I rediscovered my reading mojo over the past few weeks. It helped that I found a book I had been trying to locate for a year or more, and then two other great reads on top of that.
Walk This Way: Run-DMC, Aerosmith, and the Song That Changed American Music Forever – Geoff Edgers
First is the book I’ve been trying to find for at least a year, since I read a brief excerpt before it was published. For some reason, the Carmel library has never stocked the book. I finally thought to check the Indy library and BAM there it was!
This is the story of the song that changed music, the 1986 version of “Walk This Way” that featured original artists Aerosmith and rappers Run-DMC. The first half is mostly quick biographies of both bands and their key members. The Run-DMC section is as much about the development of hip hop as the band itself.
After that, Edgers takes us through 1986, as Run-DMC was working on their Raising Hell album, Aerosmith were spinning their wheels in an attempt to gain sobriety and relevance, and producer Rick Rubin got the idea to bring the bands together in the studio to cover Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.”
I knew a lot of the details of the collaboration already, although Edgers sheds more light on the one day they spent in the studio together than I had heard before.
The issue is that the book doesn’t break new ground, at least for people like me who knew a lot of the story’s details. The parts about the bands separately, both before and after their collaboration, are more interesting than the moments the bands were together. And Edgers doesn’t really frame it in a new and interesting way. It was a fun, but not necessarily required read.
Nothing Can Hurt You – Nicola Maye Goldberg
I never know what to call books like this (or the next one). Both feature a wide range of characters, and in each chapter the focus and perspective shifts amongst them. I knew there had to be a name for this type of story. My quick research tells me that these can be called “mosaic” novels. Consider yourselves taught.
Nothing Can Hurt You is centered on the murder of a college woman by her boyfriend. Through her cast of characters, Goldberg paints a broad picture of abuse of women, mental illness, and the significance of gender in modern society. Some of it is very dark. Some of it is very funny.
I enjoyed this but a week after I read it, I was struggling to recall details or to give it a more thorough accounting. Not sure if that says more about the story or about me.
Those People – Louise Candlish
This one, though, it really connected with me.
Candlish sets her story in an affluent South London neighborhood. The block has won awards (from the mayor even!) for its Sundays Off program, when cars are removed, the street blocked off for traffic, and kids are allowed to play freely. It seems to be an idyllic community centered on the happiness of all.
When an elderly woman on the block dies and her nephew inherits her home, things change. He and his girlfriend are crude and rude. They play loud music at all hours. He runs his auto repair and sales business from his front yard and fills up precious parking spaces with his work. He refuses to clear out on Sundays and even backs into a kid on a skateboard one Sunday. And any time he is confronted by his neighbors, he is surly, difficult, and refuses to change his ways.
The book builds up to a death. The early chapters begin with witness statements taken after the death, then flow into that character’s actions and impressions in the weeks and days leading up to the death.
Following the death, Candlish takes us through the neighborhood’s experience as the police investigate to determine a cause of death. This eventually leads to a second death, and another investigation.
Through the book, both because of the new neighbor’s antics and the police investigations, we see just about every character slowly fall apart. They all crack, in ways large and small, from the stress of their environment. Candlish deliciously juggles the characters, giving you reason to believe any of them could be responsible for the deaths. Her first reveal is absolutely shocking. The second is not as big a surprise, but the truth of that death is a wonderful piece of writing craft. And she closes with a series of minor details that end the book with an absolutely delicious series of possibilities for what happens next.
This is a cracking good novel and highly recommended.