2017 has been a challenging year in many ways. The symbolic turning of the first page of the calendar into the first day of the new year represents for many a chance to start over with a clean slate and the resolve to make the new year better than the last one. Many write out resolutions for the coming new year, in part to provide goals that can be reached and in part to confirm that individuals do have some control over their lives.
For many years, I would make a list in my journal of books that I resolved to read during the coming year. Of course, I’d often revise those lists during the year, making a list of books for summer reading or books to make it through a dark winter. In some ways, it was as much fun to make those lists as to try to hew to them, since it gave me a sense of anticipation and a way to look forward to reading through the stack of books on my nightstand, or at least finding a way to read the ones I really wanted to read. Truth be told, I often read desultorily, following my interests where they lead me, so the lists were often never more than that: lists of books.
As I look back on my final column of 2016, I realize that my reading resolutions for this year are much the same as last year. Last year, I resolved to divest and sell or donate box after box of my library. I have given a few books here and there, but I still have close to 5,000 titles that span a wide range of topics: film history and criticism, science, natural history, music history and criticism, fiction and poetry, literary biography, memoirs, philosophy, and religion. I have started going through boxes more intentionally over the past month to discover books that I’ll clearly never read again. So, I still resolve to sell or donate much of my library in the first three months of 2018. If readers have suggestions about where best to sell or donate books, please feel free to share.
I also resolved to re-read more over the past year, and I have re-read more novels and non-fiction this year than in the past. I’ve had the opportunity to re-read a good deal of Greek tragedy — in preparation for a class I taught — and to revisit Thoreau’s writings and James Baldwin’s novels. It’s been a pleasure to re-read the literary criticism of Lionel Trilling, and I’ve especially enjoyed re-reading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, as well as Oliver Sacks’ and E.O. Wilson’s beautiful science writing. I have just as long a list of books to re-read in 2018, and am already starting — thanks to Maya Jasanoff’s excellent The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World (Penguin) — by re-reading Conrad’s Victory, and, for a different reason, Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady. There are classic books in music history and criticism that I hope to re-read this year, too, and to write about them in this column.
One of my plans for this column this year is to talk to more authors and to include interviews about their books here. I also plan to talk to more artists this year about books and reading. Some of them will have a new book or record out, but I’ll talk with some of them simply about books and reading in their lives. In addition, as I said, I plan to write about classic music books here this year, such as Paul Hemphill’s The Nashville Sound. I also plan to write now and then about books that aren’t music books, as I did this past year with John T. Edge’s The Potlikker Papers (Penguin). Of course, I’ll review new music books as they arrive.
Here’s a short list of books coming out in the first few months of 2018 (gathered from publishers’ catalogs and information I’ve been sent, but the list is hardly a complete one) that are worth picking up to read.
Robert Gordon, Memphis Rent Party: The Blues, Rock & Soul in Music’s Hometown (Bloomsbury)
Robert Hilburn, Paul Simon: The Life (S&S)
Bill C. Malone and Tracey E.W. Laird, Country Music U.S.A. 50th Anniversary Edition (Texas)
Neil V. Rosenberg, Bluegrass Generation: A Memoir (Illinois)
Leigh Edwards, Dolly Parton, Gender, and Country Music (Indiana)
Questlove, Creative Quest (Ecco)
Doug Seegers, Going Down the River (Nelson)
Sandra Jean Graham, Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry (Illinois)
Wayne Kramer, The Hard Stuff: A Memoir (Da Capo)
Gordon Lamb, Widespread Panic in the Streets of Athens, Georgia (Georgia)
Patrick B. Mullen, Right to the Juke Joint: A Personal History of American Music (Illinois)
Joel Selvin, Fare Thee Well: The Final Chapter of the Grateful Dead’s Long, Strange Trip (Da Capo)
Robert B. Winans, ed Banjo Roots and Branches (Illinois)
Alberto Manguel, Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions (Yale)
Gregory Alan Thornbury, Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? (Convergent)
Zadie Smith, Feel Free: Essays (Penguin)
Marilynne Robinson, What Are We Doing Here? (FSG)
Chris Stamey, A Spy in the House of Loud: New York Songs and Stories (Texas)
Rick Bragg, The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma’s Table (Knopf)
Robert Hudson, The Monk’s Record Player: Thomas Merton, Bob Dylan, and the Perilous Summer of 1966 (Eerdmans)