« September 2020 | Main | December 2020 »

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 | Comments (0)

F is for Fridegård

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

How many books do I have by Fridegård?
Two, or maybe three: two editions of Land of Wooden Gods (both in English translation and in its Swedish original, published as Trägudars land (1940)), and I, Lars Hård (1935). Whether it's two or three depends on if you consider an original-language book and its translation to be a single book, or two distinct books.

How many of these have I read?
Two: Trägudars land (in Swedish), and I, Lars Hård (in English). I bought Land of Wooden Gods last year, and it's very high on my to-read list.

How did I start reading Fridegård?
I took four semesters of Swedish language and two Scandinavian literature classes at the University of Illinois during the mid 1980s from Dr. Rochelle Wright (who has translated some of Fridegård's work, although neither of these two translations, both of which were by Robert Bjork). We read Trägudars land during my fourth semester of Swedish, probably as a test for how much of the language we had learned during the previous three semesters. And it was pretty slow going; though my verbal Swedish was fairly decent at the time (I often told people that I was capable of having a reasonably intelligent conversation with a four-year-old Swedish child), my written Swedish was less so. At least half of my reading time was spent consulting my Swedish-to-English dictionary. And I read I, Lars Hård at roughly the same time, in a Scandinavian literature class that also covered Knut Hamsun, Tarjei Vesaas, Par Lagerkvist and many others. It was my favorite college class ever; and in a nice twist, my daughter took the same course at U of I last year, although with a mostly different syllabus and a different professor, as Dr. Wright retired several years ago.

General impressions...
Trägudars land, set in the Viking Age with a thrall (a white slave) as protagonist, was a fascinating and exciting story, which came across even through the haze of my limited grasp of the Swedish language. Thirty-five years later, I'm excited to read the English translation, to see what I've forgotten or what I completely missed the first time. I, Lars Hård is also really good—an earthy, sometimes funny proletarian novel that rails against the Swedish statare system, which once bound laborers to aristocratic estates. The novel is the first in a trilogy; the final two installments, Jacob's Ladder and Mercy, are collected in a single volume that is on my hunting list.

If you've never read Fridegård, you should start with...
I can't vouch yet for the translated Land of Wooden Gods, so I'll recommend I, Lars Hård.

If I had to get rid of one Fridegård book, it would be...
In a pinch, I would unload Trägudars land, since I will definitely never attempt to read it again. But I like the novelty of owning the only two books I've ever read in a foreign language (the other is one of Tove Jansson's Moomin books, also from that Swedish class).

Other "F" candidates:
James T. Farrell, Patrick Michael Finn. (But, alas, neither Fitzgerald nor Faulkner. I've read one novel of each author, both of which left me completely cold.)

November 11, 2020 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)