I truly enjoy all four seasons in New York (or in the Northeast, for that matter). In the city, everyone loves spring and fall the best (me included), but the arrival of the summer and winter solstices is cause for certain despair among many of my neighbors. True enough, summer brings with it the harsh reality of oven-hot apartments and the stench of rotting garbage. Winter is equally confrontational, with razor-like winds whipping through the streets on harsh days, giving pedestrians the one-of-a-kind sensation of being skinned alive.
But I embrace all of this. In the dog days of summer, there is a shared misery (and a most welcome lack of clothing) that brings everyone's guard down. And the wintertime is a great time to be productive indoors. For me that means, among other things, writing songs; in the past couple of weeks, I have been locked away inside my apartment writing ridiculous amounts of new material. Were it the full flush of spring, with all of humanity out playing in the streets, could I be so reclusive and prolific? Certainly not -- I'd probably be out trying to catch a buzz in the daytime somewhere.
I also love winter because it is prime time to do some reading. I would dare say that folks from the Northeast are better read than those from, say, southern California, for this reason alone -- reading is definitely a cold-weather sport.
I run my mouth about music all the time on this blog, so I'm taking a break from that to talk about some of the reading I've done over the last year or so.
(Incidentally, I do crack open a book or two when it's warm out, too. In case you were wondering).
The Mother Tongue; English and How It Got That Way, by Bill Bryson
This immensely entertaining and exhaustively informative book spoke to a lot of my curiosities about our very peculiar, inconsistent, illogical and unlikely language, which has, against all odds, managed to become the dominant form of verbal communication for the human race. I wasn't just whelmed, I was overwhelmed!
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling
I know I'm a bit behind in the Potter saga, but one only has so much time. Of the first four, this was probably my favorite. I wish these books had been around when I was eight or so.
The Big Sleep and Trouble Is My Business, by Raymond Chandler
One night in a bar, my friend Leo recommended The Big Sleep, of which I promptly bought a used copy on half.com. Two pages into the book and I was completely hooked by Chandler's brutally stark but undeniably poetic storytelling style and his flawed protagonist, the great Detective Philip Marlowe.
If the only exposure you've had to '30's and '40's detective noir fiction comes by way of movies like Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon, you really need to check out the books -- they are far darker and have aged much, much better.
Trouble Is My Business, incidentally, is a collection of some Chandler's short stories, of which about half feature the definitive Marlowe character. As classic as anything in American literature, in my most humble opinion. But then, I never even finished Moby Dick, so what do I know?
The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiel Hammett
Thanks to Aynsley for lending this to me. Again, much better than the movie (which, in its own right, is excellent). This quintessential noir novel has all the classic ingredients: distressed dame with a duplicitous secret, creepy characters from the underworld, a labyrinthian plot line and of course, the hard-boiled detective behind frosted glass, feet up on his desk.
Rendezvous In Black, by Cornell Woolrich
Thanks again to Ayns for passing this one along. Heartbreaking, pitch-black noir which follows one devastated man's lifelong commitment to bloody revenge.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
The first time I'd read these American classics, I was still under five feet tall, so I thought I'd revisit them in my adult life. I think they're even funnier and more poignant now. The moral center of Huckleberry Finn is slightly diminished by the book's length (it could have been trimmed one adventure or two), but it's fun all the way around, anyway.
Hammer of the Gods; The Led Zeppelin Saga, by Steven Davis
Probably my favorite rock biography -- I've read it many times and it never ceases to pull me in completely. Davis, a beautiful writer, not only tells the Zeppelin story in vivid detail, but also subtly plays with all of the suggestiveness and dark mythology surrounding the band. An oddysee that could have only happened in the 1970's.
Phantoms in the Brain; Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind, by V.S. Ramachandran, M.D., PH.D. and Sandra Blakeslee
Thanks to Dan for lending me this heady (no pun intended) peek into the mysterious corners of neuroscience. Loaded with fascinating anecdotes from a slew of Ramachandran's patients, this book shows how little we know about the human mind, or the concept of "self." Honestly, it made my own head spin a bit, but this book is, overall, very layman-friendly. It also reminded me of why I'm a musician -- I'm terrible at science.
The Alienist, by Caleb Carr
I already talked about this excellent period murder mystery novel, set in turn-of-the-century New York City. Carr writes the way a novelist of the late 1800's would write, which really adds an authentic ambience to the story. Fast-moving plot, memorable characters and rich historical detail. Loved this book -- read it cover-to-cover on the trains in Berlin.
In my pile of books waiting to be read are John Updike's Witches of Eastwick, the new Tom Wolfe novel, Isaac Asimov's Robots and Empire and various Henry Miller and Mark Twain, among others. My father just sent me C.S. Lewis's "space trilogy" in the mail (consisting of Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength), which I've just started digging into.
It's occurred to me that the internet is the new TV. People are wasting way too much time in front of their computers, including me. It can never hurt to shut the goddamn thing down once in a while and read a book. So what are you waiting for?