“There is nothing more difficult than talking about music.”

Last night we went to see author Michael Parker read from his new book at UNCG. I heard him speak on Tuesday at NCLA, loved his writing, and bought his latest book for Mike. Yesterday Mike sent me an email letting me know that he’d be speaking on campus, asking me if I wanted to go. Since our church is just across the street from campus and we were going to church anyway, I figured, “Why not?” We postponed our plans and walked over after the services.

I’ve been out of undergrad for four years and grad school for two, and it was weird to be on campus and not see anyone I know. Mike doesn’t know a lot of people, really, either . . . he doesn’t live in a dorm and he’s not really taking classes in his major yet, so he doesn’t have a lot of strong connections. He did point out a couple of his instructors who were also at the reading, and I got to meet one of them.

The reading was great. I am looking forward to reading the book when Mike is done. I love reading books by North Carolina authors because I always “get” the voice so easily. When our library did Raney by Clyde Edgerton for our all-county read, Mike says that he wouldn’t have gotten the voice very well, except that we started the book by me reading out loud. And I grew up with people just like the ones Raney is talking about, so it was easy for me to know how to phrase things and exactly what it should sound like. Mike, not growing up in the same environment, doesn’t know it as instinctually as I do, so it helped him for me to start him off. In the same way, I think this book will be enhanced by knowing what the author wants the character to sound like, what it’s like to be in the character’s head.

A lot of this book is about music, soul music to be exact. And it got me thinking . . . a lot of authors I really admire talk about music. It’s something organic with them, something they are passionate about, something they grew up with. Last night Michael Parker said that this book really grew out of a lot of the songs he listened to when he was growing up. It reminded me of Kathleen Kelly: “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does” (I know I quoted that recently, sorry). I think the songs you listen to when you are growing up can be exactly the same way. And that makes me kind of sad, because, unless it suddenly becomes cool to write a novel based on the music of the Newsboys, I don’t have any concept of growing up with music. Apart from church music, music wasn’t a big part of my childhood. My parents aren’t, I don’t think, big music people. I remember that some of my friends with older sisters would talk about music and I never knew what they were talking about. We listened to oldies a lot in the car, so I know those standards more than some people, and I’m a big fan of The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkle. When I got to be a teenager, I started listening to a lot of the Christian standards of those days – dcTalk, the aforementioned Newsboys, Steven Curtis Chapman, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Jars of Clay, PFR . . . you know the drill. I loved that music, and I learned a lot of different things by listening to it, some good, some bad. But sometimes, as Mike said last night, “I wish I grew up listening to Springsteen.” At least I was able to miss out on New Kids on the Block.

Music isn’t a huge part of my life like it is with Mike and with some of my friends. Which is okay, you know. I am a book person much more than a music person. The seeds that were planted in my childhood were on pages instead of set to music. But I really admire people who have both, especially writers who can write about music, who can take the essence of a song or an album or a genre and put it to the page. I don’t know a whole lot about soul music, but I think I know a little bit more about it after hearing Michael Parker read last night.

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