Book: Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion
Author: Robert Gordon
My Rating: 4 Record Scratches
I’ve set a goal to read at least one nonfiction book a month this year. Unless it’s true crime, nonfiction is just not my jam, y’all. So, I’ve tried to find books about things I’m actually interested in and so far my plan is working! I bought Respect Yourself from a charming indie bookstore in Memphis last year called “The Book Juggler.” If you’re ever in Memphis I highly recommend that you check it out, and then grab a bite to eat at The Arcade just down the block. But, I digress, this review is about the book not all my favorite restaurants in Memphis…
Respect Yourself is the story of Stax Records. If you think it sounds familiar, you should. It was home to stars like Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and a whole lot more. The music you love to dance to at weddings, or that makes you smile when you hear it in a movie’s soundtrack, that music probably came from Stax. I thought I would have to force myself to read it like a history book, but I was wrong. This book feels like when your favorite band releases a new album and you just want to listen to it nonstop at full volume. It wasn’t hard to read at all. I was completely wrapped up in all the stories surrounding Jim and his sister Estelle. Robert Gordon pulls back the curtain and lets us see for ourselves how Stax became such an important powerhouse not only locally in Memphis, but on a larger scale socially. The store isn’t all entirely good or fair, but what story that matters is 100% those things?
The story of Stax can’t be told without also talking about civil rights and racial injustice. I appreciated that the author didn’t try to make it just about the music, because that wouldn’t have been even half of the story. It was like Gordon took a map of the Civil Rights Movement and all the context surrounding it, and laid a map of pop culture over the top. He made the edges line up perfectly, and everything made sense in a way that was unexpected to me. To understand what Stax represented to the Black community, you have to understand the Civil Rights Movement. It was truly inspiring to hear about Jim and Estelle being revolutionary with even the smallest of gestures, like using the same phone as their Black coworkers. Realizing that even the smallest of actions can be meaningful in a big way is encouraging in today’s social climate, and I couldn’t help but draw some parallels.
I gave this four stars instead of five only because occasionally I felt like Gordon hopped around from person to person, and I wasn’t sure how all the dots were connected. There are so many events and key players in this history that it can be hard to keep straight. But if you love music, especially Soul music, grab a copy of this book, put your records on, and get lost in the music.
Krystle Goodman is a crazy cat lady, who loves to drink exorbitant amounts of coffee, and read a shocking amount of books. She lives in Benton with her husband Josh, her son Roman, and their two cats Roxanne and Abby. When she isn’t reading, you’ll find her cooking, painting, or watching true crime shows. Watch for Krystle’s book reviews every other Friday. Send fanmail to: [email protected]
See more of Krystle’s reviews at www.mysaline.com/krystle.