Jeremy Denk’s New York Times Bestseller: “Every Good Boy Does Fine”
MacArthur “Genius” Jeremy Denk’s Every Good Boy Does Fine hits the New York Times bestseller list; a beautifully written memoir, and an immersive exploration of classical music—its power, its meanings, and what it can teach us about ourselves.
Watch Jeremy Denk’s interview with John Dickerson on CBS Sunday Morning.
Listen to his interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross.
“This lucid and bittersweet coming-of-age story takes place inside the humdrum world of the studio, where a succession of teachers guide [Denk] to musical maturity through pedagogical bluster, insistence and the odd Delphic aphorism.”
The New York Times
“By turns hilarious, original, and painfully revealing, “Every Good Boy Does Fine” is both an open-hearted coming-of-age story and a meditation on music’s inner secrets…a dizzyingly inventive writer.”
“At its heart, the memoir is about not the growth of the pianist but growth of the person…[Denk] writes with both great emotion and restraint…human imperfection, he concludes, is at the core of artistic perfection.
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“This one-of-a-kind musical autobiography by one of our most brilliant and perceptive classical musicians is part illumination of the essence of the musical discourse and part deeply personal, sometimes painful, sometimes hilarious confession of the long and tortuous road to maturity and mastery of a sublime art. Denk’s teachers, alternately inspiring, exasperating, demanding, adoring, and deploring, are evoked in delicious detail in a book that is as sophisticated as a Bach fugue and as American as Tater Tots and Kmart.”
John Adams, composer
“Among the many virtues of this funny and moving book—its frankness, its generous preservation of wisdom from mentors past, its breathtaking insights about how and why music affects us—one stands out above the rest: It makes me want to practice.”
Conrad Tao, pianist and composer
“Sometimes you read the first paragraph and know you’ll read to the end. They say writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Jeremy Denk’s book reminds us that dancing about architecture sounds sort of great.”
John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead
“Throughout the book come breakthrough moments when Denk’s youthful mind has sudden flashes of insight and awareness on the magical nature of music. He expresses them so beautifully you want to circle the sentence or write it down somewhere.”
“…an elegant, frank and well-structured memoir that entirely resists cliche…
One of the most refreshing things about Denk’s writing is his relaxed approach to the music itself. There is no unnecessary complexity or pretension in the way he writes about Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and the rest. He doesn’t shy away from using musical terminology, but deploys little hand-drawn diagrams and extracts from scores to make it absolutely clear what he is describing. The result is a light, informative tone that will be readable for both diehard classical music fans and complete newcomers alike. It’s a rare feat. Instead of a bibliography, the book has an annotated playlist for anyone curious to listen during or after reading, which is a nice touch.
Perhaps this account’s greatest achievement, though, is that it makes the reader care about Denk beyond his talent for playing the piano. After documenting all the years of determination and pain it took for him to master the great composers, it is for his happiness, rather than his success, that we are rooting.”
In Every Good Boy Does Fine, renowned pianist Jeremy Denk traces an implausible journey. His life is already a little tough as a precocious, temperamental six-year-old piano prodigy in New Jersey, and then a family meltdown forces a move to New Mexico. There, Denk must please a new taskmaster, an embittered but devoted professor, while navigating junior high school. At sixteen he escapes to college in Ohio, only to encounter a bewildering new cast of music teachers, both kind and cruel. After many humiliations and a few triumphs, he ultimately finds his way as a world-touring pianist, a MacArthur “Genius,” and a frequent performer at Carnegie Hall.
Many classical music memoirs focus on famous musicians and professional accomplishments, but this book focuses on the everyday: neighborhood teacher, high school orchestra, local conductor. There are few writers capable of so deeply illuminating the trials of artistic practice—hours of daily repetition, mystifying advice, pressure from parents and teachers. But under all this struggle is a love letter to the act of teaching.
In lively, endlessly imaginative prose, Denk dives deeply into the pieces and composers that have shaped him—Bach, Mozart, and Brahms, among others—and offers lessons on melody, harmony, and rhythm. How do melodies work? Why is harmony such a mystery to most people? Why are teachers so obsessed with the metronome?
In Every Good Boy Does Fine, Denk shares the most meaningful lessons of his life, and tries to repay a debt to his teachers. He also reminds us that we must never stop asking questions about music and its purposes: consolation, an armor against disillusionment, pure pleasure, a diversion, a refuge, and a vehicle for empathy.