Sunday, June 9, 2019

What I Read: May 2019

I like books about music

A friend posted a recent photo of him attending a bookstore event where the guest was James Ellroy. I was a little jealous, as I've spent much of my reading time this year absorbing his collected works. Then again, Ellroy, by his own admission, hasn't been the nicest or most approachable guy in the world so I don't know if I'd just up at the chance to attend such an event--what the hell, I've already got three signed copies of his books!

Who am I kidding--of course I'd go. I'm a junkie for book events, and Ellroy has got some interesting things to say about writing. I don't always enjoy readings, but I'd love to hear him read from some of the later works I've just consumed

I read these in May:

1. Hollywood Nocturnes
2. American Tabloid
3. The Cold Six Thousand 
4. Crime Wave
5. My Dark Places

Yes, I'm a little out of order. Why? I read some of these on business trips, and the trades paperbacks fit better (and weight less) in my carry-on bag. 

I'll write about the fiction when I've finished all of it, but a few words on his harrowing memoir My Dark Places. Ellroy's mother was murdered when he was ten years old, and the case was never solved. Sometimes there isn't always a direct correlation between one's chosen themes, style, and genre and one's upbringing, but Ellroy's life in Los Angeles clearly informed every word. Sometimes directly--he writes about which of his books draw directly from life experience.

We don't always get this much biographical information regarding someone who writes the contemporary fiction we find entertaining, and as I moved on to the final volume in the U.S.A. Underworld Trilogy, Blood's A Rover, I was trying to determine how my newfound knowledge of Ellroy's life was altering my emotional and aesthetic reactions to his fiction. Ultimately, I believe I would recommend someone picking up Ellroy for the first time to start with My Dark Places. It is an unforgettable book, somehow managing to be both an indictment and an elegy for his parents (and for himself?) It is at times excoriating, painful, and shocking, especially in the pages where Ellroy mercilessly paints an ugly and unromantic self portrait of the person he was before he began writing seriously. 

I'd recommend you start with My Dark Places, but I would also warn you--you might not want to read any of his fiction after finishing. And that would be a shame, because he's a singular artist who, in my opinion, has contributed to and expanded the boundaries of noir fiction.

Just two comic books this month:

6. Tomb of Dracula,  vol. 1 Gaah this series was so awesome, and the trade paperback edition I have really lets the art pop. My comic obsession started in the seventies, and I somehow missed most of this brilliant run the first time around. I only had so many quarters (these were all 20 cents originally!), and back then my first choices were always the team superhero books--The Avengers, The Defenders, Fantastic Four, Justice League, Legion of Superheroes. I'm kind of glad, though, because I appreciate these more today than I would have when I was a kid. Scary and beautiful.
7. Batman: Master Race I love a great deal of Frank Miller's work, and have ever since rushing to the local pharmacy to buy the latest Daredevil off the white wire spinner rack (that's how we did it back in the days, kids. It was glorious). I still think Ronin is one of the greatest graphic novels of all-time, but I  have found his post Dark Knight work hit or miss. The art is always great, there's usually some clever social commentary and comments on the artform itself, but the stories themselves haven't always landed the right way with me. I used to love the trick of bringing in a favorite or overlooked character--especially a rebooted one-- for a cameo or for a few pages or even for an entire arc (one-armed Green Arrow in Dark Knight, for example). I think Miller may have helped invent that trope, but I see it so often now it doesn't thrill me as much. I finished this one wishing I'd liked it more than I did.

Some nonfiction:
8. Mind to Matter: The Astonishing Science of How Your Brain Creates Material Reality Dawson Church and Dr. Joe Dispenza
Mmm I'm not entirely sure this one qualifies as non-fiction, although there were a number of interesting ideas and theories in the book--but maybe that is just my brain trying to create reality, material or otherwise. Although a skeptic, I'm a sucker for books like this--anything that purports to give the reader a mental edge, a more efficient brain or body, or access to natural or supernatural powers.
9. Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth David Brown
Many years ago, part of my job duties included calling customers who had services performed at their homes or businesses by one of the businesses that I managed to make sure they received excellent customer service. One day I was making these calls and noticed the next customer was listed as "Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon".

No way, I thought, eagerly dialing the number for the first time ever while making those stupid intrusive calls.

I got an answering machine--and it wasn't even one of their voices on the recording--but it still felt a minor thrill as I'd been a gigantic Sonic Youth fan since high school--Daydream Nation still feels like an essential part of the soundtrack of my freshman year of college, and others--The Destroyed Room and The Eternal (and much of Moore's solo work) loomed large later in life.. I was a little disappointed this book was written before Moore and Gordon split (and initially I wrote "Thurston and Kim", because that's how personal they as artists and there art felt to me. I've read Gordon's book but would not mind some third-party insight as to what happened and how Sonic Youth is still able to conduct business--a "new" live album of an old concert came out this week, and there was a release of demos I think last year, so like Hendrix, Sonic Youth may be dead but they are still mad prolific.

Despite being written while the band was still very much alive (and before a couple of my favorite records of theirs) I still enjoyed the book greatly, especially as I read it while listening to some Sonic Youth related music I'd also picked up (What I Heard: May 2019 coming to soon!!!). 

I bought the book at one of my favorite records stores, which happens to be in the very town I called many years ago, the one where M--ah heck with it--Thurston and Kim lived. I'm sorry I never got to speak to them, but really, what would I have done if either had answered, "You know, I really did not receive excellent customer service, so I'm really glad you called."

After I bought the book and a few CDs we went out to dinner and I snapped this photo of a giant strawberry with crows' wings:

I should not exist

Daydream Nation has a song inspired by the works of William Gibson, the lucky guy. I don't think any of the books below have directly inspired any music--although there were like three or four songs released after Generation Dead with that same title--and there's a brilliant Bear McCreary soundtrack to the film I Still See You which is based on Break My Heart 1,000 Times but for the record to any musicians out there feel free to peruse anything below for song material.   HERE

"For the record"--see what I did there?

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