A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
“She was looking at a record called Anarchy in the U.K. by a group called the Sex Pistols. It was a very ugly cover, but I am quite interested in anarchism because of The Dispossessed.” That’s from Jo Walton’s Among Others, a novel set in 1979 about a young woman named Morwenna attending an English boarding school. She reads voraciously; she expounds at length on the science fiction and fantasy that she’s encountering, and this has the side effect of making me want to revisit the Roger Zelazny and Anne McCaffrey novels that I read in my teens. (It also convinced me to pick up the snazzy new reissue of Alan Garner’s Red Shift.) But it isn’t just a celebration of reading: there’s a story here involving her long-separated parents, each of whom is damaged in their own way; there’s the story of Morwenna coming to terms with the death of her twin sister; there’s the story of how Morwenna seeks out a community. And there’s low-key magic running throughout, sometimes at the fringes, sometimes at the center of everything. It’s a subtle and sometimes — oftentimes — wrenching book, and reading it is an incredibly rewarding experience.
I read the conversation between Laird Hunt and Harry Mathews in latest issue of The Believer, which in turn prompted me to delve into books of theirs that had long been on my to-read shelf. Hunt’s The Paris Stories has a dense, tactile mood throughout, established through rich imagery and connections suddenly made between the seemingly disparate tales it tells. Mathews’s Tlooth is surreal and amusing, and nearly every character (from the narrator on) is hiding layers and selves. The novel’s detour to Venice, in which the narrator writes a scenario for a particularly surreal blue film, never quite clicked in the way that the rest of the book did, but still — it’s energetic and captivating, a riff on certain fictional tropes that nonetheless understands how to make them work while still critiquing them.
Interlocking stories also make up Kate Bernheimer’s Horse, Flower, Bird. The style and layout of the book suggest reimagined folktales, but the scenarios range from surreal to kitchen-sink realistic to, well, fable-esque. Come to think of it, J.A. Tyler’s novella Inconcievable Wilson might fall into this category as well, with several sections that only link up at the end, where a mood of metafictional menace finally boils over. Might I also direct you to John Madera’s take on it? Also read this week: Chiara Barzini’s collection Sister Stop Breathing, which I’ll have a review of soon enough.
Now, buoyed by the recent New Yorker essay on the man’s books, and a friend’s recommendation of one particular novel, I’ve started Georges Simenon’s Dirty Snow – appropriate, given what I’ll be walking through after I leave the apartment.
I think Ray Bradbury wants to be in my life. First Maud Newton mentions the sci-fi writer’s 1974 letter arguing that robots could be employed as teachers in her post for this week’s New York Times Magazine. Then I doze off on my couch last night in the middle of a Twilight Zone block, only to wake up to the Bradbury penned episode (based off his short story of the same name), “I Sing the Body Electric.”
I continued my P.G. Wodehouse marathon. This week it was Joy in the Morning, next I’ll read more of the Jeeves’ short stories, and from there, maybe the golf stuff? I don’t know, but I appreciate all the suggestions I’ve been getting.
Also cracked open The Uninnocent by Bradford Morrow, which is ridiculously good, but I’m only three stories in. I’ve got several zines on my desk that I’d like to read this week, and two reviews to write. Hopefully I’ll get to crack open some Bradbury sooner than later.
Been listening to Electronic. Not sure why I didn’t give the Johnny Marr/Bernard Sumner “supergroup” a chance before, but if you’re on Spotify, I’d suggest you listen to it for yourself.
And finally: the impressive mating habits of bowerbirds.
I’m reading Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean, and I’m surprised by how taken I am with a story about a sixty-something year old forest fire. It has to be the guy’s writing. Maclean’s prose gives the sense that he knows a lot and he’s telling you everything he knows, in dense paragraphs explaining lingo and regional culture. I like his shorter paragraphs too, the way they summarize plainly and wryly. Like this one about the shift in tactics for fighting fire:
So history went from trails and walking and pack mules to roads and trucks up every gulch to four-wheel drives where there weren’t any roads to planes and now to helicopters, which can go about anywhere and do anything when they get there or on the way. The Smokejumpers are a large part of this history. Graphs prove it.
Graphs prove it! Why didn’t I ever write that in my college papers?
Mudd Up! with DJ/Rupture, one of my favorite radio shows on my favorite radio station, had a special episode this week with guest DJ Brian Degraw from Gang Gang Dance. Eye Contact was one of those albums I kept revisiting last year because it felt like I hadn’t listened to it enough, even though my play count suggested otherwise, and the Mudd Up set was equally wonderful. Throat singing, tinny afro-beats, dirty southern rap, children’s lullabies, cats meowing — my kind of DJ.
It’s a weekend of bloodsport: Mitt Romney is going from richest guy on your block nervously making a toast at his barbeque while reprimanding other people’s kids to being potentially on the ropes. Meanwhile the NFL tomorrow determines whether America’s actual birthday will be a clash between snob meccas a) New York and Boston, b) burnout holding tank San Francisco, c) the House That Poe and Stringer Bell Built, or some combo therein.
“Sex” – Crushing hard on Iranian heartthrob Golshifteh Farahani smashes this week in half by starring in the ridiculously great A Separation (see it at Film Forum!) and destroying a nude photo shoot that has all the world akimbo. Truly, this Golshifteh has shifted all my life’s goals.
“Drugs” – In keeping with these adrenaline filled days, mine is an Indexing running on high-octane gusto. It was a good week for old-timey jazz drugs like (benezdrine, morphine, pork pie hats) as I spent the first half of the week reading Burroughs’ The Soft Machine after finding a copy of it abandoned on a gas station pump (how debaucherous!), and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (for an upcoming V1 piece) in a Barnes and Noble that lacked the gas station’s charm. I piled on by listening to benz guzzler Charlie Parker while writing, and finally listening to some of Lenny Bruce’s comedy. Verdict: it’s okay, but hasn’t aged well! I prefer Dustin Hoffman playing Bruce dubbed into Italian.
Rock” and “Roll” “Music” – I covered the great genre of drug jazz (the only tolerable jazz?) already, but this year’s V1-infiltrated Pazz and Jop got me listening to things I’d previously missed, namely Danny Brown’s nasally, relentless end-of-the-party melancholy on his long player XXX, the accordion-heavy outer space transmission of Shabazz Palaces’ Black Up, and Ravedeath, 1972 – Tim Hecker’s on-point fistful of drone (a genre I can usually take or leave). If you manage to get through the thousands of recommended record on the Voice’s list, you can make your way to the mighty musician/critic/thought mogul Max Tremblay’s blog The Warmest Room, where this week he began a year in review to end all years and reviews.
There was also the Andrew Sullivan piece on Obama that everyone’s already read or read about. I liked it, and it had the rah-rah “we got this on lock” vibe that we need in counting down to November. Still I can’t help but feel like Newsweek is slowly turning into that key party in The Ice Storm. Just a weird vibe of older writers hungrily roaming the room while drunk Tina Brown seductively twirls a speared Martini olive before giving Jon Meachum a pity-grope. Enjoy your freezing cold debauchery, Brooklyn!