All I Want To Read Right Now Are Oral Histories

I like my history straight from the horse's mouth.

Mar 12, 2014 at 6:00pm | Leave a comment

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Whenever a new year begins, one of my goals is always to read more. And I'm doing pretty well -- I read nearly every night before bed, or in the evenings while sitting in the bathtub, and I feel much better for it because, hey, reading is the best.

Since this year has started, I haven't read any fiction. Instead I seem to be following a pattern of reading true-life tales of life in the 20th-century, and I don't have any plans to stop.

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Life advice: spend all your money on books.

It started off with reading "Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History Of Punk," a book that had been in my collection for a pretty long time but I'd never gotten around to reading until January of this year. When I started the book, I wasn't expecting that it was going to be an oral history (even though, NEWFLASH Dumb Hannah, it says so right in the title). No, I expected some sort of rigid, chronological detailing of the events that lead to the birth of punk music which, looking back, would probably be pretty boring and ill-fitting of the subject matter.

Instead, it was (thankfully) conversational-style stories culled from years of interviews, hours-upon-hours of tape edited down to the most lurid, inspiring and hilarious tales from those who lived and breathed it all, and naturally I devoured the book with an excited and sometimes disgusted fervour. If there's one specific thing I learned from it all, it's not to shoot up with puke-y toilet water. 

Once I finished PKM, I went back in time again and picked up "Edie: An American Biography" (which has a different sub-title on Amazon but it's the same book, my copy is just old). A big chunk of content in the middle of the book overlapped with some things I had previously read in Please Kill Me, and a lot of the same cuckoo people showed up, but there was still a different perspective, and a lot more history to be told, particularly about the fascinating world of early 20th century, old-money New Englanders.

I was held rapt reading about the Sedgwick family's rocky ups and downs and various dark secrets hidden throughout their lives, long before Edie was even born. The Sedgwicks' lives were deeply plagued with tragedy, and I have no interest in recreating Edie's world, but I found the stories about her incredibly compelling -- her charm, even shining through at her worst, came through the page when her friends (and some enemies) recalled her life. She was an electric figure who could draw anyone into her vortex, and even when I read about her most deplorable actions, I pitied her and needed to read more, usually poring over the book's text and photos through the night and into the early hours of morning.

I finished "Edie" quickly and, finding a dearth of further oral histories in my book collection, am now reading Joan Didion's "The White Album." I guess you could say it's a one-person oral history, Joan's collected essays on the decade of the '60s giving you an insightful glimpse into the intense years through the eyes of the keenest observer. I'm loving the book so far (I don't think Joan can really do any wrong) but now I'm wondering what to pick up when I finish.

I guess that's where you guys come in. Recommend me your favourite oral histories, why don't you? And if you've read any of the books I mentioned above, let's chat about them. Or just tell me what you're reading regardless -- graphic novel, memoir, the latest issue of Cat Fancy. It's all good.