bono by the book interview

Bono By the Book Interview

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I do not have a rock ’n’ roll clock — it’s embarrassing, but I mostly get up before the Edge goes to bed, and it is early, early morning when I read. That said, I am enjoying reading Anne Enright’s “The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch” in the dark on my iPad. It’s a lot of what I like and don’t: conquests sexual and actual, a banquet of taste and touch, the perfume and acrid smells of the noble rot corrupting humbler sensibilities rather than the other way around. Fiction written from a woman’s point of view, even from such a salty character, is good for me. Eliza is a bold Irish woman who begins her conversation and steep social climb in 19th-century Paris, and hovers like a queen bee over Paraguay, a country I have only visited through this book. I’ll be going back to see if it survived.

A book that’s never off the night stand is “The Message,” a translation of the Bible by the late American scholar and minister Eugene Peterson. I go back to it again and again, beguiled by the musicality of the language and the clarity of the translation. Some days I read it, other days it reads me.

Not on my night stand but on my earbuds is Edward Enninful’s “A Visible Man.” I’m only a third of the way in, but he has a unique voice to explode clichés.

In my early 20s I developed a love of “portfolio fiction,” from the furrowed highbrow of Milan Kundera’s “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting,” to the thin smile of Tom Robbins’s “Jitterbug Perfume.” Colum McCann’s “Apeirogon” too, even if that is not an accurate description of the category. I love timeline transportations. I enjoy tangential views of a core theme. I not only discovered the word “Apeirogon,” I rediscovered murmuration as a most powerful symbol for the “times that are a changin” shape. Motorbikes, medical science, political poetry, ornithology — including a stomach-churning account of President Mitterrand’s where McCann runs with the legend he ate an ortolan bird, inhaling its guts with a cloth over his head. If I am allowed Raymond Carver-level short story writers, then “Dark Lies the Island,” by Kevin Barry.

“My Name Is Asher Lev,” by Chaim Potok. All art is religious to me, even bad art is revealing. It will be the only real glance we get into the state of our soul until that can be measured. U2 early on faced a crisis of conscience regarding our devotion to the divine — the divine as expressed by a certain strain of religious thought, or, as expressed in each other and our audience. We chose the latter, and as an activist, on that same path I’ve always tried to honor the divine dignity of the sick, the hungry and those oppressed by extreme poverty. Turns out the paths may end up in the same place. Asher Lev serves his faith in his painting.

I was diagnosed with glaucoma and have been wearing colored specs to mitigate the malady and add rock star affectation. It means I need a lens, so iPad and Kindle work for me when reading, but not so well outdoors, where I love audiobooks. I can tell this format is developing as an art form. A podcast like Dave Chappelle’s “Midnight Miracle” is a great example of how text, conversation, music and atmospherics collide and collage perfectly. For my memoir I have attempted to layer in remixes and re-imaginings of U2 music with speeches and sound effects. I found a very clever fella called Scott Sherratt who wanted to make the “Sgt. Pepper’s” of audiobooks for me. I’m not sure what it is, but if you are on the subway or a hike, in a car or hiding under your bed, it’s certainly a brave as well as an immersive experience to let me crawl through your cochlea and whisper, growl or belch my words at you.

At the moment, Martin Wroe’s “Julian of Norwich’s Teabag,” it’s a book of poems and prayers. I’m dipping into it every few days.

One of the first songs we wrote as teenagers was “Shadows and Tall Trees” — a title borrowed from William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies.” Our first album was called “Boy,” in genuflection to it. Like George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” this is a book that moved in with me as a teenager and has never moved out.

“The Book of Limitations” — yet to be written but crucial.

Foreign correspondents, especially those covering war zones. The uncovering of truth in a post-truth world where truthiness seems to have stepped in for facts. Masha Gessen’s writing on Putin is extraordinary.

It was in the City Lights bookshop in San Francisco where I discovered Kerouac’s “On the Road,” Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg’s “Howl” and “America,” all of which heavily influenced “The Joshua Tree” — as did Sam Shepard’s plays, which I read in the old Tosca bar across the road. I had so much coffee I imagined I saw Tom Waits playing pool with Francis Ford Coppola with opera on the jukebox — maybe I did. Charles Bukowski taught me that nothing is as filthy as antiseptic writing that edits itself; or as he put it to me once, nothing worthwhile “was ever written in paradise.” On that we disagreed.

Art Pepper’s “Straight Life,” where I discovered truth outclassed style and vernacular was the king’s English at the right table. When I heard Bruce Springsteen’s music I reread John Steinbeck — when I read his memoir “Born to Run,” I re-listened to Patti Scialfa’s “Rumble Doll.” A couple of other memoirs I held close during the writing of my own were Dave Eggers’s “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” Patti Smith’s “Just Kids,” Viv Albertine’s “Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys” and Pete Paphides’s “Broken Greek.”

Very little scholarship or even good writing on the psychology of singers onstage and off: the ego imploding as well as exploding — that’s a confession and a request.

Everything in “We Don’t Know Ourselves,” Fintan O’Toole’s magnum opus/personal history of generational change in Ireland. Really great on the troubles in the church as well as the state. Not much on music although he’s a fan of Horslips not U2, which I found both encouraging and hurtful. I don’t know Fintan well, but I wanted to after reading what amounts to a portrait of a family as much as the country.

Over time I’ve read more nonfiction, which I’m hungry for, to educate myself on new ideas I’m curious about, or things that I want to understand better. “Where Is My Flying Car?,” by J. Storrs Hall, is a recent find on how some unstoppable ideas get stopped.

I avoid the self-help genre, though to learn why I’d probably have to read more of them.

The book I often give as a gift is Seamus Heaney’s “Human Chain,” his final collection. The last poem, “A Kite for Aibhín,” feels like a premonition of his untimely, unexpected passing. I asked Seamus to sign quite a few for me as gifts, and his wife, Marie, used to joke the unsigned copies were more rare.

I got a copy of Edna O’ Brien’s “The Country Girls” growing up, which hurried my puberty to a place where I thought differently about girls and women. I still do. It was banned in Ireland when it was published. I have received some steamy self-published fiction as gifts from fans.

Screwtape in C.S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters” — I channel his devilish spirit in someone I become onstage called MacPhisto, who can speak things I could never even think.

My friend Niall Byrne, from two doors up on Cedarwood Road, and I competed to see who could learn to read the youngest, but it was probably around 4 when I appreciated language. I was briefly put in charge of the library in our primary school as encouragement. It felt to me like a jukebox does now.

Edna O’Brien, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett to change the subject to rugby.

I always finish them, I just read faster.

“War and Peace,” though I loved Tolstoy’s “Resurrection.”

“Finding Solace,” by Agnes Nyamayarwo. Agnes is a nurse from Uganda I met in 2002. Hearing her tell her story changed my life, and I’m one of many.