Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.


Summer Reading: A Pop List

I like to make lists. I don't always accomplish everything on the list, but there's something so satisfying in the accomplishment of making out the list in the first place that I don't really mind. As I surveyed my bookcases last night, trying to wedge new treasures from my library's recent booksale onto already-packed shelves, I realized that the shelves' ratio of books I'm intending to read to books I've actually read is alarmingly high. It's probably always been this way, and I've just never paid attention to it.

Still, the books I'm intending to read are books I'm excited about, so I decided to make a list of the Top 5 I want to read this summer, before my daughter arrives. These will be my parenting manuals -- after all, how can I expect to educate my kid properly on the subtleties of the early 80s hardcore & indie rock scenes, the ways in which popular culture can make her smarter, her English musical heritage, and the direct lineage from Iceberg Slim to Ice-T without having read...

Our Band Could Be Your Life, by Michael Azzerrad -- Though I was (and still am) very fond of the larger alt-rock acts of the late 80s & 90s, my knowledge of the bands that inspired them is pretty spotty. My husband, Marcus, was given a copy of this book for his birthday a few years ago by a friend who made an accompanying mix CD featuring songs by all the bands featured in the book -- so I can listen & read at the same time.

Pimp, by Iceberg Slim -- I picked this up in a yellowing paperback edition for the lordly sum of $0.50 (okay, I just noticed that my keyboard lacks a cents symbol. How long has this been going on?) at last week's Friends of the Library booksale. Widely regarded as the progenitor of Street Literature now made so popular by authors like Nikki Turner, Carl Weber, Sister Souljah, Sapphire, and Triple Crown Press, Iceberg Slim is also the namesake of at least two famous rappers, Ice Cube and Ice-T. (Extra Credit: The Ice Opinion, the memoir of Ice-T, author of the controversial song "Cop Killer", who now plays a cop on TV. Oh, the irony is thick! I hope a new edition, with an updated epilogue, is forthcoming, because I really, really want to know how he arrived at point B from point A.)

Everything Bad Is Good For You, by Steven Johnson -- I've been fascinated by this book's premise -- that today's popular culture is so complex that it's actually making us smarter, more critical thinkers -- since I read an excerpt of it in the NY Times Magazine in April. I pre-ordered a copy, and it's been sitting on my bookshelf since it arrived.

Britpop!, by John Harris -- Marcus is English, and I'm an Anglophile, so naturally, we listen to a ton of music from this era (roughly 1995-1999 -- acts like Blur, Elastica, Pulp, Oasis, et al.) at our house, and based on the explosions of laughter and incredulity coming from Marcus's side of the bed as he read this book a few months ago, it's a meticulously researched trashy, debauched, fascinating portrait of a particular time & place. Ergo, a must-read. (Extra credit, related only in the sense of it being trashy, debauched, and un-put-down-able -- finish reading The Dirt, Neil Strauss's oral history of Motley Crue.) Marcus reports that it was particularly fun to read about a period he lived through; it's a more personal experience than, say, reading a Neil Young biography, because he remembers buying all the singles as they came out, and following the Damon Albarn-Noel Gallagher feud in NME as it progressed to cartoonishly absurd rhetorical heights.

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling -- no explanatory annotation necessary, I think.

What are your Summer of Pop must-reads?


  • At 3:57 PM, Blogger Nanette said…

    I got about 3/4 of the way through Our Band Could Be Your Life a couple of years ago, then I lost interest. I found that the pieces about bands I really like (The Replacements, Black Flag, Dinosaur Jr.) were more exciting than the pieces about the bands that I didn't like quite as much.

    Also, speaking of street literature, I just put a copy of The Coldest Winter Ever on hold. So I guess that's on the list, as is Everything Bad is Good for You. I was talking to a faculty member who teaches readers' advisory at the local library school, and I said that I thought it was vital for pretty much anyone coming out of library school planning to work in a remotely urban/suburban setting to have at least a working knowledge of urban fiction/street literature. We have large collections at the main library and at the branch, and it circulates like crazy. There are some who scoff at the subject matter/language in the books, but I'm all for giving people what they want to read.

    Others in the "to-read" or "currently-reading" pile:
    *Oh the Glory of It All by Sean Wilsey--I'm about halfway through, and it's brilliant. I had a tough time putting it down this morning to go to work.

    *The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova--I actually had a prepub of this one but didn't get around to reading it. It's been so heavily hyped that I was skeptical, but it's been getting phenomenal reviews all over the place, and I love a good vampire story.

    *Recent titles in Cecily von Ziegesar's Gossip Girl series, which I unabashedly love. There was an article in a recent issue of New York Magazine about von Ziegesar--apparently, the Gossip Girl books are going to go the way of Sweet Valley High in the '80s, with von Ziegesar supplying plot lines to ghost writers. There's also supposed to be a spin-off series in the works.

    *More of Cynthia Harrod-Eagles' Morland Saga, a 30-book historical fiction series about the Morland family of England. The saga traces the family from the 1500s to present-day England. This was my biggest library booksale find to date: the first 23 volumes, 21 of them unread, at 50 cents a pop.

    *Some various paperback romance novels that I've picked up of late.

    *Tons of chick-lit.

    *The new Harry Potter (of course).

    By the way, congratulations on your impending motherhood! That's so exciting!

  • At 11:56 AM, Blogger Melissa Rabey said…

    Thanks to PPYA, I'm definitely in a "so many books, so little time" place this summer. But I am going to make time for these books:

    Best Foot Forward by Joan Bauer. A sequel to Rules of the Road that picks up Jenna's story.

    Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling. Like you said, no explanation needed. :-)

    Anyone but You by Lara Zeises. I'm lucky enough to be a friend of Lara's and she sent me an ARC of this. Yay!

    Rococco by Adriana Trigani. I'm a huge fan of this author, so I'm really excited about a new book from her.

    New issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, Ex Machina, Runaways, Fables, Astonishing X-Men . . . actually, that list could go on for a while, so I'll just stop there.

  • At 2:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Anything by Chuck Klosterman, particularly Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota. It's kind of the anti-Our Band Could Be Your Life, which I mean as a HUGE compliment, even though I liked OBCBYL, in a way.

  • At 2:25 PM, Blogger Beth Gallaway said…

    Hey Sophie!

    If you are into pop culture, Everything Bad is Good For You is a must-read! If you want to digest Steven Johnson's theory in smaller chunks, check out his article in the July Discover Your Brain on Video Games, or the excerpt of his book that was printed in the NYT.


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