If by anything, this week has been overwhelmed by the Slate Lexicon Valley podcast (Car Talk for word nerds!) and Julia Holter’s latest album, Ekstasis. I blame the weather in New York, which was way more conducive to headphones and walks than coffee and armchairs.
However manic the spring weather has made me, I am reading, too. The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns, predominantly. I’m taking it slowly because it’s so good that I don’t want to miss anything. I re-read bits of Lucky Jim in anticipation of something at Vol. 1 that should be coming up soon. That’s still one of my favorite books of all time, no question. I instantly read anything posted to the Believer tumblr. I followed the Tournament of Books with a keen eye. This Julian Barnes fellow, he’s worth checking out apparently! Geoff Dyer’s appraisal of that novel is still a wonderful read even if you haven’t read The Sense of an Ending. I especially love this:
Now, the delineation of ordinariness is not a peculiarly English preoccupation. The narrator of Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe trilogy leads “the normal applauseless life of us all,” and tells us about it in a “no-frills voice that hopes to uncover simple truth by a straight-on application of the facts.” In Ford’s hands, this becomes an ambitious undertaking that has the sprawling amplitude of a prose continent at its disposal. Across the Atlantic, meanwhile, Barnes’s infolded scrupulousness seems every bit as well adapted to a reduced idea of English fiction, to a habit of reading that appeals (I get it!) and wearies (yeah, I get it!) in equal measure.
Adam Mars-Jones got the Hatchet Job of the Year award instead of Geoff, but that paragraph above is still pretty devastating.
After attending the event covered here on Monday at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, I dug back into some of Joshua Cohen’s reviews, which I think are the most fun and valuable pieces being written on literature right now. Go back and check out his circling of the wagons around Tao Lin’s Richard Yates from about a year and a half ago to see what intellect as a sharp knife looks like: brandished without having to shiv anyone.
The most important pop culture of the week for me has been the album I’ve listened to roughly one dozen times in full: Love is Overtaking Me by Arthur Russell. Not at all topical, it’s a helping of the great man’s leftovers released in 2008. It also might be his best “album”, or at least his most strikingly, unusually joyful: truly perfect music for walking around in an unseasonably warm New York winter. These songs are sardonic, grinning sadness are pitch perfect in the context of Russell’s life: a chorus like “I couldn’t say it to your face/but I won’t be around anymore” cannot help but be heard differently knowing Russell died of AIDS not long after recording it. It is the sound of candor, and the liberating joy of speaking frankly to a variety of intended targets (lovers, family, the city at large). When I am happiest in New York, I personally have a funny habit of closing my eyes and feeling as though it is the early 80s again. Not out of some hazardous compulsion to live in an unearned, unlived nostalgia, but because it is a time of Jonathan Demme movies, Keith Haring paintings, and Russell’s more ambient and orchestral music, works which match how colorful, vibrant, and otherwise gorgeous this place I (we?) live in can be.
Next week: an end to my ignorance of Sam Lipsyte outside of his appearances on Marc Maron’s podcast, having today picked up his 2000 short story collection Venus Drive out of some rare compulsion to read an author’s bibliography in chronological order.
Finally, because continued good work should not go unpunished – go check out Ed Champion’s podcast The Bat Segundo Show if you haven’t already! It’s an established beacon among our crew, but recent highlights (this week’s interview with Adam Wilson on Flatscreen, a staggeringly great talk with Stephen Fry, one of life’s gentle saints) remind us that Champion is an aptly named hero for readers and writers alike: a true blue purveyor of the arts.
Since finishing it, I’ve been recommending James Renner’s The Man From Primrose Lane to nearly everyone I encounter. It’s a locked-room mystery with a series of surreal twists, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. The less you know about it, the better — though I will say that the plot in its entirety reminded me of one of my favorite films of the past ten years (though if I name that film, I’d be giving away a lot.) Alternately, Ron Hogan & Sarah Weinman & Stephanie Anderson all have good things to say about it, and they’re all really smart folks.
It’s been a few weeks since I read Jarret Kobek’s Atta; I’d originally planned to post a longer review, but ultimately I’m not sure that I have much to say about it. Here, Kobek offers fictionalized versions of two real-world figures, and they represent a pair of wholly loathsome protagonists. Kobek’s take on Mohammed Atta is a man overcome by feverish visions and grotesque hatred, yet ultimately carried along by events. His Saddam Hussein is more fascinating: obsessed with Walt Whitman, monstrous, hypocritcal, terrifying even in destitution and desperation.
Also in the “I read this this week” camp: Adam Wilson’s Flatscreen, for an upcoming freelance piece, and Ivy Compton-Burnett’s A House and Its Head, for WORD’s Classics Book Group. I quite enjoyed Wilson’s novel — comparisons to Sam Lipsyte and Martin Amis are warranted, and he’s equally at home with elegant, almost baroque sentences and more terse statements. My feelings on Compton-Burnett’s novel are more mixed; it’s heavy on dialogue and ambiguity, and left me cold in a few places. That said, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s discussion, which I suspect will be illuminating. (I’m still getting my head around Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet, and will have thoughts on it in a future Indexing.) Now, I’m on to Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion. Which, apparently, falls into the “novels numerous smart folks I know have read and loved” camp…
I’ve watched a depressingly low amount of movies this winter. The cold months are usually my time to huddle up and crack open a Netflix envelope or two, but the way things have been as of late, it’s been tough to find time.
Last night I began trying to rectify things, and watched Where Eagles Dare for the first time in my entire life. I’d really only cared about the movie because of the Misfits song that borrowed its name from the 1968 action movie that starred Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. Why I chose this, I don’t exactly know. Maybe watching a movie about a bunch of soldiers killing Nazis in the Bavarian Alps was what I needed to kickstart my movie watching life?
David Remnick on Israel in The New Yorker was probably my favorite piece in this week’s issue. Sadly, Ryan Lizza’s “Life of the Party” piece felt a little dated by the time I read it after Super Tuesday was said and done, and Romney was starting to celebrate.
Finally got to finish reading Adam Levin’s collection, Hot Pink. We’re hosting him in April at PowerHouse Arena, and I’m beyond excited about it. I’m excited because I think Levin is a write of immense talent, and going from a huge book like The Instructions to a collection of short stories is an interesting transition; I thought it was supposed to be the other way around. I’m also excited because Adam Wilson and Karolina Waclawiak are also reading, which makes April 4th an event that I’m extremely excited for.