Friday, April 22, 2005

“There was abuse in my family, but it was mostly musical in nature.”

The Movie: A Mighty Wind, 2003 (Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy, screenwriters; Christopher Guest, dir.)
Who says it: John Michael Higgins as Terry Bohner, leader of the New Main Street Singers
The context: Terry describes his childhood discovery of folk music.
How to use it: To criticize the musical taste of a close relative.

My mom said to me the other day that she notices more and more authors telegraphing character, and even foreshadowing plot, by mentioning the music playing in the background.

I hadn't paid much attention to it, but it's true. Books do this much more now than they did 30 years ago, simply because 30 years ago, no one had a personal soundtrack. Most cars didn't have tape players, no one had Walkmans, CDs weren't commercially available yet, and the iPod was science fiction. Playing records on the stereo was its own activity; people actually sat and listened to music, rather than incorporating music into whatever else they were doing.

Music is important in a lot of the books I read, so much so that several authors I admire have created limited edition CDs to accompany their books. Michael Connelly put together "Dark Sacred Night," a collection of jazz standards his character Harry Bosch listens to; George Pelecanos issued a CD of excellent, under-recognized R&B songs for Hard Revolution; and John Connolly has assembled "Voices in the Dark," an alt-country mix that will actually be bound into the U.S. edition of his new book, The Black Angel.

I couldn't tell whether Mom objects to this trend or not. She noticed it, which I'm guessing means it bugs her -- but I like it. Musical taste is an instant bond between members of a social group, and I do feel that listening habits tell you a lot about a person.

For what it's worth, this week I've been listening to "As Time Goes By," by Bryan Ferry; "As Time Goes By: The Best of Jimmy Durante;" "Feels Like Rain," by Buddy Guy; David Baerwald's "Here Comes the New Folk Underground;" and Jennifer Warnes' "Famous Blue Raincoat." Pretty mellow stuff, but I've been sick...

And this is what I read this week:

John Dunning, The Sign of the Book. The fourth Cliff Janeway novel finds the bookman/ex-cop investigating what seems to be an open-and-shut case of murder. Cliff's girlfriend, Erin, sends him to interview her oldest friend, now estranged, who is accused of shooting her husband -- who was Erin's ex-boyfriend. Along the way, Cliff discovers a book forgery scam that reinforced all my prejudices against paying a premium for signed books. Dunning is back in good form after last year's disappointing The Bookman's Promise.

Brad Geagley, Year of the Hyenas. A really impressive first novel set in ancient Egypt. The scribe Semerket, drinking himself to death after losing his wife to another, is assigned to investigate the mysterious death of an old priestess in the Valley of the Kings. He discovers a sacrilegious conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of Thebes.

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead. Okay, give a book enough awards, and I'll read it eventually. But this small book deserves them all. I started reading it on the train from Connecticut to New York City, and stopped because I realized that I'd be sobbing by the end of it. (I prefer not to sob in public.) This is a beautiful, loving, almost miraculous book, written as a long letter from the elderly preacher John Ames to his very young son. Everything happens, and nothing happens -- it's a story of forgiveness and redemption and the bonds between fathers and sons, and it's just about perfect. And yes, I was sobbing at the end of it.

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