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.
Saturday is apparently “Small Business Saturday” as well as “Indies First Day,” in which authors and book lovers are being encouraged to support their local independent bookshops. Therefore, I encourage all local bookworms to visit Charleston, WV’s only independent bookstore, Taylor Books, on that day or any day. You can also order books and ebooks/epubs from Taylors online, but it’s worth the trip for the bookshop’s atmosphere.
Now that Trans Allegheny closed, Taylor Books is my favorite bookstore on this side of the Atlantic and has thankfully survived the invasion and demise of chain bookstores in the area. Oh and if you don’t like books (how strange and sad), Taylors also has the best coffee in Charleston – I especially like the Nicaraguan Vienna dark roast blend. If you don’t like books or coffee, I really don’t know how you live.
If you do like books and are looking for recommendations for Indies First Day, my personal favorite books of all time are: Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (I recently bought this lovely edition from Taylor Books myself to add to my somewhat obsessive Return of the Native collection), The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut and pretty much everything else written by Kurt Vonnegut or Edith Wharton. More modern favorites have been Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, The Book Thief and anything by Kate Morton, Maggie O’Farrell and Victoria Hislop.
I also highly recommend the more modern classic The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, which is now being adapted for a movie. You can read my rave review of it here. I first heard about the Guernsey book from a former manager of Taylors and it was a longtime staff pick on the shelves there. I’ve since given copies of the book to several friends, all of whom loved it as much as I did.
Other favorite bookstores of mine on both sides of the Atlantic: Empire Books in Huntington, WV; Two Sisters bookery, Old Books on Front Street and Pomegranate Books in Wilmington, NC; and The Winding Stair, Hodges Figgis and Chapters in Dublin, Ireland.
It would be very nice if independent bookstores get the kind of support from Indies First Saturday that Record Store Day brings to indie music shops.