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Posted by erin

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i am a pretty busy person. between touring, teaching, and writing plus having a life outside of work, i don’t have too much spare time. however, reading is one of my greatest pleasures, and i always seem to make time for it. as 2014 wraps up, i thought i would make a list of everything i read this year. even i was surprised at the sheer volume and randomness of the books i devoured.

i’ve included buy-links to my favorite online bookseller, powell’s (responsible company with a brick-and-mortar paradise in portland OR), but if you want to visit your local bookshop, here are links to find one near you in the US or UK.

as many of you know, i am writing a musical, so i spent some time reading up on the form:

finish hatlook hatFINISHING THE HAT / LOOK I MADE A HAT by stephen sondheim i am not much of a sondheim fan. i know, sacrilege. but this pair of books covering his entire catalogue of work has helped me to appreciate his mastery of the musical. he goes under the hood with each show, explaining his lyrical and musical choices, including stuff he cut and the reasons why. invaluable if you are writing a show. invaluable if you aren’t, but love musical theater.



FOSSE by sam wasson  i am definitely a fosse fan, but i must say the book, while amazing, cooled my fandom. i was glad to read wasson’s vivid descriptions of fosse’s inner life and how it connected to his creative process and output, and i was on youtube every other page to watch the dances that are being described. but my heart was dragged down to read about fosse’s serial womanizing and deep deep drug addictions. i’ll never watch his work the same way again, and for better or for worse, that’s what made this book incredible.


i love to read about musicians and their process, especially women musicians.



COMPOSED: A MEMOIR by rosanne cash


it wasn’t until i was deep into shawn colvin’s book, unable to put it down just like i had been unable to put down janis’s and rosanne’s, that i realized how much of a sucker i am for this genre: older women songwriters describing their lives and creative process. i always wished my mom had been an artist, now i have a genre to soothe that longing.



CLOTHES CLOTHES CLOTHES, MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC, BOYS BOYS BOYS by viv albertine i don’t put this book into the ‘i wish you were my mother’ category because viv albertine is too punk for me, and i dont like her music enough for me to want to be born of her. BUT the writing is outstanding and her descriptions of what it means to be a woman playing the electric guitar are incredibly inspiring. made me feel like i was carrying on a radical practice.




BOBBIE GENTRY’S ODE TO BILLIE JOE by tara murtha full disclosure that tara is a friend of mine, an outstanding journalist who has taught me a lot about feminism and how to be an ally to victims of trauma and violence. but she also has a deep music-lovin’ side. i did an emergency proof-read of this book and loved it. like Fosse i was on youtube numerous times to see and hear the performances that tara parses. ostensibly the story of why bobbie gentry disappeared from public life, the book is also a document of a radically different music business than the one i know. more about the book here. you can also listen to a spotify playlist of all the songs in the book.


saundersBONKERS by jennifer saunders i’ve been a fan of ms. saunders since i first saw AbFab in highschool. i have always thought of her as a television equivalent of a singer-songwriter. she thinks it up, she writes it down, she stars in it. like me. exactly like me. the book was a good laugh and almost satisfied my desire to have a cup of tea and a romp around the farm with ms. saunders. i just want to hang out with her for a bit. absorb her awesomeness. i know she’s got enough daughters already, but maybe she needs an extra?


i totally geek out on random history books, especially american history. it’s probably why i am a master at trivial pursuit.


SCANDALS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD: SEX, DEVIANCE, & DRAMA FROM THE GOLDEN AGE OF AMERICAN CINEMA by anne helen petersen i first got to know AHP by following her on twitter. anyone whose bio includes the phrase “celebrities academic style” has got my attention. i am a sucker for old entertainment culture, and while i know many of the stories in this book, i did discover some new gems. plus AHP’s genius is to connect clara bow to jennifer lawrence. the more things change, the more they stay the same.




THE BROTHERS: JOHN FOSTER DULLES, ALLEN DULLES & THEIR SECRET WORLD WAR by stephen kinzer i grew up going to dulles airport, having no idea who or what ‘dulles’ was. the book begins with a similar anecdote then proceeds to let loose a secret history of backroom statecraft, paranoia, the founding of the CIA, and numerous revolutions covertly orchestrated by the united states. largely forgotten now, the dulles brothers fucked up a lot of things in their time, and we continue to live with the repercussions.


brysonONE SUMMER: AMERICA, 1927 by bill bryson i was stuck in heathrow for hours without internet, so i tried something novel: i bought a paperback and read it. i love books that take disparate pieces of history (lindbergh, al capone, ruth and gehrig, sacco and vanzetti) and tie them together. the common factor in all the wonderful history and anecdotes here is the summer of 1927. bryson frames the book with lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight, but hangs a dizzying array of happenings on the scaffolding. delightful! plus who knew that calvin coolidge returned to live in a rental house in northampton MA after his presidency. 


tycoonTHE INVENTOR & THE TYCOON: THE MURDERER EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE, THE ENTREPRENEUR LELAND STANFORD, & THE BIRTH OF MOVING PICTURES by edward ball like The Brothers, this book is full of historical seeds that flowered into our current cultural climate. from the early history of photography we get the beginning of movies, the founding of stanford university, and the transcontinental railroad. oh and this one guy was a murderer. if you ever needed more proof that it pays to be a rich, white man, that’s the underlying theme here. beyond that you get a fascinating tale of america in the guilded age.

one of my (unrealized) goals in 2014 was to give up (american) football and start watching (soccer) football. my friend ian, who puts out my records in europe, gave me two books to give my transition some emotional resonance. it is neither his nor the books’ fault that i still find myself sneaking glances at the NFL.

pirloANDREA PIRLO: I THINK THEREFORE I PLAY by andrea pirlo who am i to care about a handsome italian soccer superstar? and why would i want to know what he thinks? turns out he’s fascinating. everything is here from how contracts are structured, the difference between leagues, what goes on in the dressing room, to scoring the winning goal in a world cup final, all in plain but compelling prose.



bellesI LOST MY HEART TO THE BELLES by pete davies semi-pro athletes put up with an enormous amount of pain and inconvenience to play the games they love at a high level. this is the story of one season of a women’s soccer team in the north of england. you get to know the players, their opponents, and the small world of semi-pro women’s soccer in the UK.


and finally, in a class all its own, the best book by far i read this year:

leviathanLEVIATHAN (OR THE WHALE) by philip hoare part of the joy of books is how you get them. in the early 2000’s i played a tiny venue in cobh, ireland. the son of the venue owners, probably an early teen at the time, and i made a connection over loving birds. we’ve stayed in touch over the years. he got a degree in archaeology and now he does something or other with taking tourists to antarctica. while in school in southampton UK, he became friendly with local writer philip hoare who had written a book about whales. so pete, thank you for being my random, awesome friend for so many years, and thank you for sending me this book.

three stories are interwoven here: a first person journey to all the places that Moby Dick was written and takes place in, how and where melville wrote the book, and a history of whales and whaling. i couldn’t put this down. i vacuumed up the details on writing, and i cried enormous tears at the intelligence and sophistication of whales and what modern humans have done to destroy them.