ASP Author's Gift Guide for Book-Lovers
Part 3: The Scholar, The Teacher, and The Godfather
A Sampling of Music, Mythology, and Books that Touch the Heart
Poet Reuben Jackson is also an acclaimed jazz scholar, and an expert in all things musical. We asked him to list 5 great books for music lovers. His new collection, scattered clouds, is out from ASP in 2019.
Debussy: A Painter in Sound, by Stephen Walsh, Alfred A. Knopf
My only quibble with this biography of the great French composer is that the inclusion of technical music jargon might dissuade people from either purchasing or continuing to read this highly engaging title. My advice? Don’t let it stop you. This is a very moving, largely accessible, and much needed title. It is as replete with humanity as the composer’s works.
Sophisticated Giant: The Life And Legacy Of Dexter Gordon, by Maxine Gordon, University of California Press
Far too many jazz-based biographies are little more than well-stuffed collections of facts. (So and so did this in 1947; the following year, he/she did this) Like Stephen Walsh’s examination of the life of Claude Debussy, Maxine Gordon — archivist, historian, and wife of the late tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon — provides us with an entrancing journey through the musical, social, and internal life of the innovative musician, and includes sizable portions of Dexter’s unfinished memoir. Alternately poignant, inspiring, and illuminating, this is a concert you don’t want to miss.
Conversations with Charlie Haden, by Josef Woodard and Charlie Haden, Silman-James Press
The late bassist, composer, and bandleader Charlie Haden is probably best known for his stint with saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s legendary Quartet in the late 1950s. I’d add that his interviews are equal parts facts and reflections on the creative process, politics, and life. The beauty and range of these conversations with jazz critic Josef Woodard are as sincere and soulful as one of Haden’s probing, arresting solos.
DC Jazz: Stories of Jazz Music In Washington, D.C., by Maurice Jackson and Blair A. Ruble, Editors, Georgetown University Press
This overdue, well-written history and survey of jazz in the Nation’s Capital includes but swings us beyond icons like Duke Ellington, into hotbeds of musical and cultural creativity such as the 7th Street Shaw corridor, as well as institutions devoted to educating and producing performers, such as Howard University and The University Oof The District Of Columbia. There are interviews with festival producer and journalist William A. Brower, a chapter on jazz radio in the city by the iconic Rusty Hassan, and more. I am musically biased, but I cannot recommend this book enough.
Paul Simon: The Life, by Robert Hilburn, Simon and Schuster
He’s reputed to be a less than genial person, but you can’t deny the compositional impact Paul Simon has made. Hilburn’s biography successfully weaves the personal and professional highs and lows into a well-balanced narrative, giving as much ink to the often tempestuous Simon and Garfunkle period as he does to Simon’s criminally undervalued musical “The Capeman.” As in the Dexter Gordon bio, both the man and the artistic life shine through.
Poet, fiction writer, essayist, and publisher Richard Peabody is a big fan of Greek mythology. He is ASP's first LEGACY author with the book, The Richard Peabody Reader. We asked him for 5 books for the classics-lover.
Circe, by Madeline Miller, Little, Brown & Co.
Circe is brought to life by Miller. Reading this right after Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey is inspiring.
An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic, by Daniel Mendelsohn, Knopf.
The Mendelsohn demonstrates the grip of storytelling, memory, loss, and living. How a family can harness an ancient tale and fly with it.
Why Homer Matters, by Adam Nicholson
Nicholson’s book is brilliant. He shifts through layers of history and translation and the idea of Homer. The best journey.
The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies, by Martin Millar
Millar is a laugh fest. He has a twisted fun take on everything
Honey, Olives, Octopus: Adventures at the Greek Table, by Christopher Bakken
Bakken brings a poet’s eye and more importantly tastebuds to his memoir/travelogue. A culinary foundation for writing about the times.
Poet Elizabeth Hazen made a list focused on maximum emotional impact — rather like her own work. She is the author of the poetry collection, Chaos Theories.
The Baltimore Book of the Dead, by Marion Winik, Counterpoint Press.
This collection of prose poems – each around 400 words – is a celebration of lives and losses that touched the author in some way. Ranging from the devastating to the hilarious, each piece resounds with the author’s empathetic and astute observations.
Because, by Joshua Mensch, W. W. Norton.
In this memoir in verse, Mensch chronicles the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of his father’s best friend. Haunting, unapologetic, and impossible to put down.
A Manuel for Cleaning Women, by Lucia Berlin, Picador Press.
Though I first read this collection three years ago, the stories have stayed with me. Berlin’s characters are women – many alcoholic, many poor, and all suffering on the periphery of what we might consider “normal life.” These stories pull no punches, and their honesty can be brutal, but their power is transformative.
A Memory of the Future, by Elizabeth Spires, W. W. Norton.
The deep spirituality of these poems is therapeutic, but Spires also keeps her readers grounded in this world, writing about universal experiences of family, aging, and grappling with death.
Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods, by Tishani Doshi, Copper Canyon Press.
These poems live in the body, speaking for women who cannot speak for themselves. Doshi’s voice is lyrical and strong, and the images sharp and sensual.