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The Bookshelf Diaries (An Occasional Series): Carole King, Scott Turow, Greg Kihn

The Bookshelf Diaries (An Occasional Series): Carole King, Scott Turow, Greg Kihn

“Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” “Chains.” “The Loco-Motion.” “I’m into Something Good.” “Crying In the Rain.” “I Feel the Earth Move.” And of course: “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” These are just a few of the hits that have secured a special place for singer-songwriter Carole King in the fabric of 20th century American popular music.

In her self-penned memoir A Natural Woman, King proves her storytelling gifts extend to prose while offering a rich and often fascinating look inside a quintessentially American life, always in search the next frontier. At the start, she delivers an insider’s account of the early days of rock and roll, describing the chemical reactions the music of Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, and Buddy Holly set off inside her, driving her to begin writing songs of her own, first alone and then with partner (soon husband) Gerry Goffin. The middle part of the book offers an entertaining look inside the end-of-the-’60s Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter scene and the making of King’s multi-platinum 1971 masterpiece Tapestry. The later going is both more personal and a more difficult read, as King flees the LA scene for the backcountry of Idaho and falls under the spell of an abusive relationship. It’s tough both because of the raw facts, and because part of believing in our heroes is a tendency to idealize their lives and choices, when the truth is that no one is immune from making bad ones.

A Natural Woman is a frank and genuinely compelling read, full of anecdotes about musical luminaries like Paul Simon, Don Kirschner, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Still, my favorite moments were the ones where King describes the songwriting process itself and the flashes of inspiration that led to some of the tunes we all remember. That remarkable creative flame still burns today for the little girl from Brooklyn with the piano in her living room.

Far away and over the hills from King’s autobiography lies the newest thriller from Scott Turow, a superb novelist whose work repeatedly transcends genre. Identical is a story that could easily have collapsed under the weight of its own high concept: reimagining the Greek myth of the twins Castor and Pollux as a modern-day locked-room mystery. I worried that the characters might be underdeveloped since the myths provide a template for them; I worried that the use of familiar elements from the myths might ruin the suspense; I worried that the identical-twins-whodunit plot would inevitably fall into the ditch of cliché somewhere along the road. I needn’t have worried. Turow breathes life and purpose and dependably human characteristics into every role, handles the mystery elements as masterfully as ever, and grounds the narrative firmly in his Kindle County pocket universe by offering supporting roles to a couple of familiar faces from previous novels. Another riveting tale from the terrific Turow.

One more quick hit. Greg Kihn is a musician-turned-author with a twist: he writes fiction, usually with strong pop-culture underpinnings. Drawing on both historical materials and his own first-person interviews, in Rubber Soul Kihn spins a tremendously engaging yarn about a Liverpool kid whose trading in American rock and roll records leads to a friendship with a group of local musicians, the young lads who will soon become the Beatles. Dropping the character of “Dust Bin Bob” into the already well-known early-Beatles narrative allows Kihn to retell many of those familiar stories from the inside, adding his own affectionate flourishes. Literary fiction, this isn’t; rather, Rubber Soul is pure giddy fun for both the author and his Beatles-fan readers, a legend retold by one of its most fervent evangelists.

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