Hugh Steinberg. Poet and editor of JackLeg, a community-based literary magazine. I just finished Drowning in the Sea of Love, a collection of essays about music by Al Young. Each essay is tied to one song and the year it came out; sometimes it's about the song and sometimes it's about Young's life. The language in the book is as musical as the songs it describes. He writes about jazz, R&B, the blues and pop music. The language is so beautiful, so well-crafted--it swings. Reading it filled me with all the joy that comes from encountering great language--when you read a book and say, "Wow, I wish I could do that!" Now I'm reading Coming of Age in the Milky Way, by Timothy Ferris. It's a history of astronomy and of our attempts at describing the universe. This book is as good at explaining how scientists got it wrong as how they got it right. One of the problems with describing the universe, it says, is our persistence in trying to make it fit our ideas of perfection. I like the book because I like folly!
Beth Wachtel. Co-owner of Bero Gallery. Right now I'm reading Nabokov's Ada--I'm struggling through it. It's supposed to be this erotic masterpiece and I want to master it myself. The book is a little disturbing; Ada starts out being an 11-year-old girl, and you're immediately supposed to see her as a sexual being. She's having an affair with her older cousin (15), who's the main narrator, although the story's being told by the two of them together. They're like an old married couple talking about their past. It gets confusing and incestuous and strange, and so sometimes I get tired of it and put it down. I'm also reading The Grotesque in Photography, by A.D. Coleman, a visiting scholar at the UA. He's a well-known photo critic and writer, and the editor of Photo Metro. The book is a four-part essay about the history of the grotesque in photography--by grotesque he's referring to things that are unnatural, a combination of natural and human forms. It's a great book, but it's out of print.
Mike Hebert. Band leader of The Kings of Pleasure. I collect biographies, and recently read one about Edith Piaf called Piaf, by Margaret Crosland. Piaf had no musical training but was regarded as one of the greatest singers of her time. She had natural pitch, natural intonation--rare for someone who wasn't schooled musically. She really defined the style of cabaret singing in Europe. She was very popular in America, too, but she refused to learn English. The book talks about what a turmoil her whole existence was.
I also collect trashy mystery/detective novels from the '50s. Sometimes I draw on them for subjects for songs. I'm reading Kitten with a Whip, by Wade Miller. It's really cool--the story of a young girl who exploits an older businessman. One line goes: "She was the kind of beautiful dame that when she walked into a room, she turned heads like a fire truck." I'm fascinated by gangsters and the underworld and how they were portrayed in the '50s. I first got involved when I began collecting old paperbacks for the artwork on the cover. After a few years, I picked one up and started reading it.
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