Welcome back to the stacks. It’s Aquarium Drunkard’s Book Club, our monthly gathering of recent (or not so recent) recommended reading. In this month’s stack: an experimental reggae novel, Lou Reed’s tai chi practice, the final chapter of The Dead, and an oral history of The Hold Steady. Your librarians this month are Jarrod Annis, Justin Gage, Tyler Wilcox.
The Marvellous Equations Of The Dread by Marcia Douglas: Part ghost story and part reckoning, The Marvellous Equations Of The Dread is a novel “in bass riddim” reminiscent of Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire filtered through Lee ‘Scratch” Perry’s mixing console.
In lyrical and sensuous prose, Marcia Douglas plays with time and narrative the way dub masters doctor a rhythm track, taking readers through three hundred years of strife and colonial violence, deep to the heart of Rasta history and lore, where angels and duppies course between our reality and the afterworld—the dub side of life—mingling with generations.
The central thread of the book concerns the disembodied spirit of Bob Marley, the prophet cast back to earth as a homeless “fall down” man by the ghost of Emperor Haile Selassie I. Given seven days to find Zion’s earthly gate, Bob lives in a clocktower with the ghosts of Marcus Garvey and King Edward VII, wandering the streets of Kingston with the Lion of Judah ring given him by H.I.M. Only Leenah, a deaf Rasta woman and one-time lover, recognizes Bob for who he is, still able to hear his voice.
But how can a prophet lead people who don’t see him, and where is there to lead them when the prophet is lost? Jah ways are mysterious. The answer lies in the riddim resounding throughout The Marvellous Equations Of The Dread like a thunderous one-drop in the echo chamber of the almighty. | j annis
The Art of the Straight Line: My Tai Chi by Lou Reed: I’ll admit that even my Lou Reed obsessiveness was tested by the idea of a book devoted to Lou’s longtime devotion to Tai Chi. But The Art of the Straight Line is an excellent addition to any Lou-natic’s shelf, giving us yet another view of the mercurial singer-songwriter (even if it may not convince you to take up the martial arts yourself). The book collects Reed’s own writings on Tai Chi but — perhaps more valuably — it includes a wealth of interviews with friends, peers and associates who paint a rich portrait of the artist in his later years. From Jonathan Richman to Iggy Pop to Michael Imperioli, these intimate eyewitness accounts offer valuable insight into the depthless mysteries of Lou. | t wilcox
Fare Thee Well by Joel Selvin: Penned by San Francisco-based music critic and author Joel Selvin, and published in 2018, Fare Thee Well is a very gnarly account of the members of the Grateful Dead following the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995. That said, have the popcorn at the ready, as it’s also incredibly entertaining. In short, without Garcia at helm serving as the de facto glue, the Dead operation splintered and nearly imploded. In-fighting, bad blood, and decades long grievances almost immediately took root. Incredibly detailed, Selvin documents each of the surviving members’ journeys, beginning in 1995, leading up to the 50th anniversary ‘Fare Thee Well’ concert held in Chicago in July of 2015. Of particular note is the book’s take on Phil Lesh. It’s… uncomfortable, and we’ll leave it at that. | j gage
The Gospel of The Hold Steady: How a Resurrection Really Feels, by Michael Hann and The Hold Steady: “[T]he show get scratched into our souls, and so do the stories,” Rob Sheffield writes in one of the essays folded into the this new oral history of The Hold Steady. In it, Craig Finn and his bandmates spell out the good, the bad, and the ugly of the band’s storied history. Speaking candidly but with care, the band opens up and shares the honest back and forth of creative existence, bruised egos and all. “The Hold Steady didn’t change my life, it is my life,” Finn writes in his introduction, and the book’s conclusion, selections of letter from actual Hold Steady fans, speaks to how the personal acts as a door to the universal: the band is their life too. | j woodbury