Holy or the Broken: A Book for Earworm* Lovers

by on March 1st, 2013
Holy or the Broken: A Book for Earworm* Lovers Cover Image

The first thing you notice when you decide to read The Holy or the Broken is that the song “Hallelujah” might be stuck in your head the entire duration you’re reading it. My initial thought when I began to read the introduction? I am about to read an entire book about one song. How is it going to keep my attention?

Thankfully, Alan Light doesn’t have a problem doing exactly that. The progression of the chapters builds nicely–beginning with waxing poetic about a lyric poet/songwriter, the great Leonard Cohen, smoothly transitioning into describing the short but passionate life of the very attractive Jeff Buckley (how many times did I Google image search him while reading? *tugs at shirt collar*), and ending with a comprehensive run-down of the artists influenced by both Leonard Cohen and this, his most well-known song.

One thing books that keep my attention have in common: excellent transitions. I’ve noticed that the books I read from beginning to end were all written by writers with an extensive background in journalism. Journalists write, publish, and workshop their writing with editors frequently, and have been students of the “transition sentence” from the beginning of their writing career.

Alan Light’s career began as an intern for Rolling Stone, and he rose through the ranks as a fact checker and later as a senior writer. He has also held the position of editor-in-chief at both Vibe and Spin. He’s an ideal candidate for writing an engaging book about one song. The library also has his book about the Beastie Boys and Greg Allman’s autobiography, to which Light contributed. If he can engage a reader for 200+ pages on just one song, I wonder what he can do with one iconic rap group and one Southern rock legend.

Still curious? 

Check out reviews for The Holy or the Broken on NPR, New York Times Books, or Goodreads, or check out this interview with Light on Pitchfork’s website.


*Earworm: that song that wriggles its way into your head. See also: catchiness.

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About Melody Dworak

Melody Dworak
Melody buys books for the second half of the nonfiction Dewey numbers on the 2nd floor. She has recently been bitten by the fiction bug, but loves those historical reference questions regardless. Visit the digital collections she manages at icpl.org/magazines and history.icpl.org.