Welcome to The Book Room!

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As I mentioned in my column in Sunday's Sun-Times Books section, I am starting a Book of the Day Club, where I’ll take one book a day off the shelves of the actual book room — where we store all the new books being published — and I’ll post some thoughts about it online.

For our inaugural entry I’ve chosen American Band: Music, Dreams, and Coming of Age in the Heartland (Gotham Books, 324 pages, $26) by Kristen Laine. I had never heard of the author or the book; I was drawn to it by the photo of uniformed marching band members on the book cover.

American Band

When looking for a book to read, I'll most often pick up a novel. Just as with watching movies, when I read books, I like to be transported to places I've never been before. American Band didn't do that. Instead, it took me back to place I knew very well: high school band.

Laine’s work of narrative nonfiction is so very detailed it comes as no surprise to learn that she moved from her New England home to Elkhart, Ind. (once the band instrument capital of the world) for six months to immerse herself in the small-town community that’s as big on its marching bands as the state of Texas is on its football programs.

The Concord High School Marching Minutemen won top honors in the state championship in 2003; the book details their attempt at a repeat victory the following year.

If not for the Evangelical Christian thread that runs through American Band, Laine could have been writing about my own experience in a competitive summer marching band in 1980s suburban Chicago. When she writes about shy, freshman clarinetist Adilene Corona, a transplant from California, feeling awkward and alone at the start of the summer practice sessions, I had flashbacks of myself as the “outsider.” As the lone recruit from the only Catholic school in town, I knew no one.

Similar parallel personalities pop up throughout the entire book, from the beloved band director who will let anyone join who’s willing to commit, to the born-to-be-a-leader trumpet player, to the focused and driven captain of the drumline.

Then there are the “band moms” who take care of everything from meals to uniform distribution to first aid. And the college student volunteers who teach marching fundamentals and create “charts,” which tell each band member where to move at precisely what moment in the music. I had forgotten what a technically challenging exercise these field shows were. Not only did we/they endure daily basic training-style drills in 90-plus-degree heat, but also we/they had to memorize four different pieces of music along with all the corresponding movement.

In the end, well — to quote a famous Hoosier — it hurt so good. Just as the Concord kids did, I learned about discipline, leadership, confidence and community pride.

This book may never hit the best seller lists but I do think it carries some appeal beyond Midwestern band geeks like myself. It took me back to a place that apparently still exists; a place where there are high school kids out there less concerned with fashion, popularity and pop culture and more concerned with the big picture of their lives. The intimate portrayals and passion of these high school kids that Laine is able to convey speaks to her own passion and dedication to the writing.

Which brings me back to The Book Room, where I look forward to discovering many more of the unsung authors whose works fill the shelves. As I mentioned earlier, I'll be choosing a different book every day, so come on back and see what I find. In the meantime, happy reading!

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6 Comments

You might consider commenting on audio books or a possible section in the newspaper on audio books. I now listen much more than I read because I can accomplish more and read more with audio books. When I went to Washingon DC, I had four books on my ipod and did not have to carry the book(s) with me on a train or airplane. I feel there are many positive reasons to put audio books on your mp3 player and/or ipod. The benefits are many.

Teresa, that's a great beginning to your breakthrough into the blogosphere. The best book commentary, in my opinion, comes from personal connections with books -- and it's clear that it wasn't just that great jacket photo that drew you to "American Band." You're off to a splendid start in your new job and I'll be cheering you on.

Teresa,

I'm with Henry. If you question the pull of cover art, check out some of the Mickey Spillane suspense paperbacks. For the record, two book covers-John Steinbeck's "Once There Was A War", and Samuel Hopkins Adams' "The Grandfather Stories" introduced me to these authors, and began me on a trek to read all they wrote.
I also concur about a section on audio books; I am a tremendous fan, but to find a review in Chicago I must turn to the Tribune; since their villanous decision to move books to Saturday it has become almost an afterthought.
This blog is also a wonderful idea. Maybe the net has some use after all.

Teresa, I'm Kristen Laine's literary agent and wanted to congratulate and commend you on your new blog and the way you chose to inaugurate it. Of course, I have my bias--I love the book and am thrilled that the publication of AMERICAN BAND launched a wonderful author. But I also think you've made an important point: serendipity still has its place in our cultural life and keeps it from becoming stagnant. When most communities had great independent bookstores in which to browse (and in which committed booksellers could recommend their personal favorites), readers routinely found their way to books and authors they might not have known before. Now, many of us must turn to other means to make these discoveries. Book page editors play a key role in guiding readers to authors who are not the usual suspects, and so does the "blogosphere."

I was happy, also, to see Henry Kisor's message; Henry, I've loved your work ever since ZEPHYR--a book *I* once stumbled upon. Bravo to you both!

Calling all librarians! Yet another platform to highlight some of those Accidental, Truly Wonderful Reads we stumble upon as we do our search / research. Only the best will do. Thanks!

Ms. McKellar's book sounds like a winner. As one who suffered (and still does) from terminal math anxiety, it sounds like it probably would have been a great help to me in High School. As I am now faced with a math class to finish a degree, I may read it anyway.
So far, though my lack of interest in things celebrity is huge, I think this will be an interesting tool for me to learn from on a daily basis. I truly hope many more people will write in. Perhaps the S-T should publish a banner in the print edition of all the blogs available to it's readership.

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This page contains a single entry by Teresa Budasi published on August 11, 2007 7:08 AM.

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