As a longtime fan of Jessica Hopper’s vigilant, fearless music criticism, Night Moves is the book I’ve been pining for. A series of vignettes about her coming of age in the Chicago music scene, the pieces are as shaky with youth as a Ferlinghetti poem, and they come together to form one jagged love poem to a city and a way of life. There’s something markedly elegiac about the life Hopper describes, a roiling, breathing cityscape where the escape from the robotic crawl of gentrification seemed still possible. Can young adults still live like this in a city? Riding bikes through electric summer nights? God, I hope so. Night Moves made me feel very young and very old at the same time: a painful, singular elation.
After two traumatic head injuries (recounted in fascinating, harrowing detail) Bathurst began losing her hearing in her late 20s. Deafness was not a haven of peace and quiet from a noisy world, but a nightmare of confusion, frustration, and broken connections that left Bathurst increasingly isolated and ashamed. “Hearing gave you other people,” she notes. Without it, she was alone. But she was lucky. Her hearing loss was actually caused by otosclerosis, and surgery restored 80% of it. While never at home in deafness, Bathurst learned a lot from and about it. Along with her own story she tells those of members of the military and musicians (the one who would speak on the record about it) who have been deafened by their work. She also explains the complex physiology of the ear and the equally complicated psychology of the deafened struggling to negotiate a world directed by sound. She critiques society’s unwillingness to acknowledge the widespread hearing loss caused by machinery, weapons, and earbuds, and contrasts it with the supportive and intensely visual community of the congenitally deaf. Throughout this vivid and thought-provoking memoir she explores all aspects of sound, a phenomenon so powerful and versatile it can lull us to sleep, send us in to transcendence, or drive us mad.
Franz’s beautifully crafted memoir chronicles the months that she and her husband, both Americans, lived in Japan, separated by the rules of the Zen monastery where Koun was cloistered. Presented as a diary, the book is both immediate and reflective, full of anecdotes from Franz’s daily life as a gaijin as well as meditations on time, love, culture, and more. Franz is a compassionate and keenly observant writer, always trying to understand the rituals that shape her new life, and, as in her pottery class, always feeling she fails. Yet ultimately she learns to understand by not understanding, to see by not seeing—lessons which also help her confront the difficulties of her past. As she comes to accept the damaged and flawed parts of herself she’d once wanted only to abandon, her writing grows steadily more relaxed and humorous, her stories more vivid. By the end, you’ll miss both Franz and the many students, colleagues, monks, and relatives she’s helped you get to know. But you’ll also recognize that letting go is part of keeping, a truth Franz gestures to in her title, with its allusion to the primary elements of pottery: what remains and what flows away.