Murder, Millennials, & More Music

And alliteration! I am officially done with book #25, book #26, and book #27 of the year. I was a little concerned, because in order to stay on track and finish 100 books this year, I’m supposed to be done with 32 books by the end of April. Seeking comfort, I checked this year’s progress so far against last year’s, and I discovered that I had finished book #27 of last year on April 29… so at least I’ve got three days on my past reader self! Woo!

Anyway, the books I read: A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams, Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte, and Your Song Changed My Life by NPR’s All Songs Considered host, Bob Boilen. I enjoyed all of these books very much, and they were all very different from each other, which felt refreshing.

A Certain Age is set in New York City in the 1920’s, and something about that prohibition era—where women showing their shins was risqué and Gatsby parties roared—appeals to me so much. The book jumps between perspectives and time, interspersing clips from a sensationalist news story’s account of a tense court case throughout.

I thought this story was incredibly well-told, and I was gripped right away with feelings of sympathy and understanding for the two main women, Marie and Sophie. The story shifts between their two perspectives, and they come to be connected in various intriguing ways. I don’t want to give too much away, because half of what made this book great was the clever twists. Sophie is young, naïve, and struggling with her limitations as a woman who is expected to accept a society man’s proposal; Marie is an older, fading beauty with enough connections to skillfully manipulate scenarios from afar. Marie often breaks the fourth wall, charming not only the fictional characters but the reader as well.

It was well-told and the plot and description was rich. Some of the twists may have been a tiny bit predictable, but overall I found it to be an extremely satisfying read.

Next was Private Citizens. This was an extremely contemporary novel, set in San Francisco in the middle of the whirlwind of start-ups, social media, and millennials. Sometimes, I feel like we* talk about millennials way too much (*”we” meaning Buzzfeed). Maybe every generation feels this way at a certain point, but I get sick of it. I don’t know if I can stand seeing another link to a listicle about the “xx number of ways the millennials are underappreciated and intellectual and hard-working and…” Let’s just stop.

It seems funny, then, that I would read this book in the first place. It mentions “millennials” at least once on the back cover alone. The author graduated from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, though, and I always have a soft spot for those connected to Iowa in any way. And I was pleasantly surprised!

The book follows the ebbing (and flowing?) friendship of four main characters, who all when to Stanford together and graduated to disappointing lives, as us millennials so often do. There are accounts of the exhausting struggle of working in non-profit and trying to force people to care, the struggle of being an anti-social, maybe-porn-addicted Asian man who works from home and has a lot of money and an ambitious girlfriend in a wheelchair, the struggle of being raised on the road by a dad who didn’t support educational pursuits, and the struggle of being a self-conscious, self-destructive, addicted-to-everything aspiring writer and pathological liar.

That is Cory, Will, Henrik, and Linda, respectively. So there are a lot of issues, a lot of frustrations, and a lot of just things happening to these four kind-of-friends. What struck me most was the very real abundance of knowledge found in these characters, and in most people my age. Not necessarily useful knowledge, but knowledge nonetheless.

At the risk of sounding like Buzzfeed, millennials do kind of seem to be uselessly over-educated. I loved school, and I love being able to speak to the tropes of misogyny in both contemporary and historic literature, and sometimes it’s fun to discuss that kind of thing, but it ultimately feels draining – in my, and it seems like in these characters’, opinions – and pointless. What good is talking about it really doing, and is it feasible to put all of that assorted knowledge to real use in the real world. I don’t know, but probably not.

I really enjoyed the portrayal Cory’s dad, whom she communicates with a few times during the novel over the phone. He is the embodiment of practical, effective, businessman methods, and he’s the antithesis to his daughter’s do-good mentality. He’s all about his money and his brand of success in a refreshing and unpretentious way, while Cory struggles to admit that money and success mean anything to her and her recently inherited, failing non-profit business. It was a really interesting way to frame issues that I think a lot of young, recent college graduates are grappling with.

This took a very English-paper turn (how millennial of me), but overall I did like this book. The characters weren’t always likable and solutions to their problems often felt frustratingly obvious, but I believe that was all intentional, which was smart and kept me involved. Read it if you like reading about people messing up and being young and street-dumb but book-smart.

And finally. Another music book. Bob Boilen is awesome. I recently became obsessed with the Tiny Desk Concerts** that he puts on in the NPR offices where he works. (**Pro tip: don’t click that link unless you have four hours to kill catching up on all of them. The series is incredibly addictive.)

Your Song Changed My Life is a book with a simple but genius premise: interview 35 musicians of various genres, ages, levels of fame, and ask them to pinpoint one song that inspired them to create their own art. It’s such a good idea! It’s like asking what someone’s favorite song is, except even better because it gets artists to explore their history with their craft on a much deeper level. I loved it.

Bob Boilen writes very beautifully about music, too. It’s been his life’s work, and this book makes it clear that it is his life’s passion. If you like reading about music, or if you like music (who doesn’t like music?), I think you’ll like this book. It’s a quick and beautiful read that expanded my Spotify playlists and introduced me to some wonderful songs. ◊

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