Not a list I usually make, but in moving back to NYC and getting back on the subway commute I found my reading time rocket back up this year. These are five books I enjoyed immensely, although three of them were not released in 2012. In fact, the first is nearly 100 years old.
1. The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington (available for free Kindle download)
Only 94 years late to the party on this book. It’s been sitting on my shelf, unread, for at least five years and after I finished it I was annoyed at myself for not reading it sooner. This 1919 Pulitzer Prize winner stands the test of time. While some of the social constructs are outdated, the basic idea behind the book is hyper relevant in our times of fiscal crisis and moral uncertainty. I would recommend it to any and all readers — what impressed me most was the style of Tarkington’s prose. The man is simply a beautiful writer.
2. The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller
A fellow New Yorker whose book was released by my publisher — and yet I only heard about it when a friend loaned me a copy, swearing I’d love it. She was right, I absolutely adored it. Miller creates complex characters who drive a very simple story. An impressive fiction debut, worth picking up.
3. How The Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music by Elijah Wald
Think you know a lot about music? So do I, but every second of reading this book made me think I didn’t actually know anything at all. I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. Too many music books are a straight retelling of history we already know or pontificating in the manner of mental masturbation. Wald lays out the facts of music, from the time of jazz before Prohibition and the evolution of music history — including how consumption and technology have always influenced the music industry. Especially recommended for anyone not sure what to think about the kerfuffle around streaming service revenue because the parallel fight over jukebox revenue before people had hifis in their home feels like a good thing to learn from.
4. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
A friend gave me this last Christmas and I read it early in the year. Bryson takes science and puts it in layman’s terms in a way I haven’t read since Carl Sagan. For a big paperback it’s a surprisingly quick and easy read as Bryson’s words flow nicely and the book’s conceit, explaining our evolution from nothing to life, is endlessly fascinating.
5. The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah” by Alan Light
When I first heard about this book, I had a split second of doubt about there being enough here for a full book. It took about 10 seconds of walking myself through the history of “Hallelujah” to change my mind. Light handles the topic beautifully, although some of the quotes from musicians who’ve brushed up against the song feel superflous. By the mid-point of the book it becomes obvious that this song’s ascent was utterly unlikely. For any sort of music fan, this is a phenomenon worth examining.