John Taylor’s In the Pleasure Groove (review) – The Benefits of Reading Across Genre
by Brad Windhauser
Sometimes when you know your strengths lie in writing a particular genre (say fiction or non-fiction), you stick to that genre. I don’t know that Stephen King is readying a book of lyrical poems any time soon. David Sedaris sticks mostly to non-fiction (essay), although he’s dabbled successfully at times in fiction.
It follows that you will typically read most—perhaps even all—of your books in this same genre. If you don’t write poetry, why spend a lot of time reading it? Same with non-fiction. Since different genres typically call for different approaches to the craft of writing, you might get pulled in the wrong direction with your own work. Or maybe you don’t think other genres hold much interest for you—if they did, perhaps you would write in that area.
But reading cross-genre will open up ideas for your approach to writing in ways that might not come to you when you limit yourself.
After all, writers work with language, and why wouldn’t you want to be exposed to as many different ways of expressing it as possible? Do you think basketball players only watch other basketball players? No. Kobe Bryant, for example, spends a lot of time studying soccer players to see how he can enhance his moves on the court based on how soccer players move on the soccer field.
This idea of reading across genre was reinforced for me as I read John Taylor’s rather engaging memoir In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death, and Duran Duran.
John Taylor, bass player for the legendary 80s band Duran Duran, kicks off the book with his early years as the only child of a happy couple in Birmingham, England. He takes you through his school days and eventual discovery of music. The meat of the book of course comes when Duran Duran forms and we follow the chaos that becomes their lives on their meteoric rise, which takes a professional and personal toll on the five members, most directly (because it’s his book) on John Taylor. Specifically, his drug and alcohol use occupies much of the narrative, and he doesn’t sugar coat his struggle. The book builds to the reunion of the original band members in 2004 and provides scant details on the fallout and soldering-on the four remaining members undertake after 2004. The book ends on a high note, with Taylor’s life finally on solid ground.
Admittedly, I was (and still am) a HUGE Duran Duran fan back in the day. I COVERED my walls with magazine pages and posters of the band. I have also kept up with the band, enjoying their later period work almost as much as their early albums—All You Need Is Now and Astronaut are two great pop albums—so you could say I have a bias. But I don’t suffer bad books, and I may not have had high expectations (how many people are good musicians and good writers?) but I was happy to crack the book.
I am glad I did.
I don’t read a ton of non-fiction. In general, history bores me (unless a book is narrative-driven, like Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City or Isaac’s Storm) and autobiographies can be too indulgent, too long winded to hold my attention. In his memoir, Taylor seems to appreciate this, so when he covers his life, he does so with a deft touch, trimming the chapters to a few pages, creating the effect of tight pop songs that say what they need to say, provide amusement along the way, and then move on.
Any author can learn from this restraint.
Taylor’s prose also doesn’t get bogged down with overly-long sentences—fans of Hemingway will appreciate the terse style, which makes effective use of short sentences throughout. This creates a very engaging authorial voice that makes you feel like you’re having a conversation with the author. For someone looking to glean ideas for a character’s voice, you’ll find a genuine person here, one imbued with refreshing honesty. But unlike Steven Tyler’s recent auto-biography, Taylor doesn’t go for the salacious content just to stir drama—in fact, in a few key places, Taylor mentions that it’s not his place to get into all of that.
But not every scene rushes by. Taylor has an eye for what’s best as background and where you should slow down and develop key moments (around the time of both the recording and promoting for Rio and Seven and the Ragged Tiger).
In the end, this book provides a sense of what it was like to have been in the eye of this band’s fame storm through his point of view yet without being pelted with indulgent stories. As a fan, I would have picked up this book anyway. And as a fan I was satisfied. Reading as a writer, however, I am glad I did have a reason to pick this up, for I’ve been reading a lot of fiction lately—some of it containing seemingly-endless chapters. Therefore, I was happy to mix it up with this book, which provided a refreshing approach to narrative.