A few weeks ago, I received a Father’s Day gift from my daughter: two books she thought would interest me. One was a sort of memoir written by Arthur Garfunkel; the other, a much longer book, was an authorized biography of Paul Simon.
This was an appropriate gift, since I have enjoyed the music these two individuals produced together ever since I discovered them back in the late 1960s. I listen to them often and in my previous life, I occasionally attempted to use some of Simon’s lyrics to convince teenagers that poetry isn’t an unapproachable beast that English teachers use to confuse their students.
Ironically, a year or two after I discovered Simon and Garfunkel, they released their last album, “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and essentially ended their act, making only a few reunion appearances and one extended tour after that. They split for multiple reasons, most of which I understand, so the break didn’t bother me the way it did some fans, and while it took me a while, I warmed to Simon’s post-Garfunkel music after a while. More recently, I’ve picked up on Garfunkel’s solo recordings and I like them as well.
So, not surprisingly, I dived right into these two books. Garfunkel’s, being the shorter, was first, and it turned out to be a quirky — maybe even weird — but interesting read.
Garfunkel is obviously a brainy guy, who earned degrees in mathematics and architecture from Columbia University. He enjoys taking long walks, and he strung together 40 or so long walks to go clear across America in 12 years. Later he used the same method to cross Western Europe from Ireland to Istanbul.
He took a notebook along on those walks and recorded his thoughts and observations about life, his experiences, music and a variety of other subjects. The book, “What Is It All But Luminous” is drawn from that notebook. It is interesting, thought provoking and often a bit opaque, even weird, but I liked it.
“Paul Simon: The Life” is an entirely different book. It’s author, Robert Hilburn, is one of the few people Simon has ever granted an interview. It is an intricate narrative about Simon’s life from childhood through high school, where he and Garfunkel began singing together and his career as an artist and songwriter. It explains how the music of Simon and Garfunkel was a bridge between the radio-centered rock and roll music my generation enjoyed in the 50s and 60s, and the more intricate, album-centered music of the 70s and 80s. Beyond that, it goes into great depth when discussing Simon’s creative process and the long hours he puts into getting his lyrics just right. It presents his break with Garfunkel as a liberating event that allowed him to grow as a songwriter and expand his music by embracing the music of other cultures, as he did with albums such as “Graceland” and the “Rhythm of the Saints.”
I wouldn’t say this book is a scholarly analysis of Simon’s music, but it was quite informative about the trajectory of Simon’s career both with and without Garfunkel, and it gave me a new appreciation, not just of the music I have enjoyed for the last 50 years, but of the determination and hard work that goes into creating something original. It was an enjoyable read and, at my age, that’s what matters.
It happens that I hardly ever am happy with just one book to read, and that has been true as I have enjoyed these, so I went to the iBooks store looking for something short, but different. I began my search by looking for something that was free.
I was seeking short stories at first, but actually looking for anything that was simply light reading. That led me to “Riders of the Purple Sage.” Its author, Zane Grey, was popular a century ago, and his books are certainly light reading. He created highly idealized Western characters and placed them in highly romanticized western settings using plots between the good guys and the bad guys. About six decades ago, I read one of his books and even then, as an eighth grader, I found the book too unrealistic for my taste and I hadn’t read another since. But I was tired of looking, so despite the shortcomings I remembered and my general disinclination to read fiction, I downloaded two of them.
Well, they were as silly as I remembered. Not only did Grey present an overly romanticized picture of the western landscape and the life of the early ranchers, he wrote in stilted English that made me laugh at his attempts to mimic the Western dialect of his characters. Besides that, his use of derogatory terms and characterizations for Mexicans and others was objectionable. I’ll never read another.
You probably aren’t interested in my advice, but if I were you, I’d skip Zane Grey and read about Paul Simon.