In any given year, more books cross my path than I could ever possibly read, let alone review. As this particular year winds down, I want to devote a column to the books that land on my desk and never leave; I never get around to writing about them, but I hang onto them just the same — sometimes for personal enjoyment, sometimes with horrified fascination. So here, a highly selective list of the best — and the weirdest — of the orphans, cast-offs and also-rans that lit up my 2012 while you weren’t looking.
Biggest Boat Missed: Jerry Scheff’s memoir Way Down. Scheff was the longtime bass player for Elvis Presley’s TCB Band, and logged hundreds of studio sessions for a Who’s Who of pop artists: Johnny Mathis, the Doors, Elvis Costello, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, and the proverbial many more. Way Down blends autobiography, road stories, and a deep musicality in a wry, wise voice, for one of the most purely enjoyable celebrity books I’ve ever read. The issue was timeliness. Much as I liked the book, I simply couldn’t find a way to tie it to current events, and something newer and more immediate kept bumping it off my schedule, week after week, until finally it dropped off the radar entirely.
Favorite Book to Have Around the House But That I Would Never, Ever Review: I’ve long thought myself immune to nostalgia, but I’ve have developed a sneaking fondness for Mark Clark’s Star Trek FAQ. The thing is, there’s no critical angle to take on it. You’ll either dig it or you won’t, and I dug it. Clark’s blend of goofy trivia and backstage dish punches all my pleasure buttons, and it managed what even J.J. Abrams could not; it inspired me to check out the original 1960s series for the first time in twenty years.
Most Hermetic Vanity Project: Did you know that actor and producer Henry Winkler — still most famous for playing Fonzie on Happy Days — is an avid fly fisherman? Hell, did you know that Henry Winkler was still alive? Me neither. And yet here is an artsy memoir entitled I’ve Never Met an Idiot On the River, a sort of spiritual autobiography detailing the wisdom that Winkler has learned in years of fishing, illustrated with his own nature photography. It’s just… odd. I tried a couple of times to write a review of it, but ultimately the book defeated me. I simply could not find an angle into it.
Promising Newcomer Now Just a Little More Promising: As stated elsewhere, I make it a policy not to revisit subsequent books in a series I’ve already reviewed. But I did have a second look this year at the Music on Film line, and it merits reassessment. When the books made their debut in 2011, I noted the surface similarities to Hyperion’s 33 1/3 series, but doubted that Music on Film could ever accommodate the broad range of artistic approaches and authorial voices that characterizes 33 1/3. It doesn’t, yet — but there’s some delightful work here, nonetheless. Dave Thompson’s meditation of The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a standout, focusing as much on the fan community that surrounds the film as on the film itself, to bittersweet and moving effect. John Kenneth Muir’s entry on Purple Rain is a more conventional making-of narrative, but it is exceptionally good — sharply observed, crisply written, and deeply-sourced.
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