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Paging Mr. West: Taylor Swift donates 6,000 books to her childhood public library.

October 17, 2011

When it comes to country music I am too much a traditionalist to appreciate Taylor Swift, but I am mightily impressed by news she’s given a truckload of books to a Pennsylvania public library.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t despise Taylor Swift the way I do most of the chuckleheads who have made country radio into a wasteland of third-generation good-ol’-boyism, last-resort patriotism, sub-Reba female over-singing, and twanged-up ’70s soft and-or ’80s arena rock.

Visit the Miami Book Fair International website to see the gaudy author list (Roseanne Cash! Jeffrey Eugenides! Nicole Kraus! Michael Ondaajte! Hundreds more! Literally!). This year’s fair runs Nov. 13-20. More details to come. Watch this space!

What’s Rascal Flats but the oldest, fattest boy band in history? What’s Blake Shelton but Def Lepard with fiddles?

While Taylor Swift may be 90 parts pop to 10 parts country, so was Tricia Yearwood, in her heyday or — and, let’s be honest here — Patsy Cline.

At least she has real talent. In fact, she’s the Lady Gaga of today’s country music. Like Gaga she’s entirely derivative, but also like Gaga she’s forging everything she’s borrowed into something fresh.

If anything, Swift is even more revolutionary as Gaga: She’s remade country music into a vehicle for the romance, longing, loneliness, and hope of teen-aged girls. Gaga had Madonna to show her the way. What model did Swift have? Tanya Tucker, LeAnn Rimes?

Tucker and Rimes notwithstanding, traditionally country has been the music of grown-up yearning and discontent — murder, adultery, disappointment, faith, redemption. Think Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn.

But with songs like Fifteen, Should’ve Said No, or You Belong With Me, Swift embodies teen terror, romance, and hope into three minutes of danceable redemption. And unlike a lot of singers, country and otherwise, Swift knows how to sell a song.

Listening to, say, You Belong With Me, even a 55-year-old male Baby Boomer, huffing and puffing away on the eliptical machine, believes this tidy little story of high school bullying and rejection, and when teen love triumphs in the end it’s rendered with such craftsmanship that a lump comes up in the grizzled throat. (Confession: I only listen to contemporary Top 40 when I’m at the gym and can’t get to the dial).

That’s another trait Swift shares with Gaga: A real songwriting talent. Swift wrote or co-wrote all those songs, and I submit it’s her song craft — more than her cutes, or her singing style, or her shy charisma — that’s made her a star. That BMI Songwriter of the Year award she got last year at the astounding age of 21? She earned it.

Okay, I guess I can appreciate Taylor Swift, in a way. Clearly she places a high value on words, which makes her donation of 6,000 new books to the Reading, Penn., public library seem a natural philanthropic impulse.

Swift, who was born in Reading and grew up in nearby Wyomissing, partnered with Scholastic Books to donate the books, all Young Adult and children’s titles.

The books were chosen by local librarians. Each one will be identified with a white star, according to the Associated Press. Librarians hope children, spurred by Swift’s popularity, will be more apt to read the books.

Swift couldn’t attend the ceremony, but her representatives said she wanted to help the cash-strapped libraries. The AP describes Reading as a “struggling city about 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia.”

I’m not likely to run out and buy a Taylor Swift CD — I’m a bit outside her demographic — but I’m much heartened by her gesture. I wonder if there’s some way we can turn this into a challenge?

Hey, Kanye — how about some books for inner city libraries? Atlanta, Chicago, your pick. A great way to work up some good PR, and begin working off some bad karma.

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