I met someone that I would still refer to as a ‘kid’ the other day that made my aspiration to read a book a month a total cop out. I never told him about my plan to read 12 books + Infinite Jest in 2012. No, he just happened to mention that while he was in college, his goal was to read a non fiction book per day. Right. Ridiculous. But he taught himself to speed read and then, and then, created a system that would categorize main topics in his brain so he could retrieve the most important information about that topic if it were brought up in conversation. Kid’s a mental giant.
But I started my pitiful book a month goal with a pitiful book that is a pitiful 68 pages in length and a bit of a pitiful read altogether. “Searching For Robert Johnson,” written by Elvis Presley biographer Peter Guralnick, has been in my collection for years and I can see why I never made it all the way through it. By no fault of Guralnick, there is little documented about the great blues singer that apparently sold his soul to the devil for his amazing talent, and therefore there is little to latch on to. With little facts and dry information, “Searching For Robert Johnson” reads more like a magazine article that has had the life sucked out of it.
For most of the information the author calls upon old friends and family members but only reports brief summaries from those interviews. To supplement these short glimpses into Johnson’s story, there is also a lot of information from another writer that was planning a much larger scale biography. These factors and too little personality being injected into the text lead the book to fall flat for me.
Guralnick may have thought that more information would be brought to life by the other biographer that had spent what seemed to be an incredible amount of time actually searching for Robert Johnson, but that only lead me to question the reason of writing the short piece.
As it turns out, the full scale biography never saw the light of day and therefore I am grateful to have Guralnick’s account. While I didn’t enjoy it stylistically and was unable to squelch the tiniest bit of writerly inspiration from it, I’m glad to now be equipped with more knowledge of Robert Johnson than I had before.