A roundup of things consumed by our editors.
Once again, the longest book I read last week — Tim Kinsella’s The Karaoke Artist’s Guide to Self-Defense — was read with an eye towards reviewing it here. That review should appear before too long, though I’m still in the middle of mentally aligning the novel’s subtly fractured segments and figuring out what I make of its denouement. Based on Nick Antosca’s praise for the novel in question, I read Todd Grimson’s Brand New Cherry Flavor and found it to be both ambitious and pulpy, with surrealism abounding. As it’s a novel set in the world of filmmaking, it should probably come as no surprise that David Lynch is mentioned, and references to Maya Deren and Werner Herzog’s work with Klaus Kinski seem to dwell just below the surface. It’s the sort of novel that enjoys its allusions to both Gravity’s Rainbow and A Nightmare on Elm Street — and folds them into the body of a southern California noir.
Continuing the dreamlike mood, I proceeded to Manuela Draeger’s In the Time of the Blue Ball, which collects a trio of surrealist all-ages stories. In them, detective tropes are rendered absurd by their placement in a world that hasn’t entirely formed. It’s very weird (in the best way), and quite charming. From there, I’ve moved on to Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet. Which, in turn, I saw referenced in James Wood’s review of Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station, which I finished last week. Serendipity? Maybe. (Speaking of literary criticism, I was also quite impressed with both Ben Marcus’s essay on Raymond Roussel and Robert Macfarlane’s exploration of Bruce Chatwin and Patrick Leigh Fermor, each of which appears in the latest issue of Harper’s.)
For now, I’m looking forward to a quiet weekend which should involve watching the marathon and finishing Victoria Nelson’s Believer essay on Vladimir Sorokin.
In recent weeks, print periodicals have been kung fu fighting their ice cap melting process with a lot of superb pieces. Harper’s is one that I read primarily when it’s abandoned at train stations, but like Toby I really enjoyed Marcus on Roussel. That same issue has Larry McMurtry on the wistful, whimsical life of Coco Chanel: like bourbon chicken, it’s a pairing of France and the American South full of rich smoke.
Big, filthy, pleasure reading of the week was technically not a read, but a listen: the sisters and sons of a gun at Drag City finally got me to listen to an audiobook in full. It took Will Oldham reading Slow Fade, Rudy Wurlitzer’s long out-of-print 1984 whirling dervish, about a Ford/Hawks/Peckinpah style director of Westerns brawling with studio heads and trying to make peace with his estranged kids and surrogate children. Like Godard’s Contempt played out in Monument Valley. Screenwriting vet Wurlitzer has an ambitious auteur’s maximalist view, setting his scenes all over the world: the scope of the story is dizzying but never overwrought. Oldham’s recitation at times strays into a muted warble during the story’s less dynamic passages, but this is a story he clearly enjoys telling, and at its best we hear Oldham channel his stoned philosopher prince of Old Joy, his wide eyed truth teller of Matewan, and the exuberant yelper of Viva Last Blues.
It’s enough to make you wish the film industry hadn’t spit Wurlitzer out. Especially when ambiguity masks fallacy in work like Martha Marcy May Marlene, viewed this week at the Angelika. Whereas Wurlitzer is uber-condensed in its information, velocity, and memory, a new generation of filmmakers are content to shoot a topless Anthropologie catalog and hint at something dark and disturbed without showing their math or offering reasons to care. Hallelujah for two antidotes in theaters now: Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In and Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre. These doses of vivid, delicious weirdness from sage vets have the feel of Dutch masters at work, or late Caravaggio: approaching old age, these freaks are more in touch with the human heart than ever, tugging at our heartstrings with vibrant colors, characters that are at once unique and archetypical, and dual passions of wild sex and loyal marriage.
I’m a little blown away by the large amount of great music books that have come out in 2011. Whether they be on the fiction side like Caryn Rose’s B-Sides and Broken Hearts, or the biographical one with books like Marc Spitz’s Jagger: Rebel, Rock Star, Rambler, Rogue, I’ve read almost one good book on rock ‘n roll every month of the calendar year.
This week I finished two more. The first was the massive oral history I Want My MTV, to Will Hermes’ amazing Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever. From New Year’s Day 1973 to New Year’s Eve 1977, Hermes covers everybody from the New York Dolls to Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson, and Latin jazz. It’s an exhaustively researched book, and I do believe it is my favorite music book of 2011.