Julie Gard reading from her new book, Home Studies.
What inspired you to write this collection of poems, and how did you prepare for it?
I was inspired to write this book by relentless curiosity about the world around me and a love of the prose poem form. Preparation consisted of many years of a regular writing practice. I have a fortune taped up in my study: “Little and often makes much.” I wrote this book bit by bit over many years of journaling, generating, shaping, and revising. Read more »
Harper Lee with Paul Rosen (left) and the late Steve Gadon. Photo | Paul Crane
Harper Lee was known as a recluse. The author of To Kill a Mockingbird — Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, classroom staple, the best courtroom drama of all time — was overwhelmed by the success of her first novel. She politely refused all interview requests.
But she made at least two visits to Philadelphia in her lifetime, and perhaps the most unlikely one was in 2005. It all started with Jennifer Reynolds, a Philly-area public relations pro.
That year, Reynolds was given a mission by her employer. The law firm of Spector Gadon & Rosen, P.C., had created an arts-focused foundation a few years earlier, and was looking for a way to get some attention for it. But not just that: Reynolds said the firm had tasked her to “come up with something different, that nobody’s ever done before.”
She thought about it. And then she came across a story about Atticus Finch as one of the most-admired characters in American literature. A few years earlier, he’d been named the greatest hero in American cinematic history. “I said, ‘He’s a lawyer, but he’s not reviled. Lawyers can be heroic!’” Reynolds recalls. “We should give an award for positive depictions of attorneys in the arts.”
And so the Spector Gadon & Rosen Foundation invented the ATTY Award, which would be given to positive depictions of attorneys in media. The first recipient of an award would have to be Harper Lee. Reynolds wrote her a letter. Read more »
Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography will spring from cages out on Highway 9 and onto bookshelves this September. Springsteen announced the book, titled Born to Run, on his website today. He’d been working on it since 2009, after playing the Super Bowl halftime show.
The announcement quoted the book in its announcement: “Writing about yourself is a funny business. But in a project like this, the writer has made one promise, to show the reader his mind. In these pages, I’ve tried to do this.” Read more »
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Buzz Bissinger will be collaborating with Olympic athlete Caitlyn Jenner on her new memoir, The New York Times reports.
Bissinger, whose book about high-school football in small-town Texas, Friday Night Lights, became a successful TV series and who chronicled the challenges Mayor Ed Rendell faced trying to reverse the downward spiral of city government in A Prayer for the City, also wrote the Vanity Fair cover story in which Jenner came out as female and described her struggles with gender identity. Read more »
The holidays means a lot more time indoors with family, friends or a good read. If you’re like most, chances are you haven’t gotten as much page-turning done as you would have liked in the daily hustle and bustle of 2015. For the readers who are looking for a new favorite to cozy up with during the holidays, we asked a handful of Philly’s top bookstores about their favorite must-reads of this year.
The Book: The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector
Recommended By: Sierra Ryan, Michael and Judi Fox from Joseph Fox Bookshop
Why You'll Love It: Lispector is a fantastic author. The complete collection of her stories is beautifully bound and put together. Customers have loved the book since its release in August. Gorgeous, vivid, delicious writing.
The Book: We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
Recommended By: Richard de Wyngaert from Head House Books
Why You'll Love It: Honest, compelling characters that truly reflect and embody the circumstances and times out of which they grow. Regardless of where one begins, we all imagine a new direction — the life we want to live. Then inevitably, at some point, the landscape shifts, some years mildly, other years tectonically. Amid life-altering events, Eileen Tumultry, the protagonist, exhibits fierce identity-affirming courage and the will to change and explore deeper, more resonant truths that guide her forward. I loved this book.
The Book: Letters to Vera by Vladimir Nabokov
Recommended By: Larry from The Last Word Bookshop
Why You'll Love It: Beautifully written, with humor and style. You can read this in small, satisfying doses. It will last for months!
The Book: Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt
Recommended By: Alan Chelak and staff from Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni's Room
Why You'll Love It: This was an interesting peek into an American family. Becoming Nicole allows perspective on a transgender girl, Nicole, and how her family took precious steps in order to understand, support, and celebrate differences that make us all unique. If you want to get a look into a family who has made great strides to change the way some people think about the American nuclear family, and accept the beauty of the world around us, definitely buy this book.
The Book: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Illustrated by Anna Bond
Recommended By: Ann Tetreault The Spiral Bookcase
Why You'll Love It: For Alice in Wonderland's 150th Anniversary this year, a beautiful and varied collection of re-imagined illustrated editions have been published. Of all the new editions that were released in 2015, this deluxe hardcover edition from Puffin has become my favorite. Anna Bond's whimsical and vibrant illustrations are a perfect complement to the original story. This book is meant to be treasured; a darling edition of a timeless story. For young and old, this book would be a welcome addition to any collection.
The Book: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Recommended By: Lynn Rosen from Open Book Bookstore
Why You'll Love It: This was the author's last book, as he sadly passed away last November. I had heard of his works, but never really got around to reading him until this book arrived in the store. A short read, but heartbreakingly beautiful. I read it twice. It is a story of an older couple looking back on their life together and how they found each other. It is pared down in a straight-forward way — simple, yet emotionally complex. When you think about the fact that while he was writing this book, he knew he was dying, it adds a whole other level of profoundness.
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No, Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar haven’t written their memoirs yet, but just wait a few years. Seems like every musician is sitting down these days at his or her computer to type out their stories. (Though in 2013, it was reported that Adele rejected a seven-figure book deal with Harper Collins because she thought she was too young at age 24. Yup.) But even iconoclastic Grace Jones, who famously declared she’d never write up her life story, published hers in September. The title? I’ll Never Write My Memoirs. Ha!
We’ve compiled a list of 18 juicy rock-and-roll memoirs published this year. Get your friends and family members what they really want: a book full of drama, bad choices, tattoos, alcohol, sex, celebrities, crazy fans, artistic genius, redemption and hard-earned wisdom.
Can I Say: Living Large, Cheating Death, and Drums, Drums, Drums by Travis Barker with Gavin Edwards
The tattooed drumming god who made his name backing punk band Blink-182, Travis Barker bares his soul in this frank and engrossing memoir. Yes, it’s loaded with celebs — Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, LL Cool J, Pharrell Williams, Jay-Z, Steve Aoki — but it’s more than a celebrity parade, it details the pain and challenges he met with after the death of his mother during his teens, his MTV reality show — Meet the Barkers — his struggle with drug addiction, his survival (along with friend DJ AM) from the 2008 South Carolina plane crash that killed four others, as well as the love and satisfaction he’s derived from fatherhood and the total dedication to his family and his music that kept him going. He lays it all out there in a deeply personal style. (William Morrow, $28.99)
Comin’ Right at Ya: How a Jewish Yankee Hippie Went Country, or, The Often Outrageous History of Asleep at the Wheel by Ray Benson and David Menconi
Ray Benson, a Jewish hippie from Philadelphia, chronicles Asleep at the Wheel’s long, strange journey bucking trends from its very beginning in 1970. With groovy psychedelic music on the wane and disco getting hot, the 12-piece band took a different direction altogether and honed its Western swing band style. Though they won nine Grammy Awards, AATW and its 6’ 7” frontman still aren’t mainstream names. Benson’s memoir shows the power of persistence and reinvention when a Jewish boy from the burbs of Philadelphia can become a bonafide Texan country-western star. (U. Of Texas Press, $24.95 )
Dark Days: A Memoir by Randall Blythe
Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe has had a unique journey even among rock stars. One of the kings of speed metal and adored by his loyal flock of fans, Blythe was arrested in 2010 in the Czech Republic and charged with manslaughter for allegedly pushing a teenage fan off the stage to his death at Prague’s Club Abaton. In Dark Days, the recovered alcoholic retells the chilling series of events that include 38 days in the notorious Pankrác Prison before his release and eventual total exoneration. Blythe’s compassion for the fan’s family throughout the Kafkaesque trial speaks to the singer’s code of honor. This book is not just for metalheads, but for everyone. Lamb of God performs at Electric Factory January 14. (Da Capo Press, $26.99)
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir by Carrie Brownstein
If a book could be an “it” girl, this memoir might be that for 2015. Publishers Weekly wrote: “Brownstein is unafraid to reveal her emotional vulnerability, making this one of the smartest and most articulate music memoirs in recent years.” Brownstein, co-creator of the Portlandia television series, and co-founder and guitarist of the rock band Sleater-Kinney, details the role of music in rescuing her from a chaotic upbringing and giving her a kind of emotional armor. She candidly describes her mental state — her depression, panic attacks and need for validation — her relationship to her body, her cerebral family, her lovers and her creativity. (Riverhead books, $27.95)
Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink by Elvis Costello
Elvis Costello, born Declan Patrick MacManus, has rubbed shoulders with many of the big-time rock and roll greats — and he’s not afraid to write about all of them in his massive 674-page memoir. The book, written in Costello’s trademark hyper-wordy nerdy style isn’t told in chronological order, but darts back and forth in his life episodically. Costello serves up plenty of dish about friends and bands including The Clash, Alice Cooper, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, T Bone Burnett, etc. He also writes about wrecking his marriages and of his infamous exchange of words with Ray Charles in 1979, when he drunkenly called Charles “a blind, ignorant n——r.” You’ll find contrition, rock and roll grudges explained, performances described, and all of Costello’s family history going back to 1800. It’s a heavy book. (Blue Rider Press, $30)
Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures in the Alice Cooper Group by Dennis Dunaway and Chris Hodenfield
Bass player of the band, Dennis Dunaway writes about the rise and fall of the iconic Alice Cooper Group. He describes the early years and how the two high schoolers from Phoenix formed the band that would hit it big in the 1970s. He and long-haired, dress-wearing, eyeliner-sporting Alice Cooper (born Vince Furnier) began their creative journey as one of the trailblazing bands of “shock rock theater.” Unpredictable and notorious, the band is vividly brought to life in this tome set in the golden age of classic rock. Fan of Kiss or Marilyn Manson? Read about the band that kicked it all off. (Thomas Dunne Books, $26.99)
Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music by John Fogerty
Fogerty doesn’t hold back throwing shade at the other guys in Creedence Clearwater Revival and the head of their record label. Still saddled with unresolved lawsuits, Fogerty outlines when things started going wrong and the band’s “betrayal” over contracts, royalties and dealing with Fantasy Records’ Saul Zaentz. There’s a LOT of bad blood here. Fogerty refused to play with bandmates during their induction ceremony in 1993 to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Fogerty describes his heavy drinking and a failed marriage, but he also analyzes the making of some of rock’s most famous tunes, including “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising,” and “Run Through the Jungle.” (Little, Brown, $30)
Girl in the Band: A Memoir by Kim Gordon
You know when I said Carrie Brownstein’s memoir could be the “it” girl book of the season? Well, Kim Gordon’s memoir chronicling her life and that of her band, Sonic Youth, might just be THE “it” book. Absorbing, smart and personal, Girl in the Band recounts Gordon’s childhood in California, her time in the downtown New York art scene, the breakup of her 27-year marriage to fellow band member Thurston Moore and the creation of her new group Body/Head. Sonic Youth was the coolest of the cool, and this totally engrossing memoir takes you along for the ride. (Dey Street Books, $14.99)
Reckless: My Life as A Pretender by Chrissie Hynde
One of the most important females in rock, Chrissie Hynde, the aloof, lead vocalist for The Pretenders carefully presents her past in this memoir. One of the stories getting the most attention is one in which she describes being violently assaulted by a biker gang and then blaming herself, “I take full responsibility.” She shares anecdotes including giving a ride to David Bowie in Cleveland when he made his American debut as Ziggy Stardust, or almost marrying Sid Vicious, her turbulent love affair with Ray Davies, and waking up with Iggy Pop in her bed. Hynde remains elusive in her own memoir, but that is the complexity of Ms. Hynde. (Doubleday, $26.95)
Never Broken: Songs are Only Half The Story by Jewel
Jewel’s story is one of extreme bad and good luck in equal measure. Her mom abandons the family. Her dad’s an alcoholic, so they spend a lot time playing music in biker bars in Alaska. She emancipates herself at 15, ends up homeless after reconnecting with her mother in San Diego and living out of her car. After singing at a coffee shop long enough to start building a reputation, Jewel gets signed by Atlantic Records. But then her mother spends all of her money. She perseveres and sticks with music going on to sell more than 30 million albums worldwide. Now in her 40s, Jewel takes stock of her life in this cathartic memoir. Be warned though, she not afraid to lay on the self-help pep talk. (Blue Rider Press, $27.50)
I’ll Never Write My Memoirs by Grace Jones as told to Paul Morley
A Bond villain, a movie star, a model, a regular at Studio 54, a song stylist of the most unique dimensions, Grace Jones, 67, gives us plenty of stories in her memoir. She’s her imperious, larger-than-life self in this juicy read with anecdotes including Jerry Hall, Nile Rodgers, Timothy Leary, Marianne Faithfull, Andy Warhol, Dolph Lundgren and Debbie Harry. Yes, yes, yes. This avant-garde glam gal delivers the goods in her chatty book. (Gallery Books, $26.99)
Over the Top and Back: The Autobiography by Tom Jones
Known as the working-class, virile, Welshman who drove women so wild they threw their undies on stage at him, Tom Jones curiously doesn’t spend ink on his legendary philandering — his “marathon shagathon,” writes the Daily Mail — in his 424-page memoir. Married at age 16 to his impregnated girlfriend, Jones hits the road with his sex-god image in place and makes his mark on showbiz in the sixties and seventies. The singer who sang pop classics such as “It’s Not Unusual,” “What’s New Pussycat?” and “She’s a Lady,” takes us from the heady days at the height of his success — hobnobbing with the likes of Elvis and Frank Sinatra, to the following lows and now the comeback victory lap at age 75 — even releasing a new album Long Lost Suitcase this fall. (Blue Rider Press, $26.95)
Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored by John Lydon
The outspoken frontman of England’s Sex Pistols — and afterwards for Public Image Ltd. — John Lydon tells his story as though you’re sitting with him drinking a pint at the bar. He’s profane, hilarious, self-deprecating, furious, honorable and entertaining as hell. This big book flies by and engulfs the reader in a sea of A-list musicians on their way up and on their way down. Most touching though is Lydon’s retelling of his childhood when this bright young boy was struck down with meningitis, putting him in a coma and wiping out his memory. His confusion, recovery, ostracism and his determination is saddening and inspiring. You can’t help but root for the kid who grew up to shock the world when he howled the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK.” (Dey Street Books, $28.99)
It’s a Long Story: My Life by Willie Nelson with David Ritz
At 82, Willie Nelson is an American cultural icon — stubborn, independent, unique. Writing with direct clarity, Nelson recounts his early years in rural Texas, raised by his grandparents and taking to the guitar and songwriting by the age of eight. We learn about his struggles in the fickle music world, as well as his career that’s included more than 100 albums, Grammys, and multiple honors. Famously an advocate of marijuana, he speaks about his support for the legalization of the substance. Nelson also gives the dirt on his troubles with women and the IRS. He shares stories about his posse of famous country-music buddies including Ray Price, Waylon Jennings, Leon Russell, Chet Atkins, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. For hardcore Nelson fans, he provides the stories behind some of his biggest songs, “Crazy”, “Yesterday’s Wine”, and “On the Road Again.” Wilson himself writes, “What I say is that this is the story of my life, told as clear as a Texas sky and in the same rhythm that I lived it.” (Little, Brown and Co., $30)
Boys in the Trees: A Memoir by Carly Simon
Daughter of the co-founder of Simon & Schuster, Carly Simon seemed to have the epitome of a privileged childhood with celebrity-studded domestic life in Greenwich Village, Connecticut and summers in Martha’s Vineyard. In this candid book, she shares disturbing details of what was going on behind the facade of domestic harmony. We learn she was sexually abused from age seven to 16 by a family friend, who, when discovered, was forbidden from visiting — for only the summer. Her mother kept a 19-year-old lover in the house with a secret passage between their rooms. She’s surprisingly open about her love life with stories about Warren Beatty (for whom she penned, “You’re So Vain”), Jack Nicholson, Kris Kristofferson, Cat Stevens and, of course, James Taylor. Simon’s book is a brave and candid account of her not-so-golden life. (Flatiron Books, $28.99)
M Train by Patti Smith
Critics are swooning over the beauty of Patti Smith’s writing in M Train as she poignantly revisits the pain of losing loved ones — her husband, her brother, and her friend Robert Mapplethorpe — and muses on the passage of time. 68-year-old Patti Smith — a local girl, growing up in Germantown and Southern New Jersey — received the 2010 National Book Award for Nonfiction for her memoir, Just Kids, that focused on her artistically formative years in New York City, particularly her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. With M Train, she pays tribute to those who’ve inspired her and left her behind. We get her fearless appraisal of mortal things and the fleeting quality of life. (Alfred A. Knopf, $25)
Chapter and Verse: New Order, Joy Division and M by Bernard Sumner
Perhaps in response to bandmate Peter Hook’s own memoir, Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division — where Hook wrote about his disdain for Sumner — the New Order frontman candidly describes his version of band life after their original lead vocalist Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980. Peter Hook made headlines when he reviewed Chapter and Verse for Billboard and tore it a new one for its accuracy. The two ex-bandmates appear to be locked in an anger spiral that’s going nowhere. Maybe read each man’s memoir and decide for yourself. Parenthetically, The Cure’s former drummer and keyboardist, Lol Tolhurst, has publicly quibbled with Hook’s version of events presented in Unknown Pleasures. (Thomas Dunne Books, $27.99)
The Emperor of Sound: A Memoir by Timbaland and Veronica Chambers
Who brought the “Sexyback”? J-T might have sung it, but it was producer-extraordinaire Timbaland who made studio magic happen for the Justin Timberlake hit. Born Timothy Mosley, Timbaland made his rep back in the mid 1990s with groundbreaking genre-blended hit songs. Timbaland’s memoir describes his star-studded musical journey having worked with a ridiculous amount of singers at the top of their game: Just a few of the long list are Jodeci, Jay-Z, Madonna, Rihanna, Nas, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, Bjork, Lil’ Kim, Pitbull, Drake, Rick Ross and David Guetta. The list goes on and on. Low-key and with a reputation for protecting his privacy, Timbaland is an unexpected entrant into the memoir-writing trend. He has stomped his way into pop music history, and The Emperor of Sound explains the making of Mosley and the creative secret sauce he’s been using all these years to cook up hit after hit. (Amistad, $26.99)
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Coates | Nina Subin, Penguin Random House
I missed out on the hottest ticket in town when Ta-Nehisi Coates was in Philly in October for a talk at the Free Library based on his bestselling, National Book Award-nominated tome, Between the World and Me. (There is a streaming finalists reading tonight at 7; the awards will be announced tomorrow.)
Chances are, though, that if you are an avid consumer of ideas, you’re talking about him anyway, even if you missed the talk, haven’t read the book or one of its many excerpts, or missed his chat with Terry Gross on WHYY’s Fresh Air.
That’s because Coates has undeniably struck a national nerve at just the right moment. As the drumbeat of stories in which cops kill black men (and they are mostly men) with questionable use of force continues, along comes Coates to tell us this sort of thing is encoded in our nation’s DNA.
Like James Baldwin before him, Coates has cast himself as our racial Cassandra, reminding us that the debt for slavery remains unpaid and condemning society for failing to recognize this. And like Baldwin before him, Coates has decided that it’s best to reflect on his native land’s transgressions from afar — Paris, to which numerous African-Americans fed up with the United States have retreated. Read more »
Since Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin put type to printing press, Philadelphia has been a haven and an inspiration for writers. Local essayist Agnes Repplier once shared a glass of whiskey with Walt Whitman who frequently strolled Market Street. Gothic writers like Edgar Allen Poe and George Lippard plumbed the city’s dark streets for material. In the twentieth century, Northern Liberties native John McIntyre found a backdrop for his gritty noir in the working class neighborhoods while novelist Pearl S. Buck discovered a creative sanctuary in Center City. From Quaker novelist Charles Brockden Brown to 1973 U.S. Poet Laureate Daniel Hoffman, author Thom Nickels explores Philadelphia’s literary landscape.
Read more »
Jerri Williams | Twitter
Jerri Williams enjoyed writing her first novel. But what she didn’t like about it was what it cost her.
“This first book, I really gave up my social life,” Williams says. “My brain was a little bit too fried to write in the evening, but every weekend, that’s what I did. I didn’t go anywhere, didn’t do anything. I just got up and started writing.”
Eventually, Williams finished her first novel, a crime thriller set in Philadelphia. And now that she’s found an agent who is attempting to sell the book, she’s leaving her job as as spokeswoman for SEPTA later this month. After she retires on November 25th, she’ll begin writing her second novel: This time, on weekdays.
Williams stresses she isn’t taking a big risk with this career change. “When I’m typing my second book, I will be sitting on a cushion of a federal law enforcement pension and a house with no mortgage,” she says.
Crime fiction makes sense for Williams: Before she came to SEPTA as director of media relations, she had a long career with the FBI. Her last six years were in media relations, but before that she was a fraud investigator in the Philadelphia area. She was on the team that took down the infamous Foundation for New Era Philanthropy ponzi scheme. Read more »
The contrast is difficult to get my brain around. I’m talking with the well-mannered and apparently highly responsible Cheryl Della Pietra, who at 46, is a mom, wife, writer, copy editor at Us Weekly, Penn grad, and (full disclosure) former Philadelphia magazine intern. She’s so nice. But the stories she’s telling me are so naughty. It’s hard to believe that this novelist is the same woman who made a drug buy for cultural icon and creator of “gonzo” immersive journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, her boss for five months back in 1992. Della Pietra also romanced a Hollywood A-list actor, shot pistols with Thompson while high, consumed staggering amounts of cocaine, shrooms, and other illicit drugs, not to mention drinking enough alcohol to drown a sailor.
Gonzo Girl (Simon and Schuster/Touchstone) opens with a tense scene during her actual weekend “try-out” when she visited Thompson at his ranch outside Aspen, Colorado. You know you’re in for a delectably bad-behaviored tale with phrases such as: “The tray of coke never really settles on the table. It just keeps getting passed around like it’s crowdsurfing at a Hole concert,” and “Despite the substances and the guns, I’ve never felt unsafe. Until this moment.”
But yes, it’s all there in the Connecticut-based author’s first novel, which chronicles the adventures of her first literary job out of college. She’ll be reading from it at St. Joseph’s University on October 27th at 6:30 pm, and Barnes & Noble, Rittenhouse Square on October 29th at 7 pm.
Read more »