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