Posted by Tobias Carroll
Kid Millions plays drums and sometimes sings in the longstanding Brooklyn-based rock band Oneida. This is both a true statement and one that feels woefully inadequate to properly describe (a)the skill with which the man plays drums, and (b)how utterly compelling Oneida’s music is, both live and recorded. In recent years, he’s also made music as part of People of the North, Man Forever, and Soldiers of Fortune; he’s also taken the time to discuss books with one Rick Moody. And now, via email, with us.
What are some of the books you’ve been enjoying lately?
Thanks for asking Toby! Well – one of the stand-outs is Exiles by Michael J. Arlen…it’s a reissue published by FSG which I think is the only large publisher with any integrity. The editors there seem to love BOOKS…great writing…etc. I mean – reissuing a memoir from 1970 written by the son of a long out-of-fashion novelist from the 1920s? Why do it? Only because the writing within is so revelatory. Michael J. Arlen writes like a crooked, aged Holden Caulfield…and invests events like losing his virginity, losing a young fiance and getting a magazine job in New York with delightful gravity and casual nuance. It was an astonishing book…I’m happy I came across it.
Just Kids by Patti Smith deserves every ounce of praise it’s received. For New Yorkers (and anyone else) it conjures the lives and sacrifices of struggling artists with fine clarity. Love is a vast plain and Smith explores it fluently…plus there’s a lot of famous personalities here.
I also loved Freedom (and then The Corrections) by Franzen… I kind of feel like if you’re not loving these the criticism is emerging from a dislike of the full personalities Franzen crafts…and that’s pretty amazing. You see a lot of people write, “I hated these people!” Well…yeah…they’re not supposed to be likable.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least allude to your Goodreads account, and the wide range of books covered there. Do you tend to read books of a certain type (fiction, biography, etc.) in groups, or to keep moving across styles and genres?
Oh…I’m a mercurial type when it comes to what I read. I’m also fast and not too discerning with my choices – so there are a lot of books up there that I just pulled off the “New” shelf at the Brooklyn Library…or there are things I read about in the NY Times Book Review that seemed interesting. The books I tend to cherish are unflinching memoirs…though I’m really tired of the depravity-tour-style things that are so prevalent. Like, “My life as a junkie…,” “My Struggle with X drug/addiction/fame” – they tend to be the same story…but I’m drawn to them. But yeah – I’m a genre man – poetry, noir/crime fiction and non, odd and lost memoirs, adventure stories – i.e. like explorers in extreme situations, sports books (I love sports books but don’t really follow pro sports)…stuff like that. There’s no order…
Ehh… I’ve described Oneida’s Thank Your Parents as Oneida’s Moby Dick – i.e. the place where everything we’ve ever considered gets tossed around and exhaled. The project does not contain us but might give an idea of the breadth of our ambitions…whether we met them successfully is up for debate!
A False Spring by Pat Jordan
False Starts: A Memoir of San Quentin and Other Prisons by Malcolm Braly
Nunaga: Ten Years Among the Eskimo by Duncan Pryde
With the Old Breed by E.B. Sledge
The Human Factor by Graham Greene
Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor’s Story of Life and Death in the Peoples Temple by Deborah Layton
Poems 1959-2009 by Frederick Seidel
So these are the tip of the iceberg… I’ll try to give you a sense of why they’re remarkable and deserve to be read…most of these books I stumbled across with no recommendation…they were mostly thrift store finds. I scour thrift stores and buy books that seem like they could be interesting…
A False Spring is a memoir about a pitcher’s life in the baseball minor leagues…but it transcends all those markers through the author’s brutal honesty. There are so many hooks here – the raw and unformed stumblings of an adolescent, the false thirst for fame and the transience of youth. The author’s voice is truly peerless…as if the Virgil from Dante’s Inferno led you through the underworld of baseball which turns out to be a grand and nuanced metaphor for your life’s myriad failures and tiny triumphs. Does that make sense?
False Starts is another memoir by a criminal who awakens to the power of language. He missed so much life b/c he was behind bars. It’s basically about the mystery of our attraction to darkness and self-destruction.
Nunaga is a wild fish out of water story…it’s not PC but frank and wonderful.
With the Old Breed is written by a grunt who survived the Pacific theater of WWII…it’s a descent into hell and written with a profoundly careful eye and great sensitivity.
The Human Factor – hmmm – Graham Greene’s late spy novel which is loosely based on Kim Philby – or at least in some small way. Someone betrays their entire life for something abstract…it’s an examination of the spiritual poverty that this choice might breed.
Seductive Poison is just a kick ass read…the “gripping” cliche works here. Everyone who reads this on my recommendation goes bonkers. You can’t put it down.
Seidel’s poems are astounding and I think could probably excited someone with no interest in verse…he’s a brutal wit…someone from another age.
(photo of People of the North by Lisa Corson)