‘Book Week Scotland’ might not mean a lot to many people beyond bonnie Caledonia but this campaign to promote reading gives me a nice excuse to write about the myriad connections between my two favourite things: books and music. My first post was about songs inspired by female writers and today I’m going to recommend some of my favourite books about music written by women.
I have previously blogged about books before including ‘Gone‘ by Min Kym, Jessi Colter’s biography An Outlaw and a Lady, Dolly Parton’s inspirational little book Dream More and Tara Murtha’s excellent work on Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe.
That publication was part of the groundbreaking 33 1/3 series of short books on individual albums. Other women writing about women in this series are Anwen Crawford on Hole’s Live Through This, Kate Schatz on PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me, Gina Arnold on Liz Phair’s Exit in Guyville and Jovana Babovic on Sleater Kinney’s Dig Me Out. Babovic said that when she was submitting her proposal she noticed ‘a major absence of both female authors and female musicians’ in this series, and although their most recent publication was Emily Rose Mackay on Bjork’s Homogenic you do hope more women can be recognised in future publications.
Another book I have recently read and enjoyed is ‘Here She Comes Now – Women In Music Who Have Changed Our Lives‘. This is a diverse collection of personal essays about artists including Dolly Parton, Mary J Blige, X Ray Spex, Sinead O’Connor and many more. My personal favourite is Jennifer Nix writing on June Carter Cash, which you can actually read online too.
Sylvia Patterson’s memoir ‘I’m Not With The Band‘ is a fascinating glimpse into the history of music journalism from her time at Smash Hits right through to the decline and fall of print magazines. It’s got that 90s zany style of writing which I really miss when reading the modern super serious online music press. I also enjoyed the collection of Ellen Wills’ music journalism called ‘Out of the Vinyl Deeps’, particularly the ‘Feminist’ section which includes her writing on the women’s movement, Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith and misogyny in punk rock.
I will admit that I find some of Patti Smith’s music quite difficult to listen to but I think her memoirs are some of the best writing out there by a female musician. Just Kids is one of my favourite books of all time, reading about the deep connections between her music, poetry and art was a gift. Another biography I love is Rat Girl by Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses (published as Paradoxical Undressing in the UK). She writes beautifully about her band, creativity, songwriting and her struggles with mental illness. I also enjoyed Grace Jones’ I’ll Never Write My Memoirs about her rise to stardom and fights to assert her creative identity.
In terms of the great novels by women that explore music I was really hopeful that ‘Greatest Hits‘ by Laura Barton would be good but sadly it failed to capture my imagination (read my review of this one and its soundtrack here). How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran is a pretty hilarious coming of age story about being a teen music journalist and falling in love with unsuitable boys in bands. A more literary exploration of music, dancing and the perils of pop stardom is Zadie Smith’s excellent Swing Time.
Some new books on my to-read list include Women Walk The Line (essays about the gals of country music), Women of Motown (an oral history of the women on the famous label), Why Vinyl Matters and Ann Powers’ book Good Booty (on sex and race in American music).
So yes all I want for Christmas is books and some extra hours in the day to read them all. If you have any other suggestions please let me know in the comments.