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This Month’s Book: ‘Tropic of Cancer’

In an attempt to prove that musicians aren’t just products of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, SPIN.com has gathered together an eclectic group of literary-minded musicians to participate in our monthly online book club. Each month, a different artist will select a book that has impacted his/her music career and our club will read and discuss. We bring you the highlights. CURATED BY EMILY ZEMLER

April 2007 Selection:
Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller (HarperPerennial, 1993)
BUY FROM AMAZON

Selected by:
Dave Smallen, singer/guitarist for Street to Nowhere

Reason for Selection:
“My copy of Tropic of Cancer is weathered and dog-eared and torn to pieces. It has accompanied me all over the world, wrapped in rubber-bands to keep the loose pages together. The note scrawled inside the front cover says, ‘Dave, this book turned me inside out and made me think hard about how I was living my life. I hope it provides some inspiration to you as well.’ Read up on this novel’s context, its banishment. I can think of no other way to recommend it.” — Dave Smallen

More from Dave:
Dave talked to us about Tropic of Cancer when we caught up at SXSW ’07:

Discussion highlights:

“I am glad that [Henry Miller admits] he is self absorbed because before that I thought he could have been a case study for Ayn Rynd to prove that egoism is in fact embedded into human nature and using this book as case in point. Clearly Miller has his share of flaws and is not apprehensive about sharing: racism, sexism, ageism, treating women as objects for sex or simply to dream of, self-centeredness, etc. Nonetheless I couldn’t help but read on. This book is like none other that I have ever read before. Much like George W. or Hillary Clinton, Miller is very polarizing; you either love him or hate him.” – Stephen Christian, Anberlin

“It took me a long time to really feel this book. I have possibly the worst ADD of anyone I know and all the Adderall in the world couldn’t keep me focused enough to follow Miller’s train of thought. However once I let go of convention and began to read it like a journal of poetic rambling, it never ceased to inspire. I found his musings on being a writer and his general disposition towards artistic qualms to parallel my own relentlessly. ‘There is only one thing which interests me vitally now, and that is the recording of all that which is omitted in books.’ I love this because it reminds me of the songs that don’t make the album and the jams that never become songs.” – Colin Frangicetto, Circa Survive

“My nose was kept buried by Miller’s surreal tangents, not by the plot developments in the book (or lack thereof). I just needed Miller to keep out of honest work. When he’s working at the paper (obviously a wannabe James Joyce) the book slows to a grind, and I often flipped back to the opening paragraph to refresh myself of the intrigue that roped me headlong into the story. But the first paragraph– Lousy?! We’re all lousy. This life is lousy. We are lousy lice in our cities’ mange, awaiting a chemical bath to retire to the same lack of memory from which we came! And this would be my inspiration to finish the book.” – Shawn Harris, The Matches

“When I picked up the sensual, bare breasted cover of Tropic of Cancer, I predicted much of the sexual carousal which would ensue, however I never predicted Miller’s capacity for using the word ‘cunt’ so fearlessly. Other than feeling violated by Miller’s mistreatment of women, I was in complete awe of his ability to convey the dirty, sweaty, disgusting side of love and humanity. The main theme I drew from his writing was his sense of nothingness and complete passion at the same time — he lived in a ‘dismal world where no hope exists, yet there is no despair.’ I was curious about his lack of hope despite his overwhelming sense of passion in his life, in his ‘romantic’ excursions, in his subtle euphoria at the act of writing. It led me to believe that much of the dismal writing about a hopeless world was somewhat of a facade.” – Greta Salpeter, the Hush Sound

“In recounting his exploits, Miller continually scorns the conventions of lit and of modern life. He doesn’t even want to call his project a book. But I’m not totally convinced by his announced approach- he doesn’t seem sincerely removed from artistic and cultural conformity. If he were genuinely disengaged, he wouldn’t care what the reader thought, what anybody thought. But it seems to me that he revels in the sordid details because he does care about how his audience responds. He wants to shock us; he wants us to recoil. (Is that just me being puritan? Maybe. I should cross my ankles.)” Dessa Darling, solo artist

“A book that dances with the devious. It contains scenes and situations that are as wonderful as written prose can get that co-exist beside the most hideous accounts of desperate indulgences. I loved it! A racist and sexist bastard he was, but do you think that this autobiographical adventure was an accurate reflection of the way he lived? His ramblings reminded me of Salvador Dali if he had picked up a typewriter instead of a brush. Miller’s exploration of people is clear-headed and brutally unsentimental. His perspective a strange distortion of a lonely man in a hedonistic environment. A chauvinist boozer. The book swept me along with ease, tactfully revealing intelligence and wisdom beneath a shitload of stupor.” – Drew Roulette, Dredg

Next month’s selection:
Read the next book along with the SPIN.com Book Club! Pick up Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (BUY FROM AMAZON), selected by Ryland Blackinton of Cobra Starship and Ivy League, and then check back here next month to see what the musicians thought and voice your own opinions!

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