It’s been quite dreary here in Maryland the past few days, and I’ve wanted nothing more than to curl up on the couch with a good book and a cup of cocoa. Nonetheless, work calls, and so I decided to curate for you all a glimpse into my personal library and some of my favorite music books across a variety of styles and genres.
Fiction: I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert
If you’re looking for a quick but intriguing read, then this young adult novel is for you. The book, which shares a name with the 1996 Sleater-Kinney song, follows the story of teenager Emily who’s from a small Midwest town, with not much to do but listen to music and go to punk shows that take place in an abandoned warehouse at the edge of town. Emily’s mom left when she was a baby, and all she has from her mom is her old record collection and her love of music. The story follows Emily as she and her friends start a band and try to survive outside of their small hometown.
I picked this book up at a thrift shop a few years ago, but only just got around to reading it earlier this year at the start of quarantine. I read it over a few days, and found it a quite enjoyable way to pass some time! The book has gotten mixed reviews due to some of the cliche-plot-point parts of the book, so only read this if you don’t mind some punk rock coming-of-age cliches.
Memoir: Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
If you’d prefer real stories over fiction, check out Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein. After writing Portlandia (the book/TV show) with Fred Armisen, Brownstein turned her attention to looking back on her life and musical career. Admittedly, I dove into this book without knowing much about Brownstein or Sleater-Kinney (a friend gifted it to me), but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Her writing is just that good.
Brownstein starts off by discussing her upbringing and her early experiences with music and concerts: Madonna, George Michael, her first guitar. In fact, Brownstein devotes the first five chapters to the early part of her life, before college and before Sleater-Kinney. And yet the way she describes them pulls you in, and it feels as if you’re right there alongside her, watching. The next chunk of the book (chapters 6-19 of 21) cover the Sleater-Kinney years, starting with her move to Olympia at age 18 to the final show in 2006. The last two chapters describe life after the band. The last chapter, chapter 21, is only two pages.
Poetry: Revolution On Canvas: Poetry From The Indie Music Scene edited by Rich Balling
If written poetry and short stories are your jam, this collection of works might be what you’re looking for. There’s two volumes of the book (of which I’ve only been able to get my hands on Vol. 2 so far). Volume two features works by artists such as Justin Pierre (Motion City Soundtrack), Ben Jorgenson (Armor for Sleep), Porter McKnight (Atreyu), Pete Wentz (Fall Out Boy), Mark Rose (Spitalfield), and many many more! Admittedly, I’ve skipped and jumped around the book, reading first the pieces by my favorite artists, but I do look forward to someday reading it straight through in order to give them all an equal chance.
Tour Journals: The Merch Life by Alex Smith
While no longer available as a physical book, Alex Smith’s tour journals (now available on Patreon for free) chronicle life on the road in the modern era. If you’ve enjoyed our Behind the Show series and want some more detailed information about what goes on behind the scene from a merch person’s perspective, then this read is for you. As a bonus, many of the Warped Tour posts (which were later compiled into a limited-release book) include photos by Dieter Unrath, who we had the pleasure of chatting with at the beginning of the BtS series.
Autobiography: Tranny by Laura Jane Grace
Laura Jane Grace’s book, released in 2016, tells her story through the help of her journal entries over the years. Many people who review books for a living have done a much better job describing the book than I could, but I’ll give it a go anyways.
I read this book for the first time in the fall of 2017, my first semester of college, after finally finding it at a bookstore (well, more like after finally finding a bookstore where I could pick the book up without my parents knowing about it). Either way, this was the first book I read not-for-school in literal years. For any fan of Against Me!, this book is a must-read. Though the title of the book suggests that the book is mainly about Grace’s journey with gender dysphoria, and it is, the book also gives an incredibly detailed account of the band’s history. In fact, it’s #42 on Billboard’s 100 Greatest Music Books of All Time.
Historical Non-fiction: 33 Revolutions Per Minute by Dorian Lynskey
Dorian Lynskey’s book tells the story of 33 protest songs, from Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit (1939) to Green Day’s American Idiot (2004). Each of the 33 songs gets its own chapter, about 15 pages each, making this one of the thickest books I own. Each chapter gives a background of the artist and the song, setting the scene for how each song came to be, and how it left its mark on the world.
While detractors may argue that it’s impossible to say what the first “protest” song is, Lynkskey had to start somewhere, and the decade in which recorded music became widely available is as good a place as any. There’s also way more than 33 protest songs (or artists who make protest songs) in existence, but the book does such a fabulous job setting the scene and making a case for the chosen songs that it’s impossible to be mad about what has been excluded (500+ pages is plenty enough for a first book). In the future, it’s possible that many similar books will be written about protest songs put out since 2004, as there’s certainly been plenty worth writing about.
I picked this book up at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame a few years ago, which has an interesting history itself!
What music books do you love? Let me know in the comments below, as I’m always looking for my next good read!