Currently reading The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason, a novel about a shy piano tuner commissioned to repair a rare piano for an eccentric army doctor who uses music and poetry to broker peace between warring tribes in 19th century Burma.
Just finished and greatly enjoyed reading the enthusiastic musings about music in Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove. The Roots drummer/Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon bandleader loves music (and music reviews) as much as any of us music geeks do. Plus any book with anecdotes about Prince is automatically awesome.
I do wish the book had gone into more detail about the record label drama surrounding “You Got Me” from the Things Fall Apart album, particularly how Jill Scott reacted to being replaced on her own song by Erykah Badu. But I suppose Questlove didn’t feel that was his story to tell. I would also have liked to know more about the writing and recording of the song, which features not only The Roots and Erykah Badu but also rapping by a then relatively unknown Eve. “You Got Me” is not only one of my favorite songs of all time, it was one of my very first mp3 downloads and possibly my most frequently played mp3 since I’ve had it so long. Video below.
One of the many relatable and thought provoking portions of the unusual memoir is when Questlove ponders his role as a musical “tastemaker,” particularly what subconscious (or socially conscious) motives may influence his choice to like and/or promote certain artists. He asks himself whether he genuinely loves a band or if he embraces them simply for the critical cachet they carry – a question I’m certain every music fan, critic or not, has wrestled with at some point. I know I have.
Remember how unique, intelligent and exciting Lost seemed to be the first few seasons? How we kept plodding through the weaker storylines, annoying characters and complicated plot twists, because the little cryptic details so strongly hinted at a greater mystery that we felt certain would ultimately lead to a mindblowing epiphany when the series finally reached its end? And how, after seven long years of fan devotion and theories, most of us were so disappointed and confused (and not in a good way) by the series finale that it made all those years feel like a total waste? That’s exactly how I feel about S., the new critically acclaimed novel by Lost producer J.J. Abrams and author Doug Dorst.
Once again J.J. Abrams came up with a very cool and clever concept, albeit blatantly derivative of both House of Leaves and Griffin & Sabine: the novel within a novel within a novel with postcards and other loose pieces inserted throughout the book. The main narrative is a controversial book by a notoriously mysterious author with coded footnotes by his equally mysterious translater, while the “handwritten” margin notes contain the philosophical debates and flirtatious correspondence between two strangers trading the book back and forth in a college library.
Unfortunately, the book is far more tedious than it is interesting and the ending was not worth the work it took to get through it. It’s an unquestionably beautiful book in appearance and I admire the high brow intentions of its authors, but it’s simply not an enjoyable or even functional read even for a die hard bookworm like myself. For one thing the book lacks the envelopes and folders of Griffin & Sabine, so it’s far too easy for the inserts to fall out with no way of knowing which pages they belong between. I found myself wrestling with the book and its paper guts every time I read it. That wouldn’t matter if I loved the novel, but the writing style of both plots is extremely dry and lifeless. Considering Abram’s awesome idea and his cinematic trailer for the book, it would seem the fault of the weak execution lies with the writer. But the same was true of Lost. An idea man is useless without someone to bring said idea to satisfactory fruition.
I hate to give the book a bad review simply because the authors at least tried to make a truly literary novel. But I feel like I’ve been suckered by the Lost people again – to paraphrase my favorite Bushism: fool me once shame on J.J. Abrams, fool me twice – won’t get fooled again! And I’ve long since lost my patience for books trying to copy the Houses of Leaves gimmick. Besides it was so much work and disappointment, I really wish someone had warned me not to fall for the critical hype.
Though I continue to be a voracious reader, I can’t recall liking many new book releases this year. Most of the books I loved, such as Scott Alarick’s Revival, were all released in years gone by. Even the few novels that stood out (The Interestings, The Curiosity, Eleanor & Park and Donna Tartt’s much-hyped The Goldfinch) proved to be ultimately disappointing. I did, however, greatly enjoy three new poetry collections and two very unusual novels:
“A day like a day in summer. Exceptionally still. The long shadows of the maples nearly mauve on the gravel paths. And in the evening, warmth. Night like a night in summer. It does me no good; violence has changed me. My body has grown cold like the stripped fields; now there is only my mind, cautious and wary, with the sense it is being tested. Once more, the sun rises as it rose in summer; bounty, balm after violence. Balm after the leaves have changed, after the fields have been harvested and turned. Tell me this is the future, I won’t believe you. Tell me I’m living, I won’t believe you.”
Louise Glück is a Pulitzer winner and critically acclaimed poet, but I only recently became a fan. I can’t say I love all her work, which is collected here in one volume, but she does have a very powerful and evocative voice at times. I especially like her Persephone-themed poetry originally published as the book Averno, which is included in this volume.
William came, and sat opposite. Leonard pushed a glass of wine towards him.
‘Scotland was difficult,’ Leonard said, in answer to the unasked questions. How was your trip? How have you been? He knew William would never ask. ‘I wish you’d been there, William, at least for a visit.’
No response, but then it hadn’t been a question, so he continued as if unperturbed. ‘Mind you, if you had come what would you have found? Me drinking wine too early in the day and watching films and scratting through boxes of things in the attic, like a weird animal. I can’t say I’ve really been in possession of myself.’
‘I don’t know what that would mean anyway. To be in possession of oneself.’
William smiled with intrigue as he said it.
This one may end up being higher on my list, but I’m not quite finished with it. All is Song was originally released last year, but the paperback was released in 2013. I only obtained a copy of the book myself last summer when I traveled to Ireland and it had been lost in my bedroom book pile until this month. It seems to have become a tradition for me to purchase Samantha Harvey books in Ireland, as they are difficult to find in local bookshops and they are so lovely I cannot bear to order them online. Much like Harvey’s previous novel, The Wilderness, All is Song is an exquisitely well written, somewhat cerebral read about an unusual male character. But the plot is quite different, this time examining the complicated relationship and philosophical discussions between two brothers after their father’s death as well as the controversy surrounding one of the brothers, a retired professor.
“I fear the past is a brushfire
and I am a prairie. Now that I have what I asked for
I see that I should have been more specific.”
If you think poetry is boring and old-fashioned, I highly recommend this very modern collection of verse by relatively new poet Leigh Stein. Published by the small press Melville House, Dispatch From the Future is a fun, clever, quick read — though by no means lacking in substance or feeling.
From: Soo-Lin Lee-Segal
To: Audrey Griffin
I heard Bernadette tried to run you over at pickup! Are you OK? Should I come by with dinner? WHAT HAPPENED?
From: Audrey Griffin
To: Soon-Lin Lee-Segal
It’s all true. I needed to talk to Bernadette about her blackberry bushes, which are growing down her hill, under my fence, and invading my garden…
I usually hate literary gimmicks, but I adored this novel told in the form of found correspondence, report cards and other documented “evidence” as well as the fragmented memories of the teenage protagonist regarding the disappearance of her notoriously eccentric mother, Bernadette. It’s poignant, hilarious and totally unique. I can’t imagine how anyone will make a successful film of this book, but apparently one is in the works.
“And when I wrote about him, did he
feel he had to walk around
carrying my books on his head like a stack of
posture volumes, or the rack of horns
hung where a hunter washes the venison
down with the sauvignon?”
Sharon Olds is my poetry idol. Her 1987 book, Gold Cell, opened my eyes to the world of modern poetry and taught me that poetry could be (and convey) so much more than mere pretty words. She takes confessional poetry to entirely new, eloquent, gut-wrenching levels. Her post-divorce collection, Stag’s Leap, is perhaps her most personal to date. There’s a reason it won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry this year.