Book Review: Turn Around Bright Eyes by Rob Sheffield

Rob Sheffield married young, started graduate school, and had just begun what would become a wonderful writing career. Life was quiet and good. Then his wife died.

Like any grief-stricken twenty-something, he fled to the crowds and energy of Manhattan looking for change. On his journey to a new normal, he found, of all things, karaoke. And a girl. Because there’s always a girl.

Turn Around Bright Eyes is a memoir of overcoming grief and a love letter to the songs that help us take on a new, and at times much needed, identity.

Turn Around Bright Eyes is not what I expected. When I see a story about a young widower who finds his way back to normal through karaoke, I assume there’s going to be a lot of pain.

I assume that singing overplayed songs off-key to a room full of not-drunk-enough strangers is rock bottom. You finally let go, and then you can start to rebuild. Right?

I’m not wrong – there was a lot of pain. But apparently you can’t judge a book by its cover (or even by its cover’s description of it). Still, I’m glad I read Turn Around Bright Eyes.

I didn’t realize how much needed to read it.

I’d read Rob’s On Bowie, which he wrote weeks after David Bowie’s passing. It truly felt like, as Rob says, “… a love letter to David Bowie, a celebration of his life and his music.”

I’d been a Labyrinth + greatest hits Bowie fan most of my life. I still have a decal of the goblin king Jareth on my old MacBook Pro. But after reading On Bowie, I had a new appreciation for the man’s work (especially after his parting farewell of an album, Blackstar – holy cow!).

Turn Around Bright Eyes brought that same kind of appreciation for decades’ worth of magnificent artists (and some notsogreat ones, too). It made me want to sit and listen to music and love and feel and revel in the moment.

I’d missed that feeling.

Sometimes I get so caught in business and other parts of life and forget that feeling. I’m thankful this book reminded me to stop and listen to the lyrics again.

The book’s not all love and loss, though. I laughed out loud several times, and to me, that’s the tell of a good book.

Does it make me physically express anything?

It’s witty, too. If I had a dollar for every lyric he used casually in a sentence I’d be sitting on the dock of the bay for two weeks. The man has an impressive well of references.

Rob and I seem to have a lot in common, too, even though we’re thirty years apart.

He married young. I married young.

His dad’s quiet and reserved. My dad’s quiet and reserved.

He loved Watership Down growing up. My dad tried to get me to read Watership Down for 15 years before I finally did it (should’ve read it sooner – of course).

He came in last in last place in the Cub Scout pinewood derby. I came in last place in the Cub Scout pinewood derby (it was terrible).

And we both have this insatiable love for music.

The only difference is Rob’s been writing for Rolling Stone for 20+ years, and interviewed a lot of these people, whereas as I’ve just been listening to them. It’s a small difference.

Turn Around Bright Eyes is a smooth read. It’s the kind of book I’d take with me on vacation – or to simply escape a stressful Wednesday (which might have been why I started it…).

I’d happily read this story again. And if you love music – or great storytelling – I think you’d be happy to read it, too.


Curious if you’ll agree with my review of Turn Around Bright Eyes? Click here to get your copy.

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