Review: Led Zeppelin: The Biography, Bob Spitz

Review: Led Zeppelin: The Biography, Bob SpitzLed Zeppelin: The Biography by Bob Spitz
Narrator: Rob Shapiro
Published by Penguin Audio on November 9, 2021
Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
Length: 21 hours 35 minutes
Format: Audio, Audiobook
Source: Audible
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Goodreads
five-stars

From the author of the definitive New York Times bestselling history of the Beatles comes the authoritative account of the group Jack Black and many others call the greatest rock band of all time, arguably the most successful, and certainly one of the most notorious. Rock stars. Whatever those words mean to you, chances are, they owe a debt to Led Zeppelin. No one before or since has lived the dream quite like Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham. In Led Zeppelin, Bob Spitz takes their full measure, for good and sometimes for ill, separating the myth from the reality with the connoisseurship and storytelling flair that are his trademarks.

From the opening notes of their first album, the band announced itself as something different, a collision of grand artistic ambition and brute primal force, of delicate English folk music and hard-driving African-American blues. That record sold over 10 million copies, and it was the merest beginning; Led Zeppelin's albums have sold over 300 million certified copies worldwide, and the dust has never settled. Taken together, Led Zeppelin's discography has spent an almost incomprehensible ten-plus years on the album charts. The band is notoriously guarded, and previous books shine more heat than light. But Bob Spitz's authority is undeniable and irresistible. His feel for the atmosphere, the context—the music, the business, the recording studios, the touring life, the radio stations, the fans, the whole ecosystem of popular music—is unparalleled. His account of the melding of Page and Jones, the virtuosic London sophisticates, with Plant and Bonham, the wild men from the Midlands, into a band out of the ashes of the Yardbirds, in a scene dominated by the Beatles and the Stones but changing fast, is in itself a revelation.

Spitz takes the music seriously, and brings the band's artistic journey to full and vivid life. The music is only part of the legend, however: Led Zeppelin is also the story of how the 60's became the 70's, of how playing in clubs became playing in stadiums and flying your own jet, of how innocence became decadence. Led Zeppelin may not have invented the groupie, and they weren't the first rock band to let loose on the road, but they took it to an entirely new level, as with everything else. Not all the legends are true, but in Bob Spitz's careful accounting, what is true is astonishing, and sometimes disturbing. Led Zeppelin gave no quarter, and neither has Bob Spitz. Led Zeppelin is the full and honest reckoning the band has long awaited, and richly deserves.

Oof. Okay, this book. I will start with the caveat that when I was in high school, Led Zeppelin was my favorite band. This was post-breakup, several years beyond John Bonham’s death, when Robert Plant had a flourishing solo career. I was 15, I think, when I first heard them on the radio, and I started buying up cassette tapes of their back catalog. I listened to them so much that when I put on one of their albums today, I still know them note-for-note. Over the years, I admit my interest waned, and I did not seek out many of the posthumous releases that have come out over the last 20 years or so. I don’t even own all of their albums in iTunes (something my 17-year-old self probably would have thought unthinkable). I haven’t read some of the books and memoirs, but I had read enough of them to know they’re generally hagiographic and fawning in nature. I had heard good things about this biography, so I decided to listen to the audio version.

This is a great biography. Spitz wasn’t able to interview the band, who (probably wisely) opted not to talk with him in the wake of #MeToo. However, he did interview many people I’d never heard from before. As a result, I learned many things about the band that I didn’t previously know, especially about Jimmy Page’s childhood, adolescence, and early music career. Even as a big fan of their music, I wasn’t aware of the extent to which the group was really Jimmy’s band with some hired musicians (essentially), or that they really weren’t friends with each other, or that their drug problems were that bad. On a surface level, I knew some of these things, but Spitz helped me understand these things and how they impacted the band. I had a pretty thorough knowledge of some of the groupie stories, but they were disturbing in the extreme in Spitz’s telling. I think other books tend to gloss over the stories or cast them in a different light, but Spitz shines a great big spotlight on them. These men did not believe women were fully-fledged human beings worthy of any sort of respect. That’s it. Led Zeppelin definitely suffers under the microscope. In particular, their manager Peter Grant, tour manager Richard Cole, and drummer John Bonham were thugs and should probably have done prison time—all three of them—for the violence they committed. Multiple assaults, rape, arguably attempted murder. The only shocking aspect of John Bonham’s death is that it didn’t happen sooner. In fact, it’s pretty shocking Jimmy Page didn’t die, too. I didn’t realize how close the band was to breaking up anyway when John Bonham died, either.

Spitz’s background in music is also handy when he’s describing their performances and recorded output. He takes a fresh look at their music, as he was not a fan prior to writing the book, and as such, he avoids some of the fanboy flattery that so many other books and articles engage in when discussing Led Zeppelin. In his hands, the music feels fresh and new. I consider it remarkable restraint that he didn’t excoriate “Hot Dog,” arguably the worst song they recorded. He mentioned the song just once. The last two albums were definitely a letdown after Physical Graffiti, which is probably my favorite of their albums. I caution Led Zeppelin fans about reading this one. Spitz is unflinching, and he may take them down a few notches in your estimation (he certainly did in mine). It’s hard to look away from the worst of their excesses with your respect for the band intact. Still, I thought it was a fascinating examination of the group’s stories and music.

five-stars

Review: Possession, A. S. Byatt

Review: Possession, A. S. ByattPossession by A.S. Byatt
Narrator: Virginia Leishman
Published by Vintage ISBN: 0679735909
on October 1, 1991
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 555
Format: Audio, Audiobook
Source: Audible
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Goodreads
five-stars

Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and triumphant love story. It is the tale of a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets. As they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire—from spiritualist séances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany—what emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passions and ideas.

Man Booker Prize Winner (1990)

I first read this novel about 20 years ago on my husband’s recommendation, and I felt like revisiting it. It’s even better than I remembered. The blurb doesn’t do Byatt’s genius justice. Not only did she invent a fictional love story between two fictional Victorian poets, but she also managed to build a world of literary criticism around the poets, replete with territorial academics and tongue-in-cheek digs at some of the wild theories academics espouse about symbolism and meaning. On top of all that, she wrote poetry and critical excerpts purportedly the work of her characters. All of this serves to make this novel and its characters very real. You might swear, after reading the book, that you also had to read Randolph Henry Ash in school and also couldn’t make any sense of him (just as a few of the characters say).

Ash appears to be based on Robert Browning, and this supposition is strengthened by the fact that Byatt’s mother was a Browning scholar. She likely heard many of the things that later cropped up in her book around the dinner table at home. Christabel LaMotte seems to be a composite of writers like Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, and Charlotte Brontë. The scholars studying their work seem pretty recognizable figures in academia. I think this book might potentially have a narrow appeal. I’m sure English literature nerds, poetry lovers, and anyone interested in Victorian literature would enjoy it, but beyond that, the poetry passages are purposefully dense and difficult, and I’m not sure the general reading public would find the plot thrilling. (I did.) If your interests lie within that narrow window, reading this book will provide great rewards.

Because a good chunk of this novel is set in the 1850s-1860s, I’m counting it as my first book in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge for 2022. I’m also counting as a book set in the United Kingdom (a small part is set in France) for the European Reading Challenge. See my reading challenges page for more.

five-stars

Review: In the Midst of Winter, Isabel Allende

Review: In the Midst of Winter, Isabel AllendeIn the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
Published by Atria Books ISBN: 150117813X
on October 31, 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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Goodreads
four-stars

New York Times and worldwide bestselling “dazzling storyteller” (Associated Press) Isabel Allende returns with a sweeping novel about three very different people who are brought together in a mesmerizing story that journeys from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil.

In the Midst of Winter begins with a minor traffic accident—which becomes the catalyst for an unexpected and moving love story between two people who thought they were deep into the winter of their lives. Richard Bowmaster—a 60-year-old human rights scholar—hits the car of Evelyn Ortega—a young, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala—in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn. What at first seems just a small inconvenience takes an unforeseen and far more serious turn when Evelyn turns up at the professor’s house seeking help. At a loss, the professor asks his tenant Lucia Maraz—a 62-year-old lecturer from Chile—for her advice. These three very different people are brought together in a mesmerizing story that moves from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil, sparking the beginning of a long-overdue love story between Richard and Lucia.

Exploring the timely issues of human rights and the plight of immigrants and refugees, the book recalls Allende’s landmark novel The House of the Spirits in the way it embraces the cause of “humanity, and it does so with passion, humor, and wisdom that transcend politics” (Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post). In the Midst of Winter will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

In the Midst of Winter is my first Isabel Allende, and I enjoyed it. The story kept me turning pages, wondering what would happen next. It was a deceptive book in that it reads like a cozy mystery, to a certain degree, but it tackles some fairly important issues, such as the Disappeared in Chile in the 1970s and 1980s and the plight of Guatemalans living with violence in the present day. It also touches on depression, cancer, alcoholism, and human trafficking. There is a surprising amount of humor in the novel, but I never felt Allende wasn’t treating the subjects with seriousness. Some aspects of the ending will not surprise, but others might keep readers guessing.

I read this book because Twitter friends and founders of the hashtag #THEBOOKCHAT are planning to discuss the book on January 23, and I wanted to be able to participate in the chat—talking about books with other adults is always fun for this high school English teacher. Otherwise, I would likely never have read it, and I’m glad I did. It was a nice way to start off the reading year. It examined some serious social justice issues but included some dark humor and warmth. The characters were fully realized and well-drawn. I’m excited to participate in the chat with my Twitter friends in a couple of weeks.

four-stars

2022 Reading Goals

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

Happy New Year! I hope 2022 is off to a good start for you and yours. I’m holding out hope that this year, COVID will be endemic like the flu or other coronaviruses, and that we can emerge from this pandemic and learn to live with this novel coronavirus. It has been such a hard couple of years. I never could have imagined I would see what we have seen these last two years.

Last year, I managed to surpass my goal of reading 50 books by two books, but I’m still planning to try to read 50 books in 2022. I have joined a few reading challenges, as I usually do. I find they help me diversify my reading and try books I might not otherwise try.

I think I participated in the European Reading Challenge some years back, but I’m joining again this year. My goal is to read five books.

I almost always participate in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge since it’s my favorite genre. Last year, I lowballed and wound up surpassing my goal, so this year I’m going for it and planning to read 10 books at the Renaissance Reader level.

I’ve participated in the Monthly Motif Challenge for the last couple of years, but I’ve never managed to complete it. Maybe this year? The goal is to complete each month’s reading challenge for a total of 12 books.

The Poetry Reading Challenge is new to me, but I’m excited to try it, especially as I have been reading more poetry over the last few years. I plan to complete all three challenges:

  1. Read a poem a day for a month.
  2. Read a poetry collection.
  3. Read five additional poetry collections.

Finally, the This or That Reading Challenge offers two challenges each month, and the goal is to complete one or the other each month for a total of 12 books.

I always love setting these goals at the beginning of the year. The whole year is before me, and the possibilities seem endless.

2021: Reading Year in Review

Once again, we’ve reached the end of a year, and I like to reflect on the reading I’ve done in a final end-of-year wrap-up post

In spite of the pandemic, I had a great reading year, courtesy of audiobooks. If not for audiobooks, I’m not sure how many books I’d have been able to read, but I listened to audiobooks as I took my daily walks, washed dishes, and cooked. I feel particularly good about how many books I checked out of the library. I’m fortunate to have a really good library with an extensive collection available via Overdrive, and I discovered using Libby to listen to library audiobooks this year. I actually prefer the Libby app to the Audible app. It has more fine-grained controls.

My progress with reading challenges was mixed, as usual. I came close to completing the Book Voyage Around the World Challenge. I didn’t read a book set in South America. Aside from that, I managed to read a book set in each of the zones around the world. I really liked this challenge. I think it encouraged me to read more widely than I usually do. My performance on the Southern Literature Reading Challenge was a bit of a joke. I finished the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge and managed to read more than I expected, so I increased my initial goal. I did okay with the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge. I love that challenge, but I have trouble meeting the prompts each month. Maybe in 2022!

Some quick reading stats, courtesy Goodreads:

  • I read a total of 52 books.
  • I read 18,155 pages (not sure how accurate that is given I listened to so many books).
  • My average book length was 354 pages.
  • The most popular book I read was Frankenstein (which I read along with the Obscure podcast).
  • The least popular book I read was Shelley’s Ghost (only 42 other Goodreads users have shelved it).
  • I rated books an average of 4.6 stars (which is an indicator of how good the books were!).

The 52 books I read in 2021 break down as follows:

  • 21 books of fiction (one I read twice, so counted it as 2 books)
  • 27 books of nonfiction
  • 3 books of poetry or verse
  • No dramas
  • 35 audiobooks
  • 9 re-reads (I re-read The Underground Railroad twice)
  • 2 graphic novels/comic books
  • 3 children’s books
  • 2 YA/middle-grade books

For the first time ever, I believe, I read more nonfiction than fiction.

I usually pick my favorites from each category, but that’s going to be so hard this year as I read so many great books. I decided to try to pick my top picks from each category, though even narrowing it down this much was hard.

Fiction

Klara and the Sun Middlemarch The Final Revival of Opal & Nev A Brief History of Seven Killings

Nonfiction

I didn’t really have a favorite poetry book, and given that my favorite was a re-read, I opted not to profile it here. Below, you can see (and purchase) all of the books I read in 2021.

Review: Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro

Review: Klara and the Sun, Kazuo IshiguroKlara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, Sura Siu
Published by Random House Audio on March 2, 2021
Length: 10 hours 16 minutes
Format: Audio, Audiobook
Source: Audible
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Goodreads
five-stars

'KLARA AND THE SUN' IS A MAGNIFICENT NEW NOVEL FROM THE NOBEL LAUREATE KAZUO ISHIGURO - AUTHOR OF 'NEVER LET ME GO' AND THE BOOKER PRIZE-WINNING 'THE REMAINS OF THE DAY.'

'KLARA AND THE SUN,' the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her.

'KLARA AND THE SUN' is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: What does it mean to love?
In its award citation in 2017, the Nobel committee described Ishiguro's books as "novels of great emotional force" and said he has "uncovered the abyss of our illusory sense of connection with the world."

Kazuo Ishiguro seems to me, more than any other author living, to be writing to explore what it means to be human. Where does our humanity reside? How do we remember? How are we remembered? Or, as Josie’s father asks Klara in one of the most profoundly moving parts of the book, “Do you believe in the human heart? I don’t mean simply the organ. I’m speaking in the poetic sense. The human heart. Do you believe there is such a thing?” That passage was the first part of the book to cause me to burst into tears—it was not the last—and as I explained to my husband, it reminded me of this essay, “Joyas Voladores” by Brian Doyle, adding more dimension to the essay (which, honestly, didn’t make me cry the first time I read it but now makes me cry because I associate it with this passage). Ron Charles argues in his review of Klara and the Sun that ” the real subject, as always in Ishiguro’s dusk-lit fiction, is the moral quandary of the human heart.”

I have yet to finish an Ishiguro novel without bawling, and this book was no exception. As with his other novels, in Klara and the Sun, Ishiguro’s narrator has a compelling voice. Her childlike propensity to hope, her belief in the healing power of the sun, is simply heartbreaking. It’s hard not to draw parallels to both The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, and both of those novels also have memorable narrators who struggle to make sense of the mysteries of the human heart as well. There is something different in Klara’s struggle to please, to understand. She has the lack of agency of Kathy in Never Let Me Go and the outsider observational perspective of Stevens in The Remains of the Day, but she’s somehow more innocent. The ending of the book just wrecked me.

This book is one of the best I read this year. It has me thinking about what it means to be human and how much of our humanity we have lost over the last several years. Prepare the tissues if you read it. I couldn’t recommend it more highly. Superb.

five-stars

Review: Crazy Horse and Custer: Born Enemies, S. D. Nelson

Review: Crazy Horse and Custer: Born Enemies, S. D. NelsonCrazy Horse and Custer: Born Enemies by S.D. Nelson
Published by Harry N. Abrams ISBN: 1419731939
on November 9, 2021
Genres: Biography, Childrens, History, Nonfiction, Young Adult
Pages: 144
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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Goodreads
four-stars

With photographs and stunning illustrations from acclaimed author-artist S.D. Nelson, this thrilling double biography juxtaposes the lives of two enemies whose conflict changed American history: Crazy Horse and George Custer.

In 1876, Lakota chief Crazy Horse helped lead his people’s resistance against the white man’s invasion of the northern Great Plains. One of the leaders of the US military forces was Army Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. The men had long been enemies. At the height of the war, when tribalism had reached its peak, they crossed paths for the last time.

In this action-packed double biography, S. D. Nelson draws fascinating parallels between Crazy Horse and Custer, whose lives were intertwined. These warriors were alike in many ways, yet they often collided in deadly rivalry. Witness reports and reflections by their peers and enemies accompany side-by-side storytelling that offers very different perspectives on the same historical events. The two men’s opposing destinies culminated in the infamous Battle of the Greasy Grass, as the Lakota called it, or the Battle of the Little Bighorn, as it was called by the Euro-Americans.

In Crazy Horse and Custer, Nelson’s gripping narrative and signature illustration style based on Plains Indians ledger art, along with a mix of period photographs and paintings, shines light on two men whose conflict forever changed Lakota and US history. The book includes an author’s note, timeline, endnotes, and bibliography.

This book approaches the biographies of Crazy Horse and George Armstrong Custer by drawing parallels between their lives. It is striking that the two men who would face each other at the Battle of Little Bighorn were born a year apart and died a year apart. I appreciated that Nelson did not engage in the hagiography of either man but instead demonstrated their humanity, flaws and all. Truthfully, though, it’s hard for Custer to come across well to a modern reader, revered as he might have been at the time of his death. The author even points out that in our current time, Crazy Horse is largely admired while Custer is reviled.

I first became interested in this history when I saw the film Little Big Man as a middle schooler. It’s a great film and one of the first (if not the very first) revisionist Western. Though the main character is a White man who is kidnapped by Cheyenne as a child and assimilated into the tribe, some (though admittedly not all) of the Cheyenne characters are played by Native actors, and indigenous people are shown in a more sympathetic light than Hollywood had traditionally depicted them. After seeing this film, I started to read about what happened with Custer, who is a character in the movie.

This book seems to be pitched to late middle-grade readers. I admit I learned a lot I didn’t know about both men. I had no idea Custer and his father were pro-slavery, for example. I knew next to nothing of Crazy Horse’s biography. The book is organized into short chapters that alternate between the biographies of both men. The author explains that he feels uniquely qualified to tell this story as the descendant of a Lakota woman who married a White man who had served under Custer in the Army until being honorably discharged before the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Though the intended audience for this book is probably middle schoolers, anyone with a passing interest in the history of the so-called Indian Wars might enjoy reading this book. I appreciated the author’s artwork as part of the storytelling as well. Crazy Horse and George Armstrong Custer both come alive in the pages of this book.

four-stars

Review: Shelley’s Ghost: Reshaping the Image of a Literary Family, Stephen Hebron and Elizabeth C. Denlinger

Review: Shelley’s Ghost: Reshaping the Image of a Literary Family, Stephen Hebron and Elizabeth C. DenlingerShelley's Ghost: Reshaping the Image of a Literary Family by Stephen Hebron, Elizabeth C. Denlinger
Published by Bodleian Library ISBN: 1851243399
on January 15, 2011
Genres: Biography, Nonfiction, Poetry
Pages: 192
Format: Paperback
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Goodreads
five-stars

It is difficult to think of a family more endowed with literary genius than the Shelley family—from the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife, novelist Mary Shelley, to Mary’s parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft—all were authors in their own right. Using extensive archival material Shelley’s Ghost explores the making of this remarkable literary family’s reputation.

Drawing on the Bodleian Library’s outstanding collection of letters, poetry manuscripts, rare printed books, portraits, and other personalia—including Shelley’s working notebooks, Keats’s letters to Shelley, William Godwin’s diary, and the original manuscript of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—Stephen Hebron charts the history of this talented yet troubled family. After Percy Bysshe Shelley’s drowning in 1822, Mary published various manuscripts relating to both her husband’s and her father’s lives, and passed this historical legacy to her son, Sir Percy Florence Shelley and his wife, Lady Jane Shelley. As guardians of the archive until they bequeathed it to the Bodleian in 1892, Sir Percy Florence and Lady Jane helped shape the posthumous reputations of these writers. An afterword by Elizabeth Denlinger of the New York Public Library offers an additional perspective, exploring material relating to the Shelley family that slipped beyond the family’s control.

An unparalleled look at one of the most significant families of British Romantic literature, Shelley’s Ghost will be welcomed by scholars and the many fans of this enduring literacy legacy.

Percy Bysshe Shelley was the poet who made me fall in love with poetry. I can’t claim I always understand what he says, but he captures something that really spoke to me as a high-school student with dreams of being a writer, too. Later, I took a course in college called Late Romantic Literature. My university was on the quarter system at that time, and each quarter was 10 weeks long. I recall we spent two weeks each on Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, and Mary Shelley. I don’t remember what the other two weeks’ focus was. The course only deepened my appreciation for the Romantic poets, especially Shelley. About ten years ago, I was given this book after entering a contest. The goal was to record yourself reciting a Shelley poem, and the best entry would win a signed edition of this book. I didn’t submit the best entry, but I submitted one of only three entries, so the Bodleian decided to give all of us a copy. It was rather nice of them to do, and I started to read the book, but one thing happened and then another, and I’m sad to say I let the book sit on my bookshelf. I finally read it over my winter break.

The images in the book are gorgeous. I wish I were better able to read the letters and manuscripts photographed for the book, or perhaps that full transcriptions had been provided in an appendix. Unfortunately, the Bodleian has taken down the exhibition website as the technologies used to build and maintain it are obsolete. You can see some of the exhibition in this video:

I am not sure to what extent this exhibition was permanent or that visitors to the Bodleian could see it today, but the exhibition book captures beautiful photographs of everything from artwork to manuscripts. The text of the exhibition book presents the history of the family from William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft through Percy Florence Shelley and his wife Jane, Lady Shelley. Percy Florence Shelley was the only child of Percy Bysshe and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley to survive to adulthood. I found myself particularly interested in Lady Shelley as she turned out to be something of an eccentric, and her devotion to the memory of her late father- and mother-in-law may be one reason why we have so many of the family’s manuscripts and belongings. She seems to have adored her mother-in-law, Mary Shelley.

I really love seeing the handwriting of writers, and this book includes several images from journals, notebooks, and letters written by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, and her parents William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. I was particularly intrigued by the chapter on Shelley’s notebooks. Shelley drowned, along with his friend Edward Williams, when his boat the Don Juan capsized off the coast of Italy. How poignant and sad that Shelley had a tendency to draw boats in his journals. I was also struck by the work Mary Shelley did to secure her husband’s literary legacy while fighting her father-in-law’s wishes to bury all of his son’s work, especially as Mary needed her father-in-law’s support to ensure her son, Percy Florence Shelley, had a proper education and inherited the Shelley baronetcy. (I’m not sure she cared as much about the title as she did that her son was educated and had the support he needed.)

I was moved by William Godwin’s letter to his daughter in February 1823 (some months after Shelley’s death):

Do not, I intreat you, be cast down about your worldly circumstances. You certainly contain within yourself the means of your subsistence. Your talents are truly extraordinary. Frankenstein is universally known; &, though it can never be a book for vulgar reading, it is every where respected. It is the most wonderful work to have been written at twenty years of age that I ever heard of.

I wonder if she felt at all encouraged that her father, widely considered a great philosopher and writer in his time, felt this way about her work, and not because she was his daughter, but because she was good.

I think anyone with an interest in Romantic poets or Shelley, in particular, will enjoy the beautiful images in this book. The text may or may not illuminate the family history, depending on the reader’s familiarity with the broad strokes of their lives. It’s a beautiful book and one I’m happy to own (even if it took me a decade to finally read).

five-stars

Review: The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music, Dave Grohl

Review: The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music, Dave GrohlThe Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl
Published by HarperAudio on October 5, 2021
Genres: Memoir
Format: Audio, Audiobook
Source: Audible
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Goodreads
five-stars

So, I've written a book.

Having entertained the idea for years, and even offered a few questionable opportunities ("It's a piece of cake! Just do 4 hours of interviews, find someone else to write it, put your face on the cover, and voila!") I have decided to write these stories just as I have always done, in my own hand. The joy that I have felt from chronicling these tales is not unlike listening back to a song that I've recorded and can't wait to share with the world, or reading a primitive journal entry from a stained notebook, or even hearing my voice bounce between the Kiss posters on my wall as a child.

This certainly doesn't mean that I'm quitting my day job, but it does give me a place to shed a little light on what it's like to be a kid from Springfield, Virginia, walking through life while living out the crazy dreams I had as young musician. From hitting the road with Scream at 18 years old, to my time in Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, jamming with Iggy Pop or playing at the Academy Awards or dancing with AC/DC and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, drumming for Tom Petty or meeting Sir Paul McCartney at Royal Albert Hall, bedtime stories with Joan Jett or a chance meeting with Little Richard, to flying halfway around the world for one epic night with my daughters…the list goes on. I look forward to focusing the lens through which I see these memories a little sharper for you with much excitement.

I loved this book. It’s one of the best memoirs I’ve read; I’d rank it right up with Bruce Springsteen’s memoir Born to Run. I was exactly the right age when Nirvana broke. I was a sophomore in college. I turned 20 the month Nevermind was released. All these years later, I still think “Smells Like Teen Spirit” captures the Gen-X zeitgeist. In the immortal words of Kurt Cobain, “Oh well, whatever, never mind.”  I mean, that’s pretty much the Gen-X ethos.

My favorite stories from the book (in no particular order):

  • Dave Grohl rescheduled a show in Perth, Australia, necessitating a ridiculous trip from Australia to the US and back just so he could take his daughters to the Daddy/Daughter Dance and honor his tour obligations. On the flight back to Australia, he suffered from both food poisoning and turbulence.
  • Grohl played drums with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on Saturday Night Live. Tom Petty apparently gives looks that tell entire stories. Apparently, Grohl nearly became a permanent Heartbreaker.
  • Grohl’s Republican father disowned him when he dropped out of high school to pursue music (with his mother’s blessing). His father’s parting words were classic.
  • Grohl bought himself the Joan Jett Barbie on a shopping trip with his daughters. Later, Joan Jett stayed with the Grohls at their house and read bedtime stories to Violet Grohl, Dave’s daughter.
  • Grohl apparently lived in a haunted house and had an encounter with a medium who told him his dreams about UFOs were real.
  • After Kurt Cobain’s death, Grohl retreated to a remote part of Ireland. His encounter with a hitchhiker with take your breath away, but I don’t want to give it away.

Grohl handled some aspects of his story with class: he has plenty of reason to blast Courtney Love, but he never even mentioned her in the book. Likewise, he maintained the privacy of his ex-wife and ex-girlfriends. He lays all of his success at the feet of his mother, and truthfully, she sounds like a lovely person. I definitely want to read her book now that I’ve read his.

Grohl’s memoir is aptly titled, for he is a born storyteller. I was highly entertained for the entire ride, and if you pick up this book, too, I highly recommend you listen to Grohl read the audiobook (you will not be disappointed).

Grohl put together an epic playlist with all the songs and/or artists he mentioned (thanks to my sister for sending it to me; she’s the biggest Dave Grohl fan I know).

five-stars

Review: Never a Dull Moment: 1971—The Year that Rock Exploded

Review: Never a Dull Moment: 1971—The Year that Rock ExplodedNever a Dull Moment: 1971—The Year That Rock Exploded by David Hepworth
Published by Recorded Books on June 9, 2016
Genres: History, Nonfiction
Length: 11 hours 39 minutes
Format: Audio, Audiobook
Source: Library
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Goodreads
four-half-stars

A rollicking look at 1971—the busiest, most innovative, and resonant year of the 70s, defined by the musical arrival of such stars as David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Joni Mitchell

On New Year's Eve, 1970, Paul McCartney told his lawyers to issue the writ at the High Court in London, effectively ending The Beatles. You might say this was the last day of the pop era. The following day, which was a Friday, was 1971. You might say this was the first day of the rock era. And within the remaining 364 days of this monumental year, the world would hear Don McLean's "American Pie," The Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar," The Who's "Baba O'Riley," Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," Rod Stewart's "Maggie May," Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," and more.

David Hepworth, an ardent music fan and well-regarded critic, was twenty-one in '71, the same age as many of the legendary artists who arrived on the scene. Taking us on a tour of the major moments, the events, and songs of this remarkable year, he shows how musicians came together to form the perfect storm of rock and roll greatness, starting a musical era that would last longer than anyone predicted. Those who joined bands to escape things that lasted found themselves in a new age, its colossal start being part of the genre's staying power.

Never a Dull Moment is more than a love song to the music of 1971. It's also an homage to the things that inspired art and artists alike. From Soul Train to The Godfather, hot pants to table tennis, Hepworth explores both the music and its landscapes, culminating in an epic story of rock and roll's best year.

I wanted to read this book for a long time for many reasons, chief of which is that 1971 is the year I was born but also because I knew it was such a great year for music. Hepworth’s thesis is that 1971 was the greatest year for rock music, and given the evidence he provides, he makes a fairly strong case. I don’t necessarily agree with all of his arguments, but I think he makes a great case, and he clearly has done his research. I was impressed by the breadth of music Hepworth covered, too; I think many rock writers tend to be kind of niche. The book was entertaining, and each chapter ends with a playlist (my version is embedded below). On the other hand, reviews I’ve read critique the author because he picked the year he turned 20, and most of us wax nostalgic for the music we heard when we came of age, no matter how good or bad it was. I think there is also something to this argument. Hepworth reasons that 1971 was the year rock turned 17, so it arguably was also coming of age that year.

One of the more fun arguments Hepworth makes is that if you put together the biggest solo songs by each of the four Beatles, you’d have one of the best Beatles albums ever made: George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” and “Isn’t it a Pity?,” John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” and “Imagine,” Paul McCartney’s “Another Day,” “The Back Seat of My Car,” and “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” and Ringo Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy.” Another Spotify user put together an imagined album, and I have to admit it’s compelling:

I listened to the audiobook, and this is one I’d recommend reading in print. You might spend less time looking up things later on. I found it challenging to look up all the songs for the playlist. There was one song I couldn’t find on Spotify, so it doesn’t appear in the playlist below, but I honestly can’t remember what the song was anymore (I’d never heard of it before, and it went right out of my head). If I have another quibble, I’d argue Hepworth devotes a lot of space in the playlist to songs that really haven’t stood the test of time and are not in the same league as the more well-known songs on the list. Of course, that’s just my opinion, and I’m also speaking from the vantage point of someone who doesn’t remember the songs when they came out. Ask me about the late 1980s and early 1990s, and I might have a playlist with as many idiosyncracies as Hepworth’s. He had “Anticipation” by Carly Simon on the list twice, too (eh, I just left it like that). I was a bit surprised by Hepworth’s selection for the best song on the best album of the year. I don’t exactly think he’s out of the left-field with the choice. It makes a ton of sense. I might have argued for another song released, ironically enough, the same month—November. I don’t know if it’s spoiler-y of me to share the song title, but if you want to know it, let me know. Both the song he argued for the one I argued for are in the playlist below. One final point: near the end of the book, Hepworth argues that rock’s future was embodied in Elvis Presley’s career turn that year: becoming a nostalgia act and playing his hits for Vegas crowds rather than making new music. He argues that most rock acts end up that way—playing their earlier songs as their creative output diminishes. It’s a bit hard to argue with as there are few rock bands I can think of who are making music as compelling as the music they made when they were young. I have to say that part of the book made me feel a bit sad. In all, I would recommend this book for anyone who likes classic rock and wants to zoom in on a particularly significant year.

four-half-stars