THE BOOK NOOK: Setting the records straight once and for all

“The Forensic Records Society” by Magnus Mills (Bloomsbury, 186 pages, $26).

In past columns I’ve mentioned I’m a collector. My collecting bug bit early. At age 5, I acquired my first postage stamps and books. That was also the year I obtained my first record, a 45-rpm, 7-inch single.

I still have it.

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As collectors age they often become more selective. I collect books that are first editions autographed by the authors. I prefer engraved postage stamps. I have developed a keen interest in 45-rpm singles that were issued between 1955 and November 1963. You probably wonder, what is significant about that time period? Let me tell you.

Rock and roll music swept our land in 1955. For me, that carefree era didn’t end until November 1963, when the charismatic John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. That was a brutal shock. It is also why I collect music singles from that time — from the birth of rock and roll to that death of our nation’s innocence.

I’m a pushover for books on stamp collecting, book collecting and record collecting. Books on those topics are usually non-fiction. I just discovered a gem of a novel about obsessive record collectors.

How could I resist?

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“The Forensic Records Society” by Magnus Mills is a peculiarity. The cover is designed to attract the attention of those of us who love our music singles. It was made to look like a 45-rpm single in the sleeve.

It actually has a cutout for the record label.

The story begins as our narrator and his friend James are listening to records. These two men are enthusiastic collectors of 45-rpm singles.

After they finish listening, our narrator observes they are probably the only people in the world who just listened to that record and that “nobody else is interested. Nobody listens. Not properly anyway. Not like we do.”

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It is the moment James decides the two of them should seek out like-minded listeners. He proposes “we could form a society for the express purpose of listening to records closely and in detail, forensically if you like, without any interruption or distraction.

“There would be regular gatherings, and membership would depend on some kind of test to make sure people are genuinely interested.”

The two men approach George, the proprietor of a local pub called the Half Moon and ask if they can hold meetings in his back room on Monday nights. George is enthusiastic about any proposal that might increase his traffic. He agrees.

Posters attract potential members. Attendees bring three 4- rpm records to play. Our narrator observes as their little group rises and falls. Quickly they have competition, rival listening groups with adversarial intentions. The author’s style is deadpan hilarious. The book is mostly about the music, though. They listen to stacks of vinyl. Their choices tend to be classics from the late 1960s and early ’70s — Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones the Beatles.

Our narrator doesn’t seem to have much of a life outside of the group.

He obsessively sorts and categorizes his records. Every night he goes home and picks out a record that fits his mood and plays it three times. Did you know that the ideal length for a song is exactly three minutes? You do now!

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