MJ: The Reader.

After a walk by the Apollo theatre or a visit to the local music or book store, it’s clear that Michael Jackson is going to make people a ton of money posthumously. And as the media stories speculate on how he died, and people start barking for who owns what of his estate, the rights to his children, MJ’s music catalog and The Beatles catalog, juxtaposed with all that other noise, the story below on MJ’s 10,000 book library was surprisingly refreshing.

From Carolyn Kellogg of the LA Times:

“He loved the poetry section,” Dave Dutton said as Dirk [California bookstore owners] chimed in that Ralph Waldo Emerson was Jackson’s favorite. “I think you would find a great deal of the transcendental, all-accepting philosophy in his lyrics.”

Largely an autodidact, Jackson was quite well read, according to Jackson’s longtime lawyer. “We talked about psychology, Freud and Jung, Hawthorne, sociology, black history and sociology dealing with race issues,” Bob Sanger told the LA Weekly after the singer’s death. “But he was very well read in the classics of psychology and history and literature . . . “

The article originally came across as a wonderment of MJ’s normalcy like a segment in a celebrity magazine picturing stars shopping for groceries or walking their dogs. There’s no doubt that the naming of Freud and Jung in particular drums up support for the thesis that MJ was a child in a man’s body.

Putting that aside, I thought about the type of person who reads, psychology, sociology in wide abundance is a person dealing with emotional pain. The type of person searching for something. Identity perhaps?

I wonder how much of what he was reading was reflected in his music. I wonder what the rest of his library reveals about him. And if people were left to rifle with your own belongings, in particular, your books, what would those things which narrowly define us all reveal about you?

13 thoughts on “MJ: The Reader.

  1. Leigh July 2, 2009 at 11:01 am Reply

    My library collection is a real mix: popular trade paperback fiction – The Corrections, Everything is Illuminated, Middlesex (LOVE THIS BOOK), etc.; fiction about women and/or racially or ethnically different people from me: Almost a Woman, The Poisonwood Bible, The Emperor of Ocean Park, The Black Album, etc. There’s also fiction that my Iowa MFA friend called “my money-making taste,” which meant that I tended to read books well before they were optioned for movies: The Virgin Suicides, Girl Interrupted, The Shipping News, Angela’s Ashes, My Beautiful Launderette…Basically, I like to be transported into other people’s lives. Not so much into mystery, fantasy or heavy literary stuff (I really tried to get through Mating and just could not).

    These days though, with trying to finish a PhD, I read People magazine weekly, and what is typically described as chick lit: Confessions of A Shopaholic, Something Borrowed, Swapping Lives, etc.

    For years I barely read male authors, not intentional, just worked out that way, that’s changed, obviously.

    Now I get the NYer, like every other self-satisfied liberal. 😉

    And I have an entire collection of academic-related books, more than half of which I’ve read, but I only read for school/career. Most related to cities, race/ethnicity, and poverty: Poverty Knowledge, Black on the Block, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, etc.

    I also read a lot more essay collections than I used to: David Sedaris is my favorite, but Bitch in the House and Bad Mother are 2 that immed. come to mind that deal with (white?) middle-class women’s ambivalence. I like these because they’re pretty popular to discuss. If I read popular non-fiction it tends to remain focused on women’s experiences – Katharine Graham’s memoir, that book about hooking up in college that some middle-aged woman wrote, etc.

    LOVE talking about books!

    • belleisa July 2, 2009 at 1:12 pm Reply

      What do you think your library says about who you are? Did you realize before this post that you had a particular interest in “middle-class white women’s ambivalence?”

      • Leigh July 2, 2009 at 1:54 pm Reply

        I think my library reflects my interests in gender, race/ethnicity and culture. It’s less evocative of the class lens I bring to everything. I don’t know what the chick lit says other than I’m tired. 🙂

        I’d say yes I was aware of my interest in middle-class women’s ambivalence prior to this post. I add the “white” because the popular authors all appear to be white, and I don’t have a racially diverse enough group of friends to know how well this ambivalence translates. I became aware of my own relationship ambivalence upon entering a serious relationship and watching my friends – mostly but not all white, and all mid-class by educ and prof standards – get married and have kids. I’d say it was me settling down w/my man and the transition to motherhood for my friends. I’ve got the relationship ambivalence and no fully defined sense of how I’d like to parent (esp. since I grew up w/a single mom and now will be part of a 2-parent household, hopefully), but the range of parenting styles from my friends and the variations on anxiety they exhibit is totally fascinating (if somewhat frivolous, in my view).

        Middle-class status anxiety is nothing new, and women demonstrating it via parenting/mothering is also not new (Jill Lepore has a great book review in last week’s NY’er about this), but for me the experience is new given where I am in the lifecycle.

        I realize the OP is about Michael Jackson and not me. 😉

    • G.D. July 2, 2009 at 5:16 pm Reply

      Middlesex is one of my three or four favorite books. i knew there was a reason i liked you.

      • Leigh July 2, 2009 at 6:58 pm Reply

        I can only remember bits and pieces of the story anymore, but I remember being alone on a business trip in Bismarck, ND and devouring it and finishing it and just being blown away.

        Btw, Jeremy Levine and I connected via this blog! Good stuff. /threadjack

  2. quadmoniker July 2, 2009 at 11:38 am Reply

    Thanks for the post. I was listening to “Tell Me More” on NPR the day after Jackson’s death, and I think the Essence editor was talking about Jackson and the series they had done of him on his 50th birthday. I remember him talking about Jackson’s thoughts on race, and my first thought was, “Michael Jackson had thoughts?” Of course he did, but it was almost reflexive to think of him as a one-dimensional icon. So this window into what he did in his spare time was really useful.

  3. bitchphd July 2, 2009 at 2:43 pm Reply

    Aw. That’s really a sweet, touching little article.

  4. Winslowalrob July 2, 2009 at 5:15 pm Reply

    Its weird but over the past month I read and saw some stuff on famous people’s libararies (Jefferson, Hitler, etc). Do libraries connect to the people? Yeah, but not always in the a way that we can make sense of without evidence. I always thought that Jackson was a genius, and I remember when I was 9 busting out a dictionary to try and figure out what the hell he was saying in Smooth Criminal (i got my love of letters from MJ and greek myths). The fact that he has history in his collection shows what a pimp he is, but why doesn’t anybody give me any authors (besides the fact that very few people know famous historians but freud and, to a lesser extent jung, are wayyy more famous)!

    Great find Belle

  5. bitchphd July 2, 2009 at 5:41 pm Reply

    The fact that he has history in his collection shows what a pimp he is

    Uh. I hate that use of that word.

    • Winslowalrob July 2, 2009 at 6:02 pm Reply

      errr, i used it in an unforgivable way. i dont want to jack the thread, so ill apologize correctly on your blog

  6. bitchphd July 2, 2009 at 9:28 pm Reply

    No worries, I wasn’t even trying to criticize. Just note it.

  7. MoreAndAgain July 6, 2009 at 4:48 am Reply

    You know, I never even thought about the fact that Michael Jackson COULD read. It’s so easy to think of celebrities as something other than people (even though they constantly insist they’re nothing more.) It’s really cool to know there was this side of him. He’s often called a musical genius, come to find out he actually was a smart man.

  8. ladyfresh July 6, 2009 at 1:53 pm Reply

    i missed this post. this is great. it’s a shame what we do to our pop figures giving them such limited one dimensional roles to fulfill culturally. we seem to demand more and less at the same time. i wonder what would have happened if this aspect of him was emphasized. how many folks may have been influenced by him being well read.

    and again i would be exposed as a scifi/fantasy geek if someone were to see my library. there are a few odds and ends but mainly scifi fantasy

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