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One Book, One Album
2008-10-27 16:04
by Will Carroll

I was discussing Alan Greenspan with a friend and she was unaware of his connection with Ayn Rand. In fact, she wasn't aware of objectivism and hadn't read any of Rand's work. It stunned me, since she's smart and well-read. So it got me thinking ... what's the one book and one album people *have* to have read and heard to be culturally aware?

For me, the book is "The Great Gatsby" by Fitzgerald for it's style, theme and it's comment on American society that still holds true. The album would be "Pet Sounds" by the Beach Boys. Without it, the Beatles wouldn't have done Sgt Pepper and groups as varied as Van Halen wouldn't have the same sound.

Yours? Put it in comments.

2008-10-27 16:42:58
1.   Eric Enders
Huck Finn by Mark Twain and "Tom Sawyer" by Rush.

OK, kidding. I'll say "Huck Finn" and "King of the Delta Blues Singers."

2008-10-27 16:58:34
2.   Chyll Will
"Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison

"Mothership Connection" by Parliament

I will say that Ellison's book was an eye-opening experience for me personally, and even though it may appear dated with its references, the themes remain true from generation to generation. As for the P-Funk, well that speaks for itself >;)

2008-10-27 17:00:05
3.   tsengsational
Hamlet. The gender insights made by Shakespeare in 16th-17th century England are still quite true today, which amuses my friends and I. Hated reading it a few years back in high school but I have to admit that he was insightful.
2008-10-27 17:18:54
4.   Jeb
Will, I think The Great Gatsby is an excellent choice. I hate to admit it, but I only read it for the first time in my life (at 40) last Summer after reading references to it by Roger Kahn in his Jack Dempsey biography. It's really hard to argue against Gatsby, but I'll attempt to expand the debate:

Culturally aware book: The Godfather
Culturally aware baseball book: Ball Four
Culturally aware album: TIE: Dark Side of the Moon / The White Album

2008-10-27 17:26:52
5.   digmyearth
"A Catcher in The Rye" by Sallinger. I like the Robert Johnson selection by Eric above. I'm going to throw out there "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan". Not my favorite Dylan, but culturally and socially probably his most important. There are so many anthems of a generation in there.
2008-10-27 19:47:59
6.   Scott Long
Book: Saving the Pitcher by Will Carroll
Record: Joanie Loves Trotsky's First EP
2008-10-27 20:00:09
7.   chris in illinois
OK, Grapes of Wrath---the first glimpse of a different American life that some people see.

Album's a lot about Joshua Tree?? For my generation (class of '87) this was it---kids that work for me, born after this came out seem incomplete to me not knowing this album by heart.

2008-10-27 20:13:25
8.   George Y
Back when I taught the joke was you always answered "Shakespeare or the Bible" when someone asked you where an allusion came from.

That said, it sort of depends upon how you define culturally aware, no? The book could be "Oedipus Rex" if you want the long view, or "Madame Bovary" if you want the more modern European view, or "Catcher in the Rye" if you want the late 20th century American view. Seems you have to go canonic, though, with a "Moby Dick" or "Scarlet Letter." Which is why these games aren't as fun as they should be.

Speaking of that, I'd like to suggest The Magnetic Fields' "69 Love Songs" as the album as it's so comprehensive, but I'm probably the only one to say that. So, how about Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue"?

2008-10-27 20:22:40
9.   jmoney
What an impossible question to answer. I just spent 20 minutes looking at my bookshelf trying to come up with something. For the book, I'm actually going to say "Bonfire of the Vanities." It's not at all my favorite, but given where we are in America right now, and how we got here, I'd say it's pretty relevant (the whole "Masters of the Universe" thing).

As for the album, I'll go with "Are You Experienced," because Hendrix changed rock music more than anybody, although I also love the Robert Johnson choice from above.

2008-10-27 22:48:31
10.   Ken Arneson
Huck Finn is THE metaphor for the American condition. Two people, one white and one black, forced by circumstance to float together down the Mississippi River, their fates intertwined.

But since that's already been claimed, I'll throw out Orwell's "1984". Communism is dead, but Newspeak still lives on., I dunno, not my forte. Pet Sounds would have been my first thought, too. Velvet Underground and Nico is supposedly the most influential rock album, but I don't own it, so what do I know?

2008-10-28 06:10:56
11.   jgpyke
Interesting answers. Thankfully, cultural literacy extends far beyond a single print or recorded work. I'd say that everyone should be at least a little familiar with just about every work named so far to be considered culturally literate.

I could name a lot of albums, but I'd say that without Louis Jordan, there would have been no rock'n'roll. His 1949 hit, "Saturday Night Fish Fry," is a revelation. If you haven't given 40s music a good, solid listen, then you've missed the rosetta stone of American music. From swing to pop standards to the birth of rock'n'roll to the Birth of the Cool, it has it all.

2008-10-28 08:18:14
12.   kylepetterson
Personally, I could not care less about being "culturally aware". There are a couple guys that I've known thoughout my life that are 70+, a bit racist, and some of the best people I've ever met in my life. These are guys that would lay down their lives for any of us, regardless of their own opinions. Guys who would help, and have helped people they don't like just as quick as they would help a friend. There are so many more things that are more important than being culturally aware.

Anyways, all rants aside, if I had to recommend an album that conveys the human condition, I would have to say "Our Mother the Mountain" by Townes Van Zandt. As for books, 1984 is still hugely relevant, as is Ben-hur but man it's a hard read, Lord of the Flies is great. Both are a very hard call.

2008-10-28 08:59:30
13.   chris in illinois
12 Maybe I'm wrong here, but the idea of 'culture' and 'cultural awareness' is simply a matter of communication. Being culturally aware is merely being able to communicate using the idioms of our nation. That most of our nation is unaware of the major themes of '1984' is how torture gets redefined as 'enhanced' or 'rough' interrogation in order to skirt the law. Cultural awareness is not some 'liberal' touchy, feely nonsense---it's who we are as Americans.

People who don't get that are deaf and blind to a larger world.

2008-10-28 09:16:54
14.   Shaun P
I have never read any Ayn Rand, but I have about her, and I know the themes she deals with. Is that enough to qualify for cultural awareness? How much in-depth knowledge with a topic must one have? That is, if I know the premises of 1984, does it matter that I haven't read it?

My book choice would be Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, along the line of chris's point in 7 - the outsider perspective is very illuminating IMO.

For album, Pet Sounds, but 11 's bit on Louis Jordan has me very curious. I know nothing about him, but it sounds like I need to learn.

2008-10-28 09:19:02
15.   George Y
Actually, I need to change my answer. With Nate Silver putting a McCain victory at 10,000,000 to 1, I think we need to prepare the country for Obamafication.

book: The Communist Manifesto
album: Fear of a Black Planet

2008-10-28 09:50:09
16.   ToyCannon
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein.

Sgt Pepper.

2008-10-28 10:20:53
17.   jgpyke
14 Here ya go. And as you listen to it, remind yourself, 1949.
2008-10-28 10:42:02
18.   chris in illinois
15 I agree, we should prepare ourselves for the government to start to detain its citizens ignoring habeas corpus, to start spying on their conversations covertly and illegally, to invent reasons to invade other countries, to focus power and wealth amongst the top .5% of the population, to redefine things like torture and patriotism and honor so as to be other words do any number of things that Stalin himself would have approved of...

...wait a minute...we've just gone through that the last eight years. If Obama's a commie then Bush must be Trotsky, Lenin and Marx all in one.

Let's don't even get into McCain's support of the 'socialist' Wall Street bail out.

2008-10-28 11:33:01
19.   jgpyke
Bush is a liberal. He ran as one, governed as one.
2008-10-28 15:09:02
20.   Scott Long
Pyke. Try this one out.

2008-10-28 15:54:13
21.   Chyll Will
14 If you do decide to tackle Ayn Rand, start with "The Fountainhead." Not the movie, the book.
2008-10-28 17:48:34
22.   Shaun P
17 Thanks! Wow. That is pretty incredible for being from 1949.

21 To be honest Chyll, from what I know of Rand, I am so at odds with some of her stuff, I have always consciously avoided it. But if I ever decide to read it, I will take your advice.

2008-10-28 19:03:42
23.   Justin P
My book choice would be "Bull! A History of the Boom, 1982-1999" by Maggie Mahar. I'd recommend that investors, particularly young investors, read it; some of the crap that happened back then (i.e., investors not being told of the risk to their investments, media hype) is, sadly, still true and relevant today.

As for an album, I'll go for "Innovations" by Derrick May- Detroit techno at its finest.

2008-10-28 20:54:07
24.   Austin
Late getting to this thread, but I'd second 1984. I'd also throw out Catch 22, since I think it says a lot about the absurdities of life.

As far as album... for my musical tastes I gotta go with the Ramones self-titled album.

2008-10-29 05:54:17
25.   jgpyke
20 Scott, while I will say that article is a wonderful example of how to lie and (mis)use statistics to make a point (e.g., why not back this up to the New Deal? why cherry pick 1959-present? and why 1959? That's in the middle of Ike's second term), it does actually make my point for me.

Bush ran as a liberal and governed as one (and by liberal, I mean "big govt. teat"). He promised "compassionate conservatism" and big government Republicanism, and that's exactly what we got. NCLB. Medicare. Etc.

Neither candidate now is going to shrink the teat. It's just a question of who will expand it more. To me, it's a "first principles" thing that is far more important than the simple balance sheet that Kinsley and others may make it out to be: it is about individualism vs. collectivism and where we set the balance point. And the left wing wants us to have a lot of "services" that start with the word "universal." That is simply a loss of freedom, IMO.

Plus, there has often been talk of how rampant govt spending is like handing a bill to our children and great-grandchildren. Sorry to burst your bubble, left wingers, but that door swings both ways. Promising a federal outlay for time immemorial for some kind of universal entitlement is no better than deficit spending in the present. We're handing a bill to those future generations, too, by asking them to fund our lavish social services.

Exhume Goldwater!

2008-10-29 09:31:31
26.   chris in illinois
25 Universal Health Care could actually save us millions and billions of dollars as poorer people would have access to well patient preventative medical care which is orders of magnitude cheaper than 'goin' to the emergency room when sick' method which is all millions and millions of people have.
2008-10-29 09:35:52
27.   chris in illinois
25 I also strongly disagree with your assessment of Bush being a liberal...he was/is a classic modern GOP president: cut revenues, increase spending, pass on a bigger deficit/debt to the next guy.
2008-10-29 09:49:33
28.   nofatmike
14 "Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States"

Ugh, I had to read that for my high school AP History class. That was a wasted summer...

Anyway, if I had to choose on book I would to choose Milton Friedman's "Capitalism and Freedom." I know it's an odd book to suggest, considering that's it's written by an economist, but I think it's a very good corollary to understanding political policy. He goes through a lot, explaining what causes recessions and economic downturns. But most importantly, he talks about how certain "do-gooder" laws, such as subsidies and quotas, are an obstacle to freedo, and actually hurt the people they aim to help, instead enabling a "self-interest group" become a monopoly. He even wrote a chapter about how licensing of medicine creates a monopoly for the doctor's union (the American Medical Association), and how such licenses drive up the cost and actually restrict new ideas. And the good thing is, you don't even need to be an Economics major to understand half of it.

If I had to choose an album, I'd choose "We Sold Our Soul For Rock N' Roll" by Black Sabbath. I know it's a greatest hits album, but if anyone wants to understand the popularity and influence Black Sabbath has on metal and other genres (such as grunge), this is a good place to start.

2008-10-29 12:46:19
29.   Linkmeister
Gah. It's partly Milton Friedman and the Chicago School's worship of "the market" that has gotten us into the financial mess we're in, along with Greenspan's fervent belief in Randian "objectivism" (or libertarianism, if you prefer).

I'll take 1984 or Brave New World for $200, Alex.

2008-10-29 13:23:19
30.   jgpyke
29 Chew on this for a bit, Linkmeister:

Sorry, pal. Your myths are no good here.

2008-10-29 21:54:50
31.   nofatmike
29 We are in this mess because of government-subsidized mortages thanks to the Community Reinvestment Act of 1999, something both Friedman and the Chicago School were vehemently against. Plus, Greenspan had long shed his objectvist and libertarian principles before he became Chairman of the Fed.
2008-10-30 09:48:35
32.   TFD
wow, i'm so sad i came to this one late...what a great idea Will.

Pet Sounds? Ha...:-)

1.) Infinite Jest. Period, period, period. (The Corrections, Gilead, Herzog, In the Name of the Rose, Season on the Brink....thoughts on second)
2.) Sign O The Times. Period, period, period. (Kind of Blue, Kiko, Avalon, So, OKC....thoughts on second.)

2008-10-30 11:23:09
33.   Scott Long
Ok, since no one bit on my first. (The EP I listed was fronted by ex-Toaster, Cliff Corcoran.) I will put up my real ones. Since so many books were listed, I will go with a wildcard, which brought the world of real estate, finance, southern belt population growth, and race together, plus another 10 subjects in a beautifully written novel which is a magnifying glass to our society and how it has developed over the past 2 decades.

A Man in Full- by Tom Wolfe

TFD took my music choice, so I will go with The Bends. This Radiohead classic has influenced many of the bands since then. (see Coldplay, Muse, Travis, etc.) It bridged grunge, electronic, and power pop.

2008-11-01 20:03:46
34.   unclebirdcincy
Stranger In A Strange Land - Heinlein

12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus - Spirit

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