Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

A new CD of foot-stomping gospel, a DVD of classic fairy tales with an irreverent twist, a Spanish author's latest love story, and more.

Courtesy of The Objects and Memory Project
Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin

An early work by a master

A tragic love story set during the Spanish Civil War forms the backdrop of this metafictional mystery by award-winning writer Antonio Muñoz Molina. In the waning days of Franco's dictatorship, a college student heads to his uncle's country house to avoid police attention. Once there, Minaya finds himself intrigued by stories of his uncle's best friend, the slain poet Jacinto Solana, and begins searching for his missing manuscript. But the search turns up evidence of a long-hidden murder. A Manuscript of Ashes, available for the first time in English, requires patience from readers used to page turners, but its enigmatic melancholy offers rewards.

A half century of hallelujahs

The foot-stomping, hand-clapping, closely harmonized gospel music of African-American churches has contributed mightily to the development of popular blues, rock, and jazz. To honor this heritage, musicologist Kip Lornell has mined the archives of the Smithsonian Institution's Folkways record collection and created this scintillating overview in Classic African American Gospel. Lornell includes braying trombones choirs, preaching propelled by New Orleans jazz, and gospel tunes later covered by the Grateful Dead and The Rolling Stones.

Fractured fairy tales

You've heard the phrase "casts of thousands"? Well, Peabody Award winning-series Faerie Tale Theatre, which aired on Showtime during the 1980s, boasts enough star power to fuel Manhattan. Helen Mirren, Vanessa Redgrave, Susan Sarandon, and Robin Williams are among the Academy Award-winners who helped producer Shelley Duvall create irreverent versions of classic fairy tales. The talent behind the camera is also nothing to shrug at: Tim Burton offered a pre-Disney "Aladdin," while Francis Ford Coppola directed a creepy "Rip Van Winkle." The special effects have not aged as well as the talent, but the seven-disc set offers enough bedtime stories to wear out the Brothers Grimm.

Bridging past and future

In the wake of the World Trade Center bombings, historians and New Yorkers alike struggled with how best to memorialize the tragedy. An unprecedented flowering of personal tributes appeared around the city. The PBS documentary, Objects and Memory, which airs Sept. 8 at 10 p.m., explores the power of a piece of history, whether it is the door insignia from a firetruck or a woman's purse, to bring peace to the present and future generations.

Digital diversions

Need a little breathing space in your cubicle jungle? Try and dive into some spectacular landscapes for a wider view of the world we live in.

Romantic comedy with a serious side

Helen Hunt shines as both director and star in this new DVD release Then She Found Me. Hunt plays repressed schoolteacher April Epner who must cope with a childish runaway husband (Matthew Broderick) and a surprise pregnancy even as her flamboyant birth mother (Bette Midler) suddenly reappears in her life and a student's father (Colin Firth) offers a hint of a more enduring form of love.

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