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Master of Reality

(33⅓ #56)

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  1,608 ratings  ·  249 reviews
John Darnielle hears [Black Sabbath's Master of Reality] through the ears of Roger Painter, a young adult locked in a southern California adolescent psychiatric center in 1985; deprived of his Walkman and hungry for comfort, he explains Black Sabbath as one might describe air to a fish, or love to an android, hoping to convince his captors to give him back his tapes.
Paperback, 101 pages
Published April 15th 2008 by Continuum (first published January 1st 2008)
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Average rating 4.09  · 
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 ·  1,608 ratings  ·  249 reviews

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Oct 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: realizing masterful realism realistically
Recommended to Mariel by: master(bater) of reality
Master of Reality by John Darnielle (of The Mountain Goats, whom happen to be one of my favorites but that's neither here nor there) is part of the 33 1/3 music series which highlight seminal music works, written by connected people (or just big names. The Sonic Youth chick doubtfully had part in making David Bowie's Low). This is a story so it is much more enlightening musical experience like going to a concert and feeling good vibes (good meaning anything that matters, not necessarily happy or ...more
mayfly wake
Apr 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book absolutely devastated me. I was sobbing pretty much the entire time, and a book hasn't done that to me since the end of Where The Red Fern Grows when I was 9 years old. I don't want to give any plot details away in case you read it. But I have to tell you something, so you do buy it and read it and so John gets the money he deserves for this, and so I can get these feelings out somewhere. Even though it's a book about an album by a band I barely know any songs by, it is far more than t ...more
Jonathan Ashleigh
Oct 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
For what this was, it was a great read. I can't imagine any other 33 1/3 book came close to this as a narrative as the goal was describing an album. But, if you want to read a journal of a young troubled teen, I encourage you to check out The Sorrows of Young Mike. It may not involve a medical ward, but it goes to dark places just the same. ...more
Feb 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2008, music
A few things to know:

1. In the 33 1/3 series, published by Continuum, assorted writers, critics, rockers, and others write about various "classic" albums--older classics like The Velvet Underground and Nico, newer classics like In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Sometimes these small books are works of fiction inspired by the albums, or track-by-track examinations of the music or lyrics, or obsessive explorations of the mythology behind the band and/or the nature of musical fandom.

2. John Darnielle
Aug 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
I think the strongest testimony I can give for this book is that I've never had any interest in listening to Black Sabbath before, but this book made me desperate to listen to Master of Reality immediately.

An unusual entry in the 33 1/3 series, which are usually nonfiction essays about specific albums, John Darnielle's book is a young-adult novel told via letters from a teenage patient in a psychiatric hospital to one of the staff members there. He's been instructed to keep a journal, but the st
Apr 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Black Sabbath fans, Mountain Goats fans, anyone who didn't fit in as a teenager
Recommended to Drew by:
I've read a bunch of the 33 1/3 series over the last couple of years, and I've enjoyed all of them to varying degrees, though some more than others. This book, though, may be better than all of the ones I've read before. It's only about 100 pages long, so really more of a novella than a proper book, but it manages to combine the more character driven fiction/memoir elements of some books in the series with the straight up detailed reviewing of others, and in so doing, become superior to both app ...more
Nora Dillonovich
Apr 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Nora by: Jonathan Neal
I have an impulse disorder. And there is a strong possibility my "average joe" OCD is not so average, but more like the bizarre and skittish neighbor who riffles through your trash at night. Anyway. Once I heard more about this book- I had to have it. I slept a fitful night, awoke sore and impossibly crooked, and knew that before Saturday was over I would have this book in my possession. I succeeded- if you call continuing to indulge my disordered habits success. Now, I read.

Lesson learned: Let
Jul 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this fictional spin on the 33 1/3 series. One of my pet peeves as a reader is fiction about music. I find more times than not it rings inauthentic. (yes, that has a ring). Clearly Darnielle (as a member of the band Mountain Goats) knows of what he speaks when it comes to music and being a fan of music, and this explains/recreates/captures what's its like to be a teenage fan and then a not-so-teenage fan of metal or dark music more than any other work of fiction I've read.
Jun 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm a huge fan of the album Master of Reality, so this book was a no-brainer. The fact that the author is also the mastermind behind The Mountain Goats made it a no-no-brainer. The fact that, unlike other books in the 33 1/3 series, this is a work of fiction where the main character is a disturbed youth in a mental facility who is obsessed with the album made it a no-no-NO-brainer for me. I found the book to be a completely original take on an already interesting series of books about specific a ...more
Constance Squires
Oct 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I read this in one sitting. This book nails it--the great, ineffable quality of music that is so hard to write about without abstraction or sentimentality. This book gets it down. From the opening sentence: "Fuck You All Go to Hell," Roger Painter's voice in this epistolary novel is immediately alive, raw, real, and reaching. Roger talks about his own sad life around the edges of trying to explain the genius of Black Sabbath's Master of Reality to his counselor in an adolsescent psych ward, and ...more
Andrew Horton
John Darnielle's 33 1/3 entry is the greatest YA epistolary novel I've ever read - it's head and shoulders above classics of the subgenre like "Dear Mr. Henshaw" and even "I am the cheese." It's a shame that the vast majority of readers and purveyors of YA won't even hear about it or give it a shot, as it's presented as a 33 1/3 entry (bite-sized books dedicated to covering classic albums) rather than a mere novel or even YA-marketed effort. But that doesn't change how ridiculously immersive, af ...more
Mar 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I have to say, it's quite an odd experience to see John Darnielle describing someone else's music the way I would describe his.

This book is great, and perfectly captures being an angry, messed up teenager. The first part of the book is surprisingly quite funny, and the second part is devastatingly real. John Darnielle's brilliant way with words definitely comes across in his writing as well as his music, and the whole thing is very poignant, despite being very short. Don't be put off by the tack
Aug 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Leave it to John Darnielle to subvert a series of masturbatory works of music criticism by instead writing a novella from the point of view of a suicidal teenager obsessed with a Black Sabbath album. If you are a fan of Darnielle's writing in the Mountain Goats, you will like this. If you like this, you will probably like the Mountain Goats.
Bud Smith
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
This sums up the isolation and young awe of exactly what it was like when you were a teenager and music was personal (even though it was released on a major label and a million other people had the tape)
Dec 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fellow aliens wearing human skin to fit in
I opened up my eyes, and I wondered whether my younger self was actually somebody who's still inside me at all--maybe the person who wakes up sometimes isn't really like the younger person at all. Maybe that younger person died when he became this older person, and now when I think I'm feeling his emotions and sharing his rage, I'm really just mourning his death. If that's true, I don't know how I can stand it. I'm 26, but I'm not ready for my 16-year-old self to be dead.

I think hardly anybody i
Feb 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book goes by in a flash. I'm admittedly not a Black Sabbath fan, but I've adored John Darnielle's music and, shockingly more so, his writing. Universal Harvester absolutely blew me away and I've been dying to return to the lyricism and emotional gravity of his writing ever since. Master of Reality .. sneaks up on you. The protagonist is so clearly angry, so intensely young, but almost instantly I wanted to protect him- the way, I think, you want to hug someone when they're hurting and know ...more
Big Al
Sep 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, music-related
You don’t necessarily have to be into Sabbath to appreciate this slim but powerful exploration of their album Master of Reality, as I believe this narrative could be of interest to anyone who passionately believes in the importance of music (especially for those enduring their turbulent adolescent years). While most books in the 33 ½ series read more like long-form essays that firmly belong in the non-fiction genre, Darnielle writes his volume as journal entries written by a troubled teenager wh ...more
Sep 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I haven't written a review here before, but I felt the need to state that this is probably my favorite book about records and what they can do to you. Not my favorite book about music. Not my favorite book about an individual album. Nor is it my favorite book that attempts to analyze what makes a record important or worthy of a book. But this is probably what I would give to someone who would whip out the old saw that writing about music is like dancing about architecture: this book creates a co ...more
Sep 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Master of Reality is a great read. Think of it as Holden Caulfield via 1985. John Darnielle gives an in depth review of Black Sabbaths Master of Reality album in the guise of a committed youth in a mental asylum. Part social commentary and part love letter to the album, this epistolary piece works as a mysteriously uplifting message against a depressing back ground. ...more
Matt Suder
Jul 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2017
JD does it again with a nice little novella re: mental illness, teen angst and how we can grow through self reflection. Great journey through the realities of Sabbath and the reasons music is a force for good.
A novella abot a young adult getting wrecked by the mental institutions system in the 1980ies and also very intense expanded liner notes on one of the best heavy rock albums of all time. A small and dark purple gem.
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Yeah, fuck you, Gary!
Melanie Ullrich
Aug 28, 2019 rated it liked it
3 1/2 stars.
Reads like one of the kids from "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" trying to be deep.
Dec 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music
Roger reminds me of my token Black Sabbath obsessive friend, so I guess you could say this book is pitch-perfect.
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
Darnielle decides to tackle this 33 1/3 from the perspective of a teen committed to a psych ward, who keeps a diary, and then revisits the diary a decade later. For me, it doesn't really work, and maybe because I don't have an attachment to this album to begin, I completely missed the point.
Danny Gibson
Jul 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
NoI really wish I could have back the formative hours spent reading pop music critics. Lester Bangs, Christgau, then eventually Pitchfork... I mean I know the music criticism industry probably pointed me to artists I wouldn't have heard otherwise, and I do like learning artist history, but the idea of distilling the music down to a score or hierarchy has just bummed me out. And then the follow up meta analysis of other critics (usually very similar) scores just meta-bums-me-out.

Anyway, this inst
Feb 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
Well, this is an odd book. If you're not familiar with 33⅓, it's a series of books written by music critics about albums in the same way that literary critics write about literature. I've known of it for a while, and I've even known that John Darnielle wrote this one, but I didn't think anything of it because I figured I wasn't interested in reading what some dude thought about Black Sabbath, even if he wrote Wolf in White Van. What I didn't realize is this isn't a nonfictional piece.

Darnielle w
Jan 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
For those who are not familiar with it, 33 1/3 is a series of short books published by Continuum. Each book focuses on a different rock album. The subject of this book is, you guessed it, Black Sabbath's classic "Master of Reality."

I haven't read any of the other 33 1/3 books but, from what I've read about them, most take the form of either critical essays or rock journalism on the making of the record in question. John Darnielle, who is himself a musician being the singer, songwriter and princi
Jun 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Perhaps above all this is a book about what it means to take a record deep into your soul and make it a part of you. When I was in middle school, I did some forgotten dumb thing and got myself grounded. My mom shut me up in my room for a week with my Yorx clock radio/cassette player and all my tapes and we both pretended like it was punishment. During that week, I ingested Metallica's Master of Puppets, which I had just scored through the Columbia House eleven-for-a-penny deal. It became so much ...more
May 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to lauren by: sabbath fans, mountain goats fans, fans of life in general
Shelves: fiction, non-fiction
"...Black Sabbath is not just Ozzy, it is also Bill Ward and Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, anybody who says Sabbath without Ozzy can't rock needs to listen to Born Again and quit being a dick! Some of the guitar solos on it are awesome."

John Darnielle's extended essay on Black Sabbath's "Master of Reality," exhibited as the fictionalized diary of a kid named Roger unwittingly and unwillingly admitted to a mental facility, reads a bit like Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," and
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John Darnielle (/dɑrˈniːl/, born March 16, 1967) is an American musician, best known as the primary (and often solitary) member of the American band the Mountain Goats, for which he is the writer, composer, guitarist, pianist and vocalist.

Source: Wikipedia.

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