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Tony Bennett: Singer and on-the-road reader

Besides his magnificent pipes, there are other reasons why Tony Bennett is so beloved. Few stars are as positive and down-to-earth as they are talented. His new memoir, "Life is a Gift," explains some of how he managed it during his 60-plus year career. The crooner comes to Boston Opera House Feb. 14.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

BENNETT: A wonderful book by Gay Talese, "Unto the Sons." I love it because it's about his family, an Italian-American family from Calabria, and that's where my parents came from. This is almost like reading about my own family. It lifts my sprits up an awful lot.


BOOKS: Is that book typical of your reading?

BENNETT: I read all kinds of books. One of the great books that I love and that was important to me is Alec Wilder's "American Popular Song." It's an absolute dictionary in which you can look up any of the great songwriters. Then there is this beautiful book "The Astaires" by Kathleen Riley about Fred and Adele. It's so well written and very accurate about their lives. It's a magnificent book about the trials and tribulations of show business.

BOOKS: Do you have any favorite authors?

BENNETT: Not really. For years I tried to study Shakespeare and would always get completely confused. I started reading the British writer who wrote the Sherlock Holmes books. I consider his writing much more interesting than Shakespeare's.

BOOKS: Any books that had a big influence on you as a singer.

BENNETT: There's the Wilder book and then "The House That George Built" by Wilfrid Sheed about George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin.

BOOKS: Any other musicians you've read about?

BENNETT: Yes. The most recent one I love is by my best friend, Harry Belafonte. It's his autobiography "My Song."


BOOKS: Since you are also a painter, do you read books about art?

BENNETT: My favorite book that I recommend to any student interested in the arts is "The Art Spirit" by the painter Robert Henri. It's an inspiring book for anyone who wants to do anything well. Most people think of art as painting or music or dancing. I've been around long enough to know that anybody who does anything really well is an artist. There are only two real great books on the study of art and the other is "Hawthorne on Painting," which is based on the teachings of Charles Hawthorne, a painter who lived and taught on Cape Cod. It's a small book but so valuable. I also like Robert Hughes. His book on Goya is unbelievable. It reads like a novel but it's a true story.

BOOKS: Have your tastes in books changed over time?

BENNETT: Not really. I just gravitate to certain things. Friends give me books, and I get turned on to them. One is "Nature" by Ralph Waldo Emerson. That's another book that you just reread certain paragraphs, and let them creep into your spirit. I like "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman too.

BOOKS: Seems like you are drawn to books that are about philosophy.

BENNETT: Yeah. One great book I love like that is "Sprezzatura: 50 Ways Italian Genius Shaped the World" by Peter D'Epiro and Mary Desmond Pinkowish.

BOOKS: When do you tend to read?

BENNETT: I do a lot of traveling. We just finished a world tour. We were in Europe and Canada and then the United States and now South America. So there's been a lot of reading.


BOOKS: What else have you read on your tour?

BENNETT: "Winner-Take-All Politics" by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, a wonderful book on the condition of American politics today. There's a lot to be fixed. We need to go back to our original forefathers, and what they wanted for our great country.

BOOKS: Is there a book or author you've always meant to read?

BENNETT: Yeah, William Shakespeare.


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