1) Keith Richards autobiography, Life. I know he had help writing the book, but his voice rings clear. Lyrical and true. Quite amusing at times. I’ve always wondered how he can still be alive. He explains how, though it’s still hard to believe. He’s led quite a life.
2) Frank Sinatra bio, The Voice. I’m almost done. My reading has slowed considerably because it’s difficult to root for the guy. While reading Richards, I found myself hoping he’d crawl out of this or that scrape. With Sinatra, the opposite compels me. He was concerned with his own success, period. Keith Richards lived a wild life, but a code of conduct emerges in his book: about music, friendship, love, family, and even drugs. The only code I detect with Sinatra is an alliance with the underdog, which meant mainly himself, even after he’d made it.
3) Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeanne Darst. This is a funny memoir, but I thought it would be more about the writing life, and in that way I was disappointed. But it’s a good read. To satisfy my curiosity about a writer’s life, I’ll turn next to Alexandra Styron’s book, Reading My Father, about William Styron.
4) Tinkers by Paul Harding. Not a long book. But slow reading. Because it includes some beautiful sentences.
5) Saul Bellow Letters. I haven’t read much of Bellow, but I’ve been dipping into his letters. He was an academic who identified with Chicago, which, from the neighborhood perspective where I grew up, seems unusual. This may sound sacrilegious—his name is evoked with the likes of Nelson Algren and Studs Terkel; his book, The Adventures of Augie March is the one book, one city selection—but I doubt that many Chicagoans would return the sentiment and identify with him.
The writer Ralph Ellison stayed at one of Bellow’s farm houses in Tivoli, NY. In one extraordinary letter, Bellow offers precise instructions to Ellison on how to plant his vegetable garden!
6) John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat. I love Steinbeck, but this is one quirky book. A few memorable characters, but they’re mainly reflections of each other. Some funny scenes with offbeat, charming characters who justify their scoundrel ways brilliantly. But the book as a whole doesn’t go anywhere. I started one of his other early books, Pastures of Heaven, which seems more classic Steinbeck. The introduction includes biographical information: as a young man, he helped haul wheelbarrows of concrete that was poured as foundation for Madison Square Garden. All those workers next to him had no idea. How many other “common” laborers are marching along with big ideas?