I’ve been a relative slackard over the last several months when it comes to actually doing reviews. It seems the only ones I get done are for books sent me for review purposes. As a result, I’m going to try to at least make these book briefs a semi-regular feature.
Clapton: The Autobiography, Eric Clapton — Clapton is at his best here when describing his worst periods of alcoholism and his time in rehab battling those demons. From a music history standpoint, though, the book seems to have less heart and often comes off as somewhat contradictory. For example, in the second chapter Clapton says he had a “real contempt” for pop music and, as a result, felt “genuinely uncomfortable” being in the Yardbirds. Less than 20 pages later, though, he recounts being “quite put out” because after leaving the band it had a string of pop hits. As such, the book rates as no more than an average autobiography but will undoubtedly attract the Clapton fan.
Coltrane: The Story of a Sound, Ben Ratliff — Continuing on the music track, this highly praised work is more analytical than biographical. Ratliff undoubtedly does an excellent job analyzing the development of John Coltrane’s music and performance and its impact on music as a whole. At the same time, parts of it can be a bit dry and somewhat technical for those of us who love music but for whom theory has never quite sunk in. While I personally would have preferred more of a focus on biography, I hesitate to criticize the analytical portions because it is so difficult to write about music. As has been variously attributed, it’s like dancing about architecture.
Finding George Orwell in Burma, Emma Larkin — This book takes a unique approach to both travel and foreign reporting. First, the travels through the country follow George Orwell’s stations when he was an imperial police officer in the country (experiences that led to his first novel, Burmese Days). But Orwell serves as a focus in another way. The author tries to take us inside the rampant government paranoia and repressiveness, comparing the country’s current state directly to Orwell’s 1984. I read the book roughly a month before the recent protests in Burma and it made me fully aware of just how brave the Buddhist monks were in taking the forefront in peaceful resistance to a horrible regime.
In the lowest moments of my life, the only reason I didn’t commit suicde was that I knew I wouldn’t be able to drink anymore if I was dead.
Eric Clapton, Clapton: The Autobiography