BEST BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS 2006 | | People & Places | Phoenix
What happens when a human resources manager, a fitness director and an accountant read a lot? Lit chicks! Kim Novotny, the HR gal, gathered a couple of friends together a while back and created a Web site devoted to reviewing good books. Novotny lives in Anthem, but she and the other literate chicks dream of someday traveling to Chicago to tell Oprah all about their site! Whether that happens or not, we're just happy to read their smart, succinct, honest reviews with Top 10 lists including authors we, too, love, like John Irving, David Sedaris, and Harper Lee. We see they've got Martha Beck on there, too. A wise move, considering she, too, is from the Valley and writes for O Magazine. Maybe we'll see the lit chicks on TV yet.
This swank soul food eatery and cocktail bar, with its African-themed paintings, sexy lighting, and heavy alcoholic pours, sets the ideal atmosphere for local musicians to jam out groove-oriented standards and originals in the cozy and crowded lounge. The music is geared toward straight-ahead aficionados and provides a great introduction to jazz newcomers. Players known to sit in include the infectious organist "Papa" John DeFrancesco (father of esteemed Hammond B-3 organist Joey), the fireballing percussionist Dowell Davis, and funky bass guitarist Mike Howard. If the high-energy sonic chops whet your appetite, sink your teeth into the catfish dinner entree, a honking fillet served with your choice of two sides such as collard greens, candied yams, and dirty rice. The restaurant also features a Sunday jazz brunch from noon to 2:30 p.m. and more beats until 4 p.m. before the free lounge jam burns down the house from 7 to 11 p.m.
Jamie Peachey
Stroll near the Scottsdale Center for the Arts on a Thursday night and you'll hear an ambient blitzkrieg of up-tempo and accessible sounds. Then let your ears be the guide and continue past the official performing arts center to the funky Orange Table cafe, nestled in a hard-to-find-if-you-blink cranny, where Trio Oro jams out modern and original compositions embodying elements of free jazz and breakbeats. Since March 2005, Rob Moore's fiery snare and cymbal wallops, Jacob Koller's brooding keyboard comps, and Andy Jones' moody bass riffs have been attracting eager listeners. Sometimes the band plays inside. Other times they post up just outside the cozy outdoor patio, perfect to soak up the atmospheric sounds while sipping on a $2 Red Stripe or Fat Tire, grubbing on sandwiches and sweets, or grabbing a late-night caffeine fix. Feel the fusion.
Each year, established writers and hopeful scribes descend on the ASU campus for several days of intensive writing instruction, readings, panel discussions, and book signings. Participants can rub elbows with published authors during a variety of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry classes, ranging from screenwriting and political poetry to gender-identity fiction and travel writing. During the evening break, authors and conference participants journey down to the Mill Avenue bars to yuk it up about the writing life over cocktails, culminating in evening readings and book signings in Old Main's Carson Ballroom. In the past, featured authors have included novelist Joyce Carol Oates, essayist A.S. Byatt, poet Tim Seibles, and This American Life contributor Sarah Vowell. There's a hefty $300 registration fee, but enough tutelage and inspiration for at least a couple of chapters of that book you're writing. Write on!
According to a recent National Endowment for the Arts Reading at Risk study, most people between the ages of 16 and 35 think books are blas. PAGE 23 isn't going to let you fold up literature quite yet. Through guerrilla marketing and word-of-mouth promotions, a group of Changing Hands employees hopes to inspire a new generation of readers by seeking out and recommending new fiction (Icelander by Dustin Long), edgy nonfiction (Drugs Are Nice: A Post-Punk Memoir by Lisa Crystal Carver), and graphic novels (Black Hole by Charles Burns) that pass under the Sunday book page radar, each distinguishable by an in-store brown bookmark. The group also programs unique community gatherings, including "Lit Noise." The unveiling event featured readings from the snarky Jack Pendarvis and experimental neo-magical realist Salvador Plascencia, the latter who read from his debut The People of Paper while wearing a beekeeper's suit. The stacks were moved and hyperactive acoustic rockers Andrew Jackson Jihad performed spastic mood music during the book signings, while the adjacent Mac's Broiler & Tap offered reverse happy hour specials for those who wanted a little booze with their books. What is it they always used to tell us in school? Reading is FUN-damental.
The saying goes that it's better to be a big fish in a little pond. In this case, that's true. Big Fish isn't the most popular hangout in Tempe, but while the larger bars are sparse during the week, this "little pub that could" packs 'em in. Skip Skoolnik, Foundation, and Pickster One rock the Boom Bam Room on Monday nights when there's nothing to do anywhere else in town. Other regular events include a gaming night and Tuesday night open mic with verbose, vitriolic and sometimes verbally abusive host Nick R. He's one evolutionary step above Cro-Magnon man or Simon Cowell which is why we can't seem to get enough of his piss 'n' vinegar attitude. Mad props to this little fish for drawing the Valley's phattest talent, and possibly the meanest host, out of the woodwork.
JRC and Stephanie Carrico, co-owners of the Trunk Space, know they have a hot product when folks are making special trips to the exhibition space to score material for their MySpace profiles. The photo booth, converted from color to beautiful black-and-white, is one of a kind in the area, and pics snapped at the booth have been showing up on Internet blogs as well as Web sites for out-of-town bands swinging through the art gallery/performance venue. For just $3, the all-analog picture-slinging device cranks out a vintage black-and-white strip of four keepsakes, using old-school photo chemicals to develop posing mugs. In April, the Space christened the booth with a party where snapshots of colorful characters were included in the Trunk Space Yearbook, a do-it-yourself art archive that the art space owners plan to keep creating each year. Appointments are accepted or just swing by during gallery hours and say "cheese."
All right, fellas, it's time to fess up. We know many of you reading this harbor the freaky Lolita-style fetish of wanting to hook up with a sexy siren in a schoolgirl uniform. Don't worry, it doesn't mean you have some predisposed penchant for pedophilia (we think); it's probably just your ultra-repressive Catholic upbringing coming back to haunt you. Besides, in this fast and loose society of ours, that particular fantasy is rather vanilla, really. So don't feel too bad when you hit Tranzylvania on Friday nights at Club Palazzo hoping to bag any of the lovely ladies known to frequent the gothic nightspot wearing plaid skirts, knee-high socks, and white button-down shirts. There'll be loads to choose from, as plenty of gothic gals and even a few guys will occasionally forgo their vampire gear in favor of thrashing around on the dance floor to DJ-spun darkwave and trance dressed in more innocent attire. Just make sure she's over 18, bub, and doesn't go to Xavier.
Following the closure of Chandler's indie-focused Madstone Theatres in 2004, the Valley's repertory film scene looked more desolate than a theater after the final encore. Enter OneNightCinema, the brainchild of local film buff Randy Montgomery. During its two years of existence, the quarterly film series has screened more than two dozen flicks unique to the Valley, including Sundance Film Festival winners, programs solely dedicated to foreign fare (Senegal, Latin America, Jerusalem, and Hungary), and The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, a moving documentary about the unjust murder that mobilized the civil rights movement. Films are shown at least four times over a weekend, and an audience Q&A follows each screening. Forget the mega 24-plex and get cozy with these personalized films. Hey, somebody pass the popcorn.
Who coulda guessed that a band from Richmond, Virginia, that's been playing hardcore for more than 12 years would grow to have a cult following in Phoenix? You can thank Will Anderson largely for that, one of the Valley's longest-standing promoters of rock shows around town, and arguably one of the biggest Avail fans on the planet. Because of Anderson's hook-up with the scrappy East Coast act, Avail has been coming to Phoenix every year for special on-off, one-night-only shows. What most happy Avail fans don't know is that Anderson flies the band members out every year, fills their bellies with goodies and foots the bill to bring them out to play a whopping two-hour set for their adoring Phoenician fan base. Consider it our own private Avail party that you can count on to come through town at least once a year. The shows have been near the end of January the past few years at venues ranging from the now-defunct Mason Jar to the Clubhouse Music Venue. Keep your ear to the ground for word of the next Avail show, and don't miss out on one of the biggest punk parties of the year. Thanks, Uncle Will.

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