Not long ago I listed my 5 best reads of 2016. I wrote that post back on December 14. There is always a danger that in the two remaining weeks of the year, I’ll end up reading a book that should have made the list. That happened this year. After I wrote that post, I started reading Bruce Springsteen’s new memoir Born to Run. Turns out, it was the best book I read in 2016.
Until reading the book, I was a fair-weather Springsteen fan. I enjoyed his hits, but didn’t dive deep into his music. His memoir proved to be an awakening for me in a number of respects.
First, it made me want to listen carefully to all of Springsteen’s music, something I will approach diligently in the coming year.
Second, it stirred something within me that I never suspected. It made me want to be a musician. Ever since playing the recorder in Mrs. Davis’s seventh grade music class, I thought myself completely inept at musical instruments. The feeling became so ingrained in my psyche that I took it for fact without ever exploring the evidence. Maybe I was just lazy in seventh grade. Maybe I didn’t care much. Springsteen, writing about music, and in particular, rock and guitar, made me wonder if it wasn’t something that I might actually be able to learn. It wouldn’t be something I’d plan to make a living doing. But ever since reading the book, a fire has been burning in me to try to learn to play an instrument.
Third, if I ever decide to write a memoir, I’ll take Springsteen’s Born to Run as a model. I’ve read quite a few memoirs over the years. Not only is Born to Run the best book I read in 2016, it has to rank among the best autobiography writing I’ve read.
I listened to the audiobook version of Born to Run. Bruce Springsteen read his own book, and that gave added weight to the story. Before I read the book, my picture of Springsteen was of the bandana wearing, muscle-shirt wearing, raspy-voice singing rocker. But he is an amazing writer, not just a song writer, but a writer of prose. His openness and honesty are a breath of fresh air. More than that, his humility and self-deprecation take him from superstar to regular guy in a way that lets you—the reader—experience the joy he takes from doing what he loves.
His humility in particular struck me. A quick search for “Bruce Springsteen” will lead to his nickname—The Boss—almost instantly. But not once in the entire book did Bruce Springsteen refer to himself as The Boss. I don’t think the phrase was used in the book at all in reference to himself.
Through his book, Bruce Springsteen wrote about music in a way that I could understand and appreciate. Music has always seemed complicated to me, but he made it fascinating. The list of things to listen to—Springsteen’s own music, as well as music by others that he mentioned as influences—grew quickly.
It is always difficult to find another book to read after reading a book as good as Born to Run. This time it wasn’t hard. I have started re-reading the book immediately after having finished it. It is that good.