Revenge. No, not the Kiss album and not the Jim Harrison-written screenplay staring Kevin Costner, but Mary Morris’ 2004 novel now out in paperback from Picador. Revenge details the complicated relationship between a young painter named Andrea and a famous novelist named Loretta. Andrea is stuck in grief and obsession over an tragic accident involving her father and she turns to her novelist neighbor for support, and also a bit of payback. As a critic from the Chicago Tribune writes, “a thriller doesn’t always need international intrigue, firearms, or even a murder to be exciting. In the right hands, a story of a growing friendship can be as tense as anything publishers would subtitle ‘A Tale of Suspense.’ Revenge is such a novel.”
In sharp contrast to the coke-snorting, chick-grabbing, crowd-rocking antics of the music books I’ve recently been re-reading, On Celtic Tides: One Man’s Journey Around Ireland by Sea Kayak by Chris Duff provides a nice slow meditative pace. Duff’s twelve hundred-mile circumnavigation of the Emerald Isle provides both thrilling moments of adventure in the sea and quiet, contemplative recollections of nights camping by the shore. He describes the sights, sounds, culture, and history of the people that live along the Irish coastline and, as Irish Voice stated in a review, this “is much more than a travelogue, it is a story of discovery, of courage and perservance, and life… buy this one.”
Check it out here.
As if my bank account didn’t already suffer enough from my guitar obsession and my work with The Wrist Watch Review, a hip book expert just had to tell me about a book that is destined to damage my credit rating. First of all, let’s talk about the basic text. Robert Sabbag’s 1976 book Snowblind: A Brief Career in the Cocaine Trade tells the story of smuggler Zachary Swan and his intricate maneuvers for getting drugs out of South America and into New York City. Some of the information in the book is now dated, and may even seem simplistic. For instance, most contemporary readers will know all about the drug and won’t need Sabbag’s lengthy descriptions of pharmaceutical effects. But at the time the book was being written, most Americans had never heard of cocaine so it’s an interesting time capsule into the era before freebasing and crack. And even if the info is a tad dated, the writing remains sharp and crisp.
Arguably the definitive account book about the blues, Robert Palmer’s Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta explores the origins of the music and its transformation from early field hollers to electric blues. Detailed treatments of greats such as Charley Patton, Elmore James, Son House, and many others, this book is required reading for any student of American music. Deep Blues is like that old Norton anthology you remember from college literature courses. Sure, heavy-duty scholars may think other texts are more useful, but for most people it’s a great introduction. And for people interested in learning about the roots of one of America’s homegrown music forms, Deep Blues is one of the first places to look. Check it out here.
Continuing my recent fascination with music books, our Book of the Day is Bill Flanagan’s U2: At the End of the World. This book is no regular bio of a popular band. Arriving in Berlin as the wall was being torn down, Flanagan spent several years with U2 during the recording and touring for the Achtung Baby and Zooropa records and he inserts himself into the story. Instead of being some fly on the wall (although Bono’s fly sunglasses might have helped) Flanagan is an active participant which makes this book as much a memoir as a rock biography. Flanagan lives out every fan’s dream in following around U2 and his book is an enjoyable ride in the limos, planes, and tour convoys. Pick up U2: At the End of the World here.
I don’t know why I’ve been on such a music and books kick lately. Maybe it’s because of Michael Schaub’s guide to rock novels presented over at BookSlut. Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching two of my heroes, Gene Simmons and Tommy Lee, on their TV reality shows. Regardless, I’ve been going through some music books recently while searching for the Book-of-the-Day and the grandaddy of them all, without a doubt, is Stephen Davis’ Hammer of the Gods. For anyone interested in Led Zeppelin (or music in general) it’s all here: shark incidents, creampuffs, tubs full of baked beans, black magic, and enough thunderous riffs to wake a dead man. Dismissed as rubbish by many of the band, I tend to take Hammer of the Gods with a grain of salt. I’m not going to necessarily quote it as fact, but as an enjoyable read, it can’t be beat.
Also worth mentioning is that Led Zeppelin tour manager Richard Cole also wrote a book called Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored that provides a nice counterpoint to Hammer of the Gods. Cole has been considered to be a less than accurate source of information about Zeppelin, so when he says that Hammer of the Gods is exaggerated, then you get a sense of how wild Davis’ book is. But whether it’s true or not, it’s a great read.
Don’t worry about saving food. Don’t even worry about toilet paper, electricity, clothing, or a radio. Just protect the booze. In John O’Brien’s The Assault on Tony’s a group of hardcore alcoholics barricade the door of their neighborhood bar and prepare to ride it out as a race riot engulfs the city outside. O’Brien, author of Leaving Las Vegas, locked himself in his apartment and watched the LA riots unfold outside his window. The Assault on Tony’s is his exploration of what men do to survive when the liquor runs out. The men ration alcohol based on who has the worst case of the shakes. The really bad ones get the good stuff, everyone else who is managing drinks out of a vat of liquor combined from hundreds of broken bottles. Inevitably, the men in the bar descend into chaos, power struggles, and the usual Lord of the Flies type of situations, but it’s a damn good read if you can stand O’Brien’s darkness.
O’Brien didn’t finish this book and he never saw it published. After his unfortunate death, his sister Erin was cleaning out his things and came across this novel as well as one entitled Stripper Lessons. Erin wrote the conclusion to Tony’s based on O’Brien’s notes and her work is pretty seamless.
I thought of this novel after New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin stated that the violence and lawlessness in his city was the result of drug-addicts cut off from their supply and “looking to take the edge off their jones.”
Like all of O’Brien’s work, The Assault on Tony’s is incredibly dark. But if you can take stomach that, this is an outstanding read. The New York Times said that O’Brien takes “us deep into an alcoholic’s world that few others have described so well.” Pick up the novel here.
Feuding rappers from the East Coast and West Coast don’t have the market covered when it comes to musical warfare. So here’s our Book-of-the-Day, Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind recount the story of how nearly 100 churches were burned and desecrated, while suicide, murder, and terrorism spread throughout the bands and their fans. Primarily set in Norway and the rest of Scandinavia, Lords of Chaos focuses on the power struggles revolving around a band called Mayhem. One musician named Dead, naturally, is discovered by his friends and bandmates Euronymous and Hellhammer. Dead, uh, died from a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the head. His friends take photos before calling the police. Before the authorities could arrive, friends take pieces of Dead’s skull to use in making necklaces. Later, Euronymous is murdered by rival Varg Vikernes, also known as Count Grishnackh, from the band Burzum.
The essays collected together in Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times present some interesting perspectives on the state of modern writing and publishing. In the introduction, written by editor Kevin Smokler, the 2004 National Endowment for the Arts Reading at Risk report serves as the catalyst for this examination of reading and writing. The report gathered twenty years worth of data and a sampling or nearly seventeen thousand subjects and concluded that literary reading had dropped across every age, ethnic, economic, and geographic group in the nation. Smokler recounts all “the sky is falling” cries that greeted the study even though he doesn’t necessarily share in their doom and gloom. Nor does he agree with the report’s pointing the finger at the obvious causes of reading’s decline: the Internet, video games, and television. Smokler writes
Were we simply a country of morons fulfilling our insipid destiny? Could we blame sexier, flashier media options with which the humble book couldn’t compete? Those are pat, elitist answers to a complex problem, and America’s reading public, however big or small, deserves better. If many factors are to blame as [NEA] Chairman Gioia asserted, surely some come from inside, from the industries and institutions that depend on a healthy reading populace for their very survival and yet seem to be losing more of it every generation.
One of the key problems in the state of reading today, Smokler argues, is publishing itself.
In 1982, literary editor extraordinaire Bill Buford was living in London, running the prestigious magazine Granta. He caught a train at a rural railway station in Wales and was soon over-run by soccer (or football to them) supporters who were methodically destroying everything in their path. Fascinated by what he saw, Buford spent the next eight years immersed in hooligan culture and he traveled with the supporters to Italy, Turkey, Greece, Germany, and all over Britain. He attended a National Front event, witnessed the robbing of a pub, and saw horrific acts of violence. Among the Thugs is an insightful and revealing look inside hooligan culture and examines the experience and attraction of crowd violence. It’s a fascinating and surprising read because the hooligans rarely turn out to fit the stereotype.
Pick up Among the Thugs here.