guest post: sales rep Teresa Rolfe Kravtin Picks 3 Books About Living for Music

While I finish up my own next post on my3books, I was glad to receive a new post from my friend and fellow independent sales rep, Teresa Rolfe Kravtin.  You can see Teresa's earlier my3books posts here.

Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong
by Terry Teachout
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | 9780151010899 | $30 | Dec 2009

A thorough examination of the life of a music legend and American cultural icon, this story is how one man overcame an enormous amount of personal challenges and societal obstacles, to become who he was meant to be: one of the most original, inspiring entertainers of a generation.

A music history education in one life, Louis Armstrong defined a new style of music in his own likeness. By sticking to what he enjoyed doing most, playing and singing music from the core of who he was, he set a standard that inspired innumerable musicians and listeners alike.

There were many critics along the way during Armstrong's decades' long career. In the end, however, there is no other jazz musician who has achieved the level of admiration and respect for his dedication to his craft. Equally, no other musician has ever left behind a collection of letters, recordings, and documents detailing life in the recording studio, on the road, in the movies, and on TV, as he did.

Author Terry Teachout says in the afterword,

"...this is surprisingly, the first fully sourced biography of Armstrong to be written by an author who is also a trained musician." It is a narrative biography, not scholarly, but interpretive of a life well documented by academic scholars. Additionally, Teachout had access to a wealth of archival material previously unavailable to biographers."

Poet Philip Larkin said of Armstrong, "It is already accepted -- or if it isn't, it soon will be -- that Louis Armstrong was an enormously important cultural figure in our century, more important than Picasso in my opinion, but certainly quite comparable," and further, "an artist of Flaubertian purity, and a character of exceptional warmth and goodness."

For music lovers, those interested in American culture and general entertainment, Teachout's biography of Louis Armstrong will be the standard bearer for years to come.


The Pat Metheny Interviews
by Richard Niles
Hal Leonard Publishing Corp. | 9781423474692 | $19.99 | Oct 2009

The Pat Metheny Interviews is an insightfully revealing dialogue between American jazz guitarist and composer Pat Metheny and Richard Niles, a renowned recording artist, composer, producer and songwriter; a proverbial eavesdropping on a conversation between two long-time friends and musicians.

Richard Niles first met Pat Metheny at Berklee College of Music in 1974. It's hard to imagine that Metheny would take the time and discuss his thoughts on his long career with anyone other than a close friend, given his admitted self-criticism and intense working schedule. As a reader, and a fan from the beginning, I am glad he did. Drawn from a series of interviews Niles made with Metheny on several occasions for a three-part series that originally aired on the BBC in 2007 titled Pat Metheny – Bright Size Life.

Metheny is a rare exception in the contemporary music scene. He is an artist who has had a long recording and touring career, continuing to attract and maintain a large and devoted audience for over thirty years. In The Pat Metheny Interviews, Metheny discusses his need for finding his own means of musical expression through composition. He details his dedication to practicing, his musical inspirations, the issues of sound and melody, addresses jazz as a genre, among other topics. What separates him from many other talented musicians, he attributes to his razor-like focus on what he wanted to do with his playing and knowing how he wanted to go about it from a very early age.

Informal in tone, the question and answer format is mostly easy to follow, even when it gets into discussions of abstract concepts. There are a few sections of musician lingo and music theory references that only musicians might appreciate. One of my personal favorite passages comes from the chapter on melody, wherein there is a discussion of the biological and physical responses to music:

“My favorite way of describing this [responses to music and melody] is that music is actually this gigantic mistake that we’re not actually supposed to know about. That in our sense of the universe around us there’s these tiny little crack that give us a window into everything that we can’t possibly understand because we’re not equipped to understand those things, because we don’t have the tools for them. . . . But somehow music seeps into those cracks and it’s something that reminds us or indicates to us these unperceivable things that are in fact around us all the time. I tend to think of music as something that’s an incredible variation, away from the rest of most human experiences. For that reason I value it even more.”

Interspersed are entries from some of the musicians Metheny has performed with during his career such as Gary Burton, John Patitucci, Lyle Mays, and Jack DeJohnette. Photographs included portray his teenaged years of playing gigs around Kansas City, record company portraits, and tour pictures.

An engaging examination of an enduring musical artist, The Pat Metheny Interviews, is a unique gift of insights from this expressive guitarist and composer.


Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues
by William Ferris
University of North Carolina Press | 9780807833254 | $35 | Oct 2009

[Editor's note: We've already featured Give My Poor Heart Ease on my3books earlier this year, so instead of a third full-blown writeup, Teresa would prefer to point you to another book blogger who wrote quite passionately about Give My Poor Heart Ease.]

Check out this beautifully-written review of Give My Poor Heart Ease on BiblioBuffet.  Blogger Nicki Leone's review of the book really captures the spirit and passion and flavor of William Ferris' lifelong pursuit of the blues and the people who make the music come alive.

Here's one short excerpt from Nicki's review to give you the flavor:

"The results of this life-long . . . well, mission doesn’t seem to be too strong a word for it . . . have been brought together into an incredibly powerful book called Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues. A collection of oral histories,  the book looks at some of the people and places at the roots of blues music, starting with the churches in his own community of Rose Hill, and spreading outwards into the countryside filled with people who farmed and fished during the day and played music in the evenings, the men in the prison camps and on work detail in the cotton fields, and the men who ran the radio stations and nightclubs in the towns."


Resources for further exploration:

On Pops
> Pops will appear on the December 2009 Indie Next List – “Great Reads from Booksellers You Trust”
> Publishers Weekly *Starred* Review: “Teachout's portrait reminds us why we fell in love with Armstrong's music in the first place.”
> A link to the publisher's web page for the book.
> Author Terry Teachout's long-running blog About Last Night and his somewhat more recent Twitter presence. Crucial!

On The Pat Metheny Interviews
> A link to the publisher's page for the book.

 On Give My Poor Heart Ease
> The Facebook fan page for Give My Poor Heart Ease.
> UNC Press's blog & Twitter presence.
> Our linked-to book blogger Nicki Leone is a fellow bookseller-at-large (to borrow another of her phrases), and writes about books at BiblioBuffet and her own blog, Will Read For Food.

my3books x 3: three new books from three series

As a card-carrying member of the publishing world (for what that's worth, these days!), I'm a big fan of "series" books. It's kind of a requirement of the business, right? I know why publishers and booksellers love a good series - once you've done the legwork of establishing a series with your readers, the subsequent volumes are halfway out the door. And I'm not even talking about the Mount Olympus of series like Twilight and H. Potter. There are plenty of series out there, and it's the rare publisher that doesn't dabble in them.

What I'm thinking about tonight are three series that (almost certainly) do not contain any wizarding schools or troublesome vampire boyfriends. These are series for serious booklovers. These are for lovers of beautiful books.

Top Row: 33 1/3 Books
The Flaming Lips' Zaireeka
by Mark Richardson
Continuum Books | 9780826429018 | $10.95 | Oct 2009

Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
by Christopher Weingarten
Continuum Books | 9780826429131 | $10.95 | Jan 2010

Weezer's Pinkerton
By Jessica Suarez
Continuum Books | 9780826429124 | $10.95 | Jan 2010

First up is a the best-established series of the three, the 33 1/3 series from Continuum Books. If you're not familiar with the series concept, writers of all stripes - bloggers, journalists, novelists, musicians - take it upon themselves to write a novella-lenth paean to a single, iconic album by a band or individual musician.

The Wikipedia entry for the series does a great job of listing the complete series, in publication order. The official 33 1/3 blog, hosted by a number of Continuum staff, including series editor David Barker, is a terrific source of information relating to the series, events around the books, and upcoming titles. They have also used the blog to announce "open enrollment" periods when David has accepted proposals for future books in the series from the public. (HINT: They're not currently accepting proposals at this time.)

Many of my bookstores who do not have a thriving music section will frequently pass on them, but I have seen bookstores break them out of their natural section, give them some featured space and they begin to sell and sell.


Middle Row: Photofile
Lewis Carroll
by Colin Ford
Thames & Hudson / Norton | 9780500410981 | $15.95 | Sept 2009

Sarah Moon
by Sarah Moon
Thames & Hudson / Norton | 9780500410998 | $15.95 | Sept 2009

Robert Capa
by Jean Lacouture
Thames & Hudson / Norton | 9780500410660 | $15.95 | April 2009

The second row features the terrific Photofile series from Thames & Hudson, which has a publishing philosophy that is similar to the 33 1/3 series: to bring together the iconic photographs from the world's great photographers in an attractive format, at an affordable price. Each volume has about 60 duotone images, a critical introduction and full bilbliography.

Earlier titles in the series have included luminaries such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Helmut Newton, Edward Steichen, as well as titles that focus on the Magnum Photo agency and the Surrealist Photographers.

The Lewis Carroll and Sarah Moon volumes are the two new Photofile titles for Fall 2009. The Robert Capa book was just published earlier this spring.


Bottom Row: New Directions' Pearls series
Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico
By Javier Marías
New Directions / Norton | 9780811218580 | $9.95 | Feb 2010

The Tales of Desire
by Tennessee Williams
New Directions / Norton | 9780811218566 | $9.95 | Feb 2010

In Search of Duende
by Federico García Lorca
New Directions / Norton | 9780811218559 | $9.95 | Feb 2010

Legendary publisher New Directions, founded by James Laughlin in 1936, is one of the bastions of literary publishing - the first American publisher of Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, W.G. Sebald, and Roberto Bolano. Their unrelenting focus on writers from around the world has helped bring a chorus of legendary voices to American bookshelves.

This winter, they are launching their new Pearls series - small paperbacks with lovely cover designs, bringing a close-up focus to some of their best authors' shorter works: 

  • a short story Spanish novelist Javier Marias (author of the epic multivolume novel Your Face Tomorrow)
  • a collection of short stories by playwright Tennessee Williams
  • an essay on aesthetics by Federico Garcia Lorca, combined with an assortment of his poems

Though this is the newest of the three featured series, I think the Pearls series will make for a great display in stores. I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next in the series.


More reading:
> In addition to the three featured 33 1/3 books above, Continuum is also publishing two more this fall season: Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's Facing Future and Funkadelic's Maggot Brain.
> The Pearls series from New Directions is launching this winter with the three titles featured above and a fourth book, Patriotism by Yukio Mishima.


Better than dancing about architecture? Well, it's writing about music, anyway.

If you follow music bloggers, you've probably seen this quote many times:

"Talking about music is like dancing about architecture."

Whoever said it - my money's on Elvis Costello - the idea seems to be that the magic of music is just not capturable by words in print. Nevertheless, that hasn't stopped journalists, critics, novelists, and about a bajillion music bloggers from giving it the old college try.

Among the many books I'm selling this summer that will be published this fall, there are some really interesting looking music books from three different publishers: The University of North Carolina Press, W.W. Norton, and the Speck Press imprint of Fulcrum Publishing.

Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues
by William Ferris
UNC Press | 9780807833254 | $35 | Nov 2009

Folklorist and blues fan Bill Ferris spent years traveling around Mississippi during the 1960s and 1970s, capturing the voices and performances of the blues musicians he saw on film and on audio. Some of his recordings were released in a short documentary in 1975 that shared a title with this new book. Now, Ferris has put together a definitive record of his research, with transcribed interviews, photographs of the musicians and the people around them, and a dualdisc CD/DVD with excerpts from his original recordings. From blues superstars like B.B. King and Willie Dixon to inmates at Parchman Prison, this book brings a crucial chapter of the blues back to life on the page.


All Hopped Up and Ready to Go: Music From the Streets of New York, 1927-77
by Tony Fletcher
W. W. Norton | 9780393334838 | $18.95 | Oct 2009

This book covers a lot of ground - looking specifically at the music scenes that were born and thrived on the streets of New York City: bebop, Latin music, the folk revival, glitter, disco, punk and hip hop. Fletcher also covers some of the crucial historical developments that led these neighborhoods and their residents to become so influential. A fun read, an incisive look back, written by a huge fan of the music world.

Fletcher can be found on Twitter and at his online music magazine, iJamming!


The Birth (and Death) of the Cool
by Ted Gioia
Speck Press / Fulcrum (Consortium) | 9781933108315 | $25 | Nov 2009

Ted Gioia has published so many other books that are specifically about genres of music (The History of Jazz, Delta Blues, West Coast Jazz, etc.) that I'm hoping you'll cut me a little slack. This book is actually a bit of a pop culture rant masquerading as a history of The Cool (cue the Miles on the turntable). A highly entertaining & readable rant, but still. Here's a choice summary from the publisher:

"...Gioia shows why cool is not a timeless concept and how it has begun to lose meaning and fade into history. Gioia deftly argues that what became iconic in the 1950s with Miles Davis, James Dean, and others has been manipulated, stretched, and pushed to a breaking point—not just in our media, entertainment, and fashion industries, but also by corporations, political leaders, and social institutions."


Twitterific links:

>> UNC Press

>> W.W. Norton & Co. (mostly tweeting about their fiction)

>> Speck Press / Fulcrum Publishing (Consortium)

DISCLAIMER: This post features books from publisher(s) that I represent BUT the point of this blog is to talk about books that I think you should know about, so just take it as a given that in the back of my mind, it has been my secret plan all along to make you want to buy them.