New bohemian classics

The author of "Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America" picks five must-reads for a new generation.


Ann Powers
February 7, 2000 10:00PM (UTC)

Tales of Beatnik Glory by Ed Sanders

This fat, jolly volume by a spirited counterculture raconteur follows the quixotic adventures of Sanders' alter ego, Sam Thomas, on the hippie frontier. Sanders animates the many freaks Thomas encounters in red-blooded Technicolor; he loves them all without falling for their bullshit.

Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick

Approaching reminiscence as a philosophical practice, this impressionistic roman ` clef wanders through the bohemian haunts that shaped the sensibility of an American woman of letters -- jazz clubs, expatriate cafes, the lonely nests of socialists. The portrait of Billie Holiday that comes early in the book is a cruelly insightful masterstroke.

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Macho Sluts by Pat Califia

Post-Stonewall queer radicalism remains an elemental force within contemporary bohemia, and Califia is one of its fierce founding mothers. This gloriously nasty collection of stories about sadomasochism as a sexual persuasion and a source of identity helped bring a venerable lifestyle into public view, with all its complexities intact.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

The best rock 'n' roll novel I've read is, naturally, about a fan, since fans are the true agents of rock's erotic imagination (and every rock musician is first a fan). Hornby's "hero" is a perpetual adolescent schlumping toward middle age; his rock dreams get in the way of his real life, but the music leads him toward the difficult epiphany he deserves.

The Story of Junk by Linda Yablonsky

Its stern, arid depiction of junkie life isn't what makes this book valuable. It's the attentiveness and respect Yablonsky grants ordinary bohemia, as it survives in restaurant kitchens and rented flats, with some of its denizens scoring success, others succumbing to vice and accident. She evokes a place where real people live as well as die.

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Ann Powers

Ann Powers is rock critic for the New York Times and the author of "Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America."

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