Someone once came into my apartment, looked at my bookshelf and said, “Why don’t you read a book about something other than sports, politics or music for once?”
And for a minute I felt bad. Why don’t I read books about other topics? Is that a personality flaw? Should I expand my horizons and delve into other genres?
Then I had another thought.
I read about topics I’m interested in because those are the topics I’m interested in. Reading is a recreational activity. I should enjoy it.
So, this month I read about politics and I read about music. And I enjoyed myself the whole time.
Ed Koch and The Rebuilding of New York City by Jonathan Soffer. 528 pages
When I was a kid, I used to leave the faucet running when I brushed my teeth. My mother would always tell me to turn the water off or Ed Koch would be mad at me. I never got the reference. To me, Ed Koch was the guy from Muppets Take Manhattan. I didn’t know about droughts or him trying to conserve water or joking that people should shower with their friends. Also, we lived in New Jersey.
All these years later, Ed Koch remains, to me, a major symbol of the 80’s. And even though I’ve been lucky enough to speak to the man personally a few times, I still felt like I was lacking in a full understanding of what he meant to the city. Late last year, Koch was hospitalized. It looked like he might be coming to the end. So, I decided it was time to finally delve into the topic of his life and Mayoralty.
First of all, Jonathan Soffer’s book cost $18.99 on ITunes. How do they determine the prices? I thought everything was $9.99.
The book itself was a very fair and incredibly thorough study of Ed Koch. It gave him credit where credit was due, but criticized him when the author felt necessary.
Bottom line: After reading this book, I feel like I know a lot more about Ed Koch and the city he led. And I enjoyed learning about it.
Also, Ed Koch is out of the hospital and doing relatively well, so it doesn’t look like I’ll be using my newfound knowledge to write an obituary in the near future. And that’s good news too.
Love Is A Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield. 240 pages.
Rob Sheffield’s memoir combines two of my favorite things: pop music and soul crushing sadness. I’ll let longtime readers determine which is my side A and which is my side B.
You may not recognize the name Rob Sheffield, but you’ve probably seen him on tv or read something he wrote. He’s the pop culture columnist for Rolling Stone. He’s also the thin guy in the sweater who shows up on every VH1 countdown show. “Love is a Mixtape,” is the story of Sheffield’s marriage, which ended in the sudden and tragic death of his wife Renee from a pulmonary embolism when they were both just 31. Each chapter begins with the track listing of a mix tape Sheffield or his wife had made during the period of time described in the chapter.
The book isn’t nearly as sad as it could have been. Instead of focusing on the horrible loss, Sheffield focuses most of the book on the happy times. Renee’s death is discussed almost clinically. It reflects the fog that Sheffield was in after his losing his wife. There’s not a lot of emotion because he spent most of the next few years completely numb.
I haven’t made a mix tape in a long time. It used to be my favorite thing in the world. And while the popular idea seems to be that guys made mix tapes for specific girls (and maybe most guys did,) that was never how I operated. I would make mix tapes for ALL THE GIRLS. I would play the tape around large groups of people and wait for the girls who were there to come up to me and talk about my brilliant and eclectic musical tastes. The conversations happened. Subsequent “activity” rarely did.
I had very specific rules for each mix tape, rules that I was shocked to see Sheffield ignored. The most important was to avoid repeat artists and, under no circumstances,to put two songs from the same singer or group on the same side of the tape. Not only does Rob Sheffield put 2, 3 or 4 songs from the same group on the same tape, he actually plays 4 or 5 songs from the same guy IN A ROW! That’s blasphemous.
He also talks a lot about the group Big Star. I didn’t know very much about them before I read this book. In fact, the only reason I had heard of them was that their singer, Alex Chilton, had died in the recent past and I was surprised to read so many tributes from musicians I admire to someone I had never heard of. So, while reading this book I also did some reading about the band. And, now, as I sit here and write this, I’m listening to Big Star’s first album. It’s pretty good.