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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Our Favorite Books: Part Three

The Holidays are getting scarily close and so we have rounded up some more favorites of OUP employees, this week I harassed the publicity staff. To find out what other books we love check out part one, and part two.

Darren Shannon– Senior Publicist

My favorite book is Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. It’s about the secret, depressing lives of people living in a small town, which has been done to death, but Anderson wrote it back in 1919. I’ve recommended it to just about everyone I know.

Miguel Hernandez– Publicity Assistant

If you’re a fan of rock biography, you need to get your hands on Charles Cross’s biography on Jimi Hendrix, Room Full of Mirrors. Like every great biography, it captures the life and times of the artist and places you in the moment, and you can almost swear you were there. A poor kid from a broken home growing up in the Seattle suburbs, Jimi was raised on a steady diet of blues albums (such as those by the legendary Muddy Waters) from his aunt’s collection. From an early age, Jimi cared about one thing and one thing alone, the guitar (the women would follow).

Jimi toured a bit in the South before heading to New York to try and strike it big. He knew no one, but his talent would eventually draw attention from musical circles throughout. Yet even then he still struggled as a consequence of a racially intolerant U.S., living as a vagabond and barely getting by. It wasn’t until ’66 when Keith Richard’s then girlfriend Linda Keith saw Jimi play and was determined to get him across the pond to London. Upon arrival, he was an instant god amongst rock royalty, and just as quickly dethroned Clapton. He returned to the States, played the Monterey Pop Festival (at the behest of Paul McCartney), lit his guitar on fire, and became a living legend. It’s almost unbelievable, until you consider the talent of a self-taught leftie that could also rock out with his teeth.

Don Myers– Senior Publicist

I’m currently re-reading The Real Frank Zappa Book, the autobiography of the greatest American composer of the 20th Century.

I’m serious.

Frank produced a catalog of astounding range and depth, releasing over 60 albums before his untimely death at the age of 52. He could write straight up rock ‘n’ roll (“My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama“), doo-wop (Cruisin’ with Ruben and the Jets), sexual satire (“Dynamo Humm”), opera (Joe’s Garage), jazz (Hot Rats), electronic music (Jazz from Hell) and orchestral pieces (London Symphony Orchestra vols 1 and 2, Boulez Conducts Zappa).

Although he was a gifted musician, Zappa considered himself first and foremost a composer, which he defined as “a person who draws dots on paper.” Zappa was most proud of his orchestral music and classical works, and he devotes several chapters of the book to his adventurous writing and recording his ‘serious’ music. Most of his orchestral works were amazingly complex and difficult to play, and classical musicians often complained of having to learn maddening complicated compositions with names like “Naval Aviation in Art” or “Sinister Footwear, second movement.”

In The Real Frank Zappa Book, Frank tells stories from the road, elaborates on his theory of raising children, explains how he got sued by the Royal Albert Hall, reveals that the London Symphony Orchestra is a buncha drunks, and pulls the mask off the ugly face of modern music. It’s revealing, engrossing, and in many parts, laugh-out-loud funny.

Lindsay Kaplan– Publicity Assistant

A twelve year old girl should, under no circumstances, read Vonnegut. She should wait until she is at least fourteen. A twelve year girl will soak up the dry, black humor and radiate (or seethe) misunderstood sarcasm on adults and simple minded peers. A twelve year old girl will not understand why there is a picture of a crudely drawn butt-hole amongst the text.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been reading Breakfast of Champions at such a young age, but I didn’t know better. I was devouring book after book, and found myself snatching good-looking copies from my parents’ study before bed time. Lured by the illustrations and sold by the lack of a pedantic omniscience, Breakfast of Champions smelled musty and looked dangerous. Of course the characters were all slowly going mad. I understood —after all, seventh grade was making me equally insane. Breakfast of Champions made me feel adult and unsatisfied, besieged by the ineptitude of seventh grade boys and plagued with the inability to draw anything much better than butt holes in art class.

But as mature as I felt, I had childishly missed the point. Vonnegut held youth dear to his heart, and I cringed when I read the last line: “Here was what Kilgore Trout cried out to me in my father’s voice: ‘Make me young, make me young, make me young!'”

Rebecca Ford– Blog Editor

One of my favorite books is Leviathan by Paul Auster. In this novel Peter Aaron, a writer, is trying to piece together what has happened to his friend and fellow writer Benjamin Sachs. What Aaron slowly reveals is that Sachs has traded the written word for action and in the process managed to blow himself to pieces on the side of a road in Wisconsin.

This book also contains one of my favorite quotes: ‘I’m taking this out of the mouth of William Tecumseh Sherman,’ he said. ‘I hope the general doesn’t mind, but he got there before I did and I can’t think of a better way to express it.’ Then, turning in my direction, Sachs lifted his glass and said: ‘Grant stood by me when I was crazy. I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other always.'”

It’s a book about friendship, and isolation, the elusiveness of truth and the dubious nature of reality.

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