Looking back though my saved library notice emails, which yes I save, I’m noticing some titles I missed last time. Did you notice as well, gentle reader? In addition to helping me remember books to get as gifts, these blurbs might serve to mark points of time over these years which appear to be accelerating.
Shannon Curtis – No Booker, No Bouncer, No Bartender, No Problem (2014)
A how-to on how to book dinner party-with-wine-type house shows. Very informative, I never tried putting the ideas into practice because there’s just no time. If you’re looking to take your solo music career from a hobby to something more than that by way of house shows, this is useful reading.
Philip K. Dick – The Man in the High Castle (1962)
I know this was an alternate history re: if the Axis had won WWII but really don’t remember much of it other than that it’s Phildickian in the sense of telling a story about big world-spanning things through several individuals’ story arcs. I watched the first episode of the TV show and thought “this is different from the book” because at the time I still remembered the book. I should have written this then.
Jon Fine – Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock’s Failed Revolution (but Can No Longer Hear) (2015)
I gave this to my brother telling him that if he was curious what it was like being in an indie band on tour, this tells that story pretty well. I imagine, since my touring was both over 10 years ago and largely unsuccessful, but still those feelings were evoked. The writing is really good.
After playing in bands and being poor for years the author married an internet rich lady and now lives in a nice house and writes for a living. He comes off as a bit of a dick, but a likable one.
(checked out 5/2015)
Ryan Gattis – All Involved: A Novel (2015)
During the 1992 LA riots the rule of law was briefly suspended. All Involved follows various characters through a gangland free-for-all. It was really good but really dark.
(checked out 10/2015)
Warren Zanes – Petty: The Biography (2015)
It’s easy to forget just how prolifically great Tom Petty was. The Biography follows his life from growing up in an abusive household through early bands, fame, working with Stevie Nicks, regret over passing up “The Boys of Summer” after his guitarist wrote it and later offered it to Don Henley, solo albums, Wallflowers, then taking up heroin after that. I read it before he died. Sadly no mention of the character Lucky from King of the Hill.
(checked out 1/16)
Bob Dylan – Chronicles: Volume One (2004)
I already forget what I learned from this, other than it was fun to read.
(checked out 2/16)
Ginger Strand – The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic (2015)
While Kurt Vonnegut was getting started in fiction, he wrote marketing material for GE where his brother was already a successful and important scientist.
(checked out 2/16)
Philip Pullman – The Golden Compass (1995); The Subtle Knife (1997); The Amber Spyglass (2000); Lyra’s Oxford (2003)
AKA, the His Dark Materials trilogy plus a novella. Kind of on the young adult end of things, with enough violence and suspense to keep it interesting… I liked these quite a lot. There’s a new, related trilogy started in 2017, I haven’t seen it yet.
(checked out 5/16, 6/16)
Tony Tulathimutte – Private Citizens (2016)
A bildungsroman of sorts about 20-something millennials making their way in the world after college, plus some kind of weird stuff happens, maybe sort of oedipal, what with the blinding? I don’t know. There was an overeducated denseness to the writing here that was at once really extremely impressive and also kind of insecure, a bit too much. Which is to say I didn’t get half the references, but I was still entertained.
(checked out 6/16)
Carrie Brownstein – Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir (2015)
I saw Sleater-Kinney at the Showbox in, I want to say 2003? I couldn’t stop watching Carrie Brownstein because she put so much energy into her performance — total rock star — which was weird for the indie scene which prided itself at the time for being completely limp. It was awesome. In 2006 they were at KEXP and I worked up to talking to her in the hallway. I said “any chance the Spells will get back together?” She kind of laughed and said she didn’t think so. But then she and Mary Timony started Wild Flag. So yeah that was me.
The main subject of her memoir is Sleater-Kinney. No mention of the Spells or Wild Flag, only passing mention of Portlandia. It’s an engaging read and a fascinating account of what it’s like to be a musician at that level, revealing a different kind of behind-the-scenes drama than you might expect from a rock bio. Brownstein’s writing borders on the academic but it’s still a page-turner. It was fun going back and listening to some SK — Dig Me Out and the Hot Rock were my favorites of their albums.
Dan Savage – The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant (1999)
All about how Dan Savage and his then-boyfriend-now-husband adopted a kid through open adoption. It was helpful reading before my wife and I did the same thing through coincidentally the same agency. Though our experiences ended up being pretty different it made me a lot more comfortable going into it with another perspective.
(checked out 1/17)
Peter Watts – Blindsight (2006); Echopraxia (2014)
I was jonesing for some scifi to get a break from the newspaper and my friend Ben suggested Blindsight. I loved it! Crazy creative imaginings of how evolution in interstellar timeframes might produce advanced alien beings that are not strictly sentient or conscious but that are oh so deadly. Also, vampires? What? Yeah, it’s great.
Echopraxia was also good fun but it was harder to follow for some reason.
(checked out 3/17, 4/17)
Johnny Marr – Set the Boy Free (2016)
Johnny Marr is pretty awesome and the story of the Smiths is great fun to read about. This just in: sounds like they’re not going to get back together. Of interest though are all the projects Marr has worked on since, including many I hadn’t known about, like Kristy MacColl who used to be his landlady. The song “Walking Down Madison” that they cowrote sounds kind of familiar. And it’s crazy what happened to her, right? But I digress.
The book drags a bit toward the end as Marr stacks success upon success onto his resume. Now he’s in Modest Mouse making a hit album, now he’s in the Cribs for a bit of fun and more hit albums, now he’s running marathons. I’m very glad for him and I hope those marathons keep him strong and looking half his age for decades to come, but without any kind of conflict the story gets old. You know? But it goes on.
(checked out 3/17)
John Scalzi – Old Man’s War (2005)
Keeping the scifi thing going after Blindsight, also on Ben’s recommendation. If humans become a spacefaring race they may discover that they exist in a hierarchy of alien beings at different levels of technological advancement, and they may need a space army to carry out resource wars against said aliens, and they may want to recruit old people who are done with their lives on earth to be in that space army, and then perhaps they’d give those old people new genetically engineered superbodies to fight in. MAKES SENSE TO ME.
(checked out 4/17)
Janna Levin – Black Hole Blues (2016)
In 2006 I took an intro physics class at the UW to take advantage of the free-ish tuition I got for working there and with a goal to eventually formally learn some electronics. I was actually repeating the same class I’d taken 10 years earlier when I was a freshman, which felt a bit weird. Now it’s over ten years later again, which feels weirder. Is it time to take physics 121 again?
Anyway, the professor in 2006 worked on the LIGO project and offered a field trip to anyone interested in going to see it, which I was, so I went to Hanford for a tour. This book is about the history of the LIGO project from the 70s up til it finally detected gravitational waves in late 2015. They’ve now detected 3 separate astronomical events of such insane magnitude but so far away and long ago that the waves in question by the time they get here vibrate spacetime in distances smaller than the nucleus of an atom. How the hell they can separate that out from the noise of even someone walking past is not something they were really able to cover in one field trip.
Importantly, the story of LIGO is largely one of political and bureaucratic success in maintaining and funding a somewhat abstract but incredibly amazing science experiment over 40 years and a billion dollars. It’s impossible to imagine such a thing getting off the ground let alone succeeding in our increasingly confused and superstitious USA.
(checked out 4/17)
M. R. Carey – The Girl with All the Gifts (2014)
A twist on the whole zombie thing where certain children exposed to the contagion turn out to be not so bad. It makes for pretty fun reading, something to take your mind off real monsters for a while at least.
(checked out 5/17)
Emily St. John Mandel – Station Eleven (2014)
Like the Girl with All the Gifts, Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic thriller but somewhat more depressing because the premise is more realistic: a pandemic swine flu kills everyone directly, as opposed to a mutated fungus turning folks into zombies. The author’s focus on individual perspectives to tell the story of something so large is pretty great and well executed, and makes it feel all the more real. Some more light reading for the modern era.
(checked out 5/17)
Douglas Coupland – Girlfriend in a Coma (1998)
Another post-apocalyptic-by-way-of-disease-or-something-novel but also the action follows an emotionally-messed-up group of gen-X friends and there’s a supernatural component to it. I liked it but now I’m writing about it way way later and don’t remember so much. The title is from a Smith’s song.
Julie Lawson Timmer – Mrs. Saint and the Defectives (2017)
Amazon made this available as a $2 kindle download, so I gave it a shot. The story follows a single mother (newly divorced, if I recall) and her son as they try to make a go of it on their own. They rent a house next door to a neighbor (Mrs. Saint) who injects herself into their lives, uninvited, intending to be helpful, and conflict ensues. But is there more to Mrs. Saint than meets the eye?
At first I couldn’t tell if the author was moralizing on single mothers or kids these days or something, which would have been tiresome, but the story was convoluted enough that I think ultimately my takeaway is that it’s good to meet your neighbors.
This catches me up to about 2 years ago.