Category Archives: Worthy of a Read

Keith Richards’ “Life” — Worthy of a Read

Life by Keith Richards

By Alan Weeks, howiGit Music Writer, Boston, MA

The book sleeve says “This is the Life. Believe it or not I haven’t forgotten any of it.” The best rhythm guitarist in Rock and Roll history has decided to grace us with all the stories that we’ve wanted to hear about since we saw Kurt Cobain drunk on MTV at twelve years old. What do rockstars do when they aren’t on stage? This shockingly candid and surprisingly well written autobiography from Keith Richards is nothing short of a MUST read for anyone who has ever cared about The Rolling Stones. Have you ever wondered about the rumors of Keith having annual blood transfusions or heard that when his father died he mixed his ashes with cocaine and snorted them? Well ponder no longer, friend. Keef starts with his childhood in Dartford, England, befriending Mick Jagger, up until the death of his mother and his cameo in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie. He leaves no Stone unturned.

What is special about this autobiography is that it mixes all of the scandalous and absurd stories about fame and fortune in tandem with a very pure musical narrative. We see the maniacal party animal of Rock and Roll folklore, while also seeing the meticulous guitarist that could spend 24 hours without leaving a studio, or even taking a piss. Keith Richards presents himself as the righteous demon, the wingless angel, basically the anti-hero. But you love him, and feel for him in every page.

The book touches on many facets of his life — of course all of the arrests, acquittals, and drugs to fill a federal penitentiary — but also some very emotional accounts of his friends, lovers, and family. The story behind the story is the relationship between Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. Their friendship has deteriorated over the last 50 years. They go from the “Glimmer Twins,” an inseparable musical duo, to fellow employees who rarely speak. The reader can very much tell from Keith’s words that their distance weighs heavily on his mind. In both the number of pages that he dedicates to speaking about his lost friend and in the words that he uses to describe their friendship over the years, it is translucent to the reader that no matter what has happened, he and Mick are still brothers, though not friends. “There is too much wear and tear for that,” Keith says.

Have you ever wondered what the song “Jumpin Jack Flash” was written about? Did you ever think it was possible for a human being to snort 8 grams of narcotics in one sitting? How about where Jimi Hendrix found the song, “Hey Joe?” Well this book will be your Rolling Stones Rosetta Stone. For me, the most enjoyable part of this book are the stories about Keith’s friendships with other musicians — John Lennon, Stevie Wonder, Gram Parsons, Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, and many more. Every story has criminal charges and drunken debauchery attached. The only problem with this book is that after reading it, you have the strong urge to call Keith up and ask him to come over with a carton and some vodka, but you can’t. I strongly suggest you pick it up, grab an ashtray, and get ready for a ride. I un-quit smoking because of this book. Check it out.

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Andre Aggasi: Open — Worthy of a Read

Andre Aggasi Open book

I am not an avid tennis fan, nor a frequent reader of autobiographies. That being said, Andre Agassi’s Open is a book unlike any other that I have read — a book where I actually felt like I got a real life glimpse into a person I’ve never met outside of media coverage.

Open chronicles Andre’s life from his childhood to the end of his playing career. We meet 7-old Andre, drilled unwillingly for hours a day on the backyard tennis court his violent father built for his training. We meet a rebellious adolescent, who dies his long hair, pierces his ears, and plays tennis in jean shorts. We meet both Brooke Shields and Steffi Graf, the women whose marriages to Andre shape much of his life.

Ultimately, it is the revelations in this book that define it. We found out that Andre’s father used to tape a ping-pong paddle the his son’s hand while he was put to sleep in his crib, so that he could effectively play with the tennis ball mobile hanging above him. We learn that Andre has always hated tennis (really). We learn of Andre’s meth use, and we learn that while we thought he was running around with long, wild hair he was actually wearing a hairpiece. And of course there is the tennis. As Agassi puts it, “Always, tennis.” Andre’s memory recalls each of his matches in perfect clarity, his relationship with Pete Sampras given special treatment.

This book is special in its honesty — Agassi seems to be holding little back. He reveals himself as something of a lost child, a complete headcase with perhaps a twinge of severe OCD. But at the same time he reveals a person that is completely likeable, completely cheerable. And you get the sense that if his head had been on a little straighter, if he’d had a modern-day metal guru, his talent would have put him on par with the Sampras’ and Federers’ of the tennis world.

If you’re a sports fan, you can’t help but enjoy this book.

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The Rum Diary — Worthy of a Read

The Rum Diary Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson, more commonly known for his books Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Hell’s Angels, is also responsible for The Rum Diary — a memoir of sorts recalling the decade Thompson spent living in San Juan, Puerto Rico, after moving to the island as a 22-year-old journalist in 1959.

Literally nothing happens in this book, yet I found it to be a hugely enjoyable read. Thompson spends his days sleeping till noon, eating hamburgers with the other drunkard writers from a sinking English language newspaper, and sweating profusely in the Caribbean sun — all the while swilling a bottomless glass of Superior Rum. Although his character is often questionable, you can’t help but like him — he is something of a traveling, hedonistic Holden Caufield. Thompson’s writing style even mimics J.D. Salinger’s; it is simple, approachable, and often introspective. While Thompson can’t escape the feeling that time is passing him by while he’s on the island, this book has a similar effect on the reader offering wonderful haven. As you dive into the pages, you feel as though you are diving into your own Caribbean vacation.

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Worthy of a Read — The Bullpen Gospels

As a someone who will forever have serious aspirations to pitch professionally but will never do so, Dirk Hayhurst’s The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran certainly stuck a chord with me. It is easily one of the best baseball books I’ve ever read, and Hayhurst’s writing has an amazing ability to transition between hilarious and poignant.

The book tells the story of the author and his journey through the San Diego Padres’ minor league system — one filled with failure, doubt, psychological struggle, and ultimately an incredible amount of growth — both on and off the field. For a book that talks for chapters on end of the debaucheries of minor league baseball players — players buying hookers for mentally disabled clubhouse attendants, bus rides spent attempting to get passing cars to flash the bus, and players swinging from lockers exposing their “sacks” to other players’ faces (apparently a common practice), this book ultimately allows the unglamorous nature of minor league baseball to reveal a sense of perspective and clarity — both on baseball and on life.

Anybody who has ever dreamed of playing professional baseball should read this book.

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howiGit’s Blog — A Milestone!

howiGit’s Blog reached a major milestone yesterday in terms of number of visitors to the site — hence the celebratory new look. Thanks to all those who read, comment, and rate articles — continue to spread the word! Also, look forward to some guest posts from writers around country — coming soon.

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Worthy of a Read — A Long Way Gone

The only way that I can begin to describe this book accurately is with an excerpt. This is just one of many similar accounts I could have  chosen.

“The morning after the lieutenant’s speech, we proceeded to practice killing prisoners the way the lieutenant had done it. Five men were lined up in front of us on the training ground with their hands tied. We were supposed to slice their throats on the corporal’s command. The person whose prisoner died the quickest would win the contest. We had our bayonets out and were supposed to look in the faces of the prisoners as we took them out of this world….The corporal gave the signal with a pistol shot and I grabbed the man’s head and slit his throat with one fluid motion. His Adam’s apple made way for the sharp knife, and I turned the bayonet on its zigzag edge as I brought it out. His eyes rolled up and they looked me straight in the eye before they suddenly stopped in a frightful glance, as if caught by surprise. I dropped him to the ground and wiped my bayonet on him. The bodies of the other prisoners fought in the arms of the other boys, and some continued to shake on the ground for a while……the audience clapped as if I had just fulfilled one of life’s greatest achievements. We celebrated that day’s achievement with more drugs and more war movies.”

Ishmael Beah was 13 years old when this story happened.

A Long Way Gone tells the story of Ishmael from the ages of 12 through 16. He is forced into the government’s army in Sierra Leone, and is subsequently brainwashed into fighting against the rebel RUF armies. His days are filled with fighting, sniffing brown-brown (cocaine mixed with gunpowder), and watching Rambo on repeat. Beah ultimately earns a distinction as one of the most notorious child soldiers in Sierra Leone, before he is taken into custody by Unicef who begins the long process of rehabilitating a child who has literally murdered hundreds of people.

This book should be a must read for everybody — it gives a horrifying glimpse of another reality of Sierra Leone aside from the more publicized blood diamonds.

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Worth a Read: Gang Leader for a Day

Title: Gang Leader for a Day

Author: Sudhir Venkatesh

Publisher, Pages: Penguin, 320

Gang Leader for a Day tells the story of a graduate sociology student at the University of Chicago. Tired of surveys, textbooks, and typical methods of sociological research, Sudhir decides to study Chicago’s housing projects and their affiliation with gangs in the way he finds most logical — by simply strolling into the lobby of one of Chicago’s most notorious housing projects, the Roberts Morris Homes. Sudhir is immediately taken captive by gang members in the lobby, as they believe he is a spy from a rival Mexican gang (he’s Indian). He spends his first night in the projects sleeping next to a vomiting crackhead, until he eventually befriends the gang’s leader, JT. JT takes Sudhir under his wing and gives him first-hand access to the gang’s activities including drive-by shootings, prostitution, and drug-trafficking. He is even allowed to run the gang for a day. Sudhir spends the better part of 10 years in the projects, learning the inner workings of a street gang and the methods the gang utilizes to improve the lives of the inhabitants of the Robert Morris Homes.

If I haven’t sold you on the book yet, here is an excerpt from the preface:

I woke up at about 7:30 A.M. in a crack den, Apartment 1603 in Building 2301 of the Robert Taylor Homes. Apartment 1603 was called the “Roof,” since everybody knew that your could get very, very high there, even higher than if you climbed all the way to the buildings actual rooftop.

As I opened my eyes, I saw two dozen people sprawled about, most of them men, asleep on couches and the floor….The activities of the previous night — smoking crack, drinking, having sex, vomiting — had peaked at about 2:00 A.M. By then the unconscious people outnumbered the conscious ones — and among the conscious ones, few still had the cash to buy another hit of crack cocaine. Thats when the Black Kings saw diminishing prospects for sales and closed up shop for the night….I washed my face, grabbed a slice of cornbread, and headed outside into the breezy, brisk March morning. Just another day in the ghetto. Just another day as an outsider looking at life from the inside.” — Sudhir Venkatesh

If you like this book, be sure to also check out In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio by Philippe Bourgois.

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