An Equal Music — Vikram Seth
book was given to me by my friend Doane Perry, drummer with Jethro Tull.
He felt it was the only novel he knew that captured what it is really
like to be a musician. The main characters are classical musicians,
mainly playing chamber music, but Doane was right — Vikram
Seth seems to have done an immense amount of research into the subject,
from a technical point of view as well as the all-too-rare descriptions
of the human experience of playing music for a living, with
passion, and yet amid the real-life dynamics of bandmates and everyday
the opening pages until the ending, I was totally spellbound by this
book, the kind of reading delight that is over too fast. It is a love
story with just enough tragedy and heartbreak, but a remarkable amount
of music history, and skilfully painted backgrounds of London, Vienna,
Light — Paul Theroux
this is another novel by an author I first came to know through his
travel books. In Vikram Seth’s case, From Heaven Lake, about traveling in western China and Tibet, and in Theroux’s
case — well, too many to list. I’ll just say that he is
the closest writer I can think of to my own “ideal,” both
as writer and traveler, and it almost seems as though he is underrated because of his prolificness, and the consistent quality of
his books, both non-fiction and fiction.
his novels, he is best known for The Mosquito Coast, but I
also admired Millroy the Magician and O-Zone, among
others — all as widely different in theme and genre as could be
imagined, from social satire to magic-realistcomedy to futuristic “speculative
fiction.” Then there are his experimental blendings of fact and
fiction, My Secret History and My Other Life.
Light is different once again, the tale of a blocked writer who
travels to Ecuador on a “drug tour,” and finds more than
he ever imagined. Drinking a foul brown tea brewed from a rare and mysterious
plant gives him supernatural insight, and also makes him very high.
However, it has one side effect: it makes him temporarily blind.
in terms of writing skill, Theroux delivers a tour-de-force masterpiece,
though again, one that might easily be underrated. Perhaps the two most
difficult experiences to capture in literary prose are making love and
taking drugs, and he describes these two universes repeatedly, in ever-changing
lyrical flights, staying just this side of psychedelia and pornography,
while graphically describing his character’s extremes of experience
in both “fields.”
You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star — Jacob Slichte
read a review of this book somewhere, and it made me curious: a memoir
by a drummer about his experiences in the music business, subtitled “How I Machine-Gunned a Roomful of Record Executives, and
Other True Tales From a Drummer’s Life.”
the old joke about what you call fifty lawyers at the bottom of the
ocean, “a good start.”
happened to see the book at the same Malibu bookstore (Diesel) where
I saw Paul Theroux speak about Blinding Light (I like all these
connections), and bought a copy.
story is funny, it is sad, and it is true. Perhaps the saddest thing
of all is that his experience as a drummer and songwriter during the
meteoric rise and fall of a fairly successful band (Semisonic, best
known for their temporarily-ubiquitous hit, “Closing Time”)
shows me that the path to success has not become any easier for new
bands in the past 30 years.
fact, his whole cast of characters, from company presidents to local
reps to radio station programmers to other musicians, was completely
recognizable to me — only the names have changed.
Jacob Slichter’s band didn’t survive the stupidity, ineptitude,
and short-sightedness of it all, but if his book helps one young musician avoid some of those pitfalls, they did not die in vain.
This might also be a good place to reprint a little article I wrote
for the Toronto Globe and Mail last Christmas, recounting my
favorite books of last year.
PEART — Favorite book of 2004
many favorites this year, from John Barth’s Ten Nights and
a Night to Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything,
I would have to choose The Big Year, by Mark Obmascik (Free
Press, 2004), a non-fiction tale of epic sweep and depth about a competition
among, of all people, birdwatchers. In the birding Olympics, their quest
is to list the highest number of bird species ever seen in North America
in one calendar year, and their obstacles are many, both human and natural,
woven into a surprisingly compelling drama of obsession, competition,
strategy, resourcefulness, and human nobility and fallibility. The competitors
strain themselves, their resources, and their jobs and families to catch
even a momentary glimpse of a feathered rarity, as they race around
the continent from the Aleutian Islands to Dry Tortugas, to the Colorado
Rockies, to a garbage dump in a Texas border town.
few others I can’t resist recommending: Louis Riel, by
Chester Brown, French Revolutions, by Tim Moore, The Inner
Circle, by T. C. Boyle, and Middlemarch, by George Eliot.