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Music is Life

April 27, 2023

I love music. In my head, I consider myself a musician (yes, even though I technically work at the library). So I always love a good musical read. And considering that if you are reading this, chances are good that you live in Music City, USA, so you should too. If you’ve never found your musical book love, check these out. In addition to being awesome, they may just turn you on to some new music you never knew about. Double win!

This is not a book. It’s a project. I mean, ok, it is a book, but it has provided me with hours of entertainment. In 2017, comedian James Acaster broke up with his girlfriend and sank into a deep depression. The only thing that made him feel better was exploring all (literally all) of the music of 2016, which he has dubbed “The Greatest Year for Music of All Time.” I disagree with Acaster about that (1984 is the best year all day baby! See Questlove’s book below for more info why), but I did find a lot of new music to enjoy. This book is just Acaster talking about all this music that he found and the stories behind the songs he learned when he talked to the artists. If you are looking for 652 new artists (I’m so not kidding), you need to check this out. My favorites are Telefone by Noname, Black Terry Cat by Xenia Rubinos, and To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamarr (which was technically released in 2015, but Acaster mentioned it at the beginning of the book so it counts). I did not like all of Acaster picks and must reluctantly admit that I have yet to make it through Bowie’s Blackstar. If you are a fan of music on any level check this one out, but have your Spotify/iTunes/Amazon music handy cuz you’re gonna have some listening to do.

This is my new favorite book. Seriously. I had no idea what to expect when I started it and then I fell in love with it and have recommended it to everyone I know. Basic premise - Schleske is a luthier, which is someone who makes violins. In this beautiful work he compares the tasks of creating a violin to building a meaningful life. Have I ever played the violin? No. Is the book still amazingly touching and poignant? Yes. This book was originally written in German and when the translator, Janet Gesme, first read it, she was very moved. So much so that she started a search for someone to translate it into English. When no one suitable was found, she did it herself - to great effect. If you are musical in any way, or simply looking for some inspiration, this is the book you need. I LOVED IT (and I don’t say that lightly).

This one triggered me (in a good way) right away. Any musician who has studied for fives of minutes should recognize the title phrase. It’s how everyone learns the name of the notes on a staff of music. Also the author’s name was vaguely familiar, so I immediately put a hold on the book. As I started reading, it clicked. I studied piano at Indiana University at the same time that Jeremy was working there as a piano professor. He wasn’t my teacher, but he was best friends with Evelyne Brancart who was very good friends with my professor, so I’ll consider Jeremy my musical uncle or like a neighbor who visited all the time. Anyway, this was an enjoyable read. It made me miss music school. Denk is a good storyteller who doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his past history. I can’t recommend this one enough. However, be sure to read through all of the Appendix because he has some great thoughts about several pieces of music.

So I used to work in the music industry, right? Always interested in music books, when this one came out, I was intrigued. However, I kind of brushed it to the side because, of course, I know everything about this already (lol…I don’t). When I finally picked it up, it captivated me. Sanneh is, like, Matt Pinfield smart about music. (Yes, I know that totally dates me, but I’m ok with that.) To be fair, I didn’t love every section (see Punk and maybe Dance, post-disco), but I hung in there. I also thought I’d plow right through it, like I normally do, but be warned this one is dense. In the best way possible. Lots of fun facts here to peruse and learn. My biggest complaint is that the author left out both Jazz and Classical, which are my jams, but I guess he couldn’t cover everything or the book would never have ended (kinda like this blog post). Oh well. Highly enjoyed and highly recommend, but be sure to give yourself enough time with it.

I started reading this one on a whim. Someone online recommended it, and since I’m never one to turn down a good music book, I thought “Why not?” Then I started reading. And reading. And reading. Then I read some more. I looked up after reading what felt like forever, sure that I was over halfway through, to find out that I’d just barely cracked through 100 of the 500+ pages. Folks, this one is also dense and it about did me in. However, somehow it kept me interested. Garrett is a poet of note, but he’s also an audiofile. I knew guys like this when I was in music school, and while I can appreciate their geek-out-over-gear-ness, that was never me. I’m pretty happy with my…wait for it…computer speakers. (Insert shock and awe.) I know. I just want music on, I don’t care if it sounds like La Scala. Hongo also talks about his family, which adds another layer. So get comfy because this is NOT a fast read, no matter how fast you read, but it is an interesting look at the world of poetry, audio gear, and Japanese-American families from Hawaii. 

At some point along this epic musical journey, one of these books, and I completely forget which one, mentioned Fargo Rock City. I enjoy books by Mr. Klosterman, so I definitely wanted to check this out. This reminded me of my childhood. The author is a little older than me, but he so reminds me of the boys in my class. I, too, grew up in a small town, and I can still picture the boys I went to school with drawing the iconic KISS on their notebooks. I have never been a metalhead, but I can appreciate how much Chuck geeked out over these bands and this music. Also, I always enjoy his voice. He’s snarky and smart and his words are worth the time. Rock on, my friends. 

A history book told through the eyes of specific songs? Um…yes please. History and music are two of my favorite topics. Plus I usually enjoy Questlove’s musings (other books?). Dude is wicked smart. The best part of this is that the music that Quest grew up with is not the music that I grew up - with the exception of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which was one of the first records (actual vinyl people) that my dad bought for me. (The second one was Disco Mickey, which Quest fails to mention. Sigh.) So this exposed to me to music I might have heard before, but he puts it into a context that I was unfamiliar with. I highly recommend this one. Also, if you have the means to listen to the music while you are reading, it really enhances the story.

Ok, friends, I’m going to have to cut myself off here. I love reading about music and could probably keep this post going forever. Stay tuned because I’ll probably have more reqs in the future. In the meantime, these should keep you busy.

Happy music-ing…
:) Amanda

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Amanda is a classically-trained pianist who loves to read. Like any good librarian, she also has two cats named after Italian cities. Amanda spends her free time sitting in Nashville traffic, baking, and running the Interlibrary Loan office at the Nashville Public Library.

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