Duff's Summer Reading: Vol. II

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Duff McKagan's column runs every Thursday on Reverb.
I received a comment to last week's article on Alice in Chains that instantly reminded me of part of my somewhat-lost "mission statement" here. The comment was a suggestion from a reader about a new book, The New Pearl Harbor by David Ray Griffin. Ah, yes! We are in midsummer--a great time to sit on the back porch and read a good book. I'd like to think that this weekly forum can be used as a meeting place for the intellectual-minded on topical subjects, yes, but also a place where we can all turn each other on to what books we have been reading: suggested high-minded fodder for us who can't find a good book on our own (I definitely fall into that category at times).

Thankfully, I have friends who know that I am an avid reader, and they will sometimes pick up a book for me that they think fits my criteria (nonfiction, mostly). Mike Squires was in Portland last week, and found himself perusing the famous Powell's Books. He happened upon You Can't Win by Jack Black, a very popular book in the 1920s that quickly went through five pressings before inexplicably being forgotten, hence becoming an underground cult read.

You Can't Win was reportedly William S. Burroughs' favorite book and a cornerstone of his writing style; in the new edition that I now own, Burroughs penned the introduction. The book follows Black's rough-and-tumble childhood, which eventually brought him to a life of crime and riding the trains, criss-crossing the turn-of-the-century United States. Black tells an uncompromising tale of his absolute fascination with the life of a "yegg"--basically, a homeless vagrant that chooses a life free of the 9-to-5 job, etc.

This book is really quite fascinating in that Black's voice throughout stays true to the parlance of that time. If any of you have seen an episode of HBO's Deadwood, that will give you a clue to the peculiar Western-style speech of that time. This book is an absolute page-turner, and I highly recommend seeking out a copy of your own. It is one of those that you keep and display on your home bookshelf . . . for sure!

If you lean more toward rock and roll and if you are a Stooges, Iggy Pop, or even David Bowie fan, Open Up and Bleed by Paul Trynka is probably the most complete and well-researched book ever written (and there been a few) on not only the Stooges, but also on how Iggy got the last name "Pop," the downfall and triumphant return of Iggy's career, and lastly the triumphant return a few years back of Ron Asheton and the Stooges. I read this book on tour last month, and it inspired some good rock moments out there in Europe for me.

I just picked up a new book that is perched to be my next read after You Can't Win. Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War is a National Book Award Finalist that examines a little-written-about side of that dreadful period in American history: how we dealt with ALL of the death that was its overwhelming product. To quote Vintage Books' blurb on the back of this book:

"600,000 dead . . . an equivalent proportion in today's population would be 6 million. In This Republic of Suffering, Faust reveals the way that death on such a scale changed not only individual lives but the life of the nation, describing how the survivors managed on a practical level and how a deeply religious culture struggled to reconcile the unprecedented carnage with its belief in a benevolent God. Throughout, the voices of soldiers and their families, of statesmen, generals, preachers, poets, surgeons, nurses, Northerners, and Southerners come together to give us a vivid understanding of the Civil War's most fundamental and widely shared reality."

I like books on war in general, if only to try to grasp what it must be like to fight, kill, and die in something as fucked up as armed combat. Two of my brothers were in Vietnam, and I asked my mom once back then (I was probably 5) how a war gets started. She said that basically two men couldn't get along and so they had all of their citizens fight out their differences. I have yet to find a better explanation.

Stephen Ambrose has written some fine books on the human condition in war and other stressful situations. Band of Brothers and Citizen Soldier are just two of his that I can highly recommend. Ambrose's book on the Lewis and Clark expedition, Undaunted Courage, tops my all-time favorite nonfiction list in that he so precisely nails down every twist and turn of that journey while also putting the reader inside of the expedition members' heads. For instance, did you know that modern scientists have concluded that Meriwether Lewis suffered bipolar disease, and they think this is what led to his painful suicide when, after not having turned in his unfinished journals after two years, he was finally beckoned by Jefferson to Washington? Fascinating stuff indeed.

Do any of you have book suggestions? Please share if you can.

 
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