Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: The Storyteller (Dave Grohl)

I think Dave Grohl must be my spirit animal

★★★★★★★

Title: The Storyteller
Author/Narrator: Dave Grohl
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir / Music
First published: 2021
Edition: Audio book

So, I’ve written a book. This certainly doesn’t mean that I’m quitting my day job, but it does give me a place to shed a little light on what it’s like to be a kid from Springfield, Virginia, walking through life while living out the crazy dreams I had as young musician. From hitting the road with Scream at 18 years old, to my time in Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, jamming with Iggy Pop or playing at the Academy Awards or dancing with AC/DC and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, drumming for Tom Petty or meeting Sir Paul McCartney at Royal Albert Hall, bedtime stories with Joan Jett or a chance meeting with Little Richard, to flying halfway around the world for one epic night with my daughters…the list goes on. I look forward to focusing the lens through which I see these memories a little sharper for you with much excitement.” 

🎵🎸🎶🎤🎵🥁🎶

Listening to this audio book was a real pleasure and the fact that I felt like he was actually telling me these stories himself surely added greatly to the experience.

Although I like the Foo Fighters and Nirvana, I am not a huge fan of either. I am, however, a fan of Dave Grohl as a person. To me he always comes across incredibly genuine and after reading this: Yes, Mr Dave Grohl, you would absolutely be on my dream-dinner-guests-list.

This memoir only confirmed to me that Dave Grohl is just like me: a massive music geek. He just happens to be one with a shit ton of talent as well. I loved his stories as he took me, the reader/listener, through his childhood, through his career with the Foos, Nirvana and Scream, and to meet the people and places that have been important to him throughout his life. The narrative is not always linear. In fact, as in real conversation, one story leads into a memory of another time another place, and so forth. I really enjoyed the casual feel this brought.

At one point Dave explains how much music means to him and as I was listening I was nodding so hard I thought my head would fall off, because yes, Dave, music is absolutely my religion too.

This was simply a joy and certainly one of the top favourite music memoirs I have read. I would highly recommend this one, even if you’re not a fan of his bands. After all, he’s just a music fan, and just a parent, like me. Just a little more awesome.

7 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: A Sweet, Wild Note (Richard Smyth)

A celebration and a warning, written with love

★★★★★★☆

Title: A Sweet, Wild Note: What we hear when birds sing
Author: Richard Smyth
Genre: Non-Fiction / Natural World
First published: 2017
Edition: Hardback, published in 2017

Birdsong is woven into our culture, our emotions, our landscape; it is the soundtrack to our world. We have tried to capture this fleeting, ephemeral beauty, and the feelings it inspires, for millennia.
In this fascinating account, Richard Smyth asks what it is about birdsong that we so love. Exploring the myriad ways in which it has influenced literature, music, science and our very ideas of what it means to be British, Smyth’s nuanced investigation shows that what we hear says as much about us, our dreams and desires, as it does about the birds and their songs.

🎵🎶🎵🎶🎵

This book had been lingering on my shelf since I bought it back in the year it came out. The subject matter sounded interesting to me, but I just never picked it up to read. Of course, now I have and I am glad I did.

This was a both a joyous read and a sad one. Joyous, because it pulled my attention to the birdsong that sounds all the time where I live, deep in the Dutch countryside. But sad, as birdsong is not as prevalent as it once was.

The author explores birdsong through tidbits of science, literature, and his own musings and experiences. Because of that, it never felt too heavy or serious and it felt like a work of love instead. There was an philosophical element to this book and I actually really enjoyed that. It did make me smile in places too, which is always a bonus!

At under 200 pages this is not a long book, but what those pages hold was enough to keep me interested without getting bored at any point.

If you enjoy nature and are not expecting a scientific textbook, but rather a celebration of that most nostalgic of sounds that nature provides us with, I have no doubt you would enjoy this.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

(audio) Book Thoughts: Listening to the Animals (Noel Fitzpatrick)

Emotional, but inspiring

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Listening to the Animals: Becoming The Supervet
Author/narrator: Noel Fitzpatrick
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir / Animals
First published: 2018
Edition: Audio/Hardback, published by Trapeze in 2018

We will travel with him through difficult school years and a very non-traditional career-path from farm animal practice in rural Ireland to the most advanced hospital for regenerative medicine anywhere in the veterinary world. We will hear in his own words the inspiration behind the inventions and techniques he has developed and the incredible lengths he has gone to in order to save the animals on his operating table, and we will begin to understand the emotional roots of his professional impetus. As heart-warming and life-affirming as the TV show with which he made his name, Noel’s memoir is a story of love, hope and compassion, and about rejoicing in the bond between humans and animals that can make us the very best we can be.

This was a book gifted to me and it took me a couple of years to decide to read it. I ended up going with the audio book, narrated by the author. I completely understand why my mother-in-law gave it to me. I love animals. I always have some around me. I wanted to be a vet when I was younger.

Yes, this book is about the journey the author went on from a young boy on a farm to being the ‘Supervet’ and having a state-of-the-art veterinary practice and a TV show, but it is about much more than that. Battling the odds is a major theme throughout the book, whether it is bullying or trying to make progress in medicine and science, making impossible things possible. This is clearly a man who has always worked very hard for what he believed in and his drive has brought him success, but also loss.

The author is clearly a very sensitive, beautiful person and his empathy shone through. However, there are times when I felt the book was a little too personal and emotional and that is unusual since I am a very emotional creature myself. Maybe it is because I am very sensitive myself that I felt uncomfortable at times, maybe it was too close to the bone. Maybe it was his emotional delivery on audio, which felt a little dramatic at times. I am not saying he should have done it differently, just that it did not always work for me.

I expected to love this book more than I did. I definitely thought it was interesting and inspiring, but for some reason I did not end up quite loving it. However, I did like this book and I would recommend it if you are interested in animals and their stories, as well as the life of a vet, or if you need that final push to persevere with something. You could just watch the TV show if you are more interested in the veterinary side rather than his personal story. Some of the animal stories in here were on the TV show.

This is not a book I would have necessarily bought for myself, but I am glad I read it.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2021 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: How To Write One Song (Jeff Tweedy)

Don’t let your inhibitions stop your inner creator

★★★★★★☆

Title: How To Write One Song
Author: Jeff Tweedy
Genre: Non-Fiction / Music / How-To
First published: 2020
Edition: Hardback, published by Faber & Faber in 2020

Why one song? The difference between one song and many songs isn’t a charming semantic trick – it’s an important distinction that can simplify a notoriously confusing art form. The idea of becoming a capital-S Songwriter can seem daunting, but when approached as a focused, self-contained practice, the mystery and fear subsides and songwriting becomes an exciting pursuit.

***

I did not start out reading this book with the plan to learn how to write a song, but rather out of curiosity. I am not that familiar with Jeff Tweedy as a musician, but I was vaguely aware of him and his band Wilco.

I write poetry and stories every now and then and I figured the skillset was probably at least partly transferrable to any creative medium. I am glad to report that indeed it is. This is a lovely accessable guide to being creative first and foremost, whatever medium your creativity comes in.

I love the way the chapters are set out, how it deals with actually encouriging you to start, with stumbling blocks, self doubt and methods to turn the mundane and boring into art. He talks about songwriting specifically, but really these rules could apply to any creative art.

This is not a high-brow songwriting guide. It is more a call to stir yourself into productivity. A gentle push in the right direction followed by a firm prod. It’s very down to earth and very easy to digest. There were methods in here that I can (and will) incorporate in my own creativity, and I think this little book could be very useful to anyone who has some creative outlet.

Will I ever write a song? No, probably not, but I can write a decent poem and doing it more often will probably make me a better poet.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

(Audio) Book Thoughts: Uncommon People (David Hepworth)

Hepworth, David - Uncommon People

★★★★★★☆

Title: Uncommon People
Author/Narrator: David Hepworth
Genre: Non-Fiction / History / Biography / Music
First published: 2017
Edition: Audio book & Paperback, published by Penguin Random House in 2018

The age of the rock star, like the age of the cowboy, has passed. Like the cowboy, the idea of the rock star lives on in our imaginations.
What did we see in them? Swagger. Recklessness. Sexual charisma. Damn-the-torpedoes self-belief. A certain way of carrying themselves. Good hair. Interesting shoes. Talent we wished we had.
What did we want of them? To be larger than life but also like us. To live out their songs. To stay young forever.

🎤🎶🎸🎷

Another book club pick and this was a fun one. I had the paperback on my shelves, but I chose to listen to this one on audio. It was a good choice, as the author narrates it himself and does a great job of telling these stories.

He runs through people that could be considered ‘rockstars’ from 1955 (Little Richard) up to 1994 (Kurt Cobain). The latter he considers to be the last true rockstar. The concept was really fun and the people he chose to represent each year were all very interesting individuals and the snapshots of moments in time were definitely vivid enough to be transported to a different time.

I do wonder why he chose this particular group of people and why he excluded someone like Debbie Harry, who certainly to me was a one of the true female rockstars. He talks about Madonna changing the face of music and the birth of the popstar rather than the rockstar, but did people like Debbie Harry not already start that trend? I defiitely understand why he chose to include Madonna, but just saying… 😉

Overall, I really enjoyed the ride and it was a joy to listen to this.

In his epilogue he argues that we know too much of the stars today to truly attribute to them the idea of the rockstar and I think that is right. He also argues that stars that are around today are unlikely to still be playing to huge audiences in twenty years. I beg to differ on that one. Today’s ‘rockstars’ are different, but I think some definitely have longevity. I can see an artist like Beyonce still pulling in crowds in twenty years, same goes for people like Adele and good old Ed Sheeran. Whether they would choose to is a different story.

I definitely noticed a bias in his storytelling due to his age. You could definitely tell which artists he admired more than others. Of course that is perfectly valid as it is his book.

If you are interested in music and its trajectory through the years, I would highly recommend this book. You learn a lot about a variety people in concise well-written chapters.

6 out o 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Mo’ Meta Blues (Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson)

Thomson, Ahmir - Mo' Meta Blues

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove
Author: Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson & Ben Greenman
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir / Autobiography / Music
First published: 2013
Edition: Kindle e-book

In this series of punch-drunk-on-culture essays, Ahmir Thompson, better known as The Roots’drummer Questlove, expounds on his vast and opinionated knowledge of music-from the greats, the lates, the fakes, the headliners, and the almost-were’s-as well as important themes in black art and culture. These essays will be filtered through the eyes of one of our most recognizable cultural chameleons in Thompson’s passionate, stream of consciousness style. Through these stories, he will reveal some of his own formative experiences, such as growing up in 70’s Philly with 50’s doo-wop singers as parents and finding his way through music, as well as random musings about his run-ins with celebrities and playing with some of his idols.

This was a pick for a book club I try and keep up with that reads books to do with music in one way or another. This was not a book on my radar at all, but I am glad I took the time and effort to read it, because I did enjoy it quite a bit.

Let’s be clear here, I only know Questlove and The Roots via the Jimmy Fallon route. Hip hop has never really been a genre I have explored very much (though there are plenty of songs I like). Thus I had never really come across The Roots before that. Yet, I decided to pick up this book as it simply sounded interesting and after all, I love music and I tend to like non-fiction books centred around the subject.

I actually really enjoy Questlove’s story telling. His annecdote about Prince on light-up ice skates alone was worth reading this for!  Questlove talks about all the artists that influenced him, his contemporaries, the deaths of prominent people in his life, but also about being black and about prejudice, both from white and black communities.

I have to say that the way the book was put together did not always make sense to me. It wasn’t quite written as a series of essays, but it was not quite a run-of-the-mill memoir either. I could not help feeling like they were not quite sure in what shape to pour it.  Some bits are interview style, some bits are based around records that influenced Questlove’s music and other parts are just straight-up memoir. The occasional interspersing chapters by Ben Greenman writing note-style to himself were fun, but were they necessary? I am not sure. None of that actually bothered me too much, but it just made it feel a little messy here and there. You could call it playful instead, I guess.

I actually thought it was very interesting to read about a group I did not actually know very much about, as I was told a story that was completely fresh and new to me. I have been listening to The Roots whilst I have been reading this book and I have to say,  I found I really like their vibe!

So, I am grateful that this book club decided to read this book. Otherwise, I would have never picked this up and I would never have listened to The Roots’ music.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Among The Boat People (Nhi Manh Chung)

Chung, Nhi Manh - Among The Boat People

★★★★★★☆

Title: Among The Boat People
Author: Nhi Manh Chung
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir
First published: 2019
Edition: Paperback, published by Autonomedia, courtesy of the author

Nhi Manh Chung lost her mother Lieu, her brother Kwok Chieu, and her younger sister Bao to the ravaging dark sea while trying to escape Vietnam. Finally settling in New York, her hardships gradually ease as she works her way through college, marries and works as a bilingual teacher. Here she writes her own story, revisiting her past. 

When I was contacted regarding this book, I knew immediately I wanted to read it. There is something about first person experiences that I love to read about. In a way, I feel like every time I read a memoir like this, my world expands a little bit and I love that feeling.

This is only a short book, but it tells a rich story of a life ever evolving. Nhi tells us about growing up in post-war Vietnam, escaping the communist regime and losing close family members in the process, her arrival in New York and the life she built for herself there, teaching immigrant children. She does so in very much her own voice. This is not a particular eloquent polished memoir, but I think that is exactly what lends it its character and power. It is what I loved about this. It reads like you just met an incredible person and they are now relaying the story of their life to you. As in conversation, her memories flow from one into another. Recounting one experience will remind her of another and so she builds the picture of her life and those whose life touched hers and whose lives she touched herself.

This book highlights the plight of refugees and the perilous lengths a person would go to in order to find a better life. It also touches on the Amerasians, children born from US soldiers and Vietnamese women, that arrived in the US, ostracised in their own country, in the hope to find their home in the USA.

Is this a really well-written book? No, the author is not a natural writer, but she does not need to be. Had it been heavily edited, I think it would have lost something. I really enjoyed reading this book and I hope others will as well.

6 out of 7 stars

 

Books · Reviews

(Audio) Book Thoughts: Face It (Debbie Harry)

Harry, Debbie - Face It

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: Face It
Author/narrator: Debbie Harry
Genre: Non-Fiction/Autobiography/Memoir
First published: 2019
Edition: Audio book

Musician, actor, activist, and the iconic face of New York City cool, Debbie Harry is the frontwoman of Blondie, a band that forged a new sound that brought together the worlds of rock, punk, disco, reggae and hip-hop to create some of the most beloved pop songs of all time. As a muse, she collaborated with some of the boldest artists of the past four decades. The scope of Debbie Harry’s impact on our culture has been matched only by her reticence to reveal her rich inner life—until now.

*

Debbie Harry of Blondie is someone I consider an icon and when I heard she had an autobiography out I was keen to read it and the audio book narrated by herself seemed the perfect choice.

As a book it does not flow incredibly well and the way she tells her story feels strangely dispassionate, but I guess Harry is not a natural writer and I should not hold her to the same standard as someone who is an author by profession. It does make it feel more authentic to be fair. I don’t know whether she used a ghostwriter, but it certainly does not feel like she did. I do respect that.

Neither is she a natural audio book narrator. Her delivery is quite stilted and sometimes lacks dynamics, but I still prefer it than if it had been narrated by someone else.

So, overall I am conflicted on this one. There are really interesting bits to her story, but in parts it struggled to keep my attention. It could have done with a bit more sprucing up, I guess. The way she tells her story feels slightly repetitive, even if she is talking about different events. It’s hard to explain.

Is this the best memoir I have ever read or listened to? No. Did I enjoy the ride? Yes, I guess I did. It paints an interesting picture of a particular time in New York City and I appreciate her frank way of talking. I just wished it was a bit more dynamic in its delivery, both in the writing itself and the audio book narration.

4 out of 7 stars

 

Books · Reviews

(Audio) Book Thoughts: Educated (Tara Westover)

Westover, Tara - Educated

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Educated
Author: Tara Westover  Narrator: Julia Whelan
Genre: Non-Fiction/Autobiography/Memoir
First published: 2018
Edition: Audio book

Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days, watching for the sun to darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood. She spent her summers bottling peaches and her winters rotating emergency supplies, hoping that when the World of Men failed, her family would continue on, unaffected.

She hadn’t been registered for a birth certificate. She had no school records because she’d never set foot in a classroom, and no medical records because her father didn’t believe in doctors or hospitals. According to the state and federal government, she didn’t exist.

As she grew older, her father became more radical, and her brother, more violent. At sixteen Tara decided to educate herself. Her struggle for knowledge would take her far from her Idaho mountains, over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d travelled too far. If there was still a way home.

*

After listening to the last words of this audio book, I can honestly say that I enjoyed it. Tara’s life story is completely alien to me, but I felt her struggle as she fought to emotionally free herself from her family and upbringing.

At the same time I feel like this is not a book I would read again. Not because I did not like it, but because it did not leave a lasting impression on me. I love a good memoir, but I like to come away from them feeling like I have somehow gained something new and valuable from it and I am not sure this one did that for me.  I do not think the hype helped this memoir. It may have made me expect a bit too much.

Having said all that, I do like reading about a different life experience and listening to this on audio was the right decision, even if I did not always enjoy the accents the narrator used for the male characters. I have no complaints otherwise about the way this memoir was told.

If you are interested in listening to or reading Tara’s story, it is definitely worth your time. It just may not blow your mind.

5 out of 7 stars

 

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: This Is Going To Hurt (Adam Kay)

Kay, Adam - This Is Going To Hurt

★★★★★★☆

Title: This Is Going To Hurt
Author: Adam Kay
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir
First published: 2017
Edition: Audio book

‘Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor’

A first-hand account of life as a junior doctor in all its joy, pain, sacrifice and maddening bureaucracy, and a love letter to those who might at any moment be holding our lives in their hands.

This is one of those books that is hilarious and tragic at the same time. Adam Kay’s dry sense of humour shines in the diary entries he made as a junior doctor, whilst at the same time showing the reader in no uncertain terms how hard it is to be a junior doctor in the NHS.

Having worked in a large NHS hospital for the decade I lived in London, I can vouch for its authenticity. It is an incredibe institution, but it is understaffed and the staff they do have are overworked, especially the junior doctors.

Yet, despite the harrowing truth behind the scenes, I enjoyed this book. There was so much humour to break up the painful moments. Foreign objects up bodily orifices will never fail to amuse me. A doctor friend once told me they kept a file of the oddest things removed from persons. You have to have something to amuse you when you’re pulling double shifts and you are exhausted.

However, there are also tender moments that show the author is a big softy at heart.

I would recommend this book to everyone, especially those living the UK. It will make you appreciate those doctors and nurses so much more.

6 out of 7 stars