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Four years of full-time classroom teaching and an MFA graduate program had pushed recreational music and books to the bottom of my to-do list, but in 2009 I came back full force, obsessively listening to everyone from Fever Ray to Lightning Dust, from Erykah Badu to Slant 6. I remembered Bikini Kill and Neil Young. I discovered new favorites like Sunset Rubdown and Family Band. I listened to songs over and over, until I could sing along with every intonation, and hit all the ooohs and aaaahs like a karaoke master.
It was also a year in which I began playing and writing music again as voraciously as I did when I was in my twenties. I was asked to play guitar in a band two days after I picked up my long-neglected and dusty Danelectro for the first time in months.
In 2009, I read like a true bookslut, hitting the request button on the library website as though my life depended on it. I spent precious dollars on literary journals and the occasional spanking new book or zine. I lent books to friends. I borrowed a fair share as well. Ann Beattie, Thomas Moore, Susan Sontag, Colson Whitehead, Lorrie Moore and Cindy Crabb (author of the inspiring Doris zine) are just a few of the writers that set off sparks in 2009.
Writing a column about my two great loves (aside from my husband and my dog) –reading and music—seems to be the natural progression after a long pause. I have a retained the pure, unadulterated joy in hearing a new album, in reading a perfect sentence, the same joy I felt in my teens and twenties. It makes me happy to share this with a like-minded community.
The proliferation of free music and writing on the internet, while daunting to sort through, provides gems that might have gone undiscovered in the days when one had to stumble across an album in a record store or get a zine from a cool friend to find out about new music. These are still awesome ways to find out about bands (I learned about Sunset Rubdown during an excursion to Lou’s Records in Encinitas when my good friend told me about how incredible the band was live). But now music blogs and podcasts uncover books in literature you might not be able to find in your local record store. I’ve rediscovered Superchunk’s eternally charming 1991 release No Pocky for Kitty after reading about it on Gabe Meline’s blog City Sound Inertia. I fell in love with Fever Ray after seeing the band’s creepy videos on Pitchfork, and remembered the glory of Stereolab after listening to Emperor Tomato Ketchup, in its entirety, for free on Imeem.
The explosion of online reading provides a fantastic opportunity to find articles and columns that print publishing simply can’t afford to provide any longer. Online journals like failbetter.com, Barrelhouse, and Pank provide an opportunity to writers to publish, to get their ideas out, without the extensive connections required for traditional publishing.
In 2010, I look forward to excavating new literary journals, websites and story collections from the ever-deepening caverns of the literary world. Books like What Will the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us by Laura van den Berg, Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness by Ariel Gore, and Possum Living out on Tin House books are on my short list for spring reads. I plan on spending time with The Collagist, a great online journal published by Dzanc books, as well as with copies (currently languishing by my bedside) of the latest Gulf Coast Review and A Public Space. I look forward to sharing my discoveries with you, dear reader, as well as hearing about some of your personal favorites.
Music-wise, I’m stoked on upcoming releases by Erykah Badu, Sleigh Bells, and Ted Leo, to name a few. I also promise you that Vampire Weekend will be mentioned once and only once in this column, and that is right now, and never again, and no amount of horchata will change my mind.
This column was written under the influence of Dragonslayer by Sunset Rubdown, Serene Velocity: A Stereolab Anthology, City Kid: A Writer’s Memoir of Ghetto Life and Post-Soul Success by Nelson George, Chilly Scenes of Winter by Ann Beattie, discounted unicorn/music clef earrings from the bargain table at Stanroy’s Music Center and the mid-winter fog of Sonoma County.
Photo by Flickr user Brandon Shigeta