Friday, March 7, 2008

sometimes, i miss "Book-It!"

Oh, Book-It!... Despite hating Pizza Hut pizza, I LOVED Book-It as a kid. For the unfamiliar, the program was designed to motivate kids to read more. Usually sponsored by your school, kids earned coupons for free pizza for every book they read. I believe there were other benefits too, including t-shirts and one of the best nostalgic items of our generation, the Book-It! official pin. How I yearn to find my old Book-It! pins, if only to prove that yes, sometimes reading pays off in very concrete ways.

Lately, I've been missing Book-It! for the same reason I kind of, sort of, maybe miss college classes. I miss having this goal and obtaining it, especially when that goal is geared toward reading. I've found that my current reading has fallen off quite a bit, and I'm not entirely sure as to why, although I think it's mostly because I'm around a computer so much at work, and I'd rather gaze vacantly at Go Fug Yourself than read a piece of literary importance. (That being said, GFY is a great time-waster, and not entirely devoid of literary or cultural importance. Television Without Pity is completely valid as well.)

Of course, I am completely aware of this dwindling book count, and I have been seeking to make amends since New Year's, to mixed results. I bought a copy of David Copperfield, with the firmly stated belief that I would read it. It has since remained on my dresser, with the store sticker still on it, and I pass by it every day, momentarily considering its presence, before continuing on my way out the door.

Now, I may have made a mistake by choosing DC as my great return into reading. After all, climb a mountain when the hill will take you to the same place? In the interest of keeping my mind somewhat sharp, I've been trying to read the paper every day, which I mostly keep to. I've been trying to watch less trash television, with the exception of ANTM drinking nights and the occasional Project Runway (okay, no, frequent PR, but it's over for the season as of last Wednesday... sigh). I'm also re-reading parts of Simon Reynolds' excellent Rip It Up and Start Again: Post-Punk 1978- 1984, as it is not only an interesting, compelling book, but is also an excellent reminder of bands and labels that I have yet to hear. I recommend pretty much anything Reynolds has written, and check out his blog if you have a minute, because it's brilliant, funny, and well-written. All the things you'd want in a music writer's blog. (It's a featured link on our sidebar section of links)

Anyway, I've been reading bits and pieces of that book, bits and pieces of others, but sooner or later, I'm going to have to read an entire book, for the first time, to consider myself still a reader. And it's important to me to consider myself a reader, because... well, I use to love to read. And I still do. My mind is just a little lazier than it used to be. I refuse to succumb, however, and I will not let myself mentally slack off, simply because I'm not currently in school. A bachelor's degree does not equal a pass at thinking, and a large part of feeding my thought process is actively reading.

I thought that maybe someone else reading this (either one of you) might be going through something similar, or maybe you just need a few reading suggestions. Following are a few music-related book options to make you feel (at least) that you're being a good reader. Who knows? Maybe reading these will somehow obtain you free pizza. Or maybe they can just help to pass the time while you're waiting for class to start to sitting on the bus or lazing about around the home.

33 1/3 Series
I won't bother listing every title available, but if you're looking for easy, but addictive reading, you can bet these pocket-sized works will fit perfectly. Short in length, focused on one "classic" album at a time, the series is especially good for those who seek to know a bit more than basics about their favorite albums. The premise is simple - each book is a writer discussing a particular album. What the book ends up being is entirely up to the author. Some are straight journalism in the approach, like Jim Fusilli's Pet Sounds, some are autobiographical stories, like Colin Meloy's Let It Be. Others, like Michaelangelo Matos's Sign 'O' the Times defy straight categorization. Carl Wilson's take on Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love picks up where his 2006 EMP Music Conference presentation left off, and if ever there was a reason to read about Celine Dion, this would be it.

Anyway, the series is fantastic, filled with great, easy-readers. Also, you'll look really cool reading one. It's a proven fact.

Nick Hornby's odes to 31 of his favorite songs and song moments is more than simply a fleshed-out list. Songbook is part cultural commentator, love-note, and autobiography. He has a decidedly rock canon-centric list, but it's appropriate, and he writes lovingly about each track, giving you that "just heard this song one moment ago" feeling that leaves goosebumps on your arms and a tune in your head. I even forgive the fact that he pushes the band Marah, despite the fact that I really do hate Marah.

The book inspired McSweeney's online to feature articles about writer's favorite songs. Check them out here.

Cinderella's Big Score
Maria Raha's exploration of women in music does something that most books about women in music fail - she explores outside the canon, with particularly good results concerning women in punk, post-punk, and new wave. She relies a little bit too much of Gillian Gaar's She's a Rebel, but as that book is kind of the textbook of women-in-rock books, that's fairly forgivable. Also notable: lack of cringe-worthy feminist-music sloganeering. I refuse to read a book with the word "herstory" in the title. Just saying...

Any Sarah Vowell
Look, if you love a mix of humor, history, pop culture, and self-deprecation in the essays you read, then you should check out any of her books. If you don't, well, I'm not really sure what I could recommend to you.

Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island
Writers writing about one album each. Sounds familiar, right? Well, take the fun of 33 1/3, cut the length to essays, and put twenty of them into a book compiled by Robert Christgau. Good for perusing before trips to the record store.

Any DaCapo's Best Music Writing
Any edition of this annual compilation of the year's best in music writing is worth picking up. Also, they're all available used for cheap on

Okay, that's enough for now. As for me, I should probably pick up David Copperfield... off the floor...


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