- “Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78 rpm Records” by Amanda Petrusich
“Do Not Sell” catalogues the niche subculture of 78 rpm record collectors and their collections. It’s part ethnography, part wild goose chase and part travelogue. And, some of it takes place right here in Milwaukee! In a hunt for rare metal masters that Paramount Records employees angrily threw into the Milwaukee River after the company went under in the great depression, Petrusich learns how to scuba dive and takes the plunge into Milwaukee’s mother river. It’s a great books about music, people and history, including Milwaukee music and beyond. Read it.
- “They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us” by Hanif Abdurraqib
Abdurraqib redefines modern music journalism. He talks about music in a way that is personal, as all music is, but he can also talk about in an academic way. And then, sometimes he goes into straight poetry. It was in NPR’s Best Books of 2017 last year and deservedly so.
- “The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic” by Jessica Hopper
I mean, the title kind of sells this one alone. This is history. Hopper’s writing is thoughtful and rigorous music journalism. Included are essays that singlehandedly dismantled the emo boy’s club and R. Kelly. There is also passionate writing about artists like Van Morrison and Chance the Rapper that will have you wanting to go to the record store mid-paragraph.
- The “Wildwood” trilogy by Colin Meloy
This one isn’t really about music, but I always love when a musician writes a work of fiction. It’s rare, but it happens, and when it does it can be marvelous. This is one of those cases. It’s written by Colin Meloy, lead singer of The Decemberists, And, it’s gorgeously illustrated by his wife Carson Ellis. “The Wildwood Chronicles” are a three book trilogy that follow a lead character, Prue, whose brother gets kidnapped by crows and taken to The Wildwood, a fantastical and whimsical place that will have you flying through all 1,500+ pages of this enduring trilogy.
- “Hip-Hop Family Tree” by Ed Piskor
I had to include a graphic novel in here…Why not pick one of the greatest graphic novel series of all time, that also happens to be about music? Piskor’s “Hip-Hop Family Tree,” is the history of hip-hop told year-by-year. Book one starts in the late ’70s and goes ’till ’81. Book two is ’81 to ’83. Book three is ’83 through ’84. And book four is ’84 to ’85. Piskor’s art is incredible, but more than that, he takes the narrative of an entire genre of music and puts it into something that is linear and exciting. These are fun to read and pound-for-pound, they’re the most learning you will do with any music book.
Just like a wormhole you would go down on YouTube, I tend to go down book wormholes. My most recent one has a Joy Division/New Order theme. Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner were founding members of Joy Division. And, when Joy Division singer, Ian Curtis, died in 1980, Hook and Sumner founded New Order. Years later, they both wrote books about the journey.
- “Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division” by Peter Hook
- “Substance: Inside New Order” by Peter Hook
- “The Hacienda: How NOT To Run A Club” by Peter Hook
- “Chapter & Verse: Joy Division, New Order & Me” by Bernard Sumner
I started reading Peter Hook’s Joy Division book, which led me to his New Order book, then the Joy Division/New Order book by Bernard Sumner. In their books, both artists mention the money pit that was “The Hacienda,” the club that Factory records founded. Hooky wrote a book about said club, where his witty writing is in full-force, giving it a prominent place on my list.
And, if you don’t have any interest in the Joy Division/New Order universe, this is my alternative recommendation:
- “Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink” – Elvis Costello
Elvis Costello’s book is a comprehensive doorstop on the immensely talented Declan MacManus (his real name). It’s got humor, conflict, history and eloquent prose. This proves that Mr. Costello could have been a great novelist or poet if he had not become a musician.
Dig out your library card, because 88Nine jockeys Justin Barney and Ken Sumka wrote a list of the books about music you should read this summer. From music journalism and history, to fiction, graphic novels and a whole lot about Joy Division and New Order, these 10 books will take you to school on music, while you’re chilling on the beach.