If you are at all interested in hip hop or rap, then this book is an absolute must-read. Even if you have a fleeting interest in American culture in the last half of the twentieth century, then Can’t Stop Won’t Stop is a great way to examine it. It’s hard to discount how much of an impact rap music and culture has had on American modern culture – and that of the world, and this book works wonders to describe how it all started and how this form of music, art and expression has coloured a great deal of the world’s culture, industry and societal norms for years.
Jeff Chang melds the world of music journalism with general cultural criticism and historical discussion beautifully. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop describes the New York of the 70s and 80s in a way that gives an excellent and vivid backdrop to how rap music came about, and also gives readers who are not particularly well-versed in the intricacies of American politics and society a quick lesson in the societal factors that formed rap. As much as some would like to forget it, politics were vital in how a lot of rap music was created and how the form progressed, so the attention paid to political and societal factors in Can’t Stop Won’t Stop is justified, in my opinion.
As a narrative, the book works well – there is a little unevenness in how some periods and events are described, but if there was to be a truly exhaustive account of the creation of rap music, it would be essentially unreadable, particularly since rap as an art form became so widely disseminated and spread. Chang gives a generally impartial, but at times fiery and impassioned, look at America in general to push this work forward. There are plenty of interviews and quotes from primary sources that lend much flavour and anecdotal interest to how the book plays out, and it truly does feel part of a cohesive whole.
It’s clear from the work how much research Chang has put into the book: one needs simply to look at the list of sources and references. This is a vital and important book for anyone interested in modern music, generally – it’s impossible to deny how much music nowadays owes to rap music in all of its forms.
Fantasy is one genre of fiction that many people shy away from, but almost every problem people have with fantasy is addressed in the Earthsea series. Ursula Le Guin provides a much-needed female perspective on traditional fantasy tropes and works against the generally male-oriented and male-constructed world of fantasy writing. There isn’t much sword-clanging and the like to be found here: simply the construction of a vivid, interesting world, filled with characters you care about and can actually tell apart.
A Wizard of Earthsea describes the early life of the main character, Ged, who becomes a talented wizard. There is much, much more to it than this, but this is really all you need to know: the simplicity and ease at which Le Guin eases into her narrative is something to behold. There is a really open feel to this entire work, which makes one feel as though they really are travelling with the characters throughout a world with plenty of open space – moreso than other works like The Lord of the Rings, which I found to be overly consumed with attention to detail and less concerned with telling a story.
The plot moves along at an excellent pace and never seems to flag or get caught up in its own details, and the focus on a single character is an excellent decision. The character of Ged is expressive and interesting enough to carry an entire book without needing the common fantasy device of a wisecracking band of travellers – not to say that the tone of the book is entirely serious and dour, which, again, is an all-too-common experience in fantasy literature. There are plenty of opportunities for the book to become mired down in drama, but this does not happen: there is simply apt and well-written description of events, relationships and happenings that entice the reader to read further.
There are plenty of plot devices in this book to be found in many other works: in fact, the idea of an academy for wizards and mages is something that Harry Potter owes a lot to. This work can be read by old and young alike, and has that magical quality of really transporting the reader to another world. It’s definitely a worthwhile read and should be sought out by everybody, even those without a real taste for fantasy.
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