Jan. 17th, 2017

Jan. 17th, 2017 12:00 pm

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Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

5 of 5 stars

I haven't read a musician's autobiography in a long time, after I struggled to get through Keith Richards' Life and had to give up on it. I've glanced at a couple since then, but they all seemed to follow the same boring trajectory: fame, fortune, sex and drugs, the latter of which led to a complete bottoming-out, followed by a torturous climb back to sobriety and sanity.

Fortunately, Bruce Springsteen's memoir isn't like that at all.

For one thing, the man can write. (Of course, since he's been writing songs for nearly fifty years, you would automatically think so, but lyrics, which have to rhyme and scan, are very different than prose. Maybe that's why most of this book's chapters are so short--they're mini songs.) I don't know how he'd do with fiction, but the prose in this book is excellent. His voice is sharp, wry, funny, and brutally honest. The heart of this book is his complicated relationship with his father, which weaves through from beginning to end (though towards the end of Douglas Springsteen's life, father and son found some understanding and peace). Then there is Bruce's frank discussion of a life lived with depression, and the fact that he's been in therapy for decades, which obviously contributed to the insights about himself in these pages. I also appreciated that on some subjects (namely the sex part of the rock n'roll equation), he didn't let it all hang out--there's no salacious kissing and telling here, although he is forthright about the failure of his first marriage.

(But the stories about his second wife, Patti Scialfa, and his children, are some of the funniest and most heartwarming in the entire book. This is a bit of a long excerpt, but I just love this.

She also guided me when she thought I was falling short. For years, I'd kept musicians' hours, a midnight rambler; I'd rarely get to bed before four a.m. and often sleep to noon or beyond. In the early days, when the children were up at night, I found it easy to do my part in taking care of them. After dawn, Patti was on duty. Once they got older, the night shift became unnecessary and the burden tilted unfairly toward the morning hours.

Finally, one day she came to me as I lay in bed around noon and simply said, "You're gonna miss it."

I answered, "Miss what?"

She said, "The kids, the morning, it's the best time, it's when they need you the most. They're different in the morning than at any other time of the day and if you don't get up to see it, well then...you're gonna miss it."

The next morning, mumbling, grumbling, stolid faced, I rolled out of bed at seven a.m. and found my way downstairs. "What do I do?"

She looked at me and said, "Make the pancakes."

Make the pancakes? I'd never made anything but music my entire life. I...I...I...don't know how!

"Learn."


Patti Scialfa sounds like a woman who brooks no nonsense. I'd almost rather sit and talk with her than Bruce.)

Because we don't get the usual rock and roll cliches in these pages, this book has a rare depth. I particularly appreciated the stories of Bruce's political awakenings, encapsulated in the controversy over his song "American Skin (41 Shots)"--sadly prophetic indeed, in the age of Black Lives Matter. There are also fascinating insights about his songwriting; the themes he wanted to tackle with each album, what he wanted to say to his audience and how he constructed his songs to fit. This book is five hundred pages long, but it's well worth the read, whether you're a fan or not.

 
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Cold-Forged Flame by Marie Brennan

5 of 5 stars

This is one of Tor.com's new novella line. This particular story was 100 pages, and for an introduction this format was perfect. Sometimes a book doesn't need to be doorstop size to make its point.

Speaking of "perfect," look at this opening paragraph.

The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command. There is will. There is need.

And so, in reply, there is a woman.


Now that, my friends, is a hook, and the author reeled me right on in. The writing is smooth as silk, with not a word wasted, and the pacing was excellent. Due to the book's length, there aren't that many characters, but the people we do meet are vividly drawn. This nameless woman is prickly, sarcastic, and stubborn, and she never gives up. She doesn't know who she is, or how she has been summoned, or why she has been set to a task against her will. This is the story of her task and how she completes it, and what she finds out about herself along the way. It's a story of memory and identity, what you are willing to give up and what you fight to keep.

(One oddity I noticed in reading the other Goodreads reviews--a couple of people mentioned this story is told in first person. It is not. It is third person, present tense, with a tight focus on its protagonist. I guess the POV is so tight it fooled a few people into thinking it's first person, but it isn't.)

I would love to find out more about this world. We're given just enough details to whet the appetite (and I've already pre-ordered the sequel, due out in a few months). Hopefully the next volume will do this. 

 

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Words To Live By

There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away. ~Emily Dickinson

Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job: it’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins. ~Neil Gaiman

Of course I am not worried about intimidating men. The type of man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the type of man I have no interest in. ~Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The road to hell is paved with adverbs. ~Stephen King

The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read. ~Mark Twain

I feel free and strong. If I were not a reader of books I could not feel this way. ~Walter Tevis

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one. ~George R.R. Martin

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