Introducing the Book-Pass-Along; All Pulp Sickos Welcome

Posted on February 13, 2011

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I think it goes without saying that I love this book, and that's why it must be passed along

At my advanced age, I have become incredibly selective about which books I read (not to mention sleep with). I approach them the same way I approach people, taking a bit of time to gauge their style, tone, and sensitivity. Are they just here to sit limply on a coffee table with a tight spine? Content to find their way into some hipster’s stoop sale when he needs weed money? That’s not my kind of printed matter. I want, demand, and seek out stories that I will return to repeatedly because they’ve been crafted by a person who has taken the time to look at the world and make sense of its beauty, cruelty, and everything in between.

I never thought Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards would qualify as that caliber of author. Last fall before a trip to London, a work colleague approached me about reviewing his much-ballyhooed memoir, Life (see my review here), and I bit for reasons unknown to me. No, I confess: it was that goddamn jacket, a slick David La Chapelle photograph I’ve always loved for its floating-fish-eye quality. It had nothing to do with how I felt about the Stones’ music because, frankly, I had never had a Stones phase (more on that later), aside from seasonal fixations on “Gimme Shelter.”

Fast-forward to Thanksgiving in upstate New York on a frozen lake. I’m under a pound of down blankets, nursing a cold, and nose-deep in Life. I put off peeing and eating so I can listen to Richards’s craggy, mirthful voice reverberate in my congested sinuses. Long before heroin enters the narrative, it becomes obvious that I’m falling in love with a love story about music, not sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll (that would be Mick Jagger’s, or even Bill Wyman’s, story, which I doubt would be as interesting). Not only that, but my narrator is generous, wanting to share how he created iconic sounds in a way that non-players will understand, in a way that hit home for me that Richards is a student, not a crass mimic, of American blues.

This book marked a first in my reading life—even my reaction to my beloved Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs was different—and I had to do something to honor that. On Twitter one day in December last year, on the eve of finishing Life, I broached the subject of a “book-pass-long,” a kind of human library lending chain. The idea is simple and by no means groundbreaking: I share a book I love with an equally invested reader, and then she or he passes it on to someone else. Marginalia required (see a favorite passage of mine from Life below). Aesthetic disfigurement encouraged (see my biblio-snog above). Document the experience of physically handling one of the world’s most perfect technologies via a blog, Twitter, a book group, etc.

One of my favorite passages; Richards knows how to articulate how music moves us

This isn’t about hating ebooks, for the record. My leisure, blocking-out-the-world-so-I-can-learn-about-the-world reading happens on paper because I toil on a computer all day, and I need a break from screens. And so the book-pass-along begins! This week, I’ll hand over my copy of Life to my librarian pal Katie Dunneback, who I know will add another layer to an already extraordinarily meaningful text. Here’s to Life having at least ten lives.

Ha! Imagine introducing this man to your family. Patti Hansen did

Writing soundtrack:

  • A shit ton of The Go-Betweens (fanks, PK)
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