You may find yourself in another part of the world.  You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile.  You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife.  And you may ask yourself – well – how did I get here?  

You and David Byrne can think about that.  Or you might happily distract yourself with one of the carefully curated selections below:

  • Goodbye, Little Rock and Roller, by Marshall Chapman
  • The Girl With A Clock for a Heart, by Peter Swanson
  • Starting Over, by Elizabeth Spencer
  • Aimless Love, by Billy Collins.

9780984809004_p0_v1_s114x166In Goodbye, Little Rock and Roller, songwriter and performer Marshall Chapman tells the story of her journey from small-town South Carolina – church-going daughter of a mill town president – to hard-core rock and roll.  She blazed her way through life, taking no prisoners and taking every available chance, until a spiritual awakening led to a different choices.  Chapman isn’t shy on drugs, boyfriends, celebrities, late nights – the things you expect in a rock and roll life – but the format of her memoir is unusual and powerful:  she links each chapter of her life to a song that she wrote.  This allows her to talk about the relationship between life and art, in addition to everything else.  Rode Hard and Put Up Wet’ was the first song I wrote by myself that felt like I wasn’t trying,” she tells us.  “It just poured out one hungover afternoon in late summer of 1973.  I’d woken up around noon facedown in my front yard – which was a vegetable garden – wearing nothing but my underpants.  Now this was not an unusual occurrence in 1973 Nashville, Tennessee, because that’s about when the ’60s hit the South.”  Chapman ends the book a sober woman, keeping company with a man she deeply loves, and one is relieved.  Reading this book is like spending an afternoon in the company of your smartest, craziest friend – someone who has settled down, but still has tremendous spirit.  You can’t wait to hear what she’s just done, and can’t wait to see what she’ll do next!  Most of all, you can’t wait to hear how she’ll make sense of it all.  Her memoir was first published in 2003, and a second edition came out in 2011.  (Chapman’s new book, They Came to Nashville, is the subject of a future review.)

Goodbye, Little Rock and Roller may keep you up well past your bedtime, but The Girl With A Clock for a Heart might keep you up all night!  9780062267498_p0_v2_s114x166If you’re looking for a smart, early season beach read that you can’t put down, this is it.  Think Gone Girl with a little more noir and a little more style.  Protagonist George Foss is ho-humming his way through life when the girl who got away – his college true love – reappears in his life 20 years later.  As he becomes entangled with her again, she draws him into something that may be more than it appears.  When murders follow, George is sure he’s gotten in too deep – but it might be too late to get out.  The Girl With A Clock for a Heart is brilliantly paced, with not one word to spare, but author Peter Swanson also invites us to think about some big questions:  how long does love last?  What binds the past to the present?  Can a person ever truly leave his or her childhood behind?  I read this book cover to cover while stuck in the Nashville airport for 5 hours – and was happy to be stuck there.

9780871406811_p0_v3_s114x166If Peter Swanson grabs you by the throat in The Girl with A Clock for a Heart, Elizabeth Spencer whispers in your ear with her short story collection, Starting Over.  Short stories are a very particular kind of pleasure, I think, very different from a novel.  A novel gives you characters that you may remember and care about long after you finish; short stories – for me at least – do not tend to linger, so they need to be powerfully moving or illuminating on first read.  Elizabeth Spencer’s pass the test.  They examine the moments on which life hinges:  when new things are begun, or old things finished.  I loved “Rising Tide,” about a divorced, middle-aged woman just back to a teaching career who finds herself in an unusual and compelling friendship with a foreign student.  “Sightings” tells the story of a man whose teenage daughter – living with her mother in another state – shows up at his door late one evening, at which point their relationship begins anew:  “He remembered that when young, he too did unexpected things.”  You should know that Spencer is 92, having published her first novel in 1948.  The stories in this collection are smooth and assured, wise and beautiful, and in many ways hopeful about the ways that people can grow and change.

Billy Collins keeps the vibe smooth with his latest poetry collection, Aimless Love.  If poems are kisses, his are gentle and amiable.  9780679644057_p0_v3_s114x166Unhurried.  Sometimes they made me laugh (but not AT him).  They always made me pause, and afterwards I looked at things a little differently.  I appreciated the details around me a little more – and thought some more about the currents underneath.  Like Byrne said,  “Under the rocks and stones, there is water underground/ Letting the days go by, into silent water/Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground/Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was…”

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