Can’t Slow Down: How 1984 Became Pop’s Blockbuster Year – Michaelangelo Matos
My spring break read seems like it was written directly for me. Matos takes a deep look at all of the music of 1984. It begins with Thriller dominating the music world in late 1983 and carried through to mid–1985 and Live Aid. Along the way he spends nearly equal time digging into the biggest artists of the year – Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Lionel Richie, Cyndi Lauper, and Tina Tuner – along with many, many other artists who cracked the Top 40 that year. There are also some interesting and necessary side tracks into underground/college/indie rock, heavy metal and hardcore, and, most importantly, rap music.

I mean, come on! Is there a more perfect book for my interests than this?

I will say I didn’t completely love it. It is a little choppy at times. I don’t know if that was because of Matos’ writing style, or because I read it on a Kindle which may have made some transitions that were smooth on paper abrupt on the screen. And, I have to admit, I already knew a lot of the big points he hit. I wanted more obscure facts that made me put the Kindle down and immediately text friends with tidbits. “Did you know…”

That said, since it scratched one of my favorite itches, I’m not going to complain about it too much.

Conversations With Friends – Sally Rooney
I read, and did not understand the hype for, Rooney’s Normal People last year. I recognized her writing ability, but the story itself just did not do much for me.

This book is also based on a young person struggling to figure out who she is.

In this case it is Frances, a 21-year-old student and poet, who has found some acclaim performing spoken word pieces with her former girlfriend around Dublin. At a party she meets Nick, a 32-year-old semi-famous and very handsome actor. After some brief flirtation over several weeks, Frances and Nick fall into an affair that becomes relatively serious. Frances keeps it from her ex-girlfriend, who is still her best friend and sometimes roommate. Nick keeps the affair from his wife, who has had at least two affairs over the course of their marriage, which had become loveless and difficult.

Their affair ebbs and flows, and both Frances and Nick become self-destructive in small ways along the way.

I struggled with their relationship. Maybe it’s because I never had an affair with a married woman 11 years my senior when I was 21, but I did not understand why Frances would say things she said, or have expectations she had. Perhaps they are normal in a relationship like this. The book came awfully close to veering into territory of Normal People where I didn’t like the characters or the choices they were making.

But I came around somewhat to Frances and Nick, as they became more open in their communication with each other.

And I became fascinated by some of the unstated questions that Rooney posed to her readers. What are your expectations when you begin any relationship, let alone one with a partner that is already in a relationship? What is someone thinking who enters an affair but has no desire to end their marriage? Why do people put stable relationships in jeopardy for new ones that have no guarantee of happiness or safety? And an endless number of other questions about relationships and gender and what it’s like to be young and trying to figure out who you are and what you want in a complicated world.

I imagine this is a good book club book because you can spin conversations in all kinds of interesting directions.

That element is what saved the book for me. And I really enjoyed how Rooney ended it. The final sentence is a perfectly ambiguous line that reinforces the questions the book brought up and gives the reader all kinds of room to imagine what happened next.