10 Good Books To Curl Up With

Winter is upon us. Depending on where you live, the cold is coming or is already there. For the next few months, you may be stuck inside quite a bit.

It’s time to snuggle into your favorite overstuffed chair with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book. I can’t provide the soft spot or the hot beverage, but I can recommend some good reads. Most of these books are selected from books I read during 2012, though a couple are throwbacks and I’ll explain later why they were included in the list. It’s an eclectic mix and you should be able to find something here you haven’t read to kill the chill.

My Cross To Bear– Gregg Allman with Alan Light

519iQjM92SL__SL300If you’d like to take a look inside the southern fried rock and roll heart of the legendary wailers that were, and still are, The Allman Brothers Band, open this book. It has everything you’d expect from a sweeping chronicle of a life playing rock music, sex, drugs, death, famous musicians, triumph and tragedy. Gregg Allman gives an unflinching view of his life and the long strange journey of his bandmates. For more information, read my previous review.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much– Allison Hoover Bartlett

book_shadowThis is a story that could have been a great novel, but it’s not. It’s the non-fiction tale of John Charles Gilkey, a man obsessed with rare books who managed to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars of them, not for financial gain, but because he lusted to own them. Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. In telling this story, journalist Bartlett takes the reader into the subterranean world of book junkies, a fascinating subculture of collectors and dealers.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter- Tom Franklin

crooked-letter-crooked-letter-book-cover-tom-franklinA dark, gothic southern crime novel, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a finely written page turner that will leave you sweaty from the heat and humidity of Mississippi. It’s a story about a man living a shunned life in a small town as a result of one damning night when he was in high school. It’s also the story of his childhood friend, now a police officer, who suspects his former playmate is responsible for a wave of killings he must solve. Can’t put it down reading charged with atmosphere and secrets. For more information, read my previous review.

Provinces Of Night– William Gay

provinces-night-william-gay-hardcover-cover-artThe world lost a great writer this year when William Gay died. I’m including this book in the list as a homage to one of my favorite writers and if you haven’t read it, you should run, not walk, and seek it out. Few authors can match the beauty of Gay’s prose. A disciple of Cormac McCarthy, Gay may have eclipsed his idol as a southern literary stylist. He also was a compelling storyteller, and in this, his best novel, he tells the tale of a banjo player who abandons his family to become a traveling minstrel and returns decades later when he is dying. Gay has this astounding ability to mix humor and tragedy while laying out the arc of a life. More about Gay is in my tribute to him earlier this year.

The Architecture Of The Arkansas Ozarks– Donald Harington

architecture-arkansas-ozarks-donald-harington-paperback-cover-artDonald Harrington died not long ago, and I’m including my favorite book of his, not because it’s new, but because he’s a fine writer who isn’t well known and deserves a bigger literary following. Though, the title of the book would make you think it’s non-fiction, it’s a sweeping novel. The Ingledew brothers found a town in the Arkansas wilderness in the early 1800s and Harington traces the progress, or lack of it, over generations into the late twentieth century. A rollicking write, the book has rare moments of absurd humor that may remind you of Twain, high praise indeed for a writer who is fairly obscure.

In A Shallow Grave– James Purdy

shallowgraveStrangely moody, this short novel by Purdy is a darkly melancholy journey uniquely wrought in a quirky writing style. It revolves around a returning veteran who has been so seriously maimed in war that people are repulsed by his appearance. Hiding out and nursing his pain, the novel gets heart-rending when he attempts to gain the love of a nearby widow. Purdy is a force unto himself in his choice of material and writing methods.

The World Made Straight– Ron Rash

imagesCAZ121KTSometimes you come across a writer that grabs you so forcefully your reaction is, God, I wish I could write like that. Rash is one of those writers and this is my favorite novel he has penned so far. You won’t find many writers that are more masterful storytellers. This book is typical. When a teenager finds a patch of marijuana and proceeds to steal it, he is plunged into a dangerous world that culminates in a heart-racing conclusion that is guaranteed to raise your blood pressure to unsafe levels.

That Old Cape Magic- Richard Russo

that-old-cape-magic-203x300Russo is one of those rare writers who can bridge the gap between commercial and literary fiction. In his latest novel, he has created a charming, funny and touching story about a man in mid-life crisis trying to figure out which way to turn. Raised by two combative college professors, Jack Griffin feels lost, his marriage in trouble, his career choice in question. He can’t even decide where to spread the ashes of his dead parents, so he hauls their remains around in his trunk on a return journey to Cape Cod, his parents’ favorite place. It’s a trip you’ll enjoy sharing with a satisfying destination.

Life– Keith Richards with James Fox

book-articleInlineIf you’ve ever fantasized about being a rock star, this is the right read for you. The Rolling Stones are legends, icons of their genre, and still rocking as Richards approaches 70 years of age. For more than 500 pages, the Stones’ original guitar player tells how they rose from lower class obscurity to become one of the most famous bands of all time. Richards observations are as much about his musical journey as they are about the band’s misadventures and rowdy reputation. There’s rock history in the book you won’t find anywhere else.

Red Means Run– Brad Smith

red-means-run-novel-brad-smith-paperback-cover-artCanadian born Smith has been producing good suspenseful fiction for years, and this is his latest offering. This book is a slight departure for him, in that it is pretty much a straight up who-done-it mystery. Though it’s not his best book, probably previous novels like Crow’s Landing and All Hat are better reads, it’s well worth spending some time with for the ensemble cast of interesting characters he always creates. His continuing protagonist Virgil Cain is back and on the run from the law for being falsely accused of a series of murders. Smith’s writing is always a pleasure to read.

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Book Review: My Cross To Bear, Gregg Allman with Alan Light

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If you’re a fan of the Allman Brothers, I think you’d dig reading this biography by Gregg Allman. For 378 pages, Gregg recounts in detail his life and career, and he talks frankly about his drug use, alcoholism, sex life, his marriage to Cher and five other women, his liver transplant, and all the famous musicians he has known and played with. Just published earlier this year, even if you’re a die-hard Allman Brothers fan, you’re bound to find out things you never knew.

One of the best things about the book is its conversational approach. Reading the bio, you feel like you’re sitting there with Gregg listening to him pour out the story of his life. And considering the massive amounts of booze and drugs he consumed, his memory of things that happened decades ago is both sharp and focused. Of course, in telling his life story, Gregg can’t help but tell the story of the Allman Brothers Band, his brother Duane, and the other bandmates like Dickie Betts, Butch Trucks, Berry Oakley, Jaimoe, Derek Trucks, and Warren Haines.

Other famous folks who have cameo appearances include Eric Clapton, Jackson Brown, Jim Morrison, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, Jimmy Carter, Jeff Beck, Bill Graham, Buddy Guy, Steve Winwood, Marshall Tucker, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Stephen Stills and Aretha Franklin, and, as they say, many, many more.

The cover shot of the Fillmore album. The book reveals it was taken in Macon, Georgia, and also what everyone in the photo is laughing about.

The cover shot of the Fillmore album. The book reveals it was taken in Macon, Georgia, and also what everyone in the photo is laughing about.

You’ll also be surprised as some of Gregg’s opinions of other legendary rockers, and he doesn’t pull any punches and says some nasty things about some iconic bands. He also shares his take on everything from God to education.

Another plus is that the book is lavishly illustrated with photos that begin in Gregg’s childhood and follow him and the band to the present.

Personally, I’ve been a big Allman Brothers fan since the 1970s, and I have a collection of vinyl that I’m proud, of, much of it played so much it’s just about worn out. But there were revelations in this biography that floored me. I could tell you what they are, but I don’t want to spoil it for you.

I have to say I was impressed with Gregg’s openness. He’s willing to talk about things that many celebrities wouldn’t touch. The only place the book disappointed me was that Gregg didn’t really elaborate on the motorcycle wreck that killed his brother Duane. There have been so many legends that have grown up around that event and I thought he might set the record straight. Of course, he does talk about it, but he doesn’t go over how the wreck happened. But I can’t fault him for leaving that out. It was probably the most painful event of his life, and the fact that he’s willing to talk about it at all is to his credit.

To me, the most interesting part of the book was about how the band struggled before they hit the big time. Their determination, dedication and sheer guts in sticking to playing the kind of music they believed in is an inspiration to anyone trying to make it in the arts.

The book also can be seen as a comment on the celebrity lifestyle and its dangers and how the temptations brought on by fame and money have killed so many in the music business. Over and over in the book, people die from drugs and alcohol, or commit suicide.

It’s rare to get this kind of inside look at the private world of someone who was on the front lines of rock and roll history. It’s probably the closest you can come to knowing what it was like without actually having been there in person.