Monday, February 28, 2011

A free Roddy Doyle story

Regular Reed readers know how I respect and relish Roddy.  Here is a new short story he was asked to write for the upcoming St. Patrick's festival in Dublin.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Talk about your dark horses.  Patti Smith writes her first non-fiction book and she succeeds beyond expectation, ultimately winning the National Book Award.  As you may know, Just Kids is a love letter to Robert Mapplethorpe, her dearest friend, lover, and constant companion.  Knowing Mapplethorpe primarily for his work and the controversy it created two decades ago here in CinciTucky, I was happy to learn more about the man.  Patti humanized him and was honest about his faults.  How she described their lives, together and apart, was constantly touching.

More than just the Patti-and-Robert show, Just Kids is also a love letter to her art.  Admittedly, I couldn't always follow her when she talked about art--hers, that of others, and art as a philosophy--but it was obvious to me how much it means to her and how much faith she has in its power.  

The other recipient of a Patti-penned mash note is New York City.  As in good fiction, she portrays the City as its own character throughout the book.  Were I to happen across a time machine, one of the first places I would travel would be to New York when you could be poor and still live there, a condition that is almost unthinkable now.  Clearly, the City and the ability to live in it while struggling to make a living, to make art, to make a life, had long, lasting effects on for Patti who has continued to succeed on her own terms for the last 40 years.

I was terribly pleased to receive my copy of Just Kids from my dear friend Rocky who had Patti inscribe it to me "with all good wishes".  Many thanks and many happy returns.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Life by Keith Richards

Considering the, ahem, life Keef has lived, you wouldn't expect him to remember anything from the last half century of being "Keef".  Remarkably, he remembers damn near everything and recounts his colorful life as rock 'n' roll icon/'this-is-your-brain-on-drugs' posterboy in very lively detail.   

Ultimately, Keith is Keith.  There are no apologies and few regrets.  He is true to himself and fuck off if you don't like it.  Amazing as it is that he's lived at least nine lives, Keith really isn't all that surprised.  He maintains he has been blessed with a "strong constitution" and a "high tolerance".

As for the Stones, Keith dismisses Brian, loves and respects Charlie, has surprisingly little to say about Bill, and feels kind of sorry for Ronnie.  He misses Ian Stewart, adores Bobby Keys, and was happy to be done with Billy Preston.  He lets Mick have it pretty good.  Despite the long road, Keith understands how they have grown together and grown apart.  He refers to them as brothers though no longer friends.  Where Keith believes he has stayed true to himself, he paints Mick as a control freak and a social climber. Despite all this, he considers Mick the greatest singer, greatest dancer, and greatest front man in rock 'n' roll.

As expected, Life is rife with dirt and drugs and guns and girls, silly scrapes and narrow escapes, love and hope and sex and dreams.  As Keith tells it, he wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Book mix

The only thing I love as much as reading is music so I've been toying with making this music mix for some time.  

Every Day I Write the Book – Elvis Costello and the Attractions
Obvious?  Sure but I have loved EC's music and wordplay for more than thirty years.  And because he writes every day and that's something I can't seem to manage.

Book of Poems - Old 97s
I don't usually get poetry but I think Rhett and the boys could persuade me.

Paperback Writer - The Beatles
A young writer without delusions of hardcover grandeur?  Bullshit.  Still, if the first one does well, another house will pick you up and offer you a three book deal.

Poets - The Tragically Hip
Don't tell ME what the poets are doing because I can't figure out what they're doing. Do YOU know what they're doing?  (Did I mention I don't usually get poetry)

Read About It - Midnight Oil
Actually I think he's talking about newspapers but it's a powerful song by a powerful band.

Miss Teen Wordpower - New Pornographers
I'm not one for pageants but were I crowned Miss Teen Wordpower, I'd wear the sash and tiara with great pride and carry out the requisite duties most dutifully.

Book I Read - Talking Heads
David Byrne is embarassed to admit it but there's a soft spot in his heart.  I just love that.

Books Are Burning - XTC
The worst-case scenario made only slightly less terrible-sounding when sung by the pop-py deliciousness of Andy Partridge.

When I Write the Book - Nick Lowe
A tale told by Nick is always a good story.  Imagine a whole book.

Amsterdam - Guster
They're "gonna write you a letter". They're "gonna write you a book".  That's all I need to hear.  Plus Mrs. Next has a mad crush on the drummer. 

Jacqueline Susann - Pernice Brothers
The perpetually literate Joe Pernice-penned paean to the girl on the train and the books in her lap. Any song that name-checks Ford Madox Ford AND Jacqueline Susann has to make the list.  Plus, Joe pubbed a novel called It Feels So Good When I Stop I quite enjoyed.

Here Is Where the Story Ends - The Sundays
Pretty much a perfect pop song and a good closer.

Any suggestions or additions are welcome.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Selected Shorts

I listen to Selected Shorts from WNYC and thought I'd pass along the link. 

They always do interesting works read by talented actors.  The website isn't great and it's kind of hard to actually get to the downloadable part but have patience because the payoff is well worth it. 

The most recent show has a marvelous version of 'Boys' by Rick Moody, performed by actor B. D. Wong.  
To make a good thing even better, Selected Shorts partners with my beloved One Story and with the good folks at Houghton Mifflin and their Best American Short Stories series, which is also quite beloved by me.  (There is much beloving going on here at Chez Next.)  Indulge yourself and enjoy.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Happy Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year? Already?  I just took down the tree.  So it goes.  The Year of the Rabbit is upon us.  With that in mind, here are a few books by Chinese authors or about China.

First, the slim novel, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie.  Sijie is a filmmaker who was 're-educated' by the Mao regime and this tale of love and books will move you.

Next, two memoirs of growing up during the Cultural Revolution both by Da Chen.  Colors of the Mountain is the story of how Chen went from rural farmboy to being the first from his village to attend university.  Sounds of the River picks up as he arrives at the Beijing Language Institute.  Expecting a new and easier life, he encounters hardships of a far different kind.  His strength, wisdom and belief in himself allowed him to succeed.  He went on to study at Columbia University and lives here in the States.  These are great rags-to-riches stories and Chen writes with a beautiful voice. 

Daniel Levy's Two-Gun Cohen was my kind of guy.  A Cockney pickpocket and con artist, he fled England for Western Canada where he was appalled by the treatment of the Chinese hired to build the railroads.  He became such a friend and advocate, it led to Cohen becoming no less than the bodyguard of Sun Yat-Sen, the founding father of the Chinese Republic.  Morris Cohen's later life turned for the worst but Levy has written a fascinating book about an unlikely hero.  

Matthew Polly's American Shaolin was great fun when I read it in 2007.  You can read my post about it here:

And since it is the Year of the Rabbit, perhaps it's time to re-read Watership Down and watch a few Bugs Bunny cartoons.  

Gong xi fa cai