Our weekly series where Vol. 1 editors talk about what they’re reading, listening to and watching.
I was lucky enough to scam a galley of Justin Taylor’s forthcoming book and first novel The Gospel of Anarchy a few weeks ago after our Vol. 1 November reading, and I read it in a flash. Yeah yeah yeah, Justin Taylor is a good friend of Vol. 1, but even if he wasn’t I’d still have to say: Damn. Dude can write. We’re going to have a bunch more on Justin’s new book once the publication date gets closer, so I’m not going to give anything away. Let me just say, once again, Damn!
In other sitting-in-my-room-while-it’s-too-cold-to-go-outside news, I just finished reading maybe the most underrated book of 2010—ok, that’s a pretentious thing to say, because duh I haven’t read all the underrated books published this year, obviously. But, my point is, that this book—Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross—is one of the most emotionally taxing, difficult and ultimately rewarding books I’ve read recently. It’s Ross’ first novel, and it is an incredibly risky, daring one at that. It is, fundamentally, a story about the difficult, paradoxical nature of love and devotion, and how the line between love and hate, dependence and entrapment, is so thin it is always on the verge of vanishing altogether. When I went to WORD, my favorite bookstore, to buy a copy of Mr. Peanut, my friend who works there advised me that it is a tricky book, and isn’t for those who aren’t careful readers (I didn’t read it carefully enough; there a shit ton of nuance I almost certainly missed). It is a dense book, surprisingly dense actually: One of those books that you sit down with for hours only to realize you’ve only managed to read 20 pages. But it is engrossing, and haunting, and will stay with you long after you’re through. Mr. Peanut is primarily about David Peppin, a man preoccupied with the idea of killing his wife. It is part murder-mystery, part true-crime, part meditation on the nature of a profound and distinct type of loneliness one can only feel when intimately entwined with another person. It comes out in paperback sometime in the next few months, but this is totally
worth getting in hard-cover, if you’re into buying yourself presents (I did, and I wholly stand by my purchase).
Also, I just dusted off a super old, beaten up copy of The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon only to realize that I totally made up that I had read it before. In fact, I bought it at Green Apple Books in San Francisco in 2003 (according to the withered receipt stuck in between the yellowed pages), but failed to ever open it. Anyway, I did open it over the weekend. And it’s awesome. That’s all.
I spent the last week and a half of 2010 reading Joshua Cohen’s Witz, finishing it a day or two into the new year. Bits of it have worked their way into my brain — certain scenes, certain images — even as other sections frustrated me. (I do share Kyle Minor’s interest in seeing more reviews of it — this is a book that I daresay invites an almost limitless commentary, and deserves to be debated.) Two things that I wasn’t expecting in it: the way that its structure kept circling back to the images and events of its first hundred pages or so, and the degree to which it encompassed the state of New Jersey.
Afterwards, I read Emily St. John Mandel’s The Singer’s Gun. I’d read her earlier Last Night in Montreal last year, and quite liked it — there’s a fractured chronology that ends up paying off beautifully, and a host of damaged characters circling one another, never quite connecting in the ways that they should. The Singer’s Gun is slightly more of a thriller — the protagonist has the ever-so-slightly-archetypal role of the onetime criminal looking to go straight — but its tension arises less from mounting threats (though there are those) than from psychological fraying and betrayals subtle and overt.
Ultimately, this novel is less concerned with blending thrills and explorations of morality than it is with exploring the psychological aftereffects of living on the fringes of the law. It’s less about crime and more concerned with the way that it leaves relationships decimated, people cut off from those around them. And its last few images — of characters alternately isolated and in awkward duets — earn their sting.
And on the evening of January 1st, I went to the Ace Hotel to see Mike McGonigal spin gospel music. It’s an odd and striking thing, sitting in a deeply modern space and observing it being filled by music that’s half a century old.
I felt comfortable declaring Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War by Deb Olin Unferth as one of the books I’m most excited about reading in these early days of 2011 (hint, hint publicist — please send galley). That was solidified after reading an excerpt in The Believer.
I was on vacation last week, so I really didn’t do anything other than read and drink rum. I read Bill Buford’s Among the Thugs and started on (as mentioned yesterday) The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997 by Piers Brendon. I’m not exactly what made me decide to read two books that document the downfall of British culture at the same time, but I guess so be it.
The other night I watched the film Metropolitan by Whit Stillman. I think I’m in love with it, and totally picked up on the influence that people like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Neil Simon, Jean-Luc Godard and Woody Allen had on the film. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Metropolitan influenced guys like Wes Anderson. I’d be curious to know if he’s ever made mention of the fim.
A few years back, Luc Sante had some thoughts on the Metropolitan when it was given the Criterion treatment.
Just Kids has been shockingly good. Like, maybe-this-actually-deserved-the-National-Book-Award-or-failing-that-the-Nickonal-Book-Award-Ha-Ha-Ha-Oh-Man-I-Love-Weak-Puns good. Mapplethorpe as fashion icon cannot be stopped, we can only hope to contain him. I’m genuinely considering going outside in semi-formal vests over half-buttoned peasant shirts. In January. That’s how progressive a fox this guy was.
Finished Pictures at a Revolution. Sidney Poitier remained an awesome non-fiction protagonist, the kind of guy who can’t help but frequently wince at the greed and ignorance of everyone around him.
Thems was the only week’s readin’ I done. Blizzard conditions and minor hangovers made this a movie week. I destroyed it on this front: True Grit and I Love You Phillip Morris in theaters! Both were just kinda okay! Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Another Year, and Certified Copy as “found” contraband, each of them amazing and among the best films of the year! Bill Greaves’ momentous Symbiopsychotaxiplasm (as good a time capsule of its era of New York as I can think of: 1968 Central Park still looks like Central Park, albeit with browner grass) from Netflix! Don Siegel’s take on The Killers, watched mainly for another glimpse of Angie Dickinson, who I fell madly in lust with after Rio Bravo in a way that I do not usually fall for movie people! 101 year old director Manoel de Oliveira’s cinematographic time warp Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl! Plus a crash course en francais from schoolhouse doc To Be and to Have, Chantal Akerman’s La Captive, and Agnes Varda’s ridiculously fun Welles-style pastiche documentary The Gleaners and I! I even got reeled into Goodfellas and True Lies, each for about the eighty-sixth time.
Pretty sure the only music I listened to all week was It’s Too Late to Stop Now, front to back, while getting ready for New Year’s, and the innocuous techno played at one of the parties I went to. That’s crazy.