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Great Reads: Living room concerts and a female rock critic

Hi there. I'm Kari Howard, and I edit the Great Reads (a.k.a. Column Ones) for the Los Angeles Times.

Here are this week's Great Reads, plus their soundtracks.

A sketch artist in the time of Instagram

When you see the news vans line up outside the criminal courthouse here, you know it must be a trial of the rich and famous (or the low and despicable). And no one has had a better seat than courtroom sketch artist Mona Shafer Edwards. Over the last 30 years, she's drawn them all: the Night Stalker, O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson. And she's still doing it, even in the digital 21st century.

Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

The soundtrack: "You See Everything" by Low. Not my favorite shoegaze band (that would be Jesus and Mary Chain, followed closely by My Bloody Valentine), but a decent one.

In Afghanistan, from ally to enemy to ally again

"Is this how America treats its friends?" That's the question posed by an Afghan who once provided intelligence to the Americans, and then found himself wrongly imprisoned as a Taliban supporter. Now, he's free. (So the answer to his question is: Yes, sometimes.)

Shashank Bengali / Los Angeles Times

The soundtrack: "Carnt Be Trusted" by the Bluetones. I never warmed to this band because the name put me off somehow. But a friend whose taste I respect finally got me listening. Some great pop.

A dream night at a Santa Paula farmhouse

A country drive past produce stands and mountain ranges. A century-old Craftsman farmhouse in a lemon grove. An old-time fiddle concert in a wood-paneled living room. And a chili dinner on long wooden tables under the trees. Does it get any better than that? How about the writing by Carolina Miranda? When I started editing this story, I knew I had to go. I did, and it was wonderful.

Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

The soundtrack"Oh, Lady Be Good" by Aarun Carter and Jonathan Trawick. This was recorded at Deep End Ranch, and you can feel the warmth of the place in the song.

Mad Max and the cinema of apocalypse

This is one of my favorite paragraphs from the week, by Jeffrey Fleishman, a foreign correspondent turned Hollywood culture writer: "Cinema and literature remind us that our resources are finite, our demons many, and that despite our capacity for wonder we possess the conceit and folly to turn the planet into a vicious Darwinian struggle. No one knows this better than Hollywood."

Jasin Boland / Warner Bros.

The soundtrack"It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" by REM. There's not much better in life than seeing REM play this live, everyone in the audience singing along ("That's great, it starts with an earthquake…") and dancing like mad.

From Wonkette to desert rat: A life unplugged

When Ken Layne ran the viciously funny political blog Wonkette, Keith Olbermann called him the worst person in the world and Sarah Palin gunned for him. (OK, not literally) A few years ago, he decided to unplug from all that and create something actually written with ink on paper: a retro quarterly about the desert he loves called the Desert Oracle. Deborah Netburn goes along for the ride as he travels the lonely roads of the Mojave to deliver them.

Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

The soundtrack: "Return of the Grievous Angel" by Gram Parsons. I thought the title fit Layne and his story, but also Parsons' spirit always seems present in Joshua Tree, where he died too young.

What I'm reading

William Finnegan's lovely memoir in the New Yorker about moving to Hawaii as a kid. He blends memories of surfing on the far side of Diamond Head with those of being a "haole" in an Oahu public school. "My orientation program at school included a series of fistfights, some of them formally scheduled." In school and on the waves, it's all about finding where you fit in.

This Smithsonian story of the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama. Who knew it existed? And that someone could buy the contents of your lost luggage?

What’s on my bedside table

"The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic," by Jessica Hopper. The writer of Friday's Great Read, Deborah Netburn, told me about this book, and I bought it right away. The title is defiant and sad and funny, all at once. I'm just starting it, so I’ll update you next week on the best bits.

What's on my turntable

"Best of Sly and the Family Stone," by … well, that’s obvious, I guess. There might not be a better Friday afternoon workweek winding down to a Friday evening album.

Want to chat? Have a great idea for a Great Read? I'm @karihow on Twitter and on email.