Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon - and the Journey of a Generation

Monday, April 25, 2016


Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon - and the Journey of a Generation
Sheila Weller, 2008

Challenge Book! Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016 - Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography)

Premise: This joint biography of three iconic female singer-songwriters tells the story of being a woman in the music industry during the 50s, 60s, and 70s.

Unlike most biographies I’ve read, I went into this one with very little prior knowledge of any of the subjects. Music history, particularly popular music, has never been a strong suit of mine. Erin sometimes despairs at my feeble guesses as to which rock group plays such-and-such a song. If it isn’t classical, showtunes or from a small group of celtic/folk artists, I probably have no clue about the people behind a piece of music, even if I recognize the song.

The positive of this approach was that the book was potentially full of surprises. I knew all three women had been successful, I recognized their names, but I literally had no idea without some help from wikipedia what songs/styles were theirs or what arc their careers would have.

The negative is that I had an extremely difficult time keeping all the names and stories straight. The book alternates chapters between different women, and sometimes I got confused as to what had happened to who, or who all these side characters were (other famous and semi-famous musicians of the time, mostly, but I don’t know their names or what they’ve done).

About a third of the way in, I was really struggling, and fell asleep reading a few times. The lists of clubs they played or people they played with just glazed over to me. Like reading the thick bits of The Silmarillion, except with less potential payoff for paying attention.

Happily, I was able to get a handle on the disparate stories eventually, and I enjoyed the book fine overall.

My favorite aspect of the book was how it conveyed, through three very different life stories, the choices and attitudes facing professional women in the music industry, and in society in general. Telling this overall story was clearly the author's intention in writing the book, and it mostly came together, although I found myself wondering how much massaging of facts and careful choosing of quotes may have gone into building that narrative. Not that the approach was wrong, just it felt a little manufactured at times.

Only at times, though. Overall, I was willing to go along for the ride, learn a little about music, and get a sense for how it was to live through a time that was not that long ago, but already feels far away.

3 Stars - A Good Book

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