Arkansas Times Recommends is a weekly series in which Times staff members (or whoever happens to be around at the time) highlight things we’ve been enjoying this week.
I would like to recommend Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mystery series. No, no one is flayed. There are no sadistic psychopaths who drive around with battery cables and a battery in back that they don’t use on the car. Instead, there is the snowy Canadian woods, a small town where folks are always gathered around roaring fireplaces swilling whiskey and watching the snow fall and eating the fabulous food served up by hilarious gay restaurant owners, where a mean old poet mooches booze off everyone, where two of the main characters are painters. It’s a book for snuggling in, and you can read it alone in a tent, unlike “The Silence of the Lambs,” which once left me scared sleepless on an archaeological dig. It’s best to read Penny’s in order, starting with “Still Life.” — Leslie Peacock
From what I can glean while I flip past the country stations at the speed of light on my radio dial, Country Music these days has devolved into one xenophobic ditty after another about pickup trucks, bonfires, America, driving on dirt roads and little churches with no air conditioning. It’s kind of like somebody took Hootie and the Blowfish, took out all the stupid golf references, and stirred in a heapin’ helpin’ of sweat, doughy chicks in rebel flag bikinis, Bald Eagles and product placements for Ford trucks. Wait, what? Darius “Hootie” Rucker is a country singer now? Perfect.
Through the modern miracle of Youtube, let’s leave all that behind, friend, as we journey back to the Age of Real Country and the 1975 edition of the American Country Music Association Awards. Revel in the history of it all as Arkansas native Charlie Rich hands out the Entertainer of the Year Award while apparently blackout drunk, before a crowd with more impressive pompadours, rich embroidery and wigs than the royal court of Louis XV.
BONUS: When Charlie’s drunkbrain finally figures out how to claw open the envelope and sees that the winner is John Denver, he pulls out his Zippo and sets the card on fire live on stage. No, really. — David Koon
Once, when I was maybe 18 and working for a college radio station in Athens, Ga., I interviewed two members of the German rock band Faust (est. 1971) back-stage at a venue called the 40 Watt. “There is no group more mythical than Faust,” Julian Cope had written in his book “Krautrocksampler,” about the 70s German art-rock scene, and I took his word for it. Their names were Jean-Hervé Péron and Werner “Zappi” Diermaier, and when I showed up they were chain-smoking on a leather couch, drinking red wine and arguing with the venue’s manager about whether or not they’d be allowed to operate a cement mixer onstage that night. After they’d won the argument, they turned to me and tried to explain a lot of things about post-war Germany and experimental music, most of which I didn’t entirely absorb, either out of ignorance or nervousness or because of their thick accents.
This is partly why I was so excited to watch this amazing BBC documentary, “Krautrock: The Rebirth of Germany,” a couple of days ago, an overview of the cosmic-rock scene that spawned bands like Faust, Can, Kraftwerk, Neu!, Tangerine Dream and Amon Düül II, featuring tons of footage of long-haired German hippies in drums circles, noodling on synthesizers and blissing out to their own, weird utopian-psychedelic ideas. You learn a lot about music and, really, Germany, both of which are always worth learning a lot about. — Will Stephenson
Here’s an idea: Go to the state Capitol. Go in the morning. Wednesday preferably, when the legislative meetings are light. They keep the A/C on low. The marble halls make it seem even more meat lockerish. Buy some Arkansas junk at the lobby gift shop to send to your relatives in Altoona. (You do have a relative in Altoona, don’t you?) Don’t forget to look up at the dome. Check out one of the changing exhibits. They’re small, easy to absorb and often loaded with ephemera. Right now, the exhibits include a display of things made in Arkansas. Think Daisy BB guns.
Hungry? There’s a cafeteria in the basement. A sausage biscuit (surprisingly decent biscuit, even if it was heat-and-serve) with cup of refillable coffee cost only $2. You might see a legislator. Or a lobbyist. If you see a legislator, odds are good you’ll see a lobbyist, too. It’s a sepulchral, cool and even interesting place to spend a hot summer morning. It’s important to go when few meetings are being held because then there’s likelihood of free visitor parking the lot across Woodlane in front of the Capitol. — Max Brantley
Go see “How to Train Your Dragon 2”! Why? Because there are a gazillion beautifully animated dragons with personality! There are giant alpha dragons, who (spoiler alert) battle each other! The dragon-verse is expanded far beyond Berk, the island that forms the backdrop to the first movie! There is an awesome family reunion! And because Hiccup, Toothless, Stoik and all the amazing characters of the original are back and some great new ones are introduced. It is almost as good if not better than the first part, which we all know is not the norm when it comes to animated film … I mean Pocahontas 2? Anyway, see it, see it, see it! — Darielle D’Mello
I’ve never quite grasped what Medium is, though I really like the way that it looks when some link sends me there. Matter is a new online magazine that Medium is behind. It may not become anything I read regularly, but I think it’s off to a pretty good start. It’s really well arranged and pretty to look at and, handily, below each story on the site’s landing page is an estimate for how long it will take you to read. I’ve gotten all the way through the longest story on the site, a really long interview with HuffPo and Buzzfeed cofounder Jonah Peretti by Felix Salmon that is supposed to take 91 minutes to read, and one of the shortest, a photo essay about a young family that’s supposed to take six minutes to get through. Peretti’s really smart, and regardless of what you think of his creations, he’s responsible, in no small part, for how internet media has changed over the last decade. This was the best interview I’ve read in months, but then again, I’m the target audience. After looking through the photo essay, my thought was, this is how you make photo essays work on the internet, and I should take more pictures of my family. — Lindsey Millar