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Holiday Book Bonanza ’09:
Gordon Thompson

It has become a holiday tradition on the OUPblog to ask our favorite people about their favorite books.  This year we asked authors to participate (OUP authors and non-OUP authors).  For the next two weeks we will be posting their responses which reflect a wide variety of tastes and interests, in fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.  Check back daily for new books to add to your 2010 reading lists.  If that isn’t enough to keep you busy next year check out all the great books we have discovered during past holiday seasons: 2006, 2007, 2008 (US), and 2008 (UK).

Gordon Thompson is Professor of Music at Skidmore College. His book, Please Please Me: Sixties British Pop, Inside Out, offers an insider’s view of the British pop-music recording industry.  Thompson is a frequent contributor to the OUPblog, check out his other posts here.

Once you begin writing about the Beatles, people feel little hesitation in asking your opinion about which books they should read on the fab four, usually with some special qualification. Just the other day, a woman asked me for advice on what Beatles biography I could recommend for her twelve-year-old daughter who had become infatuated with the band, but whom the mother wished to shield from the biological aspects of their lives. (I recommended Allan Kozinn’s short, but entertaining account of their lives, repertoire, and recordings.) Nevertheless, the dramatic arch of their story and the music they created remain a draw for generations born long, long after the years of Beatlemania. Indeed, the music of this era persists on college radio stations and in the iPods of students.

Since 1997, I have been coaching a seminar at Skidmore College where students comb through a variety of sources on the Beatles, in the process learning how authors spin their narratives. Over twelve weeks, teams of juniors and seniors compare biographies by Philip Norman, by Hunter Davies, and, of course, by the Beatles themselves in their Anthology (both in print and on video). How do different authors describe Brian Epstein’s death? How did the Beatles come to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show? They also examine the music through readings by authors such as Walter Everett and summations of their professional and recording career in Mark Lewisohn’s chronologies. They then present their findings to their classmates. A pleasant time is guaranteed for all.

Each of these sources (and others) possesses qualities to recommend; but of all the books on the Beatles I have required, for sheer readability I offer Jonathan Gould’s Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America. When I first opened this book, I found myself unwilling to close the cover and spent a weekend reliving a tragedy I knew well, but in which I found renewed fascination through Gould’s depiction. In particular, he brings a casual familiarity to his writing about this music that many writers have attempted but failed to fulfill.

As for a children’s book, my daughters have all flown the coop, but I still relish the memory of reading to them. In addition to the usual suspects (Maurice Sendak, Shel Silverstein, and others), we reveled in the sometimes rowdy, but always entertaining rhymes of Dennis Lee and Juan Wijngaard’s illustrations for Jelly Belly (originally published in 1983; Key Porter Books Ltd 2001). Lee’s ear for the irreverent rhythm of Canadian place and historical names often kept us giggling past bedtime: “Just one more page, pleeeease?” Wijngaard’s outrageous depictions of animals and people (including the corpulent bully on the cover and of the title) provide just the right visuals for these skewed nursery rhymes.

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