Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari is the kind of book that helps me sleep better at night for two reasons. One, unlike horror stories or true crime novels, the subject matter is studious enough that after twenty minutes of reading or so I’m ready to doze off. Two, because when Harari helps explain to us all why the world is as messed up as it is, at least I can stop staring at the ceiling wondering why all night.
My favorite type of non-fiction books are of the ‘Why do us crazy humans do the things we do?’ variety. Any time I go on tour there’s usually a stack of them in my bunk. Some of the best in this genre are Driven: How Nature Shapes Our Choices, by Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria, The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan, and Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor E. Frankl, among countless others. Greg Graffin, Bad Religion frontman and college professor has been asking and answering that question on stage and in classrooms for better than 30 years.
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s book “How Democracies Die” couldn’t have come at a better time. The patient in question has been run over by a truck that was paid for and manufactured by the Koch Brothers and the Kremlin and is being driven by a tax evading robber baron of bankruptcy laws and sometime reality TV show host who conned his way behind the steering wheel. He’s being cheered on by an audience of Kid Rock and Sarah Palin fans like it’s Evel Knievel at Snake River. Let us warn you folks, it doesn’t end well. There’s a lot of bragging and boasting and bellowing and then you end up beaten and bruised at the bottom of a dry river bed.
Anyone who knows the history of Black Flag knows about Spot. The legendary South Bay lensman had a brief tenure as bass player in the band but went on to produce most of their earlier E.P.s and helped build the legendary Media Arts studio where most of their seminal tracks were put to tape. He then began taking photos professionally of the local surf, skate and music scene in the late 70s and early 80s for beach newspaper the Easy Reader. His photo collection, Sounds of Two Eyes Opening – Southern California Life: Skate/Beach/Punk 1969-1982 displays his considerable talents with convincing proof.
There are a lot of ways to find out about books. Sometimes you get one recommended to you by a friend or read a good review in the newspaper. I spend a ridiculous, unhealthy amount of time in book stores so sometimes I’ll just see one I think I’d like based solely on the cover art, the title or reviews on the back cover, (My wife loves this and the stack of half read books on my nightstand) and this was the case for me with David Eggers. Years ago I saw his first book, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” on a display table and instantly thought, whoever had the balls to name his book something like that must have some interesting things to say.
I’ll admit Wolf in White Van is a book I bought solely because I was intrigued by the title and cover art. I picked it up at a bookstore somewhere and read that the author was the singer songwriter of a band called The Mountain Goats. I’d never heard of them but the title, artwork and the fact that he was a musician tipped the scales enough that I added another thick book to the growing stack in my bunk on the tour bus.