January 3, 2014
In an effort to avoid completing two book reviews, I picked up another book to distract me. This time it was an uncorrected proof of Stanley Crouch’s Kansas City Lightning, The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker. I’m only on page 19 and already want to comment.
I’m not a musicologist, but I’m old enough to remember Charlie Parker. As I read the first pages, which are actually more like music than words, I came across Lester Young’s name and now I’m really hunkered down. Not because I know a lot about Lester Young, but because before reading about him in this book, I only knew what I’d heard from a couple of his CDs, but not about his connection to Count Basie or Billie Holiday, or Harlem, or the Savoy. And I thought to myself, “This is why I love reading.” My brother is mad for jazz and when in high school he and his similarly inclined friends would jam in the rumpus room of our home in the Oakland hills. They inhabited a forbidden world of music that was satisfyingly magnificent, if only because our parents hated it. I was never allowed to enter the rumpus room when they jammed, but notes, names, and an entirely new language floated up to where I sat at the top of the stairs. And that is exactly where I found myself when reading Crouch’s amazing biography of Charlie Parker, at the top of those stairs.
That brings me to another “distraction” book recently read, Before I Burn, a novel by Norwegian author, Gaute Heivoll. I’ve had an ongoing love of Norway ever since seeing the Munch exhibit in Washington DC, back in 1977, and that experience caused me to pick up the Heivoll book. I won’t be recommending it to our book club anytime soon. Maybe later, but not right now. I’m still sorting through everything the book evoked: Mystery, memoir, noir, and even a weird sort of self-help….they were all present. Because the book is a translation, I once again wondered how accurate were my responses, given my complete lack of familiarity with Norwegian literature. The structure of Heivoll’s novel was exotic in its originality, at least by my reading experience. If this is as close to Norway as I’ll get, then I’ll take it. See? Another reason to love reading.
If the writing is good, and you’ve lived long enough to have a storehouse of memories, real or imagined, it shouldn’t matter to a reader if the subject of a book is something they know about or have an interest in. It shouldn’t matter if it’s fiction, history, memoir, biography, poetry, if the writing is good (not perfect) and you are up to being surprised, reminded, prodded, educated or just plain enchanted, reading a book is as a good a fix as anything that came through the needle in Charlie Parker’s arm. – Sunny Solomon