The greatest enemy of print publishing might not be digital media or the widespread expectation that reading material be free. It might be the human body. A lot of people can’t stay awake while reading, including myself. While it feels good to have company, it’s not a club I want membership in. I want to read. My eyes just get so heavy at night.

On the couch, the street quiet outside and neighboring houses dark, it’s such a pleasure to curl up with a good book, as they say. Then a page or two in, the problems begin. The slumping. The nodding. Realizing you just blurred through a paragraph and can’t remember any of it, or worse, that you reread the same sentence ten or so times and still couldn’t get through it. You’re asleep! Go to bed! Just accept it and crawl under the covers with your partner already! Why resist? Because you want to read goddamit, that’s why. This was supposed to be your time. Booktime, not bedtime. You aren’t giving in so easily.

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In honor of National Taco Day, I wrote about what Del Taco meant to me as an Arizona kid obsessed with California but land-locked in Phoenix, at The Smart Set. Here’s how the essay “Cheddar Suns Rising Over Lettuce Mountains” begins:


The day my friend Rich bought a Del Taco T-shirt from an employee was the day I realized that my fixation with the fast food Mexican chain was about more than beans. Back then, in 1993, I was an 18-year-old Arizonan obsessed with California beach culture. I owned a boogie board that I used one week a year. I wore vintage Hang Ten and Hobie surf tees that I found at Phoenix thrift stores. I favored Van’s and cutoffs, and I rode a late ’60s red and white Schwinn beach cruiser whose sleek beauty and tall white walls had strangers yelling “Hey, Pee Wee Herman!” at me on the street. If the southern California coast was the center of my landlocked universe, then Del Taco was a bright star in my sky. What did I know? Fresh out of high school and uncertain about the future, I was searching for an identity. All I knew for certain was that I wanted to live on the beach.

You can read the rest of “Cheddar Suns Rising Over Lettuce Mountains” here.



My collection of jazz essays finally published, and I’m excited for you to read it. It’s an ebook called This Is and includes essays about the talent and tragedy of saxophonist Hank Mobley, the untold story of lost pianist Jutta Hipp, the creative influence of drugs and sobriety as seen through the film The Connection, the on-stage murder of trumpeter Lee Morgan, a close listen to Mile’s Davis’ song “So What” across ten years of its evolution, the scores of unreleased music in the Blue Note vault, as well as other stories of joy, genius and struggle. I designed the cover from William Gottlieb’s archival photographs, and Publishing Genius’ Adam Robinson generously did the layout.

You can buy it here, online.

Cover, final, jpg

Here’s what a few of my favorite writers said about it:

“The richness of the eight essays in Aaron Gilbreath’s This Is is a fitting tribute to the richness of jazz itself. Gilbreath weaves unique insight with a profound understanding of the history of jazz. His crisp prose and diverse range make you want to turn the page and run to the record store in equal measure.” -Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist

“Aaron Gilbreath’s writing about jazz is as friendly and welcoming as any you’ll find.” -Luc Sante, author of Low Life and Kill All Your Darlings

“Aaron Gilbreath writes about Jutta Hipp and Miles Davis and Lee Morgan and Jackie McLean and others long gone with curiosity: he lines up the questionable historical record with what’s knowable and provable, and finds out where the lessons are.” –New York Times jazz and pop critic Ben Ratliff, author of Coltrane: The Story of a Sound and The Jazz Ear: Conversations over Music

“Aaron Gilbreath is an outstanding jazz writer, with a deep appreciation for the music’s tradition and an engaging prose style.” -Ted Gioia, author of The History of Jazz and Delta Blues

“In these vivid, affectionate essays, Aaron Gilbreath moves in pure and distinct prose among stories and histories, moments and decades, mystery and clarity. His account of Jutta Hipp is one of the finest pieces I’ve read on the forgotten fringes of the music industry. This Is is an essential read for anyone who loves mid-century jazz culture and wonders about the dynamics of expression.” -Joe Bonomo author of Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band and Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost and Found



I hope you dig the book!


We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in specific categories. Here, the best in arts and culture writing.

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Shannon Proudfoot
Senior writer with Sportsnet magazine

The Late, Great Stephen Colbert (Joel Lovell, GQ)

Stephen Colbert has pulled off the rare feat of being a public figure for the better part of a decade while keeping his true self almost entirely obscured behind a braying façade. Here, with such uncommon intelligence, sensitivity and nuance, Joel Lovell shows us who’s been under there the whole time. The writer is very present in the story, sifting through the meaning of what he finds and tugging us along behind him through reporting and writing that starts out rollicking and then turns surprisingly raw and emotional. But Lovell never gets in his own way or turns self-indulgent; that’s a tough thing to…

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Illustration by Alex Testere

Illustration by Alex Testere

With an average of seven to ten stories filled with clothes, electronics, stationery and kitchen gear, the depato (デパート) are living shrines to Japan’s expert craftsmanship and willingness to pay for luxury goods. Large Japanese train stations usually house at least one department store, because train companies cleverly built their own stores to turn commuters into customers. The Odakyu, Seibu, and Keio stores bear the names of their parent rail lines. Outside the stations, well-respected stores such as Takashimaya, Mitsukoshi, and Isetan offer housewares and cutting-edge fashion, each with subterranean food halls. America has department stores, but not like this. Some of the world’s finest food is housed under Tokyo’s streets.

Read the rest here at Saveur.

Monkey_Business_Issue_4_Cover_FINAL (1)-1

In the Japanese literary magazine Monkey Business, author Denis Johnson wrote a short piece about growing up in Tokyo. when his father worked for the State Department. Johnson rarely writes about his personal life, so readers will appreciate this insight into the way his childhood shaped his writing:

I’m sure there were many aspects of those early years in Japan that still work themselves out in my writing, but what comes to mind most immediately is the impact I felt from studying the images on Menko cards and on the posters for Japanese films and for Kabuki–the wild, grotesque images of monsters and dramatic figures.

I truly believe that behind the human characters in my work, or within them, is a soul that looks like the Japanese ghosts and monsters that frightened me when I was a child. On days when I stayed late at school on the Washington Heights United States military base, I went home on the local bus that stopped about five blocks from the compound where we lived in Roppongi. I dreaded the experience, because I’d step down from the bus a little after dark, and I’d be forced to walk past a couple phone poles on my way, to which movie posters were affixed. As I approached the posters I’d avert my eyes, but I could never resist–I would turn my gaze on the monsters and let them scare me to the point of trembling.

The funny thing is that when my parents took me to see Kabuki a couple of times, the show wasn’t nearly as scary as the posters were. I felt that, too, when I finally got up the courage to go see one of the movies. I went by myself, and I didn’t expect to survive the experience, I believed I’d be friend to the point of heart failure. But in fact, the images on the screen didn’t flow with gore, and there weren’t a lot of people wandering around headless–nothing so scary as the advertisements….

Denis Johnson

Singer Kelis, left to right, Little Richard (Richard Penniman; American rapper the Notorious B.I.G. aka Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls; American singer and actor Elvis Presley.

Singer Kelis, left to right, Little Richard (Richard Penniman; American rapper the Notorious B.I.G. aka Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls; American singer and actor Elvis Presley.

Slate republished my list of the 50 best songs about sweets and desserts, which I originally wrote for massive, 920-page The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets as their musical companion. I’m thrilled more people can find it. You can read the full piece here.