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Bookworm: ‘One Last Song’ is a discussion-starter for any age

Weird, wild is the appeal of ‘The Screaming Hairy Armadillo’

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“One Last Song: Conversations on Life, Death, and Music”

  • By Mike Ayers, foreword by Jim James of “My Morning Jacket”
  • c. 2020, Abrams Image
  • $24.99, $31.99 Canada; 192 pages
“One Last Song: Conversations on Life, Death, and Music” author Mike Ayers.

And you lifted up your voice. Whether that was in church or in a car, it sure felt good, didn't it? Belting out your favorite song, whether solo in your shower or in a group, can be cathartic, productive, praise-filled, or spontaneous, and it sure can make you happy. Music takes your mind to places your body can't go, but what if it was your time to go, for real? In "One Last Song" by Mike Ayers, there's one last question ...

This year, if you're like a lot of people, some months have been marked by loss and it's made you think about your own mortality. In death, we "find some common ground," says Ayers, but we should also "be using that to find more common ground in life."

Start here: what song would you like to hear before you exit, stage left, and who would you want to be with while you listen?

It's a question he asked dozens of musicians.

“One Last Song: Conversations on Life, Death, and Music” by Mike Ayers, foreword by Jim James of “My Morning Jacket.”

Though it's against Ayer's rules of play, Australian musician Courtney Barnett thinks she would want two songs: Girls Just Want to Have Fun and a Lou Reed song. Indie rock musician Bobb Bruno wants to hear Neil Sedaka's Laughter in the Rain as his last tune because, he says, "I really do love that song."

OutKast's André 3000 chooses some music from Prince. Grammy nominee Margo Price wants the Beatles. Jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins picked a Coleman Hawkins tune. Jeff Tweedy, guitarist for Wilco, chooses an old Byrds song.

Then, among all the millions of songs from the past three hundred years, how do you pick the right music for your funeral? Ayers offers advice, including hiring Stevie Wonder, or playing some Sinatra. He also offers a list of the last song performed by various artists, a list of songs that featured death as a theme, the most popular songs played at funerals, and how a musician might hit the charts long after the last note has faded...

It's rather unfortunate that "One Last Song" is filled with profanity, and vignettes from indie artists and musicians that likely won't be very widely-known by an audience over a certain age. Yes, this book is insightful and thought-provoking, and it's a pleasant surprise that those who answered author Mike Ayer's question often mentioned older, more familiar songs – but an older, more familiar group of celebrities might've been more relatable to all readers.

Still, because Ayers is probably right – we really do think about death a lot, no matter our age – there's food for thought here for anybody, and it doesn't have to be all serious. Ayers, in fact, uses playful chapters to distract readers from the somber, which tends to take the tension out of a subject we've come to know altogether too well.

Twenty-somethings may be more familiar with the people inside this book but if you're past that time-point, there's still something here for you because "One Last Song" is a discussion-starter for any age. Read it, and you'll sing its praises.

"The Screaming Hairy Armadillo and 76 Other Animals with Weird, Wild Names"

  • By Matthew Murrie and Steve Murrie, illustrated by Julie Benbassat
  • c. 2020, Workman
  • $14.95, $19.75 Canada; 155 pages

How many names do you have?

Like most people, you probably have three or four that you got when you were born. Your mom calls you "Honey," Dad calls you "Kiddo," Grandma calls you "Sweetheart," your friends call you one thing, your coach calls you something else. So, you're a kid with a lot of names but things could be a lot worse, as you'll see in "The Screaming Hairy Armadillo" by Matthew Murrie and Steve Murrie, illustrated by Julie Benbassat.

"The Screaming Hairy Armadillo and 76 Other Animals with Weird, Wild Names" by Matthew Murrie and Steve Murrie, illustrated by Julie Benbassat.

Like every kid in the world, say the authors, every animal needs a name. It must be more than just Fluffy or Max, though; animals need a species name to allow scientists to "refer to [them] accurately..." Because of science, every animal gets a "scientific name" that might be hard to say, most get a "common name" that's easier to pronounce; and there are times when the naming gets a little crazy...

Take, for instance, the Yeti crab.

Yes, it's a crab but it looks like the Abominable Snowman (a Yeti), due to its size and its hairy body. You won't want to shave it, though: the Yeti crab relies on that hair for the bacteria it eats for its dinner!

Some creatures are named to reflect their appearance, which is the case with the naked mole rat, which has no fur, just skin and long teeth, and a body that contains a chemical that keeps cancer away. Even so, the naked mole rat doesn't make a good pet, nor does a smooth-headed blobfish, a very, very ugly fish that lives very, very deep in the ocean.

And just to prove, once and for all, that scientists aren't super-strict folks with no sense of humor, check this out: there's a Heerz lukenatcha wasp and a Pieza pi fly (say them out loud). There's the sparkle-muffin peacock spider, whose "muffin"... sparkles. There's the blue-footed booby (its name is explained in the book). And then there's the "striped pyjama squid", a creature you absolutely do not want to take to bed with you!

Who says that non-fiction, "true story" books must be stuffy? Not Matthew Murrie or Steve Murrie or Julie Benbassat! Nope, their information is serious and seriously silly fun, which is why your child is going to love "The Screaming Hairy Armadillo."

Don't discount this book as all laughs, though. The authors are careful to explain to kids how science works when it comes to assigning taxonomic monikers, and why it's important. This is done in kid-friendly terms that will inform a science-minded child but won't frustrate a kid who's not, which accomplishes two things: it teaches children about adult-level science, the environment, and the habitats and habits of various kinds of animals and insects; and it's done without making it seem like any kind of instruction happened at all.

For parents and teachers, that's a double-win. For kids ages 7-to-14, "weird, wild" is the appeal, so get "The Screaming Hairy Armadillo." Yep, fun learning is the name of the game.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.