"I am a singer and a songwriter but I am also a father, four times over. I am a friend to dogs. I am a sworn enemy of the saccharine; and a believer in grace over karma. I talk too much when I'm drunk and sometimes even when I'm not."
-- Bono, 2001 Harvard graduation speech
U2 Lists: 5 U2 References in Popular Books
October 20, 2016
[Ed. note: This is the 70th in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
I love to read. Aside from my phone, my Kindle is the only device that I always have with me. When I’m not listening to music, you can probably find me reading somewhere. In my professional life I’m a literature teacher at a small private school. But when I read for fun I enjoy anything from crime fiction, to popular contemporary novels, nonfiction essays and science fiction.
A few years ago I began tweeting photos of U2 references I found while reading these books. Some were substantive references that drove the plot or enhanced characterization. Some were just background references, as fleeting as the soft music playing in the background at the grocery store.
Perhaps this list might entice you to pick up one of these books and delve into it yourself. In the meantime, I’ll keep reading, and I’ll continue to share what I find. Hopefully there will be a follow-up to this list in the future, with new references to the four boys from the North Side of Dublin.
1. The “Max & Angela” Series by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr – Hard-boiled crime novels are my guilty pleasure, so I have really been enjoying Hard Case Crime’s ongoing series of new stories and classic reprints. The “Max & Angela” series is a trilogy of novels by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr consisting of Bust, Slide and The Max. The stories center on a hot-headed Irish redhead named Angela and a bumbling wannabe kingpin named Max. The authors go full Irish-stereotype with Angela; her obsession with U2, particularly Bono, is a running theme. Throughout her often-illegal exploits, her love of Bono and the boys always rises to the top of her personality. But be advised: These stories are more intended for an adult audience.
“One time I was at Lizzie Bordello’s in Dublin. U2 were holding court and I nicked Bono’s glasses, you think I look like him?”
“Things worked out right, he’d bring her on a honeymoon to Ireland, maybe take her to a U2 concert. She seemed to like that Bono.”
“She would have stepped on Gerry Adams to get to Bono.”
2. The Fireman by Joe Hill - Joe Hill’s newest novel, The Fireman, is a post-apocalyptic story about survival in a world destroyed by disease. The few survivors band together to learn how to live with the affliction, which they call Dragonscale. Considering the theme of togetherness in the face of an overwhelming struggle, it’s no surprise that one scene features a group of survivors around a campfire singing U2’s “One.” It’s a quiet, touching moment in a world full of uncertainty and death.
“She led the others on a sing-along, their voices lacing together like lovers’ fingers. They sang an old U2 number, sang about how they were one but not the same, and how they would carry each other.”
3. Only Human by Gareth Roberts - Only Human is a standalone Doctor Who novel featuring the adventures of the Ninth Doctor as portrayed on television by Christopher Eccleston. It’s a fantastic story about The Doctor and his companions traveling back in time to help a group of Neanderthals. Whovians will recognize Captain Jack Harkness, a fellow time traveler in the Doctor Who universe. In Only Human, entries from Captain Jack’s journal are interspersed throughout the story. In this particular interlude, he laments what becomes immortalized in culture over time, pointing out U2 and The Da Vinci Code as strange things to remember.
“Also, people here have no idea what’s going to last from their culture. You come back and expect them to be grooving along to Van der Graaf Generator and reading Shena Mackay novels. But no, it’s all U2 and The Da Vinci Code, whatever they are. I spoke to a girl the other day who’d never even heard of Sparks. Wake up, people!”
4. Pocket Kings by Ted Heller - Pocket Kings follows a struggling writer-turned-online poker player named Frank Dixon and his quest to become one of the world’s top online poker stars. His virtual successes quickly become a burden, however, and the faceless avatars of his opponents soon become very real. In one scene, Frank and his new friends take a road trip to Las Vegas and decide to take in a Cher show.
“Gee, Johnny,” I said, “I don’t see you liking Cher. I had you figured more as a U2 or Arctic Monkeys fan.”
5. The Double Life Is Twice As Good by Jonathan Ames - HBO fans might recognize Jonathan Ames as the creator of the hit series Bored To Death starring Jason Schwartzman and Ted Danson. While he is most famous for his short fiction, his collections of wry essays are excellent reading. In one essay, titled “The Church of Surface: Three Nights In The Meatpacking District,” Ames describes three evenings immersed in trendy New York City nightlife. Rife with unsavory and unique characters, the places he visits are portrayed so vividly that you feel like you’re there, for better or for worse. One waiter described his place of work as a “cool place” visited by celebrities the likes of Bono and Madonna.
“Celebrities liked it here, because it was like a hideout,” says Mike. “I’d come to work at three a.m. and see Madonna and Bono. It was a cool place to be.”
Honorable Mention: The Perfect Neighbors by Sarah Pekkanen - The final reference on this list comes courtesy of my wife, Sarah. I haven’t read the book, but she enjoyed it and was happy to point out the little U2 reference in it.
“It was too early for the bar to be crowded, and Kellie, Tessa, Susan, and Gigi commandeered a booth. U2 blared from the speakers, pool balls clacked together in the background, and a bartender shook a stainless steel mixer high in the air.”