Welcome to Camp ToB 2019, the summer reading program from the Tournament of Books! All summer long, we’re reading six works of fiction from 2019—two books per month, two weeks per book—that you chose by popular vote. Each week we read half of one novel, then meet here on Wednesdays, joined in the booth by a member of the Commentariat—our Activity Leaders, in Camp parlance—to discuss our progress through each book. At the end of each month you decide which of the two books we just read advances to our end-of-summer championship, where you make the ultimate call on which of our three finalists wins an automatic berth in the 2020 Tournament of Books.
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Rosecrans Baldwin: Welcome back to our discussion of Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. This week we’re wrapping up the second half of this novel about a fictional ’70s rock band, in which (spoiler alert) the band records their big hit album Aurora, heads out on tour, and promptly breaks up.
For this week’s discussion, we’re joined by Daniel Sevitt. Daniel is this summer’s lone international Activity Leader, here today from his home in Israel. Daniel, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Daniel Sevitt: I was born in London to parents from Dublin. I wrote my university dissertation on families and Arthur Miller, and offered him a smoked salmon bagel when he came to speak at the National Theatre in the early ’90s. Moved to Israel with my family in the late ’90s where I live 20 minutes north of Tel Aviv and commute to work every day for a digital market intelligence company. Now that the kids are grown and are mostly out of the home, I’m more focused on reading than ever before, getting through two to three books a week, often sourced secondhand from all over the world, covering literary fiction, crime (hardboiled not cozy), graphic novels, essays, and other nonfiction.
I came to the Tournament of Books about four years ago through listening to Christopher and Drew rave about it on the So Many Damn Books podcast. I had already read many of the previous winners, so it seemed like a good fit. Hasn’t let me down so far, and I look forward to the longlist and shortlist every year as excellent sources of new reading suggestions. Incidentally, I haven’t blogged in 5 years, but I did post something last week to commemorate a big birthday.
Rosecrans: So tell us, what were your feelings about Daisy Jones going into the second half? Was this a story that grabbed you, or one you struggled with?
Daniel: I was really looking forward to the book before I started, but very early on I felt like I knew exactly what I was going to get, and I wasn’t terribly thrilled about it. I’ve read genuine oral histories about Truman Capote, Saturday Night Live, and others, and I understand the form. I also understand that it’s a super-lazy way in fiction to avoid developing character or writing description when what you really want to be doing is earning TV money writing scripts. Too harsh?
Daniel: I’ll try to pull it back a bit. Part of the joy of overlapping narrators comes in the serendipitous contradictions in storytelling and occasional reinforcement of themes. When these arise organically from careful editing of thousands of hours of recorded interviews they can be a delight. When they occur in fiction—two separate conversations cut together to appear to be in dialogue—they can either land hard, like in episodes of The Office, or they just melt like inorganic cheese, because they aren’t organic, and because they’re cheesy.
I don’t give up on books, but I was not enjoying Daisy Jones & the Six by the halfway point.
Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Daisy is a girl coming of age in LA in the late ’60s. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock ’n’ roll she loves most. By the time she’s 20, her voice is getting noticed. Also getting noticed is the Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road. Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)
Book description excerpted from publisher’s summary and edited for length.
Rosecrans: Well, let’s start with the positives. Were there things that worked for you?
Daniel: I actually warmed to the story in the second half after I recovered from my disappointment. Yes, Daisy is straight out of troubled, manic-dream-pixie central casting. Yes, Camila is an impossibly perfect (i.e., clearly doomed) and understanding muse. Yes, Billy is a tortured genius who never really has to choose between these two imagined angels. And yet… I enjoyed the mechanics of the songwriting. It’s not that I was convinced by any of the fake songs or even their sappy, Rupi-Kaur-lyrics, but I found something fresh in the creative to-and-fro.
Rosecrans: Are you a fan of that era of rock?
Daniel: I’m not a huge fan of ’70s music. I went straight from the Beatles to the Smiths. Seventies bands tend to be about siblings—Osmonds, Carpenters, Jacksons—or couples falling apart—ABBA and, of course, Fleetwood Mac. Daisy Jones & the Six does both. It’s a little crowded. I don’t mind a bit of Fleetwood Mac, but I always found them and their well-chronicled addictions, talents, and tensions to be a little yawnsome. Rumours is an amazing album, but it was never really my jam; I probably prefer Tango in the Night.
Rosecrans: I’m actually listening to “Dreams” from Rumours on repeat while I write this. Not joking.
Daniel: I don’t care that much about Fleetwood Mac, but if I was a member of the band I would instruct my lawyer to wait and see how the in-development miniseries performs before launching a massive suit claiming defamation, copyright infringement and more.
How familiar were you with the Fleetwood Mac story? Do you think knowing about the McVie/McVie/Fleetwood/Nicks/Buckingham infernal love pentagram adds or distracts from your reading of the book?
Rosecrans: Pretty familiar, and unfortunately it detracted from the novel. It just felt flat in comparison. For other fans out there, I highly recommend Lindsey Buckingham explaining on Song Exploder how the band recorded “Go Your Own Way.” Though it may make you wish Daisy Jones was similarly authentic on how the recording process really works.
Interestingly, Reid talks about the band in that Rolling Stone interview: “I also went back and watched a lot of Behind the Music. I watched Fleetwood Mac, I also watched a Behind the Music that is just about 1977. It’s talking about the context of all of these different bands, and how 1977 was such a big year for rock. That was a really big one for me, too, because I had to start thinking about not only who is Daisy Jones & the Six to the audience, but also what is the space that they occupied in music at that time?”
Daniel, here’s a question inspired by that: For a novel so rooted in a certain strain of Americana, how does it read from your vantage point almost halfway across the world?
Daniel: Popular culture is mostly universal these days. Diluted fictional Americana like this is just another brand, like Pepsi Max or Pizza Hut, available everywhere, even in Israel. We’ve all seen countless VH1 documentaries. We all know about Stevie Nicks’s legendary cocaine abuse. If anything, Daisy Jones & the Six is a watered-down, Witherspoon-friendly version of the rockin’ ’70s. I don’t have any particular view from the Middle East on the book. We all saw Brad and Gaga at the Oscars.
Rosecrans: I discussed during the chat about the first half that I struggled to find traction in the book. Unfortunately, the second half exacerbated the problem. I’ll get into that in a second, but how about you?
Daniel: Such a relief to hear that I wasn’t the only underwhelmed reader. Did you really hate it or just not love it?
Rosecrans: I just didn’t love it. For my part, everything it did successfully in the first half kept operating at the same level—the polish on the writing; the fun of the back-and-forths between people’s accounts of events; the evolution of Karen within the group; the focus on a woman leading a band in a genre mostly populated by dudes. But where it faltered, those parts just got worse: more cliché, less original, less enlightening. Based on last week’s discussion in the Commentariat, I wish I’d listened to the audiobook instead. Anyway, how did it finish for you?
Daniel: After my early expectations were dashed, I just settled in for the ride. The beauty of my current reading pace is that I don’t get too bogged down in a frustrating book. I zipped through the last half in bed on a Shabbat morning. I ended up liking the whole thing a bit more than when I started. The narrator reveal, the rushed ending, the martyrdom, the note from the grave—it all just smooshed into my sense of something well meant, if weak. I wasn’t angry about it and it doesn’t bother me that loads of people are going to come to this and rave about it. I’ve come to understand that there’s a whole lot of people who want to read books before they get made into TV and movies. I’m OK with it. Is it too much faint praise to say that I didn’t finish the book hating it, the way I have with some others? I like that I can lend this book to people. It feels like something someone who doesn’t read 100+ books a year would get a kick out of. I mean that in the least book-snob way I can approximate. In summary, disappointing, but not rage-inducing.
Rosecrans: Thanks, Daniel. Well, that finishes up Daisy Jones & the Six. Commentariat, let us know in the comments how the book wrapped up for you.
And with that, we’ve also reached the end of our June reading, which means it’s time for you to choose which of the two novels we read this month—Bowlaway or Daisy Jones & the Six—heads to our end-of-summer finale. (Where you’ll decide which of our summer finalists lands a spot in the 2020 Tournament of Books.) Cast your vote using the form below before midnight (ET) on Friday, June 28, and we’ll announce the winner on Saturday.
Then join us back here in two weeks—Camp is taking a week off for the Fourth of July holiday—when Camp Director Andrew leads our discussion of Lost Children Archive through page 186 (finish part 1, or chapter 11 on audio). Final note: The archery range has been shuttered for the duration of camp. If you haven’t signed the get-well-soon card for Archery Instructor Doug, it’s on the front table in the dining hall. Feel better, Doug!
UPDATE: The campers have spoken, the results are in, and we now have our June finalist: Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid!
The Camp ToB 2019 Calendar
- June 5: Bowlaway through page 172
- June 12: Bowlaway to the end
- June 19: Daisy Jones & the Six through page 151 (finish “The Numbers Tour” section)
- June 26: Daisy Jones & the Six to the end
- July 3: VACATION
- July 10: Lost Children Archive through page 186 (finish part 1, or chapter 11 on audio)
- July 17: Lost Children Archive to the end
- July 24: Trust Exercise through page 131 (finish part 1, or chapter 5 on audio)
- July 31: Trust Exercise to the end
- Aug. 7: American Spy through page 141 (finish chapter 12)
- Aug. 14: American Spy to the end
- Aug. 21: Black Leopard, Red Wolf through page 243 (finish chapter 2)
- Aug. 28: Black Leopard, Red Wolf to the end
- Sept. 4: Announce summer champion