A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
I’m heading to Europe this weekend to spend a week and change in Paris and Vienna. To prepare, I assembled a massive stack of books set in and around the cities in question, though in the end, I only got to a pair due to freelance obligations. (Which really just means that I’ll have a giant pile of books whose geography will make far more sense to me upon my return.) The two that I did read couldn’t be further apart in tone, though. Rosecrans Baldwin’s Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down is a smart, wry account of the time Baldwin and his wife spent living in Paris. Reading it made me laugh out loud several times, both from the linguistic confusion that he conveys to some of the more surreal aspects of Parisian office politics. Elfriede Jelinek’s The Piano Teacher reminded me more than a little of the work of Hubert Selby, Jr.: flawed characters colliding, begetting misery and horror, all written about in prose so solid it’s hard to resist. Certain scenes from Jelinek’s novel made me cringe, which was precisely the point
Also in there: Jonathan Lethem’s book on Talking Heads’ Fear of Music (which we reviewed), which is as illuminating about Lethem’s theories of pop music as a take on the album in question. And I’ll be keeping the nonfiction flag flying in the days to come, as I finally begin Rebecca West’s mammoth Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. For a take on why this book matters, might I point you in the direction of the esteemed Geoff Dyer? Updates on travel reading will be forthcoming…
I’m up in the mountains as I type this. I read faster when I’m up here, possibly due to the quality of air, maybe because I don’t hear drunk people yelling random shit outside my apartment. Either way I finished Karolina Waclawiak’s How to get Into the Twin Palms in about one sitting. I’m friends with Ms. Waclawiak, so I fear that any praise might come off nepotism, so I’ll just say this: I used to love novels about the new Eastern European immigrant experience, and then I didn’t. I’m not totally sure why, but it might have had something to do with me thinking people couldn’t do it as well as Shteyngart, Anya Ulinich or David Bezmozgis — or something dumb like that. Point is, Waclawiak has totally revived my faith in fiction written by Americans who once called the Soviet Bloc home. Next up is A Hologram for the King. It’s strange to me that I never go into an Eggers book with any expectations, but then I usually find myself really happy with the outcome. Maybe it’s because the book looks like something I had to read in bar mitzvah class as a kid, but I’m pretty psyched to crack the book open and see what’s inside.
This week I was really excited to see what Jim Nelson at GQ eats, drank a bunch of ROOT that as created by the great folks at Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, and listened to a whole lot of Live at Leeds, live Slim Harpo, and the new Wild Nothing album. I’ve also been loving the Sam Shepard parody (?) Twitter account, @CowboyMouthFun.
This week marked a momentous occasion in my Brooklyn volumizing: I went and got me a New York Public Library card. In my inaugural run I made certain to take out some smarty-pants titles – often kinda dirty ones – to throw off the hounds: The Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre. James’ Varieties of Religious Experience. Ageyev’s Novel with Cocaine. The Collected Poems of George Bataille. But the one I’ve dug furthest into by far – the smack o’ the stack if you will – is Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask. Not merely because it’s due back a week earlier than the others, but because it is thus far a mind blowing read.
Miles ahead of Lipsyte’s already staggering Venus Drive collection of shorts, The Ask is more than any book I’ve read in ages full of multiple lines and crafted scenes that have me thinking that I have been in protagonist Milo Burke’s shoes before: I have thought of this very turn of phrase, and been to the doughnut shops and arts endowment offices he haunts. Much has been made of Lipsyte as stylist first, but I’ve been downright gob-smacked by the sense of character, and of a pretty well-depicted New York. I keep coming away from each chapter thinking the same thing: that I’d forgotten you were allowed to tell the truth in fiction, and that this book, gorgeously detailed warts and all, is the everloving truth.
I finished Are You My Mother by Alison Bechdel on Monday. Of course, this week I also read the usual non-fiction stories-of-the-moment that accompany anyone’s book learnin’, but Are You My Mother easily overshadowed all the bits and pieces of shared Internet. As a book about mothers and daughters, it’s a real achievement and a big, old mess at the same time. I say “old” because Bechdel deals in ideas that have been with her for a while, since she was a child, and that amount of obsession endears me to her tremendously. I also say “old” because, like she did in her previous book, Bechdel knows literature’s relatively recent past inside and out. “You’ve heard this one before,” she seems to be saying when she weaves passages from To The Lighthouse into her narrative of writing her book, the one you’re holding in your hands. Unlike Fun Home though, this mirror image of her past is more difficult for Bechdel to grasp immediately. Fun Home was in large part about her evolving sexual identity in conjunction with her father’s unraveling one, a device that was touching and convenient, but Are You My Mother confronts the cohesion that death and shared secrets bring to a story with the problem of writing about people who are still alive and frustratingly elusive. It’s an old trope by now, the one about how graphic novels are an exhilarating way to talk about memory and how we tell our own stories, but it’s still an applicable one here.
The results are in: the Internet is the worst! I can say that after having read two competing tomes about the web’s ability to foment or crush social uprisings: Rebecca MacKinnon’s Consent of the Networked (“Woohoo! All kinds of folks are tryin’ to tweet off their shackles!”) and Evgeny Morozov’s The Net Delusion (“Booooo! Dictatorships know how to fill your network with garbage and fascism!”). They’re both irritating in that special way that nonfiction books about the impact of the Internet are. Y’know, with each chapter reading a bit like a TED Talk or a New Yorker article and with a lot of op-ed-like rah-rah cheerleading or ominous doomsaying. But Morozov does a much more convincing job of saying there’s nothing inherently liberating about the little network that is allowing you to read this Indexing column. After all, if you have a Facebook profile, it’s that much easier for the bogeymen to come and find you, right?
I also continued my comiXology addiction this week by exploiting a sale on the works of Grant Morrison. It prompted me to finally read his famed Seaguy and Seaguy: The Slaves of Mickey Eye duology. Highly recommended to anyone and everyone, regardless of your affections toward comics. Brilliant postmodern worldbuilding combined with genuine emotional weight. To put it simply, you’ll weep at the death of a flying anthropomorphic fish named Chubby.
My reading habits tend to fall into a pattern of sorts, one that’s most influenced by whatever I’m working on. It generally goes like this: one new book of new fiction, one piece of fiction I’ve already read (deemed my revisit-for-inspirational-purposes-book) and finally some kind of instructional book, How To Be Better At Life, How to Smell better, Etc.
Having just powered through the second season of The Walking Dead, I was relieved when the galley of JR Angelella’s Zombie found its way to my desk. Only a little ways in, my impression is something of an I Love You Beth Cooper-style zombie book, like a zombie film imagined by John Hughes with a dark side. So, that accounts for new fiction. My revisit-for-inspirational-purposes book comes from an author who has now officially joined the ranks of Dennis Cooper and Sam Lipsyte, in the elusive and un-crowded echelon of my favorite living authors. I originally reviewed Damascus here, but I’m finding upon re-reading that I hardly scratched the surface of what’s so beautiful and unique about this novel. Finally, I’m reading Ellen Sandler’s The TV Writer’s Workbook, as I’ve been flirting with the idea of writing a spec script (for about a decade now.)
Having driven up to Lake Placid last weekend, I discovered some excellent new music, but here are my major recommendations. While that “We Are oung” song that’s on the radio constantly is nearly insufferable, Fun.’s Some Nights” album has a few impossibly catchy anthems on it. Next, there’s renowned fire flame grill chef/rapper Action Bronson’s “Blue Chips” record with Party Supplies, which gets my vote for best hip hop record to come out this year. Hearing this guy rap about his bris and obsessing over food is truly infectious. Finally NJ indie/folk/punk band The Frontbottom’s self-titled record from 2011 is the best record that I underappreciated from last year. This band is likely to surpass Frank Turner in popularity and become one of the biggest things to come out of the punk bubble is some time.