The Song: "Shipbuilding," Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Words & music by Clive Langer & Elvis Costello. Track 6 of Punch the Clock, 1983; track 18 of The Best of Elvis Costello & the Attractions, 1990
How/when acquired: Purchased LP, c. 1984; purchased CD, 1990.
Did you know that Chet Baker played on Punch the Clock? Well, he did. You can hear him on the album version of "Shipbuilding." Unfortunately, that's not the link above, but you should own this song in some format anyway. You can listen to Elvis Costello and Clive Langer talk about the song here. It's about men returning to work to build ships for the Falklands War. The words are almost optimistic, but the song itself is profoundly sad.
It's been a tough week for a lot of people I know. Both Dizzy and I have colds, and I'm as tired as if I'd spent the last several days boxing. My attention span is not what it should be, and I've been editing and reading at a pace so slow it frustrates me.
Still, here are three good books I've read since the beginning of the year.
Good Books I've Read Lately
James Hynes, NEXT. This novel showed up on several "Best of 2010 lists," including that of my friend Tod Goldberg, who said it was the best book he'd read all year. It's a book by a man, about a man, for men, but I'm surprised that I haven't seen any reviews comparing it to MRS. DALLOWAY, which it owes a lot to. It's the story of a single day in the life of Kevin Quinn, a middle-aged journal editor who lands in Austin, TX for a job interview. NEXT starts out as one kind of book, and lulls the reader into thinking they know what's happening — just as Kevin thinks he knows what's happening, just as he thinks he knows who he is and who he will be. He doesn't, and we don't, and as his world takes a sharp and unexpected turn, this book becomes something quite extraordinary.
Armistead Maupin, MARY ANN IN AUTUMN. Don't try to read this book unless you've read Maupin's earlier books about the residents of Barbary Lane; the book might stand on its own, but why would you want it to? If home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in, San Francisco is home for Mary Ann Singleton, even after 20 years away. She returns to the city in personal and physical crisis, and finds that the past is still very much present, in unexpected ways. It's always a pleasure to spend time with these characters, and if the world spares them more often than not, I wouldn't have it any other way.
Michael Ruhlman, THE SOUL OF A CHEF. This was one of four books I got for Christmas (and thank you all very much!). Ruhlman, a food writer trained as a chef, gives us in-depth looks at the lives and backgrounds of three American chefs. The first section, on the Certified Master Chef examination, is as tense as any thriller. The second, on Cleveland's Michael Symon and his restaurant, Lola, is a fascinating portrait of a working restaurant. The third, on Thomas Keller and the French Laundry, feels like excerpts from a much longer work, and probably are (Ruhlman is co-author of The French Laundry Cookbook). Great reading for anyone interested in food, but I wish that a copy editor had been more rigorous about Ruhlman's verb tenses, and that a proofreader had been more careful with the entire manuscript.