When I lived in New York in the early eighties, I was, well, a lot younger. I was also pretty obsessed with music, and I had a ritual. Just about every week, I would head out on a trek, starting in the West Village and then heading east, either alone or with my friend Thom. What were even the names of the stores? Vinyl Mania and Sounds and a bunch of other stores.
I'd moved back to New York after going to college in small town New England, and that made me fidgety about the safety of my environs. I rarely went into Alphabet City, unless I was going to Pyramid (which several of my good friends too much for me to avoid completely), but Avenue B was about the farthest east I roamed. Amusingly enough, I noted a few years later that the neighborhood had perhaps moved from unvisitable to unaffordable awfully quickly.
So perhaps I brought slightly more to the table than some in my reading of Eleanor Henderson's powerful novel Ten Thousand Saints, a Valentine of sorts to eighties punk music (or I guess, specifically straight edge) which has just come out in paperback. The story starts in Lintonburg, Vermont. Teddy and Jude, best friends and outsiders both, are hanging out, celebrating Teddy's birthday, which is also New Year's Eve.
Both kids come from broken homes. Jude lives with his mom, whose glass-blowing skills are renowned among bong users, while his dad's mad skills growing pot turned out to be more appreciated in New York (the details are in the book). Teddy's mom is more of a mess. Queen Bea hasn't really let Teddy know who his father is; he just knows that he is Indian. Gandhi, not Geronimo. And his older brother Johnny has already left Burlington, I mean Lintonburg, to live the life of a straight edge rocker.
On this day, Jude's dad's girlfriend's daughter pays an unexpected (she was skiing with friends at Stowe) to the boys, and they head off to a wild party. By the end of the evening, the story is set in motion--Teddy's dead, Eliza's pregnant, and Jude's on the run from goons, aiming to head towards his brother Johnny in New York.
In a lot of ways, the story has a ring of A Visit to the Goon Squad, not so much in structure (which is more traditional), but in some themes and settings. Henderson's novel is fairly compressed in time, but this is very much a story about change. Surprisingly enough, I was also saw some connections to The Art of Fielding, but with kids a little younger but still in that age of discovery, with music substituting for books and baseball as the guiding influence and passion, and yes, at least one homoerotic subplot.
And though I certainly didn't need any more personal connection to the story than I already had, I should note that I went to school on the Vermont/New Hampshire border, and one of my closer friends turned out to be not a fellow student, but one of the chefs at the cafe where I worked. Of course her mad skills are with food and landscaping, not glass blowing. And let me say that her family life turned out to be not that dissimilar to Jude's mom, Harriet. I'd ask Henderson if she knew S., but I suspect the truth is that their situation is not too uncommon in Vermont.
Yes, Henderson is coming on Wednesday, February 29, 7 pm (editor's note: this event was cancelled, due to a death in the family). And what an honor this is! Ten Thousand Saints was one of the most lauded books of 2011. Here's Nick Hornby's review in The Believer:
“Henderson’s writing…is warm, engaged, and precise….Ten Thousand Saints is the offspring of Lester Bangs and Anne Tyler, and who wouldn’t want to read that baby?”
Speaking of Nick Hornby, I had started making a list of rock novels last year (including High Fidelity, of course), just when it was a little too late to do a window around A Visit from the Goon Squad. It's apparently not an easy subject to write about--beginning authors often get niched by focusing on music, while well known authors are said to stumble. I was surprised that even Tom Perotta (The Wishbones) and Jay McInerney (The Last of the Savages) couldn't keep their rock novels going, meaning they are out of print. (Wrong! It turns out that McInerney's novel is still in print--it just is not longer stocked by Ingram. Thanks, Jason G.)
Needless to say, the highlight of the window would be my old collection of 45s. What was I holding onto them for, if it wasn't to do a cool window for Eleanor Henderson? But what added to the magic is that we just booked Mike Doughty, late of Soul Coughing, for his memoir, The Book of Drugs. He's going to be at Shank Hall on Sunday, March 25, 8 pm, and he'll be doing a talk/reading/signing at 4 pm the same night. Buy tickets for the Shank Hall show here.
So the window. Rock novels. Here is what I came up with: Reservation Blues, by Sherman Alexie Goodbye Without Leaving, by Laurie Colwin Great Jones Street, by Don DeLillo The Commitments, by Roddy Doyle A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
Idoru, by William Gibson Ten Thousand Saints, by Eleanor Henderson High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby You Don’t Love Me Yet, by Jonathan Lethem The Armageddon Rag, by George R. R. Martin The Song is You, by Arthur Phillips Never Mind the Pollacks, by Neal Pollack The Ground Beneath her Feet, by Salman Rushdie Rock Bottom, by Michael Schilling Stone Arabia, Dana Spiotta
I think we've got a record player going in later today. We'll post the even-better rock window on Facebook.
What's on your list? And just as a qualifier, we're looking for books in print! I found plenty of books I wasn't able to sell. But if you have a suggestion, please send it as a comment and I will post it.
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