my cross to bear

I was turned on to My Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman when it first came out and I bought a copy for my dad for Father’s Day… only to find he had already gotten it for himself! I exchanged it for a different gift, but then couldn’t resist when I saw it on sale on iBooks a while ago. From Goodreads:

As one of the greatest rock icons of all time, Gregg Allman has lived it all and then some. For almost fifty years, he’s been creating some of the most recognizable songs in American rock, but never before has he paused to reflect on the long road he’s traveled. Now, he tells the unflinching story of his life, laying bare the unvarnished truth about his wild ride that has spanned across the years.

I had fun reading My Cross to Bear. Sure, it’s not the most eloquently written, but it is authentic to Allman’s conversational voice and I think it would be even better on audiobook, if he’s the narrator! You get more of a feeling of kickin’ back with Allman and him telling you stories from his life he feels like telling. He comes across as salt of the earth, humble, and a bit mystified at his dumb moves and astounding luck. Allman was, is, and forever will be a Good Ol’ Boy who just wants to play music, man. The chapter on his brother Duane Allman’s death was heartbreaking. I loved when he talked about his songwriting, recording iconic albums and some of the stories behind them, and playing gigs both small and large. He’s honest about his shortcomings and a father, and his drug and alcohol abuse, however…

Since he went there, I found myself wanting more depth on recounting his drug abuse and rehab. And while I wasn’t shocked or surprised by Allman’s experiences with women (lots of girls, lots of wives, etc.—it’s totally a boy’s club throughout the whole book), I would’ve appreciated more introspection here, too, especially on his six failed marriages, which he basically attributes to the wives all being crazy or expecting him to change. It doesn’t matter that the marriages ended, it happens, but I mean, who’s the common denominator here, bud? You’ll take no responsibility for what went down here? Just sayin’.

One thing I made sure to do as I read the book was to listen to the albums he talked about. It was wonderful to have them as background to the stories, especially the early stuff—Idlewild SouthAt Fillmore EastEat a PeachBrothers and Sisters. My dad loves the Allman Brothers—Duane is his all-time favorite guitarist—so listening along brought back great memories of our shared love for music. I forgot how much about these albums and Duane I already knew thanks to my dad!

Bottom line—not the most in-depth account of the history of the Allman Brothers, but a great, easy summer read after which you’ll feel like you just hung out with one of America’s living rock legends, which is pretty damn cool.

ETA: Fun facts I just remembered to include—I share a birthday with Gregg Allman (Dec. 8) and I saw The Allman Brothers Band in Madison, Wisconsin, August 2000! Awesome.

My Cross to Bear is my sixth of twelve books read for my Ebook Challenge.

Read from June 29 to July 29, 2015.

just kids

I’m on a rock bender lately! Maybe it’s my awesome new turntable stereo I just got set up. In addition to reading Gregg Allman’s My Cross to Bear (almost done!) I started reading Just Kids by Patti Smith on my iPad. From Goodreads:

In Just Kids, Patti Smith’s first book of prose, the legendary American artist offers a never-before-seen glimpse of her remarkable relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the epochal days of New York City and the Chelsea Hotel in the late sixties and seventies. An honest and moving story of youth and friendship, Smith brings the same unique, lyrical quality to Just Kids as she has to the rest of her formidable body of work—from her influential 1975 album Horses to her visual art and poetry.

I am in the middle on this book. While I loved the illuminating look at life of the starving artist in New York City in the 70s, and I can totally identify with being in an artist-artist relationship, being each other’s muses, supporting each other, etc. There’s a lot of name-dropping—Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, and numerous other artists, poets, and musicians—but that’s part of the allure of this book. Just Kids was a beautiful, loving tribute to Mapplethorpe. The last section about their last conversations and his death were intimate, poetic, and heartbreaking.

There is a lot to love about this book, however at times it felt weirdly sincere AND contrived at the same time. Does that make sense? I feel like, I can forgive her romanticism of New York and her relationship with Mapplethorpe, but that she was so naive about the lifestyle (drugs, mostly) and 70s NYC arts scene in general is hard to believe. There was a lot of “this happened, then this, and I did that, and he did this.” Her language is just a little too antiquated for me too, trying to hard to be poetic maybe. On one hand, I enjoyed listening to this on audiobook better, read by Smith (I split it up this time between audio and ebook), but I had to speed it up to 1.5x because it was a slog at normal speed.

If you can get past the quibbles I had, then I’m sure you’d like Just Kids. I do think it’s a must-read for fans of Smith and Mapplethorpe, or who want to live vicariously through two gifted artists in 1970s New York City.

Just Kids is my fifth of twelve books read for my Ebook Challenge.

Read/listened from July 22 to 24, 2015.

we need new names

Onward with my ebook challenge! Book no. 4 is We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. Edited from Goodreads:

Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad. But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America’s famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few.

I read through this quickly over a weekend, so it perhaps didn’t quite have the greatest impact on me?? The difficulties and suffering that do exist in this book just didn’t resonate with me as much as I would have expected. I had a little trouble with the vocabulary (neighborhoods in the Zimbabwe town called “Budapest” and “Paradise” tripped me up at first, stuff like that). It could be the short story vibe of this one—while not really a short story collection, many of the chapters could be stand-alone and overall it felt like several events linked together rather than one long narrative. That’s just me though, short stories aren’t exactly my thing. Still a good read, though, and I’m glad I finally got around to it.

Bulawayo’s characters feel very real, at least some of them do, and for sure Darling is a dynamic and interesting character. Darling, at just 10 years old, is opinionated and funny, with a toughness right off the bat that has you rooting for her all the way through the book, and you witness her growth in how her voice distinctively changes as a teenager in the States. The first half was raw and gritty and heartbreaking, but the second half, when Darling is older in America, really drives the points home of “different similarities” between coming of age in Africa vs. the United States. Despite the tragedy and horrors they faced in Zimbabwe as children, they are still hopeful and dream of better futures for themselves.

We Need New Names might have a few too many elements in it—immigration, culture shock, coming of age, world relations, poverty, etc.—but Bulawayo does tie them together in a meaningful, cohesive way, and creatively through the eyes of Darling.

We Need New Names is my fourth of twelve books read for my Ebook Challenge.

Read from June 19 to 22, 2015.

i never had it made

I had all these plans to write and publish blog posts over the holiday weekend (and after work this week) but couldn’t bear to be on the computer. Instead, I read, hung out with my husband and friends, and visited the Liberty Memorial at the National World War I Museum on Memorial Day. I also finished reading I Never Had It Made by Jackie Robinson on my e-reader. Edited from Goodreads:

Before Barry Bonds, before Reggie Jackson, before Hank Aaron, baseball’s stars had one undeniable trait in common: they were all white. In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke that barrier, striking a crucial blow for racial equality and changing the world of sports forever. I Never Had It Made is Robinson’s own candid, hard-hitting account of what it took to become the first black man in history to play in the major leagues. Originally published the year Robinson died, I Never Had It Made endures as an inspiring story of a man whose heroism extended well beyond the playing field.

I was reminded I had this in my e-reader when I was watching the Royals game on April 15—all the players (on all teams) wear #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. (April 15 was opening day in 1947, Jackie’s first season in the majors.)

Jackie’s autobiography was surprising to me in a few ways, namely that it was less about baseball and more about other aspects of his professional life in business and politics. I also found it rather relevant to our current racial tensions and issues—I wonder what Jackie would have to say today.

The first freedom for all people is freedom of choice. I want to live in a neighborhood of my choice where I can afford to pay the rent. I want to send my children to school where I believe they will develop best. I want the freedom to rise as high in my career as my ability indicates. I want to be free to follow the dictates of my own mind and conscience without being subject to the pressures of any man, black or white. I think that is what most people of all races want. (96)

While I’m glad I read Never Had It Made and enjoyed getting a better idea of who Jackie was beyond his time on the field as a Brooklyn Dodger. He didn’t deeply analyze events or his feelings much, except for the very moving chapter about the death of his oldest son and throughout you can tell his love for his wife and family was palpable. But he recounting several hardships he faced growing up and “breaking the color barrier” in sports and business (being the first black corporate VP), and spats he had along the way with sports journalists and politicians alike.

I do wish he had covered his baseball career more extensively. I can’t be alone in that being the main interest for readers of this book, although his remembrance of his days in Montreal Royals was great—clearly he loved his time there! I admit to glazing over during the business sections a bit, and I also would have loved to learn even more about his role in the Civil Rights Movement. The prose is straightforward but rather blunt and dry, and can sometimes not feel so natural. But, Jackie was not a writer and from an era of strong-but-silent types, and I think the co-author here did a good job of conveying Jackie as a person and what concerned him during his lifetime.

On a personal note, this reminds me that I should stop by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum here in Kansas City soon! It’s been quite a while since my last trip. Jackie played for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945. (Just a fun fact from the biography project I did on Jackie Robinson in elementary school! 🙂 ) I’ll have to check out 42 soon, the movie that came out a couple years ago based on parts of I Never Had It Made.

I Never Had it Made is my third of twelve books read for my Ebook Challenge.

Read from May 9 to 23, 2015.

twelve years a slave

I’ve been wanted to get around to reading all the ebooks I have downloaded on my iPad mini, and I thought this year I’d give myself a challenge to read one a month. I have more than 12 on there, but still one a month will put a dent in them! My first of the year is Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup. From Goodreads:

First published in 1853, Twelve Years a Slave is the narrative of Solomon Northup’s experience as a free man sold into slavery. Northup’s memoir reveals unimaginable details about the slave markets, the horrors of life on a plantation, and the dreadful day-to-day treatment of the slaves from the perspective of a man who lived more than thirty years as a free man before being forcibly enslaved.

I bought this on an ebook sale after seeing the movie. This may be one of those rare instances where the movie was better than the book for me. While Northup’s story is absolutely an important and necessary account for our records of this dark and shameful part of American history, I didn’t find I was as shocked by the book as I expected to be—no doubt in large part because I had seen the film. The language is a bit stiff and dry. Historical books like this, with antiquated language—fiction or non-fiction—are tough for me. I just feel so removed; I don’t know. There are several chapters on the slave’s work duties and processes for the plantations’ products, which I admit I glazed over at times.

But, I was astounded and moved by many passages. The psychological anguish suffered by Northup is palpable; these are the sections that are most affecting. I also feel unqualified to comment much, being a white “millennial” (p.s., hate that term). I can have feelings of outrage, empathy, etc., but I don’t really understand. I never will—I, personally, just can’t fathom how the minds of those in the business of slave trading and owning worked. Northup, though, offered an astoundingly balanced view, though, on his experience and the inhuman, reprehensible “peculiar institution” of slavery.

Twelve Years a Slave is my first of twelve books read for my 2015 Ebook Challenge.

Read from January 26 to 31, 2015.

ebook challenge 2015

ID-10093750I don’t know about you, but I am becoming notoriously bad at resisting the cheap ebook deals online now that I have an ereading device, but I just have the worst trouble making myself read on my iPad—I do prefer paper books to electronic. Maybe it’s because I sit at a computer all day at work (and often work on my home computer in the evenings), I love how a paper book really forces me to unplug and unwind. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love the idea of ebooks! It’s fabulous to carry a slim tablet around rather than a chunky hardcover, for sure, and to have myriad reading options at the tip of your finger.

My goal with my 2015 Ebook Challenge is to read at least twelve (hopefully more) ebooks I have downloaded to my iPad but haven’t read yet. Any genre, any release year, free or purchased—doesn’t matter as long as it’s an ebook I already have downloaded.

This is a very casual, low-pressure challenge for myself. I’m going to go at my own pace (with the loose goal of one ebook per month), and go with whatever strikes my mood when I’m choosing what to read next on my iPad. If you want to join along and tackle your own ebook collection, that’s awesome! But at this time this is just for self-accomplishment and pride purposes, no plans for a monetary award or “winner.”

As I finish ebooks, I will list them and link review posts to my master page in the Book Challenge tab here. I’ll use the hashtag #2015ebookchallenge on Twitter.

Part of this challenge is not downloading (many 😉 ) more ebooks in 2015, too! Here’s are snapshots of my iBooks and Kindle collections (as of 7 Dec 2014):

ebook library