FRIDAY, JAN. 9 — Spending the last few weeks of the year recapping things I've already written about, while great fun, does cause me to miss a book or two that came out near the end of the year that truly deserve to be mentioned. Here are two significant titles that fit that description and will amply reward the time you spend with them. Here's what we're reading:
JERRY LEE LEWIS: HIS OWN STORY
The concept of this book is interesting enough. Mr. Bragg is a Pulitzer-winning journalist from Alabama, tasked with applying his journalistic expertise to uncovering the life story of a one-of-a-kind iconoclast and musical prodigy. When he had parts of the story completed, he was allowed into The Killer's bedroom (Jerry Lee rarely leaves his bedroom these days due to health issues) to share what he had written and record his subject's reactions and personal recollections. At one point, Mr. Bragg compares observing the man sift through what are, at times, painful memories of his life to "watching a man juggle glass."
The tragedy of losing two sons becomes vivid when Jerry Lee unlocks his feelings about them, as does the catastrophic collapse of his skyrocketing career after marrying his 13 year-old cousin in the late 50's, the death of another of his wives under suspicious circumstances and the toll taken by decades of hardcore consumption of pills and alcohol. Yet, at the same time, the number of times he fought his way back to success after personal and commercial failure reveals a gifted performer who couldn't even begin to consider quitting. This is an American life unlike any other, and the uniquely emotional structure of the book makes it an even more compelling read.
LET ME BE FRANK WITH YOU
Frank Bascombe is back. To those of you who know what that means, you may not even have to read the rest of this review. Mr. Ford's fictional alter-ego is as indelible a character in American literature as John Updike's Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom and Philip Roth's Nathan Zuckerman. I was completely enthralled by the trio of books centered around Frank - The Sportswriter, Independence Day and The Lay of the Land, even though I felt a little grudge against the author because reading them felt like he was giving away too many of the secrets of my gender. For better or worse, I've read no other books that so accurately capture the way men think about the world.
It was the author's intention to retire his remarkable everyman after the last novel, but Hurricane Sandy hit the U.S. in the exact parts of New Jersey where Frank had lived, loved and worked selling real estate. Mr. Ford responded by writing the four novellas contained in the book; some dealing directly with victims of the devastation, some more tangentially but still deeply affected. Frank himself is still at the eye of the storm; retired now, sixty-eight years old, still questioning and observing the unfathomable trajectory of life while finding a degree of peace in its closing chapters. Even if we never see Mr. Bascombe again, his literary life will go on forever.
Winter finally seems to have arrived. What's the big, thick book you've been saving to get you through the cold nights? Something well over 500 pages long and compelling enough to be preferable to binge TV watching.
Until next time,
NeilNeil Rajala is Currently Director of Community & Business Services for Schuler Books, Neil's decade with the company has included the wearing of many different hats - and lots and lots of reading.