remarks, performances which is highly visible, highly stylised, and which I find dull and narrow’, as Michael Wood put it – is not present. Instead we find him struggling with sleep, dreaming about appointments in museums and zoology departments (an entire category of what he called ‘professional dreams’) and remembering his father: ‘It is odd that my father who was so good-natured, and gay, is always so morose in my dreams.’ He watches rubbish television with Véra, he has a dream in which ‘somebody discussed “anti-Semitism in the world of waiters”,’ he has another in which Pelé shoots a football and he lunges to save it (once a goalkeeper, always a goalkeeper) and, in real life not the dream, almost breaks his hand against the bedside table.

The book needs that charm, because there is otherwise a sense in it of the Montreux years. In the mid-1990s I went on a pilgrimage to the Montreux Palace Hotel, curious to have a look at the place where Nabokov lived for the last fifteen years of his life. I found three things: first, an amazing lack of any reference to the great writer whose long residence there was the hotel’s single biggest claim to fame. (I wonder if they’ve fixed that by now? From the general vibe of comfortable philistinism, I wouldn’t bet on it. There’s no mention of Nabokov on the hotel website.) Second, it made me realise just how important butterflies were to Nabokov – you notice them straightaway in the lakeside and mountainside setting. (Three days later I met my Italian publisher, who had known Nabokov. The great man once told him he had never been to Venice. The publisher expressed amazement but Nabokov just shrugged and said: ‘No butterflies.’) Third, the main impression the hotel interior gave was of not being anywhere. It was a version of placelessness, or non-place. That, I think, was what appealed to Nabokov: if he could never get back the world and the language he had lost in exile, he could live in the most luxurious and comfortable version possible of nowhere. I can see why he did that, but I think it contributed something to the airless atmosphere of the books he wrote in Montreux.

I once had a plan to write a radio play imagining Nabokov getting stuck in a lift at the Palace with the heavy rock band Deep Purple, who were recording in Montreux when the casino complex burned down in 1971. The fire was commemorated in their best-known song, ‘Smoke on the Water’, arguably the most famous riff in all rock music. My ambition has changed over time: instead of writing it, I’d like someone else to write it: ideally, Tom Stoppard. Useful starting point for the stuck-lift conversation: Roger Glover, the band’s bassist, said that the title ‘Smoke on the Water’ came to him in a dream.

Dream Away by Michael E. Northrup is a love story about life, vision and love itself

“We met in 1976, got married in 1978 and divorced in 1988. She was both wife and muse. For me, creating images is all about my daily life, those meaningful pictures I’m able to extract from it, and the personal vision I bring to those visual narratives.” – These, the words of Michael E. Northrup when talking about his series, Dream Away.

The images tell a love story about life and love itself. They develop a portrait of both the artist and his subject. It’s about Northrup’s obsession with “the photograph”, his vision, and the significant, funny, and unique pictures he’s able to make from life itself.

Now available in a new book, Dream Away by Michael E. Northrup is can be ordered online via London independent publisher Stanley/Barker. To find out more about Northrup, visit michaelnorthrup.com.

If You Think You Hate Puns, You’re Wrong

The English language is almost nightmarishly expansive, and yet there is no good way to respond when someone drops a bad pun in casual conversation.

“Stop” seems ideal, but it’s too late—they already did it. If your esophagus cooperates, you can mimic a human chuckle, or you can just steamroll through, ignoring the elephant now parked in your conversational foyer. Either way, having to deal at all with the demand that wordplay be acknowledged is probably the reason so many people think they hate puns.

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Those people are wrong.

In fairness, puns all too frequently are the lowest-hanging comedy fruit. At one point or another, we’ve all plucked one indiscriminately and ruined someone’s day. Your friend mentions not being a fan of cats, and a connection forms in your brain. Before you can stop yourself, the words have left your lips: You must be kitten. Now you’ve earned a spot on your friend’s shit list, right next to felines, and frankly you deserve it.

Puns are more like eggplant than low-hanging fruit, though. The prospect of eating eggplant in its natural state—shiny, dimpled skin and the spongy seedgarden underneath—is extremely barfy. But there are so many ways to prepare those purple euphemisms, and the distance between undercooked eggplant parmigiana and Michelin star baingan bharta is astronomical. The same goes for puns. (For instance, the pun bangin’ bharta is not good, despite the fact that I’m physically incapable of not making it in any Indian food situation.)

Harper Perrennial

Some puns are just interruptive white noise while others have the power to make people stand up and scream. It’s a phenomenon I thoroughly experienced firsthand while researching the book, Away With Words: An Irreverent Tour Through the World of Pun Competitions. (It has always been my heart’s secret dream to write a book that would make people ask, “How is that a book?”)

I’ve personally witnessed crowds go nuts over puns, as they will at next month’s 41st Annual O. Henry Museum Pun-Off World Championships in Austin, Texas. But I’ve also keenly familiar with how much puns are also reviled. A lot of folks do not care for them! Puns are less loved than the music of Smash Mouth or a bowlful of yellow Starbursts. People cringe at the word alone—it catches in the ear, dredging up sense memories of wacky English teachers, and the negative space where laughs should be. They’re the kind of joke most likely to be preceded or followed by an apology. (“Pardon the pun.” Or don’t! Maybe send it to the firing squad!) However, nobody who appreciates humor or language or even just the mystic complexity of how our weird brains works could fully dismiss them. It just depends on what the situation is, who’s making the pun, whether it sucks, and even how it sucks.

Puns are less loved than the music of Smash Mouth or a bowlful of yellow Starbursts.

Puns are embedded in everything people don’t like—advertising, novelty menu items, morning news show banter, movie review headlines—and often delivered with a certain smirking expectancy. The point too often seems to be less about the clean feng shui of inventive wordplay, than the fact that someone has made a pun at all.

The good news is that puns are also embedded in everything people do like, and in the right hands they are tiny word-shaped miracles. Think Kanye West on the song “Otis” (“I’ll hit you up mañan-nahhh!”) Think of all the greatest gutter-filthy insults on Veep, like when someone refers to the gangly Jonah as “Jizzy Gillespie.” Think Seth Meyers monologues, Daily Show chyrons like “Mess O’Potamia,” or when Donnell Rawlins said on Guy Code, “The only loofa a man should have in his house is Loofa Vandross.” Puns are, to use a dicey second vegetable metaphor, the onions of comedy. They can go in just about everything.

Most people who think they hate puns actually just hate lazy, shopworn, shitty puns—and the tah-dah flourish with which they’re executed. They hate puns that sound lifted from popsicle stick jokes, or ones that are drawn from something someone said five minutes ago, the context melting away like popsicle juice running down your fist. Of course, other kinds of jokes can be hacky and poorly timed, too—they’re called every other kind of joke ever.

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One thing bad puns have on other jokes, though, is that after passing a certain threshold of Bad, their very badness suddenly becomes the joke itself. Now it’s anti-comedy. The edgy stuff. Instead of a play on words, it’s a play on the very idea that an adult who’s heard jokes before would find this joke funny. Sarah Silverman used puns this way a lot on The Sarah Silverman Program. Well, either that—or maybe she just legitimately loves puns. Right before exiting a cafe to put on blackface in one episode—it’d take too long to explain the context, but rest assured one exists—her character’s departing words are, “I’ll be back. I’ll be black! I’ll be white black!” It’s beyond boring to explain why something is or isn’t funny, but this dumb pun technically qualifies as high art.

The dirty secret of puns is that people like them when they’re terrible as much as they do when they’re great.

The dirty secret of puns is that people like them when they’re terrible as much as they do when they’re great. They just don’t like them anywhere in between. When puns are truly great, though, it’s undeniably impressive. There’s a kind of math undergirding most jokes, but puns are especially equational. Making one out of unlikely elements floating around in the air is like solving a verbal speed-puzzle. The best ones make you wonder how on Earth a person came up with something so perfect so quickly.

While writing Away With Words, I once saw two grown adult men wage a fiery pun battle on the topic of currency for over 15 minutes, culminating in possibly the greatest pun ever. When one guy gestured towards his shirt and declared “I’ll be washing tons of clothes later,” his opponent instantly responded, “Better get a tub, man.” It wasn’t very funny, but it was so clever and so quick that you had to respect it. And it made a crowd full of nerds lose their goddamn minds.

Not that anyone should go around dispensing puns willy-nilly, but if someone ever squeezed such a perfectly timed, relevant one into a conversation about currency, you wouldn’t have to grope around for a response. You’d just say, “Thanks.” Or possibly: francs.

What to do this week in Pittsburgh: April 29-May 5

Goat yoga? GOAT.

Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

There’s a little something for everyone this week.

First, start off by sprucing up your wardrobe in an eco-friendly way at a clothing swap. Really embrace #WaybackWednesday with a singalong to a childhood fave — “Beauty and the Beast.” Later this week, try goat yoga, which we can attest is truly, GOAT.

If you’re always looking for the next fun event, sign up for our daily newsletter to have event listings delivered straight to your inbox each morning.

At this public clothing swap hosted by Rebekah Joy, Aubree Petronelli and Lindsey Waltonbaugh, bring your reusable tote bag full of gently worn clothing in good condition to swap out for a new wardrobe. There will be an optional $10 donation benefitting the East End Cooperative Ministry’s Sew Forward.

Where:
Ace Hotel – Second-floor ballroom at 120 S. Whitfield St. (East Liberty)

When:
April 29, 2018 at 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

How much:
$10 suggested donation


Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, cookbook author and host of “Lidia’s Kitchen,” is coming to speak about her new memoir, “My American Dream.” The book tells the story of her close-knit family and their journey to the U.S., as well as her passion for food. Stay for a book signing after the lecture. Tickets include a copy of the book.

Where:
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (main) at 4400 Forbes Ave. (Oakland)

When:
April 30, 2018 at 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

How much:
$34


Hear from speakers about what makes a community racially responsive — especially when it comes to the impact on children and schools. Speakers for this P.R.I.D.E Program speaker series event include Valerie Kinloch, dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, and Julia Williams, director of the Leading Teacher PreK-4 program at Duquesne University.

Where:
David Lawrence Hall, room 120 at 3942 Forbes Ave. (Oakland)

When:
May 1, 2018 at 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

How much:
Free


Wish you could have a slumber party singalong with your musical-loving pals? Granted. The Pajama Jammy Jam means you can come to the movie theater in your PJs and sing with the rest of the crowd to Disney’s live action “Beauty and the Beast.” Snacks/brews/soda are $1 off for those wearing pajamas.

Where:
Row House Cinema at 4115 Butler St. (Lawrenceville)

When:
May 2, 2018 at 9:30 p.m.

How much:
$9


CMU architecture students will present their work as part of the experimental exhibition Copy + Paste at the Carnegie Museum of Art. The students will discuss how architecture, virtual reality and robotics can work together, especially when it comes to learning from the past.

Where:
Carnegie Museum of Art at 4400 Forbes Ave. (Oakland)

When:
May 3, 2018 at 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

How much:
Free


A three-part celebration, “UPMC Presents West Side Story Suite + In the Night + Fancy Free with the PBT Orchestra” by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre includes works by collaborators Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein to celebrate their 100th birthdays. The performance includes iconic songs and award-winning choreography from West Side Story, as well as performances from “Fancy Free” and “In the Night.” There are also additional performances at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

Where:
Benedum Center at 237 7th St. (Downtown)

When:
May 4, 2018 at 8:00 p.m.

How much:
$28 and up


Whether you’re an experienced yogi or a yoga rookie, goat yoga is for you — as long as you don’t mind getting hay all over. Yoga with Goats is a one hour yoga class with goats wandering around, plus 30 minutes to hang out with the goats or tour Penn Forest Natural Burial Park. Make sure to register to snag your spot. P.S. Still wondering about goat yoga? We tried it.

Where:
pin Penn Forest Natural Burial Park at 121 Colorado St. (Verona)

When:
May 5, 2018 at 11:00 a.m.

How much:
$15


Try the top dishes from Millvale residents at Taste of Millvale, part of the borough’s May Day celebrations. Sample food made from recipes submitted by residents for free, and a corresponding recipe book will be available. Plus, there will be entertainment and kids’ activities.

Where:
Grant Avenue Pocket park at 518 Grant Ave. (Millvale)

When:
May 5, 2018 at 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.


It’s opening weekend and the start of the 50th season at Meadowcroft Rockshelter, aka the oldest site of human habitation in North America. Step inside a wigwam, use a prehistoric atlatl to throw a spear, then go forward in time to watch a blacksmith work.

Where:
Meadowcroft Rockshelter And Historic Village at 401 Meadowcroft Road (Avella)

When:
May 5, 2018 at 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

How much:
$15


Think of it as a house show for the whole city mixed with an outdoor family reunion. Pittonkatonk advocates for creativity and critical thought through music and participatory events. The annual brass BBQ includes a potluck, traveling musicians and more. This year’s all-ages event includes 18 bands from Pittsburgh and around the world.

Where:
Schenley Park Vietnam Veterans Pavilion at off Overlook Drive in Schenley Park (Oakland)

When:
May 5, 2018 at 1:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

How much:
Free


Listen to a lineup of local musicians playing a mix of originals and your favorite songs from the 1960s to today. Proceeds go to Prevention Point Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that provides health empowerment services to injection drug users. Doors open at 7.

Where:
Cattivo at 146 44th St. (Lawrenceville)

When:
May 5, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.

How much:
$10 in advance | $15 day of


The Tragedy of 1968: What Might Have Been if King and Kennedy Had Lived

Photo

Martin Luther King Jr.

Credit
Stanford University Library

THE PROMISE AND THE DREAM
The Untold Story of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy
By David Margolick
Illustrated. 400 pp. A Lawrence Schiller Book/ Rosetta Books. $30.

For those of us who lived through it, 1968 was a year like no other. From the Tet offensive in Vietnam to the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy to the mean streets of Chicago, Paris and Prague to the dark politics of Richard Nixon’s road to the White House, one crisis after another challenged our ability to cope with the unexpected. Explaining this singularly frightening year to our children and grandchildren has never been easy. How can we recapitulate all of the traumas and lost dreams — especially the assassinations and descent into violence and despair — without wandering into a muddle of confusion? To have any hope of making sense of it all, we need a discerning and reliable guidebook, a work that not only identifies the most important events of 1968 but also puts them in historical context.

This is what David Margolick’s “The Promise and the Dream” gives us in large measure, an engaging work of popular history that revisits the interconnected lives of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. In Margolick’s formulation, the greatest tragedy of 1968 lies in the political devastation wreaked by the dual assassinations of King on April 4 and Kennedy on June 6. In the short span of eight weeks, the country lost its most imaginative moral leader and its most progressive politician — and with their passings the chance of a meaningful national renewal all but disappeared. This calculus of loss rests on the supposition that the two men shared enough ideology and political motivation to foster a close working relationship following a Kennedy victory in the 1968 (or perhaps 1972) election. We can only speculate about the probability of such a victory or the nature of a hypothetical Robert Kennedy administration — or about how the administration would have addressed matters of war, poverty and social justice with King advising the new president either openly or behind the scenes. But the author’s projection of such a progressive alliance is intriguing.

Photo

Robert F. Kennedy, at right, speaking with Frank Mankiewicz.

Credit
Lawrence Schiller/Getty Images

Interestingly, Margolick, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, demonstrates that a solid M.L.K./R.F.K. combination would have been unthinkable at the beginning of the decade. He devotes much of the book to a painstaking reconstruction of each man’s evolving moral and political consciousness — a dual narrative that reveals convergence but very little evidence of a developing relationship, either personal or public. Kennedy and King were neither friends nor formal political allies. While they had known each other since October 1960, when Robert Kennedy had phoned a Georgia judge to plead for King’s release from jail, their subsequent personal contact was limited to a few cursory meetings and phone calls. Indeed, during their last four years they seem to have met only once, at a congressional subcommittee hearing on urban poverty. In one of the book’s many clever asides, Margolick acknowledges this startling fact with a reference to Dion’s musical tribute “Abraham, Martin and John.” “Kennedy and King may be linked in a famous song,” he writes — “both freed a lot of people and died young, it says — but they saw little more of each other than either saw of Abraham Lincoln.”

Photo

Even so, Margolick makes a strong case that the two leaders ended up in roughly the same place by 1968. Both had become sharp critics of America’s military involvement in Vietnam, yet both had fastened upon the scourge of gross economic inequality as the greatest threat to American democracy. Despite the obvious differences between a pugnacious politician and an idealistic minister, they were essentially on the same page, reading and voicing the same lessons of freedom and redemption for the United States. With a half-century of historical perspective and Margolick’s help, we can now see the full potential for creative collaboration between the politician of promise and the dreamer. But, as the author of this carefully rendered book points out, the celebrated singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte — one observer who knew both men well — already recognized this potential during that fateful spring, describing “a Kennedy-King alliance” as “the right wing’s greatest fear.”

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Trump’s dream of better than 3% economic growth recedes again

That may be true as a Platonic ideal, but the evidence thus far is that the benefit of the tax cuts is flowing chiefly to shareholders in the form of stock buybacks and increased dividends, while workers receive one-time bonuses but not long-term wage increases. Hassett’s skills as an economic prognosticator are suspect, anyway — he’s the co-author of the 1999 book “Dow 36,000,” which predicted the widely watched industrial index would reach that milestone within a few years. Instead, it fell from the 10,000-11,000 range in 1999 to below 8,000. As of today, nearly 20 years later, it still hasn’t reached the book’s target.

Teen publishes her first book of poetry | Local News

A lot of people dream of publishing a book at some point in their lives. Tarah Agathe Valin, 17, a senior at Foxborough Regional Charter School, has already reached that milestone.

Valin, of Brockton, published her first poetry book “Wilting Daisies” in February. It’s available on amazon.com and has already sold 80 copies.

“I began writing poetry in the fifth grade when my English teacher, Ms. Sheer, made us keep writer’s notebooks,” said Valin, who is enrolling in the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in September. “We could write anything we wanted as long as we wrote something and I tried poetry and I just fell in love.”

Valin’s influences are all the poets who have come before her.

“I strive to be half as influential and amazing as they were. They influence me because their poems make people feel something and that’s all I want to do, make someone feel something,” she said.

Valin also loves reading books. Her favorite authors are John Green and Cassandra Clare, because she loves how engaging their plots are and how lovable their characters are.

Besides writing, Valin sees her future as an open book.

“My dream is to travel as much as possible and make as much of a difference as I can. I know I’m just one person so I don’t have any wild crazy dreams like cracking the code to achieving world peace or anything, but whatever little thing I can do to better the lives of a few people is enough for me,” she said.

Valin describes her writing goal is to never stop writing.

After publishing her first book at age 17, Valin said she is still in shock.

“I’m still a little shy about the book and the poems but I am so grateful to everyone who helped me through the process and everyone who bought the book,” she said.

Valin said she has a group of friends who serve as her marketing team.

Valin credits Rebecca Liebal, an English teacher who is Valin’s advisor, and her friends Elissa Cano, and Radjaminah St-Cyr for being the biggest motivators and cheerleaders.

“The only reason why publishing ‘Wilting Daisies’ was possible is that those three really believed in me. There aren’t enough words to describe how grateful I am for them and for all my friends and family (specifically my cousins),” she said.

Valin encourages young authors to follow her footsteps.

“You need to do it. If writing is what you love, then you need to write!”

To learn more about the author, Taraha Valin, Visit her web site tarebearthewriter.wordpress.com. Her book can be purchased at amazon by searching “Wilting Daisies.”

Rick Foster can be reached at 508-236-0360.

Order up: Author Amy Spalding dishes on queer teen romance and burgers

In Amy Spalding’s The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles), 17-year-old Abby Ives is trying to land her dream job, her dream girl, and her dream burger while ditching the idea of being a sidekick in her own story. It’s a frothy and romantic comedy, and with the mainstream studio closet door finally kicked wide open by Love, Simon, maybe now it’s the girls’ turn.

EW sat down with Spalding to get the dish on the queer teen romance of the summer, as well as taste-test the signature burgers from the three top national chains. What could be juicier?

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We come bearing a Burger King Whopper, a Wendy’s Single, and a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder!

[Spalding unwraps the Whopper] This is good! I’m hungry. Things really could go any way. [takes a bite] The charbroil – that’s like their differentiating feature, right? This one doesn’t have cheese, but I like it anyway. The burger patty actually has flavor. I used to think it was a gimmick. They could paint the charbroil on and just inject a flavor into it, but it still works on me.

Throughout your book, Abby is on the hunt for the best burger in Los Angeles with her friend Jax. Why burgers? Are they the quintessential comfort food for you?

Yes, they’re one of my top comfort foods. I feel like a lot of comfort foods are snacks, but there’s something about a burger that I can justify as, no, that’s my entrée. Also, a trick for when you’re broke and you go to a nice restaurant and all your friends are getting steaks that you can’t afford? There’s almost always a burger on the menu that’s like 20 dollars or less, so you can be skating in with that burger and still looking like you’re part of the team.

I’m also a big believer that Los Angeles has amazing burgers — a lot of burger culture was started here — so I thought if I was doing an LA summer book, I really wanted to include them. Tacos were almost too cliché, and are almost endless to some degree, whereas burgers are a little more clearly defined.

You’ve written five books, but this is your first queer romance – why now?

I wanted there to be more queer representation, not just in books — period. A lot of the young adult fiction with queer characters was just really depressing. I think a lot of those books were aimed at straight kids to be like, “you should really think twice about bullying someone,” or for them to see how hard it is to come out, see how hard it is if your religion disagrees with you, and I just kept thinking if I was growing up now, I’d be, like, wait, are things better or not? There are so many swoony, heightened love stories for straight kids, so I wanted to write a queer romance. I wanted it to be swoony.

I wanted the love interest to have great hair — that’s always my top priority in writing someone dreamy – and I wanted to take away that dark element because while of course it’s a reality, there should still be escapist fantasies, too. I really wanted something positive, and either something with someone’s great reality reflected or a fantasy for people so that they could say, “Well, maybe it’s hard for me now, but look at the great romance I could have.”

Before we continue, should we try the Wendy’s Single?

Well, I like the size better. It’s a delicate lady-like burger for me. You can actually enjoy the whole thing. [Takes an indelicate, yet still lady-like bite]. I like the patty of the Whopper best so far, but I like everything else about this Wendy’s burger. The cheese is like Velveeta, the tomato’s way better, and I love this bun. I love everything about this, except for the burger itself. What a weird situation, Wendy’s.

Aside from the queer romance, this book also differs because the protagonist isn’t a wisp of a girl waiting for someone to see her beauty, but, rather, she’s a self-proclaimed “fat girl.” Why did you decide to also make Abby’s weight be a part of her identity?

[lowers her voice] Girl, you just don’t know how beautiful you are, that’s why you’re beautiful. [laughs] I wanted to write a book about a girl who cares about fashion, and I wanted to write a queer romance, and I wanted to write about a fat girl, and then I was like, oh, I think this is all one book. I loved writing the queer romance from the fat girl’s POV because it was sort of fun to explore how girls feel about their bodies when it’s also talking about girls touching other girls’ bodies.

There’s a point where Abby say that for “maybe the first time ever” she feels like she’s in her own story, and yet the book is named after her crush. Was that a conscious decision?

A lot of my books are named after important characters, but also, even though Abby is finally in the center of her own story, so much of life you define by relationships, and I know to her, as she’s looking back she’s like, “This is the summer I fell for Jordi.” It was the filter that Abby experienced the summer through. Also, it was very important to me to have the love interest name in the title because it was a girl. For a while there were the queer romances that would have a title like Secrets, and the cover would be just girls’ hands barely touching. Like, it’s clearly a “You can tell your parents it’s about friendship…or sisters” book, and I was like, no, this book is gay — take it!

The love scenes so perfectly captured both the titillation of being with a crush as well as being with a girl, specifically. Did you find writing intimate moments between two girls to be any different from writing love scenes between a girl and a guy?

I actually found it easier because it was easier for me to get in Jordi’s head, as well as Abby’s because I’ve been a teenage girl; whereas teenage boys are still somewhat of a mystery to me. I don’t remember teen boys being super helpful in what they said when I was in high school.

OK, final burger: the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder.

When I see a McDonald’s burger, there’s a comforting feeling that washes over me. I literally opened [the box] and sort of went aahhhh. I grew up in the Midwest, and chains were good to us because to me that felt like I was connected to something bigger. [takes a bite] It still has a McDonald’s essence to it – that’s comforting, but it looks better than it tastes so my mouth is like what?

There were moments in the book that rang especially true of awkward high school memories. Why do you think you’re able to so convincingly write YA?

I think that what we go through in life is not that different from high school. There’s still a lot of awkward social interactions, it just might be with a group of colleagues, instead of people at school. And, maybe there’s someone you’re always trying to impress and it’s hard to impress them but it’s not a teacher, it’s your boss.

I still show up at a parties and am, like, oh, this is a party where people stand against a wall. Should I stand against a wall? Should I go mingle? Are we allowed to take those hors d’oeuvres? And I’m going through all that in my head, and people tell me, oh, I saw you at that party and you looked like you knew what you were doing, and I’m like I didn’t even know where I was allowed to stand! Everyone has these things.

With Love, Simon being such a success, one has to imagine this could translate just as well to screen. Who would you cast as Abby? Jordi?

If Jordi was older I would cast Stephanie Beatriz from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, so that is what I would tell the casting people: Find the 17-year-old version of her. For Abby? She’s not an actor, but do you know that singer Mary Lambert? The first time I saw a photo of her I was like, oh my god, that looks like Abby grown up but not with pink hair.

You often find that queer stories are injected with straight characters in order to make the story more palatable for mainstream audiences. The chemistry between Abby and Jax was pretty great, which begs the question of whether or not you intended that to be Jax’s purpose?

I’ve had a few people say, “I’m so used to when cute boys are brought in as a romantic prospect , but you just brought in a cute boy and let him function as a friend,” and my thought was, don’t worry; just because you’re in this kind of story, doesn’t mean you don’t get all sorts of characters. There’s something about writing a guy who I didn’t need to worry about having some romantic arc. I just got to have a lot of fun, and make him say inappropriate things.

Yeah, I really didn’t want to like Jax, but by the end I was like, oh crap.

That’s how I felt writing him, even. It was almost like, OK, we’ll see how you end up, sir. Then writing him was so fun. He won me over. In a lot of stories, Abby would’ve been the sidekick to her friend Malia, and Jax would’ve been the sidekick to his friend Trevor, and they would’ve been this beautiful golden couple at the center of a romance. Instead, I told the story of a friendship between the two sidekicks.

Speaking of, which of these two burgers would be relegated to the lesser roles, and which burger comes out on top?

I think it might be Burger King, and I think it’s Burger King and then McDonald’s because you know what? At the end of the day, even if everything else is great, if the burger itself is boring, what is it? It’s just a bread with condiments. This isn’t The Best Bread with Condiments in Los Angeles.

Very true. So the King is #1, making you somewhat of a Burger Queen. Last question, your Majesty: How much of you is in Abby?

Abby’s definitely bolder than I was in high school. I feel like when she was able to make things move forward with Jordi, I don’t know that I would have. And we have different queer identities. Abby doesn’t like any boys at all. That’s not me, but I absolutely like cute girls, too. Our fashion is very similar. The reason I have dresses I like is because I’m financially irresponsible about dresses.

People will ask me what my trick is, and I’m like, don’t put enough in savings and buy everything you like on ModCloth. That’s my secret; don’t follow it. But I think a fun thing about writing young people is you can take your own experiences as an adult and give them a little more wisdom that you wish you had had. I wish when I was a teen and struggling with body image that someone would’ve been like you know what? If you feel good and have cute clothes, that’s enough.