B-Side BooksPosted: July 14, 2021
B-Side Books: Essays on Forgotten Favorites
John Plotz, editor
Public Books Series
Columbia University Press (June 1, 2021), 271 pages
Kindle edition $11.99, Amazon paperback $26.00
I suppose you need to be of a certain age to get the “B-side” reference in the title unless, as a post-baby boomer, you’re familiar with how popular music was recorded and distributed in the fifties and sixties. I shudder to think that I am of a certain age, but if the shoe fits…
I remember well going to the local record store to buy the latest hit on a 45 RPM single vinyl record. You bought the record for the hit on the A side, but there was, of course, always a song on the flip side. Sometimes the B-side song became a hit as well, especially for artists like the Beatles. Other times it was a good song that never became a hit. Sometimes it was simply forgettable.
The reference in the title of the present book is to that second type of B-side song, as the subtitle suggests. The book groups its essays by genre, for example, Childhood, Other Worlds (science fiction and fantasy), Comedy, Battle and Strife, etc. The book selection is rather odd, with a disproportionate number of the books including either weird supernatural phenomena or heavy violence.
The only book in the collection that I have read is An American Childhood by Annie Dillard. What this book is doing as part of a B-side collection I have no idea. The book was well covered and well received when it was first published in 1989. It is currently available in hardcover, paperback, a Kindle edition, and as an audiobook. It is a delightful memoir in which Dillard, among other topics, lovingly recalls how her mother (very much alive and well at the time of publication) took delight in playing practical jokes and in cheating at board and card games.
The bottom line for me is that if you enjoy the weird, offbeat, and slightly warped you might take a look at B-Side Books. Otherwise, you will have lost nothing by skipping it.