Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Turn Around Bright Eyes by Rob Sheffield

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When I took out this book from the library, I assumed it would be light and funny, probably because the blurb indicated it was about the author’s experiences with karaoke, which is not a serious subject. The drawing of a microphone on the cover reminded me of stand-up comics, so I was primed for sarcasm. Instead, I find a love story, not just for a person, but also a lifelong one for music.
The author is a writer for Rolling Stone magazine and this book charts his journey through relationships, being a widower, and finding new love. Though it IS geeky, it isn’t schmaltzy and offers moments of great insight, often expressed in original ways. And there is humor, thankfully.
Reading the book is like eating a deli sandwich, you have to unwrap it and peel away all that paper at the beginning to get to the meat of it. It starts out with repetitious anecdotes of nights in karaoke bars and how therapeutic it all is, but finally, finally gets to the back story of why. He tells of living next to the World Trade Center before 2001, of attending a rock star fantasy camp, of meeting his second wife who is an astronomer. Woven through it all is his encyclopedic knowledge of music. There are some touching stories of singing an Irish ballad to his mother and charts the way his favorite Beatles songs change according to his outlook on life. He points out that the skill set for a husband is vastly different than the one needed as boyfriend and how every man will turn into Rod Stewart(I didn’t really understand that one).
For all of his musical references and experiences, he hasn’t an ounce of musical talent, playing the tambourine is a challenge and he cannot sing. That’s what makes his affection for karaoke rather puzzling. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never done karaoke, nor have I ever wanted to, but I just can’t relate to the empowerment he feels. The sense of community and self-expression are logical, but to give it the great depth that the author does, just doesn’t seem possible for an activity so silly. He insists that people “..need to share music” and that karaoke allows for camaraderie, fantasy, memory triggers and stress relief. I viewed it as a springboard for his more interesting thoughts and stories in the book.
Whether you agree with Sheffield about karaoke or not, he has intriguing, and sometimes profound things to say about life, romance and our interactions with other humans, regardless of where they register on our emotional scale. It was a pleasant surprise for a reader expecting something light and fluffy.

It Books 2013 288 pp. ISBN-13:978-0062207623 Available in traditional and ebook formats

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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