Nonfiction November Week 3 – Book Pairings

This week of Nonfiction November is hosted by Liz and the subject is Book Pairings.

Pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. Maybe it’s a historical novel and the real history in a nonfiction version, or a memoir and a novel, or a fiction book you’ve read and you would like recommendations for background reading. You can be as creative as you like! You can feel free to use books you’ve read any time in this last year or whenever.

This year, this was so easy for me, for I read a pair of books back in April that met these criteria and I thought back then, ‘that’s my book pairing sorted for NF Nov!’ I’ll begin with the fiction half of the pairing.

Viper’s Dream by Jake Lamar

Clyde Morton comes to 1930s Harlem to join a band, but he’s not as good a musician as he thought, but Pork Chop Bradley takes pity on him introducing Clyde to ‘Mary Warner’ and Mr O, a night club owner who runs a huge marijuana empire from a barbershop. Clyde who earns his nickname ‘Viper’ from the hissy noise he makes when taking a toke, works his way up to become Mr O’s right hand man, and ultimately take over the network. So far, so Chester Himes (although his books are set in the 1950s).

The book begins, however, with a prologue set in 1961, and Clyde is a wanted man, who goes to hide out in the ‘cathouse’, the house of Baroness Nica, the rebellious Rothschild daughter, who was addicted to jazz and Thelonius Monk in particular. All the jazzmen used to hang out at her house with its hundreds of cats! The rot had set in for Viper when jazz started to lose its audience to rock’n’roll and heroin took over as drug of choice. It will all lead to a murder at Viper’s on-off lover Yolanda’s place.

This novel is many things: a jazz-noir mystery, a romance that is more off than on, and a love story to that classic period of jazz featuring as supporting acts people who were part of it. Lamar effectively makes himself the narrator, telling his melancholy but not humour-free story about a gangster we end up caring about, capturing the changing times and dialogue perfectly. I adored this book!

You can read my fuller review here.

No Exit Press paperback original, 192 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)

The (Jazz) Baroness by Hannah Rothschild

Coming across Nica, or to give her her full title, the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, in Viper’s Dream reminded me that I’d long been meaning to read Hannah Rothschild’s biography of her aunt, ‘the rebellious Rothschild’ as she calls her in this book’s subtitle. I read it soon afterwards, and also watched the documentary, The Jazz Baroness, that Hannah made about her aunt; the book is an extension of the documentary.

Nica was a rebel long before she discovered jazz, learning to fly but not navigation, scaring her diplomat husband stiff, and when you read of the Rothschild children’s family life, it’s no wonder they all went different ways. Nica went to New York in 1954 where she finally met Thelonius Monk, whose tune ‘Round Midnight’ had given her an epiphany ten years previously. She never looked back, becoming his constant friend and confidante, managing him and his family. Monk’s wife Nellie was glad of Nica’s help especially with his episodes of bad mental health – Monk was essentially bipolar/schizophrenic. Although it’s clear that Nica and Monk loved each other, it was essentially platonic; Nellie had no rival there. There was still segregation in those days, so Nica had to smuggle her black musician friends up to her hotel suites, but it was after Charlie Parker died in her room that she was forced to find a permanent residence – ending up in New Jersey at the ‘Cathouse’ as it became known.

Hannah Rothschild has painted a rich portrait of her great-aunt and her family from the boredom of a protected childhood to the freedom of the jazz world in which she became a beloved patron. The documentary was superb, concentrating more on the jazz side of her life. Hannah’s style recognises a kindred spirit, which reinforces her own feelings as a bit of an outsider. She’s not judgmental and never sensationalises Nica’s life, telling it how it was, in both film and book. The latter carries many pictures from the family archives, a helpful family tree and more.

You can read my fuller review here.

The Baroness, Virago paperback (2013), 307 pages incl indexes, notes etc. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.

5 thoughts on “Nonfiction November Week 3 – Book Pairings

  1. Liz Dexter says:

    Nice pairing! I did the same earlier in the year which is why I pounced on this theme to take as my week even though it’s the one I usually find hardest!

  2. Lory says:

    These both sound really interesting. It’s always fun to follow book trails from nonfiction to fiction or vice versa, learning more about a topic or amplifying it through fiction. But I’m especially fascinated by how my pairings emerge out of books I read close together with no idea of their connection. I had quite a few of those this year!

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