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  • Lauren Passell 1:30 pm on 2017/07/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   

    DO NOT READ THIS POST: The 10 Biggest Book Spoilers, Ever 

    Warning: if you like to be surprised, stop reading right now. Get a glass of water or look at Buzzfeed or start working on your memoir.

    But if you’re curious about these books and their kick-to-the-stomach endings, then by all means, read on. (Because I’m not completely cruel, I’ve whited out the spoilers—just highlight the empty space to see the hidden words.)

    Don’t say we didn’t warn you…

    The Sinner, by Petra Hammesfahr
    One of the best examples of a “whydunnit” in recent years, German author Hammesfahr’s twisty novel (soon to air as a miniseries on USA starring Jessica Biel) is largely told in flashback after Cora Bender, a seemingly normal mother and housewife, inexplicably stabs a man to death while on a beach picnic with her family. Cora confesses readily and claims to have no idea why she just committed homicide—but a patient policeman thinks there’s more to the story, and slowly susses out the truth—Cora’s younger sister was born extremely ill, and her mother became obsessed with caring for her, forcing her father to share a room with Cora, resulting in a creepily close relationship between the two that comes as close to abuse as possible without crossing that final line. Her sister Magdalena isn’t as innocent as she seems—despite her frailty, she manipulates Cora and also has an intensely, inappropriately intimate relationship with her. When Cora is 19, she takes Magdalena with her to meet a boy and his friends, not realizing that Magdalena is near death and wishes to die. Two of the boys rape Cora while the third has sex with Magdalena—who dies during the act, a specific piece of music playing on the radio. When Cora freaks out, one of the boys hits her in the head with an ashtray, and to cover up the crime, they hold Cora captive for six months. Years later, when the music plays again at the beach, Cora snaps, and strikes out with a knife.

    Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
    In Ender’s Game, the survival of the human race depends on Ender Wiggin, the child genius recruited for military training by the government… But while you (and Ender) believe he is fighting in mind simulation, in truth, he’s been  manipulated into fighting a real war, and actually killing the enemies, called buggers. He moves to a new colony planet with his sister, where he discovers that the buggers have created a space just for him. They didn’t know humans had intelligence, and they want to communicate with him. They show him what the war looked like from their point of view, and Ender and the buggers meet a point of understanding. He vows to live with them in peace, starts a new kind of religion, and writes a Bible-like book about the buggers, signing it Speaker For The Dead, which is a perfect segue into the Ender’s Game sequel.

    Atonement, by Ian McEwan
    Atonement is about misinterpretation and its repercussions. Briony observes her big sister Cecilia and Cecilia’s friend Robbie flirting and assumes something shameful has happened between them. She accuses Robbie of rape, and Robbie goes to jail. The story then follows Cecilia and Robbie as they go to war, fall in love, and wind up together forever. But at the end of the novel, you discover that Briony is actually the book’s narrator—and she’s been lying to you, too. She did accuse Robbie of rape, and he was jailed, but C & R didn’t live happily ever after together, after all. They both died in the war. Briony just wrote a happy ending for them to atone for her sins. That’s what she says, anyway. I’m not sure I believe anything she says anymore.

    And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
    Most Agatha Christie novels leave you gobsmacked (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, anyone?) But And Then There Were None is an absolute masterpiece of the whodunnit? formula. People invited to a party in a mansion keep on being murdered, but by whom? Well, if you’re sure you want to know…it was Judge Wargrave! Swaddled in a red curtain, he fakes his own death so that you, the reader, assume the murderer is someone else. But in a written confession at the end of the novel, you learn that he invited people to a desolate island in order to kill them one by one as punishment for the terrible things they’d done (and thought they got away with). Agatha, you sneak!

    Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
    In Gone Girl, husband and wife Nick and Amy tell the story of their tumultuous marriage. We read what we think is Amy’s diary, and it condemns Nick as a violent jerk. We start to believe that Nick is responsible for Amy’s disappearance and possible death. But in a series of twists, the truth is revealed—Amy and Nick are both liars. Nick was having an affair, and Amy has been alive all along, on the lam, trying to frame Nick for her death. What we thought was her diary is actually a cunning trap: it’s a piece of fiction Amy wrote for the police to find. Amy kills a friend and returns to Nick, pregnant with his child, claiming she was kidnapped. Nick takes her back even though he knows the truth. In the end, Amy says she’s getting ready to become a mom by writing her abduction story. She should hang out with Briony.

    Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
    Rebecca begins with one of the most mesmerizing first lines in literature—“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Things only get more interesting from there. The unnamed protagonist marries Maxim de Winter and moves into his home, called Manderley. She struggles to live up to the legend of Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca, who was seemingly perfect. Mrs. Danvers, the maid, almost gets the protagonist to kill herself in despair. But one day, divers find a sunken sailboat that belonged to Rebecca, revealing that Rebecca was murdered. Maxim then tells the truth: Rebecca was a wretched woman who had multiple affairs—one, with her cousin, resulted in her pregnancy. When Maxim found out, he killed her. In yet another twist, we find out that Rebecca was lying to Maxim—she wasn’t pregnant, but was actually dying of a terminal illness. In the end Old Danvers burns the joint down and disappears. As for Maxim and the protagonist? Happily ever after.

    The Dinner, by Herman Koch
    In Howard Koch’s The Dinner, two brothers and their wives sit down for a meal to discuss the horrific crime committed by their sons. The cousins have been caught on camera attacking a sleeping homeless woman in an ATM, throwing trash and a container of gasoline at her, and then burning her to death. Koch makes it clear that the family is bonded by a common sociopathology. The family argues over what to do. Serge, a politician, wants to come clean about the boys’ crime. Enraged by Serge’s stance, his sister-in-law Claire attacks him, disfiguring his face. Claire urges her nephews to “take care” of Beau, Serge and Babette’s adopted son, who witnessed the crime and is blackmailing the boys by threatening to reveal what they did. At the end of the novel, Beau is missing, and one of the cousins comes home covered in blood and mud. Wonder what happened to him?

    Harry Potter And The Deathly Hollows, by J.K. Rowling
    In J.K. Rowling’s seventh and final installment in the Harry Potter series, it’s revealed that Harry is a Horcrux, and must be killed before Voldemort can be. Viewing Snape’s memories in the Pensieve, Harry sees Snape talking to Dumbledore and finds out that Snape’s been his protector all this time. Snape loved Harry’s mother, Lily Potter, and spent his entire life spying on Voldemort for Dumbledore. Meanwhile, Dumbledore had been steering Harry to sacrifice himself for the larger good. Good and evil are blurred once again when Harry survives and learns that Dumbledore loved him, even if he expected him to sacrifice himself. Ms. Rowling, you’ve tricked us again.

    Rant, by Chuck Palahniuk
    This novel is an oral biography of protagonist Buster Landru “Rant” Casey, who has died. The reader gathers that Rant lived in a dystopian future where lower class citizens, called “nighttimers,” engaged in an activity called “Party Crashing,” a demolition derby where the crashers slam into each other in cars. The catch: if you crash in the right mental state, you’ll travel backwards in time. Rant disappears during Party Crashing, so his friends assume he’s time traveling. It takes some piecing together to figure out that Rant has been traveling back through time, raping his ancestors every thirteen years in an effort to become a superhuman. He isn’t one character; he is many. You can’t make this stuff up, but I guess Palahniuk did.

    Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
    Anna Karenina is about a lot of stuff, but the heart of the story lies with Anna and her downward spiral from captivating spitfire to insecure shell of a woman. The book is beautifully written. Much of its pleasure comes from the character studies and quiet plotting. Then, in one of the most shocking moments in literature, Anna throws herself under a train and dies and you are stupefied. One of my friends always says, of Anna Karenina, “if you only read one ‘old’ book in your whole life, have it be this one.” Agreed.

    Something Happened, by Joseph Heller
    You’ll spend more than 400 pages reading about not much happening, rolling around in the protagonist’s brain as he goes to work, cares for his son, and fantasizes about the secretary. I can’t tell you what happens, though. That would ruin the book completely. 

    Kidding, obviously. The whole point, here, is to ruin your enjoyment of surprising books!

    Slocum’s son is a weakling because Slocum never made him go to gym class. This son gets hit by a car. In sadness and despair, Slocum hugs him to death. I mean that very literally, not the new kind of “literally.” Slocum hugs his son until he dies from squeezing. 

    Even with the surprises spoiled, reading these books is still a worthwhile endeavor. You’re going to read all of them, right? What’s the best book twist you’ve ever read?

    The post DO NOT READ THIS POST: The 10 Biggest Book Spoilers, Ever appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Lauren Passell 1:30 pm on 2017/07/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   

    DO NOT READ THIS POST: The 10 Biggest Book Spoilers, Ever 

    Warning: if you like to be surprised, stop reading right now. Get a glass of water or look at Buzzfeed or start working on your memoir.

    But if you’re curious about these books and their kick-to-the-stomach endings, then by all means, read on. (Because I’m not completely cruel, I’ve whited out the spoilers—just highlight the empty space to see the hidden words.)

    Don’t say we didn’t warn you…

    The Sinner, by Petra Hammesfahr
    One of the best examples of a “whydunnit” in recent years, German author Hammesfahr’s twisty novel (soon to air as a miniseries on USA starring Jessica Biel) is largely told in flashback after Cora Bender, a seemingly normal mother and housewife, inexplicably stabs a man to death while on a beach picnic with her family. Cora confesses readily and claims to have no idea why she just committed homicide—but a patient policeman thinks there’s more to the story, and slowly susses out the truth—Cora’s younger sister was born extremely ill, and her mother became obsessed with caring for her, forcing her father to share a room with Cora, resulting in a creepily close relationship between the two that comes as close to abuse as possible without crossing that final line. Her sister Magdalena isn’t as innocent as she seems—despite her frailty, she manipulates Cora and also has an intensely, inappropriately intimate relationship with her. When Cora is 19, she takes Magdalena with her to meet a boy and his friends, not realizing that Magdalena is near death and wishes to die. Two of the boys rape Cora while the third has sex with Magdalena—who dies during the act, a specific piece of music playing on the radio. When Cora freaks out, one of the boys hits her in the head with an ashtray, and to cover up the crime, they hold Cora captive for six months. Years later, when the music plays again at the beach, Cora snaps, and strikes out with a knife.

    Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
    In Ender’s Game, the survival of the human race depends on Ender Wiggin, the child genius recruited for military training by the government… But while you (and Ender) believe he is fighting in mind simulation, in truth, he’s been  manipulated into fighting a real war, and actually killing the enemies, called buggers. He moves to a new colony planet with his sister, where he discovers that the buggers have created a space just for him. They didn’t know humans had intelligence, and they want to communicate with him. They show him what the war looked like from their point of view, and Ender and the buggers meet a point of understanding. He vows to live with them in peace, starts a new kind of religion, and writes a Bible-like book about the buggers, signing it Speaker For The Dead, which is a perfect segue into the Ender’s Game sequel.

    Atonement, by Ian McEwan
    Atonement is about misinterpretation and its repercussions. Briony observes her big sister Cecilia and Cecilia’s friend Robbie flirting and assumes something shameful has happened between them. She accuses Robbie of rape, and Robbie goes to jail. The story then follows Cecilia and Robbie as they go to war, fall in love, and wind up together forever. But at the end of the novel, you discover that Briony is actually the book’s narrator—and she’s been lying to you, too. She did accuse Robbie of rape, and he was jailed, but C & R didn’t live happily ever after together, after all. They both died in the war. Briony just wrote a happy ending for them to atone for her sins. That’s what she says, anyway. I’m not sure I believe anything she says anymore.

    And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
    Most Agatha Christie novels leave you gobsmacked (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, anyone?) But And Then There Were None is an absolute masterpiece of the whodunnit? formula. People invited to a party in a mansion keep on being murdered, but by whom? Well, if you’re sure you want to know…it was Judge Wargrave! Swaddled in a red curtain, he fakes his own death so that you, the reader, assume the murderer is someone else. But in a written confession at the end of the novel, you learn that he invited people to a desolate island in order to kill them one by one as punishment for the terrible things they’d done (and thought they got away with). Agatha, you sneak!

    Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
    In Gone Girl, husband and wife Nick and Amy tell the story of their tumultuous marriage. We read what we think is Amy’s diary, and it condemns Nick as a violent jerk. We start to believe that Nick is responsible for Amy’s disappearance and possible death. But in a series of twists, the truth is revealed—Amy and Nick are both liars. Nick was having an affair, and Amy has been alive all along, on the lam, trying to frame Nick for her death. What we thought was her diary is actually a cunning trap: it’s a piece of fiction Amy wrote for the police to find. Amy kills a friend and returns to Nick, pregnant with his child, claiming she was kidnapped. Nick takes her back even though he knows the truth. In the end, Amy says she’s getting ready to become a mom by writing her abduction story. She should hang out with Briony.

    Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
    Rebecca begins with one of the most mesmerizing first lines in literature—“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Things only get more interesting from there. The unnamed protagonist marries Maxim de Winter and moves into his home, called Manderley. She struggles to live up to the legend of Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca, who was seemingly perfect. Mrs. Danvers, the maid, almost gets the protagonist to kill herself in despair. But one day, divers find a sunken sailboat that belonged to Rebecca, revealing that Rebecca was murdered. Maxim then tells the truth: Rebecca was a wretched woman who had multiple affairs—one, with her cousin, resulted in her pregnancy. When Maxim found out, he killed her. In yet another twist, we find out that Rebecca was lying to Maxim—she wasn’t pregnant, but was actually dying of a terminal illness. In the end Old Danvers burns the joint down and disappears. As for Maxim and the protagonist? Happily ever after.

    The Dinner, by Herman Koch
    In Howard Koch’s The Dinner, two brothers and their wives sit down for a meal to discuss the horrific crime committed by their sons. The cousins have been caught on camera attacking a sleeping homeless woman in an ATM, throwing trash and a container of gasoline at her, and then burning her to death. Koch makes it clear that the family is bonded by a common sociopathology. The family argues over what to do. Serge, a politician, wants to come clean about the boys’ crime. Enraged by Serge’s stance, his sister-in-law Claire attacks him, disfiguring his face. Claire urges her nephews to “take care” of Beau, Serge and Babette’s adopted son, who witnessed the crime and is blackmailing the boys by threatening to reveal what they did. At the end of the novel, Beau is missing, and one of the cousins comes home covered in blood and mud. Wonder what happened to him?

    Harry Potter And The Deathly Hollows, by J.K. Rowling
    In J.K. Rowling’s seventh and final installment in the Harry Potter series, it’s revealed that Harry is a Horcrux, and must be killed before Voldemort can be. Viewing Snape’s memories in the Pensieve, Harry sees Snape talking to Dumbledore and finds out that Snape’s been his protector all this time. Snape loved Harry’s mother, Lily Potter, and spent his entire life spying on Voldemort for Dumbledore. Meanwhile, Dumbledore had been steering Harry to sacrifice himself for the larger good. Good and evil are blurred once again when Harry survives and learns that Dumbledore loved him, even if he expected him to sacrifice himself. Ms. Rowling, you’ve tricked us again.

    Rant, by Chuck Palahniuk
    This novel is an oral biography of protagonist Buster Landru “Rant” Casey, who has died. The reader gathers that Rant lived in a dystopian future where lower class citizens, called “nighttimers,” engaged in an activity called “Party Crashing,” a demolition derby where the crashers slam into each other in cars. The catch: if you crash in the right mental state, you’ll travel backwards in time. Rant disappears during Party Crashing, so his friends assume he’s time traveling. It takes some piecing together to figure out that Rant has been traveling back through time, raping his ancestors every thirteen years in an effort to become a superhuman. He isn’t one character; he is many. You can’t make this stuff up, but I guess Palahniuk did.

    Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
    Anna Karenina is about a lot of stuff, but the heart of the story lies with Anna and her downward spiral from captivating spitfire to insecure shell of a woman. The book is beautifully written. Much of its pleasure comes from the character studies and quiet plotting. Then, in one of the most shocking moments in literature, Anna throws herself under a train and dies and you are stupefied. One of my friends always says, of Anna Karenina, “if you only read one ‘old’ book in your whole life, have it be this one.” Agreed.

    Something Happened, by Joseph Heller
    You’ll spend more than 400 pages reading about not much happening, rolling around in the protagonist’s brain as he goes to work, cares for his son, and fantasizes about the secretary. I can’t tell you what happens, though. That would ruin the book completely. 

    Kidding, obviously. The whole point, here, is to ruin your enjoyment of surprising books!

    Slocum’s son is a weakling because Slocum never made him go to gym class. This son gets hit by a car. In sadness and despair, Slocum hugs him to death. I mean that very literally, not the new kind of “literally.” Slocum hugs his son until he dies from squeezing. 

    Even with the surprises spoiled, reading these books is still a worthwhile endeavor. You’re going to read all of them, right? What’s the best book twist you’ve ever read?

    The post DO NOT READ THIS POST: The 10 Biggest Book Spoilers, Ever appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Lauren Passell 10:03 pm on 2016/01/22 Permalink
    Tags: amy ellis nutt, becoming nicole, , ,   

    Understanding Transgenderism with Becoming Nicole‘s Amy Ellis Nutt 

    Culturally and politically, this is a very important moment for transgender people, and is therefore an important opportunity for all of us to better understand what it means to be transgender. And Becoming Nicole, a true story of a transgender girl and her family from Pulitzer Prize–winning science reporter Amy Ellis Nutt, is one of the best resources we have to learn. Nutt takes us inside the world of transgender girl Nicole Maines and her family, exploring the obstacles they stood up to for Nicole as she went through her transition. It’s an emotional book that will educate you, anger you, and make you want to cheer for Nicole and her family, who struggled with not only their community but themselves in their fight to ensure Nicole could be the person she was born to be, with the respect and rights of any other child.

    We interviewed Nutt about writing Becoming Nicole and her close relationship with the Maines family. After you read the interview, add the book to your to-read list—it’s the kind of reading that tears you apart and puts you back together again.

    How did writing this book change you?

    I was deeply affected, both emotionally and intellectually, as I reported and then wrote the book. Before taking up this project, I had read very little about what it means to be transgender, so as part of my deep background research I read widely about the science, history, and politics of gender identity. I’d always felt that the phrase “gender spectrum” was partly a social convenience, a kind of shorthand communication meaning we’re not all the same and we need to accept the differences in others even if they fail to conform to traditional notions of gender. But my reporting and understanding of the biology of gender shattered that “soft” notion. Gender fluidity isn’t a choice or a political position or a social construct. It is, quite simply, a human attribute.

    On a deeper level, I was profoundly moved getting to know the Maineses. Their experiences exemplified the challenges all families face as they learn to grow, accept, understand, and cherish each other. Kelly and Wayne, Nicole and Jonas—they all taught me that we are more than the names we give ourselves, or the words we use to describe ourselves, and that embracing that idea is one of the most freeing, life-affirming acts we can ever make.

    Why did you decide to focus on Nicole and her family?

    Honestly, it was serendipity that brought us together, but when it did, I realized they were the perfect family to write about in large part because they were so average: solidly middle-class, hard-working parents with two young children. I knew readers would understand this family, recognize themselves in Kelly and Wayne or Jonas and Nicole, and that was very important to me. When I began the book the movement for transgender rights was not front and center in American culture by any means. This was before Orange is the New Black, before Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner were household names. So I wanted readers to understand that being transgender was not exotic, or foreign, or freakish.

    It was also important, I think, to convey how “normal” all the members of the family are, and this very much included Nicole’s confidence, from the time she was a toddler, about who she really was. She did not grow up afraid or ashamed or hiding herself from her family. She had a happy childhood, just a very different one from most other kids.

    Was it important to you from the very start to also focus on Nicole’s brother, Jonas? Or was that a choice you made while you were writing?

    Including Jonas was a decision I made before even meeting him, because I knew this was really a book about a family. Nicole’s life, her problems, her joys, her challenges and changes didn’t and don’t happen in isolation. Jonas is not only her twin, but her best friend and because they are identical, he was a constant reminder to Nicole both of who she was and who she was not. Beyond the physical, however, Nicole’s search for her identity was mirrored in the family’s search, and how they came to understand each other.

    Was it hard to write this book and stay on top of everything that was happening in the news and in the world? It seems like a very hot time, current event–wise, for transgender issues.

    Yes, it was, and not just politically, culturally, and legally, but scientifically. So yes, it was a bit tough to juggle all those aspects and make sure the most trenchant material made its way into the book. Then again, it was a good problem to have—the more material an author has, the better. The hard part is choosing what to leave out, but that’s what great editors are for!

    What was the most fascinating thing you learned writing this book?

    Honestly, it was understanding how various gender truly is, both in humans and in the animal kingdom. The idea of gender as binary, it turns out, is not only antiquated, it’s wrong. In the natural order of things, there are fish that switch genders and mammals that are intersex. Nature favors diversity, and that applies not only to genes, but to sex and gender as well. Society favors conformity, nature favors diversity. How could gender identity NOT be a spectrum? It seems so logical to me now.

    What’s your favorite thing about Nicole?

    Her fearlessness, her willingness to dare the world to NOT accept her, even embrace her, on her own terms. She is an unremittingly hopeful person who has never seen a barrier she thought insurmountable.

    The Maineses are really fighters. What is it about them that made them so willing to put themselves out there and do what they think is right?

    It sounds corny, but quite simply, it’s the love they have for one another. This is a family that, no matter how difficult it was for Wayne, at first, to accept Nicole being transgender, never wavered in their love. That simple but powerful bond is what made it possible for Nicole to grow up thinking she would eventually get to be fully the person she knew she already was. The Maineses did nearly everything together. Jonas accompanied Nicole and their parents to her doctors’ appointments in Boston. They were together in court for every legal decision in their lawsuit. And they were there, in the hospital room in Philadelphia, to greet Nicole after her sex-reassignment surgery. When a family is that close, and that supportive of each other, all their challenges seem that much smaller.

    Did you worry about how the Maineses would react to this book?

    I’d be lying if I said I did not worry. It’s not easy to bare one’s soul to a journalist, and every one of the Maineses did. They knew I had to write about their lives with all the warts included, so I wasn’t worried they would be surprised by anything they read, but reading about yourself is very different from talking to a writer about yourself. Nicole and Jonas were unflappable. It was probably most difficult for Wayne because he underwent the biggest transformation. I know it was hard for him to relive those times when he was not on board about Nicole—he told me so!—but he’s so honest and generous that he also told me reading about himself, while painful, actually helped him understand himself, and other family members, better.

    What’s something you could not include in this book that you’d like everyone to know?

    There were many more people who supported the Maines family along the way than I could give space to in the book. They included Maine state legislators, school teachers, neighbors and occasionally perfect strangers who heard or knew about the family’s challenges and who reached out to Kelly and Wayne with help, advice, or simply words of encouragement. They far outnumbered the people who were critical of Kelly and Wayne, or who harassed or bullied or rejected Nicole and Jonas, and they always made the Maineses feel they were never completely alone.

    Becoming Nicole is available now.

     
  • Lauren Passell 6:39 pm on 2015/10/29 Permalink
    Tags:   

    Things We Learned About Elvis Costello at his #BNAuthorEvent 

    Elvis Costello visited the Union Square Barnes & Noble in Manhattan to talk about his new memoir, Unfaithful Music. He shared some secret stuff he didn’t include in it! Read on!

    Unfaithful Music is not a typical memoir. “The story is really the way in which three generations of my family’s experience of music is intertwined, and therefore, if you’re looking for a book that begins, ‘I was born…’ this isn’t it.”

    He wasn’t born into music. The passage he read described the career he had before he went into music. “You will perhaps realize, when I finish reading, why I am so grateful to be in rock-and-roll.”

    “On my third day on the job, I was handed a silver whistle and told to stand outside the bank until the money was delivered. 
    ‘What’s this for?’ I asked the assistant manager, a seedy looking gent who appeared to have had all the blood drained out of his body in an earlier fight.
    ‘Just in case,’ he said.
    ‘Just in case of what?’ I inquired.
    ‘Just in case of a robbery.’
    I must have looked dumbstruck because he widened his red-rimmed eyes, lowered his brow to indicate the object in my outstretched palm and added, ‘You blow it.’ I thought about my job prospects and the likelihood that any hood intent on swiping the cash would probably shoot the idiot with the whistle first and ask questions afterwards.”

    He considers Randy Newman a huge influence. “I hoarded his records in the dark when I was twenty, a bit younger than that, certainly younger than that, learned a lot of things. Tried to transpose some things I heard in his piano playing to the guitar. I was inevitably at a disadvantage, having one hand fretting the notes, so it was doomed to failure.”

    He sides with The Spice Girls, and that’s why he appeared in Spice World.I was living in England when they became a sensation, and I was actually being given an award by the PRS, which is the Performing Rights Society. This was a Long Service medal; they were giving me that to get rid of me, really. Said, “You’ve had your lot. You’re off now.” And that year, the Spice Girls were a sensation. They won an award for the most sales in that year. And these old songwriters there booed them because they didn’t think that they had anything to do with the records. And of course, many people who have sung hit tunes, have nothing to do with those records. And I just took offense at that, so when they asked me to be in Spice World, I was on their side.”

    151013_BN_MG_8258He doesn’t really think in genres. “I never really thought of genres as a borderline, if that’s the word for different styles of music. It all became entwined through my experience. It would take a long time—it would take me 670 pages—to describe it. I honestly didn’t understand the boundaries; it was part of my upbringing in a house full of music. Lots of different music was enjoyed. I didn’t, like a lot of my friends, have the situation where the music belonged to me and different music belonged to the parental generation. We liked the same music, lots of it anyway, and as a consequence, I just didn’t see the boundaries until I was told forcefully when I started out. And now I recognize that you need to find your way around—well, first of all, you need to find the record shop that has records in it, and then you need to find your way around the racks. So there needs to be some identifier. I haven’t really had a secret list in my back pocket, like, “Maybe I’ll do a polka record next.” It’s never been like that. It’s just that one thing has led to another. I‘m very lucky to have learnt the things because I didn’t go to college. In fact, I barely went to school. I can’t write.”

    He’s collaborated with tons of big musicians, but he doesn’t have a favorite. “Everything that you do in music is to some degree collaborative. The more notable collaborations were fairly head-spinning. If Paul McCartney rings up, or somebody rings up on his behalf, and says, “Would you like to write songs?” It’s very extraordinary. But as I described in this book, what would be the point of showing up in your short pants and your fan club card in your top pocket. He wants you to turn up the songwriter that I was at that time. So that’s really it, so I won’t separate them out, because all of those experiences have been—I could not have anticipated them, and I was grateful of them, and later on I reflected back that perhaps they had been some belated education.”

    He waited years to write this book because he wanted to get it right. “I was asked to write a biography when I was 24, which was so absurd, because I hadn’t done anything. They want to put your face on a book and sell it when they’re first given the chance. So I put that away as being a ridiculous proposition. And when I was in my 30s, I was asked again, and I did write a few chapters. But I wasn’t satisfied with what I was writing and I wasn’t ready. Even after I undertook to write this book, I had to start a few times until I really found the way I wanted to speak about the things that are connected up in this book. I said, I knew right away, I didn’t want to write, “I did this, I did this. The laughter and the tears, my drug hell, found God.” There are some very sad things, some of them quite private, some of them that happen to all of us—the loss of family members and other things which are just recognizing that you’re going down the wrong path and there is no, I’m not planning on dying after the book comes out.

    “The first time I played a show here in New York, The Attractions and I tried to get into a yellow cab to try to go to the Bottom Line, outside of our hotel, and the guy said, “You can come in here buddy, I’ve got my 8-track recorder.” And he had an 8-track linked up the stereo system, and he had a little taped notice that said, “Beatle music played on request.” And he played his Beatle songs all the way to the show, and that was our introduction to America. That was pretty great; I thought every cab had that.”

    His father sang in a dance band, that “sort of outlived its style.” “They played the hit parade tunes, and every week he would bring a stack of records home to learn. As a consequence, I would be in my bedroom just playing my games, and I would hear his voice in the front room, singing songs over and over, and I paid no attention to them until about 1963, when I heard him singing “Please Please Me.” That was the first song that I remember him singing. I have the feeling of hearing his voice and he had a loud voice like mine, and there was a glass pane in the door to the room and it would vibrate, and I would know whether or not he was working, and I would know not to go in and disturb him. But on this occasion I did go in, and I sat down and watched him rehearsing. He had a stack of sheet music and he had a record player with an arrangement of elastic bands that would trick the record into playing repeatedly, and he would play it over and over until he had memorized it, and on this occasion, he took it off and went to learn the next song in his pile, and I asked him for the record. And he gave it to me. I don’t know who he’d given the other records to, but from then on, I had access to many more records.

    He doesn’t think music innovation is getting better, necessarily. “Physical records are sort of precious to me. That was another form of education. Each new innovation, we’ve been told they sound better or they’re unbreakable, or whatever. My mother used to sell records, and it was her job to demonstrate the seven-inch “unbreakable” records. Well, you can imagine how that went. None of these things are invulnerable to time, and now we know that CDs don’t sound better than vinyl and MP3s sound worse than everything, but you can carry your entire library of music around in your pocket, so we suffer inferior sound for convenience. For myself, the value and the relationship between a vinyl record is still a very different one than a playlist. So it’s your choice, which way you want to listen.”Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 2.36.57 PM

    He enjoys acting even though he doesn’t think he’s good at it—that’s why he appeared on Two and a Half Men. “Most of the things that I get to do, I know what I was doing. I have no idea what I’m doing when I’m acting. But occasionally you get these opportunities and you’d be foolhardy not to have some fun doing them.”

    He agreed to allow Stephen Spielberg to use “Accidents Will Happen” in E.T. before he knew anything about E.T. “We got a call from Stephen Spielberg saying that they had a new, very secret movie that was for kids. And nothing was said about the nature of the character—if you remember that film, it was very secret what the appearance of the main character was—so we had no idea until we went to the cinema. We had to undertake to let them use “Accidents Will Happen” in the movie and I went to the theater to see it on the week it opened, when it was already a sensation, not knowing whether the E.T. which by then had been revealed, would tap-dance across the stage, singing, when it was, in fact, Robert playing the teenage brother of Elliot. And in one scene he comes into the kitchen and gets milk or soda from the fridge, and he is mumbling very audibly, and that has been my benchmark for songs in movies.”

     

     
  • Lauren Passell 5:06 pm on 2015/10/15 Permalink
    Tags: , ,   

    5 Questions for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at his #BNAuthorEvent 

    Record six-time NBA MVP player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar came to the Barnes & Noble in New York City to talk about his new book, Mycroft Holmes. We snagged him for a few extra questions about reading and how basketball helped him write his book.

    If there was going to be a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Book Club, what book would you make everyone read?
    For a fun discussion, I’d suggest The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes. The suspense and thrills of the mystery combined with the brilliance of Sherlock’s detective work would give us hours of delightful conversation. Then I’d shake things up a bit the next week with The Autobiography of Malcolm X because it’s an inspirational story about a man who was so enslaved by how society saw him that he couldn’t see himself clearly. But then, through circumstances and his own intellect, he sees not only his potential but the potential of all African-Americans. Most impressively, he dedicates his life, not to the selfish and self-destructive cycle he was in before, but to bettering humanity. And the third week it would be Moby Dick because that novel contains all the greatest themes in literature in an exciting story of madness, salvation, and Jaws-like terror.

    You walk into a big, beautiful Barnes & Noble. What’s the first thing you do? What’s your favorite section?
    History. I love to just look at all the wonderful historical scholarship on the shelves. Each time a new good history comes out it’s like jumping into a time machine and going back to see what happened and understanding how it affects us today. I like to think that every day is richer for me because I see it in the context of history rather than as a stand-alone event. If nothing else, it makes life more exciting.

    Did any of your skills as a basketball player help you write this book?
    Like basketball, writing takes an enormous amount of mental and physical discipline. Lots of times I don’t feel like writing, but those are the days I actually write better because I’m more removed and therefore more critical of my work. Basketball requires that you think about the game you’re about to play way in advance of actually stepping onto the court. Writing is the same: you have to think about the scene you want to write long before you sit down or you’ll just end up staring at the screen.

    What was your biggest challenge in publishing your book?
    Getting people to read it is every writer’s challenge. Add to that the fact that I’m famous for being an athlete means people have to accept that I can write an adult novel. Then I have to have them accept that a black man of the 21st Century can recreate a British 19th century man. Yet, somehow the book turned out to be just as fun, exciting, and thrilling as I imagined it would be.

    Whose biography would you love to write?
    Alexander Dumas, who wrote The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. His father’s parents were a French nobleman and an African slave. Despite his black heritage, and enduring many attacks for his heritage, he managed to become one of the greatest writers in history.

     
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