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August 2016 BOOKLIST
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Hunting without hope for something worth watching on the zillions of channels my satellite dish pulls in from the ether, I perked up when a Brooklyn band, the Men, appeared on the screen. Their high-energy jamming affirms the undiminished vitality and impact of rock and roll—sexy, kinetic, soul-searching music forged from the blues idiom, accelerated beats, and bone-shaking amplification. So profoundly influential is rock and roll, with its call for freedom, authenticity, love, and good times, it has transformed all the arts, from dance to film to fiction. In recognition of rock’s universal resonance and pervasive mythology, we present an album’s worth of rock novels that explore the music’s highs and lows.
Drop City, by T. C. Boyle
Dazzling storyteller and discerning social observer Boyle takes us inside the rock-and-roll fantasy when he conjures up Drop City, a hedonistic commune of acid-dropping, rock-and-rolling, sexually promiscuous seekers. After wearing out what little welcome they had in California, the Drop City denizens caravan it to Alaska, bringing their barefoot hippie circus to the land of snow and hunters. Boyle’s frank and penetrating tale of rock extremes examines visions of paradise and culture clashes, gender conflicts and true love, folly and courage, pipe dreams and genuine liberty.
Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen
Former athlete Patty tries to be a stellar wife and a supermom, but she longs for Richard, her lawyer husband’s savagely sexy musician friend. For his part, Richard has been traumatized by both obscurity and fame. As Patty’s family begins to break apart under an onslaught of missteps tied to the endangered cerulean warbler, mountain-top-removal coal mining, and the war in Iraq, Franzen explores the erosion of the rock-and-roll dream of living free.
The Gangster of Love, by Jessica Hagedorn
Teenager Raquel “Rocky” Rivera is en route with her family from the Philippines to San Francisco when her hero, Jimi Hendrix, dies. Rocky eventually falls in love with an ambitious guitar player named Elvis Chang, and they form a band, the Gangster of Love, and move to New York. Hagedorn deftly conjures the reckless ambience of that rock-and-roll era and the alienation Rocky and company experience as Asian Americans.
Hairstyles of the Damned, by Joe Meno
Meno’s funny, hard-rocking first-person tale of teenage angst, discovery, and music fanaticism is set in 1990 on the Far South Side of Chicago. Brian, a reluctant junior in a Catholic high school, and his best friend, pink-haired Gretchen, with whom he’s falling in love, spend a lot of time driving around and listening to music while attempting to cope with their suddenly alien bodies, their misfit status, and all the hate that makes adults so miserable.
I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, by Stephanie Kuehnert
Punk rocker Emily Black’s guitar-player daddy set his music aside to raise her after her mother disappeared. With music in her blood, Emily hangs out at her Wisconsin town’s outlaw rock venue, River’s Edge, until she’s able to start a band of her own. Kuehnert is acidly incisive and full-out entertaining as she revels in punk-rock power and tells the story of a woman rocker kicking through sexist barriers and struggling with the emotional mayhem she inherited along with her chops.
Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby
Hornby’s irresistible first novel, High Fidelity, established his bona fides as a rock-and-roll novelist, and here he tells another music-saturated tale. Although he has a great rocker name, Tucker Crowe is a has-been musician. But he still has fans out in the world, and his most popular album, Juliet, can still spark romance and the sort of self-reflection that can save a life.
Pepperland, by Barry Wightman
Newly minted techie grad Martin “Pepper” Porter turns down a job at IBM in 1974 to start a rock band, Pepperland, and all is bright and shiny until the love of his life, Sooz, an early computer whiz, reappears after a stint in the Weather Underground. Now a fugitive from the FBI, she has a vision for a digital revolution. Wightman’s electrifying first novel is charged with the transforming tumult and drive of rock and roll.
Reservation Blues, by Sherman Alexie
Alexie tells the unforgettable stories of the members of Coyote Springs, an Indian Catholic rock band from the Spokane Reservation—Thomas Builds-the-Fire, Victor Joseph, and Chess and Checkers Warm Water—in a novel of caustic wit and glinting magic that combines Native American culture with the mythology of rock and roll to resounding effect.
The Song Is You, by Arthur Phillips
Phillips captures the power of music in the iPod age in this lyrical novel of loss and longing. After the death of his young son and the unraveling of his marriage, Julian, who directs commercials, finds solace in listening to music and a new perspective on creativity and life when he becomes entranced by Cait, an Irish rock singer on the rise.
The Wishbones, by Tom Perrotta
In his smart and funny first novel, Perrotta portrays a lead guitarist in a New Jersey wedding band who is forced to face his reluctance to grow up and make commitments. But when he tries to do right by his long-suffering girlfriend, he falls for a poet. Perrotta has a lot of fun writing about the band members and the entire wistful rock ambience.
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