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G is for Guralnick

Inspired by Stuck in a Book, I am continuing this occasional series, in which I will discuss favorite authors, alphabetically. The latest is Peter Guralnick.

How many books do I have by Guralnick?
Two: Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians, and Feel Like Going Home: Portraits in Blues and Rock 'n' Roll.

How many of these have I read?
Both books, several times each. The books have been on my shelf for so long (on shelves in at least eight different residences, for more than thirty years) that the spines have faded in the sun from a vivid yellow to a dull beige.

How did I start reading Guralnick?
I was heavily into the blues during my early twenties, and though I had never heard of Guralnick before reading Lost Highway, I must have discovered the book and writer in the music section of a used book store, most likely The Used Bookstore, a wonderful place in the basement of the Campus YMCA in Champaign, Illinois, where I spent countless hours during my undergrad and grad school years. (My copy of Lost Highway has a price stamp from Follett's, the textbook chain, but I don't remember that store selling used books. It was probably bought there new, then later sold to The Used Bookstore.) Having loved Lost Highway from the start, Feel Like Going Home entered my library a few years later.

General impressions...
Though I've only read two of his books, Guralnick is my favorite music writer - probably because he's more of a biographer than a critic. Criticism usually leaves me cold (my one attempt at reading Greil Marcus sure did), especially when I'm oblivious to the critic's learned but arcane references, and also when I realize that criticism is just somebody else's opinion. Guralnick writes with such warmth and love for his subjects (often from first-hand conversations) that I can't help becoming completely absorbed in his narratives of the musicians' lives. (Even the country singers - and I'm not really into country.) Other Guralnick books on my to-read list are his latest, Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing, as well as Sweet Soul Music, Searching for Robert Johnson and his only novel, Nighthawk Blues. (He's probably best known for his massive, two-volume bio of Elvis Presley, and while Elvis interests me, I would expect that my interest would wear thin long before finishing the 1,300+ pages.)

If you've never read Guralnick, you should start with...
Lost Highway, which would be a serious candidate for my single desert island book.

If I had to get rid of one Guralnick book, it would be...
I guess it would be Feel Like Going Home, but only because it has slightly less of an emotional tug on me than Lost Highway. But I don't expect to ever get rid of either one.

Other "G" candidates:
Hamlin Garland, Kirby Gann, Kevin Guilfoile, Edward Gorey.

November 26, 2020 in Books | Permalink