A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
I started the week off right with reading Rob Harvilla’s review of Lana Del Rey’s album and Jessica Hopper’s Didion-esque deconstruction of the myths and problems that float around the whole LDR discussion. Hopper also tweeted this amazing France Gall video that features an outfit that I think I saw on the kid in Cronenberg’s The Brood, but I’m not entirely sure. That song got stuck in my head for a day or so.
Other people on Twitter led me to the Kazuo Ishiguro interview with The Paris Review, from a 2008 issue, and I impulse-bought Remains of the Day for my e-reader. I haven’t read it before. It goes well with my new obsession with Downton Abbey, a show around which I’m organizing my social and work lives. I’m only on episode 5 of the first series, but to be fair I started only 48-ish hours ago. Bates and Anna’s friendship (don’t tell me anything) reminds me lots of Henry Green’s novel Loving, which I, um, love.
In lieu of forking over the cash for the intriguing print iteration of Triple Canopy, I went back to old issues and found Sheila Heti’s A Logical Love Story (continuing my Heti reading from the previous week) as well as some Diane Williams stories, illustrated for the issue. One of those stories also appears in her new book Vicky Swanky Is A Beauty, which I’ve been thinking about and will be reviewing next week.
And Jeremy Denk wrote a lovely essay, unfortunately behind the subscription wall, for the New Yorker. It’s about recording performance. I think I want to be his best friend.
As with last week, the Tournament of Books shortlist was on my mind. This week, I covered two more: Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder and Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding. Both are expansive, thematically ambitious novels, abounding with conflict while retaining a central group of sympathetic characters. Patchett’s novel — about a researcher who ends up in the jungles of South America following a colleague’s mysterious death — clicked for me a little more; numerous forms of tension run through it, and the resolution manages to feel messy and yet largely satisfying.
The Art of Fielding was also an enjoyable read; Harbach pretty much pulls off the trick of writing a paen to the intellectual life that’s also a satisfying sports narrative. That said, two of the central characters never quite cohere, and the resolution to one other character’s plotline seems much too abrupt. That said, the interplay between the two men who trade off the role of protagonist is fantastic, and the novel largely clicks: an odd fusion of J.F. Powers and Saul Bellow with a baseball diamond at its center.
Next up in the ToB list: Teju Cole’s Open City and Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!. But I’m also hoping to tackle a pair of short novels and a couple of books of cultural criticism (and culture writing in general). More to come as I make my way through them.
I’m partway through reading Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Mr. Fortune for this month’s installment of the WORD Classics Book Group. So far, it’s quite good — and quite cutting in its take on a well-intentioned missionary whose efforts to convert the residents of a small Pacific island do not go well at all.
I received a really nice looking chapbook in the mail from Mile DeCapite called “Creamsicle Blue” (Sparkle Street Books), which was an enjoyable read. It also reminded me to read the New Herring Press chapbooks I got, maybe starting with the Lynne Tillman one. My love for Ms. TIllman grows and grows, and then grows even more when she paraphrases Jonathan Richman to review Gertrude Stein.
After my conversation with Sara Levine the other night at WORD (which Electric Literature kindly wrote up), I plan on looking over the essays of Robert Louis Stevenson, and possibly reading Levine’s Treasure Island!!! for a second time. Levine pretty much sold me on both ideas. She’s a brilliant lady, and if you haven’t read her novel or her book of stories, both are great reads.
Also started thumbing through Bolaño’s Between Parentheses. I figure I can take my time on that one since I’ve got to get back on the P.G. Wodehouse kick I was on a few weeks ago.
The best of the Wipers is on Spotify. I’ve been listening to that waaaaaay too much. You might want to consider doing the same.
Picked up Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia to maintain my Rocky Balboa diet of raw eggs and National Book Award nominees. Even more prestigious: Arabia earned honors on our own Toby Carroll’s shortlist for Best of 2011. It is an onion of a book, or what I as of two minutes ago dub sweater writing: a thread is pulled unravels with surprising length and complexity of structure. A book about a would-be rockstar’s imagined fame, the prose itself feels like something that would grow in a garage, with the pungency of mold spores and the hallucinatory tricks of dim floodlight. It profiles a character who obsessively archives his art without revealing it to others, a trick that felt all too relatable. Memory and its own dirty tricks conquers each of the book’s characters, but what levity the book has comes from that unique joy, prominent in its setting of Los Angeles but found in every U.S. town, of discovering the forgotten and abandoned artist, the loner in retreat long due for appreciation.
Partially in preparing for Valentine’s Day and an upcoming V1 piece on sexy books, I picked up a title from Book Thug Nation’s distinguished “Smut” section. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong came to me by appearing on a recent list of David Foster Wallace’s favorite books. Many consider it a feminist classic, and it further proves another coffin nail in the ideas of Hitchens and Jerry Lewis that women aren’t funny (because, says Hitch, they don’t need to be). Jong’s narrator is often hilarious, and needs to be not only to survive among corrupt peers, but as response to her own corrosion. Her multiple infidelities – dubbed “zipless fucks” and “the restlessness, the hunger, the thump in the gut, the thump in the cunt, the longing to be filled up” – leave the reader, in particularly bookish straight men, with a queasy feeling. They challenge fidelity itself and dare us to ask where true loyalty can be found to one’s partner and one’s self. It is fascinating writing, at once a comedy and absolute horror story, as it taps into those most direct fears of the male ego. It is a book with the potential to leave you cuckolded or liberated, depending on what lessons are retained, and which accurately lets sex permeate all things while acknowledging that it is unique to all other sensations.