In the year 2017 I had read a total of forty-six books. This is a healthy amount of literature for a working class guy such as myself. Forty plus hours a week sacrificed for a bi-weekly paycheck and the time remaining is allotted to the measures of base existence (sleeping, eating, etc.), “professional” gigs, the crucial nurture and time spent within the company of my loved ones, and the inevitable pursuit my passions — mainly, to read and write. As for this year, I would like to surpass my reading list of forty-six and make it a solid fifty. Along with this attempt will be a monthly sum of the material I’ve read and an honest reflection to go with it.
WARNING: Readers herein will suffer my attempts to solidify and retain all of the information I’ve most recently gathered. Beyond this, my hope is these monthly reflections and reading lists will turn on fellow devotees of reading to books and authors they may find insightful, inspiring, and/or otherwise in some way valuable. In any case, here is the due monthly total of January. Of course, the true sum of reading is calculated not in how many books a person reads, but only in what a person has taken away from it.
- The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom.
Mr. Albom has had a string of bestsellers within the past ten or fifteen years and there is ample reason for that. He writes simply, directly, and with a base, religious minded conventionality which “normal” Americans will appreciate. I am not by any means a normal American, but I do enjoy simple and direct writing. It is the only writing that will do. This novel concerning the character of Frankie Presto has a number of exciting musical characters which pop up — historical figures such as Hank Williams Sr., Django Reinhardt, Duke Ellington, etc. The narrative is an anthropomorphic interpretation of Music (herein capitalized as Albom creates a personality of the “spirit of music”). This book has an unlikely story plot, yet with a captivating telling. I’m glad this book was given to me as a Christmas gift and recommended to me.
2. The Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
After reading Frankie Presto, I needed something less sanitized and closer to the dirt, the bare truths of our reality; in other words, that which is not derived from literature as much as it is derived from the open street. This is my second reading of Tropic of Cancer and my best reading. Miller was an American writer whom defied conventional mores and values of his time. He wrote openly, honestly, at times abstractly, but all with a glorious style that was his own. This style is what I truly love Henry Miller for. Tropic is Miller’s debut novel and it centers around his artistic and somewhat pornographic experiences in Paris, France during the early 1930’s. This momentous book was banned in several countries and led to a 1964 US Supreme Court decision which tested the laws on US censorship and pornography. Miller was a rebel, a unique creative force and an original in American literature.
“I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.”
“This is not a book in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty… what you will. ”
3. Kingdom of Fear: Lonesome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century by Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter is one of my favorite writers and oddly enough, I haven’t read very much of his work! This speaks to the power of his writing. Thompson has a unique voice that thunders through the words and into my vulnerable mind without a legal notice or cognitive warning. Along with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Rum Diaries, Kingdom of Fear is now among a favorite book of mine. It is a memoir of a sort which exposes and articulates the rampant state of fear and loathing which Americans are afflicted with while living in this country from day to day. The kind of fear which willingly allows for the passing of things such as The Patriot Act and other legislation which clearly assaults and slaughters the Bill of Rights. It’s a book that speaks to the totalitarianism of our government and the repression inflicted by our police state. Hunter is a rebel and an icon of incredible and honest journalism, as well as a prime example of writing in a perfectly imperfect and beautiful style.
4. The Portable Henry Rollins
Lead singer of early 80’s punk band, Black Flag and later on his own, Rollins Band. He also writes some really good stuff. Rollins is another example of a writer with great style. Gore Vidal once stated, “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.” As it is with Henry. The Portable includes many clips from a number of his published works throughout the 1980’s and 90’s. One opening passage which struck me as inspirational may be found in his essay, ‘The Iron’:
“I believe one best defines himself through reinvention. To not be like your parents. No not be like your friends. To be yourself. To cut yourself from stone.”
5. A Preferred Blur: Reflections, Inspections & Travel in All Directions by Henry Rollins
I enjoyed The Portable so much that I had to pick up a more recent volume of Mr. Rollins’ works. A Preferred Blur is an illustration of the life this author leads as a man whom is constantly in action, on the move, doing creative and professional work and traveling all around the world doing spoken word tours, USO tours, interviews, and of course writing out his journals — luckily for us. An interesting (and perhaps revolutionary, depending on the reader) concept introduced in this travel book is the idea that countries all over the globe, particularly the Middle East, may be vastly different from that which the conventional US Media portrays. How does one truly know what a country is like unless one visits the place for him or herself?
All in all, a very fine stack of reading for this month. My brain duly grumbles and moans with this fine, literary indigestion.