What You Should Read based on your Go-To Karaoke Song

That annoying DJ who tries to harmonize with everyone is about to ask the bar to “give it up” for you.  You know your song. You’ve choreographed your leg kicks. But the big question, my little China doll, my island in the stream, my gypsy tramp and/or thief: what are you going to read when the lights go down?

Ballads

1. Bob Seger catalog: Tom Drury catalog

Here in Michigan “Night Moves” is our “Born in the USA”. When I was very pregnant with my son, I fantasized about showing up at a strange bar with an empty suitcase for a prop and doing a wistful rendition of “Against the Wind”. Never happened, but I (and you!) can live out my Seger fantasies of rough youths, struttin’ women and Boomer regrets with the laidback and lyrical books of Tom Drury. Drury has three books, written over the span of 20 years, that explore the lives of characters growing up in and passing through Grouse County, Iowa. Like Seger, Drury’s prose are conversational and about the “everyman”. James Kidd of The Independent said that Drury’s first book The End of Vandalism “doesn’t so much thrust as insinuate its greatness upon you”. Lose your awkward teenage blues in this writer.

2. Islands In The Stream by Kenny Rogers, featuring Dolly Parton: The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian

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If you’ve got somebody who will make a fool of themselves singing this song with you, than you have a true partner. Such is the duo in Zadoorian’s The Leisure Seeker. John has progressive dementia. His wife Ella has too many physical ailments to count. So they escape their kids and hospital visits in an RV set for Disneyland and “ride it together”. And they rely on each other, uh whoaaaa, from one lover to another, oh whoaaa.

3. I’ll Be There For You by Bon Jovi: Endless Love by Scott Spencer

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“When you breathe, I want to be the air for you”. Sounds creepy-intense. If that’s your thing, read Scott Spencer’s Endless Love, the 1979 classic of young love. Young love so deep that when David is forbidden to continue seeing Jade, he thinks maaaybe he’ll win her back by starting a safe fire to her home and rescuing her family. It goes awry. “Baby you know my hands are dirty. But I wanted to be your valentine.”

4. Stay by Lisa Loeb: First Bad Man by  Miranda July and An Education by Lynn Barber

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I sang this song until I was breathless while riding my bike through my neighborhood in junior high, wishing my eyesight were poor enough for cat-eye glasses. It’s a perfect serenade for a naive young woman in her first relationship and, wouldn’t you know it, people write books about that sort of thing too. I would tell you to read An Education by Lynn Barber and First Bad Man, Miranda July’s new novel, but you only hear what you want to.

5. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? by The Shirelles: Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller

What a sweet song. Please sing this with lots of swaying. Then read the triple-biography Girls Like Us. Carole King wrote the song, which makes this pairing particularly apt; but the book also captures a lot of the hope and romance that “Will You…” expresses. All three women experience a lot of love (it was the sixties) and loss. Especially Carly and James Taylor. Sigh.

6. Mama Tried by Merle Haggard: The Kept by James Scott

OMG, this book was made for this song.  I can’t even. The mama in James Scott‘s The Kept sure did try. First she did a series of unforgiveable things. But oh how she tried after that. Caleb is “the one and only rebel child” because all his other siblings and his father were brutally murdered. He and mama take off in the frozen wilderness to track down the killers and “mama seemed to know what lay in store”. Read. It.

7. Love Will Keep Us Together by Captain and Tennille: Romance is My Day Job by Patience Bloom

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You’ve got to believe that love will save the day if you’re singing this song. That and a hearty helping of cheeseball are the only ways you’re going to pull it off.  Look in your heart and find this memoir of love at long last, Romance is My Day Job by Patience Bloom. Patience is an editor at Harlequin and reads fictional romance all the day long. But can love like that exist in the real world? Can it?

8. Damn, I Wish I Was your Lover by Sophie B. Hawkins: Rainbow Rowell

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Sophie B. Hawkins of the “As I Lay Me Down” song that for some reason always conjures up memories of watching Party of Five also sang “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” some years prior! Shucks!  Anyway, that feisty, fun, smart sort of yearning feeling you get when you hear “Damn…” can also be found in the fiction of Rainbow Rowell, particularly Fangirl, Attachments, and Eleanor & Park. But if you didn’t think you could feel the same passion as you could in 1992 because you’re old and married now, for goodness sakes read Landline. It’s the best. She’s the best. Damn, I wish I was her best friend.

9. Beginnings by Chicago: Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love and Karaoke by Rob Sheffield

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“I wish I could sing it to you, oh no”. I hesitate to put this song in the ballads category, because there was some serious dancing going on when my friend Joel, also a librarian, sang this at karaoke. Librarians can turn it up. If you love this tune and the thrills and chills of new love, read Turn Around Bright Eyes. If you hadn’t already guessed, this book is about karaoke, but it’s also about new beginnings.

On the Dance Floor

1. Gypsies Tramps and Thieves by Cher- American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare, The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee by Karen Abbott

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And every night all the men would come around…

If you haven’t actually karaoke’d to Cher, you’ve dreamed of it. Oh, to be an alto. Not only do I think American Rose is a great book match for a guy or gal who can belt “Gypsies Tramps and Thieves”, I think Cher herself would dig this book. The true story of the famed vaudeville stripteaser Gypsy, that is more crazy-scandalous then a commercial for Dr. Phil. Illicit affairs, rampant swindling, murder, false teeth, sequins and yes, gypsies, tramps and thieves. It’s all there for you.

2. Bowie: The Wicked and the Divine series by Kieron Gillon and Jamie McKelvie

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The question isn’t whether or not you should sing Bowie, it’s what Bowie song to sing. Suffragette City? Young Americans? Modern Love? Probably you should just fill up the queue with all of them. No one else really felt like singing tonight, right? And while you’re waiting for your name to be called again, start reading the graphic novel series The Wicked and the Divine. Every 90 years, 12 gods appear on earth in fantastic outfits and are revered as pop stars for two years, until they die. I’m pretty sure this is the closest you’re going to get to experiencing what David Bowie was dreaming/hallucinating in the seventies.

3. Kiss Me Deadly by Lita Ford: Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts

No TV. No money. Late for her job. Lita wanted a little more thrill out of life. If you can’t get it from dancing to her tune, get it from the queen of romantic suspense, Ms. Nora Roberts. One of her latest is called Whiskey Beach, so if reading the word “whiskey” doesn’t make you throw up in your mouth a little the morning after karaoke, give it a try!

4. Pencil Thin Mustache by Jimmy Buffett: Carl Hiaasen

Buffett and Hiassen are a tropical match made in heaven. “Oh I wish I had a pencil thin mustache, then I could solve mysteries too.” As luck would have it, you can because Hiaasen’s forte is Florida-based mysteries! Try Bad Monkey or Skinny Dip. See? Those even sound like titles to Buffett songs!

5. Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy by Big & Rich: Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

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Sounds like you’re having a hard time expressing your desire to relate to the fairer sex. Let’s start with The Feminine Mystique and move on from there.

6. Tight Pants Body Rolls by Leslie Hall: Clubland: The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture by Frank Owen

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You just came to dance and you don’t care who knows it. High kicks. Body Rolls. While you’re re-hydrating and resting your shins, you might be interested in Clubland, Frank Owen’s six year exploration of late 90s Manhattan discos. Actually, there’s no “might” about it, you will definitely be into this no-rules, no-limits exposé.

7. Prince: Amor & Psycho by Carolyn Cooke

Prince is a storyteller that pushes the envelope. He doesn’t shy away from taboo subjects, even if they make some uncomfortable. And I know for a fact they make people uncomfortable because when I was a young child and my sisters were teenagers, they helped me memorize the words to all the inappropriate Prince songs and man does it make people uncomfortable to hear a seven-year-old sing “Delirious”. Carolyn Cooke’s offbeat collection of stories, Amor & Psycho give off a similar vibe. Kirkus Reviews called the collection “erotic, whimsical, and profound”. So put on your raspberry beret, drive your little red Corvette over to the library and pick up this book.

8. Queen: Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury by Lesley-Ann Jones 

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There are so many hits to choose from here and you’ll do none of them justice because Freddie Mercury has the best voice of all time. But it’s fun to try. And just like there’s no match for Freddie’s voice, I couldn’t find a book that embodied Queen as well as this rock bio of the band’s frontman. Author Jones traveled around the world to talk to Mercury’s closest friends and family and the result is an intimate story about one man and his love of music.

 

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