This is, in no small part, because I am also a songwriter (and I've dabbled in performance poetry).
When I sit down to write or edit, I either have Mozart in my ears (I have a CD with his 40th and 41st symphonies on it that has irretrievably increased my productivity with frequency), or I have Tom Waits graveling in the headphones, hoping that maybe something will rub off on me. This small bit from "The Ghosts of Saturday Night (After Hours at Napoleone's Pizza House)" is what puts me over the edge.
...a solitary sailor who spends the facts of his life like small change on strangers paws his inside P-coat pocket for a welcomed 25 cents and the last bent butt from a packet of Kents as he dreams of a waitress with Maxwell House eyes and marmalade thighs and scrambled yellow hair.
. Yeah, that.
I'm also a big fan of the late Bill Morrissey, an unassuming, small-framed New Englander who died in his 50s right about this time last year. In addition to recommending to me one of my favorite guitar pickers, Mississippi John Hurt, he wrote a book called Edson, which is one of my favorites because it feels right – like four feet of soft powder on a grey Sunday with a fire in the fireplace and the power out and no chance of getting to the grocery store so you're stuck with the last of the week's wine and Oreos.
Local Twitterer Jason Mintz recommended I read Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I've only read him in translation (he writes in Spanish), but if ever ink spoke like satin sheets, Zafon has found the recipe.
You'll also see in my current reading list I'm back to Hunter S. Thompson. Most of you know I'm a recovering reporter, and Thompson taught me one really important thing that a lot of reporters still won't admit: if I'm part of a story and I still think it's a story, it is a story. "I" and "we" are even more powerful than "he" and "they" because I can describe how someone else thought something went, or I can describe how I saw it. Guess which description is going to come out more interesting reading? The second, of course.
The first book that ever kept me up all night because I just couldn't put it down was Edson by Bill Morrissey, who is better known as a songwriter. The book went out of print quickly, but is generally available on Amazon and other used marketplaces. I first read it to prepare to interview Morrissey ahead of a reading at a bookshop. I bought eight copies to gift at that event; I think the author got tired of signing them.
Edson is about Henry Corvine, a songwriter who quit the misery of writing and the hardship of touring in favor of the happy, stable life of a married 20-something. When his marriage ends – he's 37 now – he takes the summer to fish on a boat in Alaska and then returns to the small mill town of Edson, New Hampshire, where the snow starts early, there's one convenience store, everybody knows everybody else, and a young songwriter is getting popular singing Henry's old songs without giving him credit.
When a young woman – who lives next to Henry in a residential hotel – discovers Henry's records in that young songwriter's apartment, things change for Henry. When the mill closes unexpectedly and moves south, things change for Edson.
What I love about this book is that Morrissey's words feel like a change in seasons. His voice (singing and speaking) feels like winter is coming on, and so does the air here in Syracuse. This might become an annual ritual for me as we head toward winter.
If you can find a copy, I highly recommend reading it, with a cup of something warm nearby.