David Bowie: A Life
Hardcover: 544 pages
Publisher: Crown Archetype (September 12, 2017)
Reviewed by: Dr. Wesley Britton
When Prince died on April 21, 2016, just four months after the passing of David Bowie on January 10, there were immediate and numerous comparisons made between the two giants of music in terms of importance and influence. I well recall one TV commentator certain Prince was the more influential of the two.
I can’t figure out that reasoning at all. For one matter, by the time of Prince’s first successes in 1979, Bowie had already made a decade-long cultural impact difficult to match. As some of the interviewees in Dylan Jones oral history of the life of David Bowie opined, Ziggy Stardust was where the ‘60s ended and the ‘70s began. A large number of British acts from U2 to Duran Duran acknowledge Bowie as an important influence. Not to mention acts like Mott the Hoople, Iggy Pop, Lulu, and Lu Reed who all benefited from Bowie’s career-saving hand. Later, Madonna and Lady Gaga also pointed to Bowie as a seminal influence on their careers. And all this before Prince set foot into a recording studio.
And, judging from the countless verbal snapshots in Dylan Jones oral history, Bowie’s impact on the many people who knew or simply met him was profound on many levels. For one matter, he was a figure with a deep well of interest from music to the visual arts to theatre and film to fashion to literature. Because of his shifting guises throughout his career, he worked with a wide range of collaborators, producers, musicians, and business advisors. Depending on your point of view, Bowie was simply following his vision or was callous in his leaving some of his associates behind as he changed directions throughout his career.
While painting a “warts and all” portrait of Bowie in the words of hundreds of personal interviews, Dylan Jones presents a more than rounded portrait of an artistic giant worthy of the many accolades Bowie received before and after his death, but certainly he was no saint. In his personal life, he enjoyed a wide range of sexual experiences. Many of them, by 2018 standards, could be considered child molestation. During the ‘70s, Bowie did a bit too much coke. And during the ‘80s, his artistic vision let him down when he crafted some admittedly substandard albums.
But, in the main, most commentators on Bowie in Dylan Jones’ biography remember Bowie in a very favorable light, from his private personal life to his work in the studio to his interactions with, well, seemingly everyone he ever met. From start to finish, Bowie is seen as an innovative artist with drive, talent, a special physical presence as well as intellectual abilities and curiosity. It’s such a personal book that those looking for insights into Bowie’s creative process may feel slighted, but there are no shortage of other books that explore such aspects of Bowie’s output.
I’ve always shied away from using the term “definitive” for any biography as many are comprehensive but usually lack in one aspect or another. Dylan Jones A Life comes close as he actually wrote very little but instead compiled a year-by-year history of Bowie and his circles using the voices of so many observers. It might not be the one and only book you should read about Bowie, but I can’t imagine any other tome out there that touches so many bases. Maybe not definitive, but certainly indispensable.
This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on Aug. 20, 2018:
Sixteen-year-old Catherine Vernon has been stranded in London for the summer-no friends, no ex-boyfriend Adam the Scum (good riddance!), and absolutely nothing to do but blog about her misery to her friends back home. Desperate for something-anything-to do in London while her (s)mother's off researching boring historical things, Cat starts reading the 1815 diary of Katherine Percival her mom gives her-and finds the similarities between their lives to be oddly close. But where Katherine has the whirls of the society, the parties and the gossip over who is engaged to who, Cat's only got some really excellent English chocolate. Then she meets William Percival-the uber-hot descendant of Katherine-and things start looking up . . .
This epistolary novel spans two centuries (through alternating chapters, all of Cat's chapters headed with song titles), combining the stories of two young women, Cat and Katherine. Cat, who shares her adventures with the reader via a blog format, is a modern day American teen who travels with her mom to the UK so that her mom may study the life of Mary Percival, whom Cat describes as "some woman who did absolutely nothing of import and has been dead for two hundred years."
*In the story, this Mary Percival character died before the age of 45, like Jane Austen. The reader will pretty quickly notice that this novel is heavily influenced / inspired by Austen's work.*
Katherine is a teen in 1815 England, whose story is provided through journal entries. While reading the excerpts from the journals of both Katherine and Mary Percival, Austen fans will likely notice that those journal scenes are basically remixes of plot points from Austen's Sense & Sensibility as well as Pride & Prejudice, but with some changes to make it Jensen's own unique imaginings. For one, a character in Katherine's era drinks too much at a party and suffers a sexual assault... which helps make even this fluff piece a bit of timely reading material.
While it may be easy to dismiss this as an easy breezy read, there are some respectable moments of character growth to be had here as well as some important, and as I said earlier, timely, topics to think on. Cat outwardly comes off as spoiled and obnoxious, but as the reader gets to know her a bit better, we learn that there's actually a fair amount of emotional hurt in her that she's struggling to address. But I did enjoy her sense of humor.
For example, visiting the Tower of London and the National Portrait Gallery and coming back with the hilariously simplified "King Henry (VIII) was rather hard on his wives... and I gotta say, after Anne Boleyn, they all look a bit anxious."
Continuing on in the NPG: "Winston Churchill didn't always look like a bulldog... Queen Victoria kinda did..."
Meanwhile, Katherine in her own time is struggling to maintain her sense of self when it's expected that she should just go along with her father's plan for her. I grew to really like Katherine's mother, who did her best to keep her daughter distanced from the gross choice of a suitor Katherine's father had picked out for her.
Mama curled in her favorite cushiony chair, feet tucked beneath her. In the moment, with the fire behind her and her face softened by shadow, she was familiar, like a mirror.
"Promise me something, Katherine," she said in a quiet moment.
"If I can."
"Oh, you can. Promise me that you will think, in every moment possible, what you want for yourself. And you will stand for yourself, especially in the times when no one seems interested in standing for you."
I did not understand, not really, but I promised nonetheless.
One moment in the story also illustrates a good point regarding double standards to think on: If we can acknowledge that some women may be fine pursuing fat, ugly or socially odious men simply for monetary gain, why is it so baffling to think men might likewise pursue plain women for THEIR wealth?
If you only get through the first few chapters of this, it'll be easy to dismiss it as forgettable froth, but there is a layer of depth here I found impressive and entertaining. Admittedly, I did prefer Katherine's portions of the book, but I'm a history junkie, not to mention I just found her story, that of a young woman so desperately trying to show others she has plenty of worth as an individual, not dependent on nabbing a husband, much more interesting than Cat's humorous but somewhat privileged ramblings around London... but Cat, though maybe a little irritating at first... she grew on me :-)
I've read several of Chevalier's books, so when I saw this one offered on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to get a copy. After reading two other books in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, Vinegar Girl and Hag-Seed, I was curious to read Chevalier's take on Othello. I think this is a departure for Chevalier, whose historical fiction I love, but I am not sure what she intended here. Her protagonists are reimagined as 11-year-olds, and the drama occurs over the course of one school day, with most of the action taking place on the playground. For me, this format diminished the impact of the story. I am not sure why Chevalier set this in the '70s, especially when the words and actions of her characters seemed more in line with today's kids, as opposed to the much less eloquent and exceedingly more immature kids I remember, having been an 11-year-old in the '70s.
To be fair, Chevalier on her worst day is significantly better than so many other published writers, that of course I finished reading it, and I have no regrets. Now, on to her other books on my TBR pile...
I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway a very long time ago. I kind of wish I had read it a few years ago when things in the US weren’t quite so openly depressing but alas I read it now and it hurt my heart so much.
Dark Town is a mystery and an unflinching look at race relations in the not so long ago past. Even worse, much of it is depressingly still very relevant today. It takes place in the 1940’s when segregation and racism was on full awful display. And if today’s news gets you down, reading this book right now sure won’t help your state of mind. There is so much prejudice and hatefulness in this story that it will make you angry and sad. This is not a book you want to pick up thinking you’ll escape into.
A murder occurs and the author delves deep into everyone involved in the situation. What is uncovered is a whole lot of cover ups, corruption, and other assorted ugliness. It’s very well written and the descriptive language is so very excellent.
"A harsh word would knock him over"& "He hit the door like it owed him money."
You should definitely read it if you enjoy a good gritty historical murder mystery. But I’m warning you, it’s probably going to make your blood boil.