I'm excited to announce the publication of a new novel. Official release date is December 12, but you can preorder a copy very soon, maybe by the time you read this. For details about the book, click on "Reviews." To order click on "Books."
Several years ago, we booked Ray Manzarek of The Doors to visit our campus, but he cancelled. I don’t recall the reason. But I do recall the disappointment. I put aside his book that I had planned to read in preparation for his visit. I told myself, Ah, it’s probably just juicy gossip anyway. I don’t need to fill my head with that. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I snatched the book off my shelf the other day and devoured it.
Manzarek is a Chicago guy through and through. Which may explain how he kept his head amid the madness of The Doors between 1965-1971. Not that we Midwestern folks can’t go off the rails, but I’d like to think we have a greater capacity for…stability? Balance? I’m clearly biased. And I don’t want to get into a defense of that bias. Here’s why I mention it at all. As I was reading about Jim Morrison’s downfall, caused mostly by his own self-destruction, but also by outside forces feeding on him and handcuffing him, literally in a couple of cases, I couldn’t help thinking, Oh, but Manzarek will survive. He’s rooted. And he is. His authority, his ability to fuse the personal with the historical with the psychedelic is remarkable. The writing is crisp and hip and resonant of the sixties. Even the redundant use of Dionysian and Apollo and the word fecund mirrors the hypnotic pull of the music of The Doors. The other great thing about this book is that it will send you back to the music, to the songs beyond the hits. You will become newly entranced.
Jonathan Eig is another Chicago guy, who has written about Capone and the pill and Lou Gehrig and Jackie Robinson, all penetrating portraits. This time Eig tackles Muhammad Ali. When Ali died recently, I was moved by the public grief and the overwhelming tributes. All I knew about Ali was the image he worked to project. What I didn’t realize is that this image-making began well before he became a public figure. Even as a child, he worked to make an impression. He was more than Cassius Clay. I can’t help think of real clay, how it becomes shaped by time and hands. This is a fascinating glimpse into Clay’s obsessive need to shape what he presented to the world, and how he shaped his own views on race and religion and society, how he became Muhammad Ali.
No matter how many times I read about the injustice blacks faced in decades past, not to mention the present, I’m always taken aback by stories of how a World Boxing Champion could not eat or shop at the same restaurants as other citizens of this country, simply because of the color of his skin. This book provides broad historical perspective on the racial divide, but also offers smart glimpses into the personal reactions to this injustice.
Not long ago, I had never heard of Leonard Cohen. I’d heard the song “Hallelujah,” usually covered by some other artist. Then I saw footage of Cohen at a concert, with black jacket and tie and his trademark fedora. I heard the raspy delivery. I wasn’t sure I liked the voice. It seemed he was speaking more than singing. Slowly, I became more and more drawn to him, which is what his music does. The sound, the rhythm pull you in. The music reassures. I don’t listen carefully to lyrics on first or second listenings. It’s like my brain needs to acclimate. The content of the lyrics, as I soon discovered, are often less soothing, though still hypnotic and moving. It’s no surprise that Cohen published several volumes of award winning poetry. The songs are poems. I’ve become more obsessed with Cohen’s music after reading Sylvie Simmons’s excellent biography of Cohen. That guy lived a full life, from a rich childhood in Canada to an artist’s isolation (mostly) in Greece to a monk’s isolation (really) in California. Simmons ably chronicles it all. The book made me sad to have discovered Cohen so late, but it’s a glimmering kind of sadness. This fine book, written a few years before Cohen’s death, and with his cooperation, is a poignant celebration.
My reflections on writing, reading, and random thoughts.