THE READING ROOM: Music-Related Reads on the Horizon for Fall
During the summer — especially this summer — we get a chance to catch up on all that reading we’ve been meaning to do, and to pare away at that stack on the floor beside our bed, or on our nightstand, or teetering next to our favorite chair, or strewn across the kitchen table. I have spent the last couple of days slowly wading into the bracing waters of a new biography of John Steinbeck (Mad at the World, by William Souder, out in October) and a new biography of Malcolm X (The Dead Are Arising, by Les Payne and Tamara Payne, also out in October). I have spent some of my summer, too, reading some music books that are coming this fall, so this week’s column focuses on a selection of fall music books that we can all look forward to soon.
As usual, there are memoirs — including from Peter Frampton, Willie Nelson and Bobbie Nelson, and Chris Hillman. Dolly Parton’s presence looms large this fall with three books devoted to her, one of which is a kind of autobiography. There are two books that continue the exploration of Prince’s life and music, a fascinating look at the history and evolution of North Carolina music, essential books about soul and gospel, and a memoir by the esteemed music historian Peter Guralnick. So, make room on your shelves and your floors for some more great reading.
Here are a few highlights from the bounty of fall books.
Lydia R. Hamessley, Unlikely Angel: The Songs of Dolly Parton (Illinois, October) — Focusing on nine of Parton’s songs — from “In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)” to “There’ll Always Be Music” — Hamessley illustrates the power of Parton’s songwriting and the way she uses it to reflect upon her cultural and musical heritage.
Sarah Smarsh, She Come by It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs (Scribner, October) — First published in No Depression as a four-part series in 2017 (Smarsh was the inaugural recipient of the No Depression Writing Fellowship), this affectionate and astute cultural study shines a light on Parton’s struggles and her path to becoming the queen of country music.
Dolly Parton, with Robert K. Oermann, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics (Chronicle, November) — Parton explores 150 of her songs as she tells her life story though the lyrics of her songs.
Peter Frampton, Do You Feel Like I Do? A Memoir (Hachette, October) — Telling his own story for the first time, Frampton candidly shares the dramatic ups and downs of his life and music career, from his earliest successes to the depths of his depression.
David Menconi, Step It Up and Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music, from Blind Boy Fuller and Doc Watson to Nina Simone and Superchunk (North Carolina, October) — Menconi, one of the original contributing editors of No Depression, has spent three decades immersed in the state’s music. In this book, he devotes exhaustive detail and loving care to the history and development of popular music in North Carolina and its contributions to American popular music.
Chris Hillman, Time Between: My Life as a Byrd, Burrito Brother, and Beyond (BMG, September) — For the first time, Hillman shares his stories of his days with the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and the Desert Rose Band; he reveals a glimpse of his role in shaping country rock as well as of his enduring love of songwriting and roots music.
Emily J. Lordi, The Meaning of Soul: Black Music and Resilience Since the 1960s (Duke, August) — Lordi’s book is essential reading, for she brilliantly guides us to reconsider the meaning of soul and to redefine it. She draws on close listening to artists including Beyoncé, Aretha Franklin, and Gladys Knight, among many others, to illustrate her portrait of soul music.
Neal Karlen, This Thing Called Life: Prince’s Odyssey, On and Off the Record (St. Martin’s, October) — Karlen was the only journalist Prince to whom granted in-depth press interviews for over a dozen years, and his biography provides a depth and behind-the-scenes looks that no previous Prince biography has done.
Peter Guralnick, Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing (Little Brown, October) — A must-read book by music historian Guralnick, who here collects not only profiles of artists from Chuck Berry and Ray Charles to Eric Clapton and Willie Dixon, but also his reflections on creativity, writing, and autobiography.
Lisa Robinson, Nobody Ever Asked Me about the Girls (Holt, November) — In Nobody Ever Asked Me About the Girls, Robinson’s interviews with and observations of female pop and rock stars, from Tina Turner and Alanis Morrissette to Rihanna, show how these powerhouse women, all with vastly different life experiences, fell in love with music, seized their ambitions, and changed pop culture.
Willie Nelson and Bobbie Nelson, with David Ritz, Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band (Random House, September) — Willie has told his story a few times, but here sister Bobbie tells her part of the family story in this warm, humorous, and affectionate dual memoir.