Raven Used Books’ 5 Rock Picks

Friday, September 08, 2017

 By Kristepher Severy and Betsy Frederick 

The Valley is a flourishing music scene, and books are a big part of it. Books on music of all kinds, from classical to jazz to world, are best sellers at Raven. Here’s our pick of five great titles from the world of rock ’n’ roll. It was a group effort.

“Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010” by Greil Marcus

This collection of Greil Marcus’ writings on Bob Dylan — originally appearing in publications such as Rolling Stone, Creem, Interview, ArtForum and Salon over 42 years — isn’t just for Dylan fans. The real star is Greil Marcus himself. Dylan’s mystique and cultural importance are at the heart of these writings, but Marcus’ sharp language, innovative essays and impressive cultural knowledge are what make this book such a compelling read. Through Dylan, Marcus explores the deep mytho-political veins of American folk and pop culture. 


“Collected Lyrics: 1970-2015” by Patti Smith: Patti Smith is queen of pop music’s great poets. This volume, published by Ecco, offers lyrics spanning 45 years of Smith’s career. Many appear alongside facsimiles of original manuscripts, handwritten on scraps of paper or typed and pencil-edited. Smith’s poetic voice — influenced as much by the French surrealists as Jim Morrison — moves effortlessly from obscene to sacred, from mythical incantation to gritty punk urgency. Read along to her albums, or just read.


“Life” by Keith Richards: A reader expecting an addled rock ’n’ roll narrative will be surprised by this lucid account of Keith Richards’ life and career, which nonetheless tells his story with candor. In over 500 pages, the book provides a fascinating portrait of a great rock ’n’ roller and of the rock world he inhabited. Keith Richards proves to be a more-than-capable writer with a strong, individual voice.


“Girl in a Band” by Kim Gordon: It’s no surprise that the memoir of the multi-talented, sometimes-local Kim Gordon makes this list. Best known for her influential contributions to the post-punk/no wave/noise rock scene, she is also an accomplished visual artist, and “Girl in a Band” proves she can also write a book well worth reading. While Gordon provides the insider account expected of a rock memoir, the charm of the book is in its easy prose style, communicating a social and political intelligence and an honest, intimate warmth. 


“Starting at Zero: His Own Story” by Jimi Hendrix: Comprised of Jimi Hendrix’s own words from interview transcripts and scraps of casual writing, “Starting at Zero” is a unique rock memoir. Its narrative continuity is the work of the book’s co-editor, documentary filmmaker Peter Neal, who brings a filmmaker’s sensibility to this curatorial literary project. The various fonts, layouts, colored type and stitched-together accounts reinforce the memoir’s found quality, appropriate for one of rock ’n’ roll’s tragically short stories.


Raven Used Books is located at 4 Old South Street in Northampton. For more information, call 584-9868 or visit ravenusedbooks.com.