October brings us rock and roll, spirituality and a wonderful new novel from a local boy whose novels have won the Pulitzer Prize and been made into movies. With the obvious exception of Harry Potter, publishers produce their biggest titles in the fall and choosing what to review was a pleasant challenge. I hope you find something appealing!
Rock and roll is in the air this season. David Cassidy has an autobiography out, Pattie Boyd’s Wonderful Tonight about her life as a super-model and wife of George Harrison and Eric Clapton is climbing the bestseller list as I write, and Pamela Des Barres has a new book out. Her name might not be familiar, but if you’ve seen Cameron Crowe’s movie “Almost Famous,” you’ve seen a character based on her and others like her—Penny Lane, the super-groupie played by Kate Hudson. Des Barres glory days are chronicled in her first book, I’m With the Band, a memoir first published 20 years ago. She was obsessed with music from childhood, swooning over Elvis records and Dion until she became a Beatlemaniac and tried desperately to meet them in LA in 1964. Although she was unsuccessful, she’d been bitten by the rock bug and was determined to have a place in that world. From flower child to rock wife, Pamela encounters Gram Parsons, Jim Morrison, Frank Zappa, Don Johnson and many others, both famous and infamous. Her writing style is chatty and intimate, and the book contains many excerpts from her journal. The book ends when she and her husband-to-be, Michael Des Barres, begin their lives together.
In her most recent book, Let’s Spend the Night Together, Des Barres chronicles her time traveling the country visiting groupies and collecting their reminisces of Elvis Presley, Iggy Pop, Van Halen, Mick Jagger and countless other rock icons. Covering sex, drugs and rock and roll, this alternately impressive and appalling narrative is never boring! Beginning with Tura Satana, the exotic dancer who taught Elvis how to dance, kiss and more, and ending with Static Beth, a woman whose website features rock stars’ nether regions, the compilation mirrors the history of rock itself, from the innocence of the ‘50s and ‘60s through the decadence of the ‘70s and ‘80s and into the “anything goes” philosophy of the ‘90s and today.
The epilogue is an interview with Cameron Crowe, who expounds on “Almost Famous”, his definition of groupie, and his first meeting with Des Barres in 1973 while he was interviewing Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. It neatly encapsulates the author’s view that groupies were and are an integral part of the rock scene. The last chapter also updates her life up until 2005. If you love VH1 Behind the Scenes, you should read this book.
Breakfast with Buddha is a novel with spiritual overtones by Roland Merullo. Otto Ringling, the protagonist, is an upper-middle class publishing executive living the good life with his wife and children in a wealthy New York suburb. Any niggling thoughts he might have about the true meaning of life are buried under the minutiae of everyday matters, but when his parents are killed in a car accident, those questions bubble to the surface. In order to settle his parents’ estate, he decides to drive to North Dakota and see to matters in person. His new-age, mystic sister who intended to accompany him changes her mind and sends her guru along in his place. Here the adventure begins. How can a conventional, successful man spend a week on the road with a holy man he suspects is out to defraud his sister of her inheritance? And yet, as the trip progresses and Otto starts to see his world through the guru’s eyes, he begins to grasp that there might be more to life than he ever dreamed of. Through bowling, miniature golf, yoga and meditation, he learns what is important. This is a wonderful book on spirituality for those who prefer their lessons coated in fiction and an uplifting read for those looking for a good story.
In Richard Russo’s new book, Bridge of Sighs, he returns to New York State to the economically depressed towns made famous in his earliest novels. In it, he traces the entwined destinies of a small town homebody, an expatriate painter living in Venice, and the woman who loves them both. Moving from the present back through childhood, and shifting through several narrative voices, Bridge of Sighs is a wonderful story, certain to be Russo’s next bestseller. If you loved Nobody’s Fool and Empire Falls, you have a treat in store.
Susan Taylor has been in the book business, in one aspect or another, since 1982. She recently returned to the Capital District after 14 years in the Boston area (which included stints at the Harvard Bookstore and the Wellesley Booksmith), and is happily re-employed at the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. Stop by the store if you are looking for a good book—she’s read a lot more than she can talk about here!