A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes (Vintage) all week long. It only took years of all of planet Earth screaming at me to read this thing for me to hit it up, and it really is a unique animal entirely. An apt book to start at week one of football season, as this self-professed “Fictional Memoir” chronicles one man’s struggles with minor successes and dismal victories, juxtaposed against the monolith successes of his beloved New York Giants and their late ‘50s epicenter Frank Gifford. Exley is a beast of sardonic humor, as when he defines “apostasy” to a fellow teacher who proudly boasts that he doesn’t know the meaning of the word.
A preview copy of critic supreme Daniel Mendelsohn’s upcoming October anthology Waiting for the Barbarians (NYRB) has been an interesting one to pick up and read any old time – I’ll have more to say about it upon its official release, but the range of subjects is diverse and there may truly be a chapter for everybody in this one.
At some point in the next few days I’ll see The Master, because PTA is that rare cat whose new releases are bonafide events. This is my Avengers or Dark Knight, people. The kiddos have gone to bed and it’s time to crack open the weirdness of post-war sci-fi religions that bare no similarities at all to Scientology.
I started watching Louie this week, and I have to be honest that I don’t love it as much as everybody told me I would. I think my main issue is that I like Louis C.K.,; he seems like a really good guy and that makes it hard for me to root against him. I think it is pretty indicative of how some comedy fans feel in post-Seinfeld times, where you are hoping for George Costanza, Larry David or David Brent/Michael Scott to get into some embarrassing situations and not come out on top. Not that Louie doesn’t have its share of incredibly awkward moments, I just think Louis C.K. seems like a great dude, and I don’t want bad things to happen to him.
I’ve been immersing myself in Orhan Pamuk the last few days. Right now I’m on My Name is Red, hopefully tomorrow I’ll start on The New Life. When I’m back in Brooklyn on Tuesday, I’ve got Isaiah Berlin: A Life waiting.
I’m in the middle of The Slaves of Solitude—it’s pretty good and all (this protagonist!), but I’ve had a busy work week, and anyway I’ve been distracted by Elizabeth Bishop’s correspondence, especially her letters to Robert Lowell. They’re just the cutest little literary giants you ever did read, trading barbs about other poets they know aren’t as good as them. I also saw The Master last night, and I will need another day to talk about it with any sort of intelligence, half because it’s a big film, half because I went to karaoke afterward and I haven’t gotten done processing that yet. Is there anything better/worse than a drunken bro singing “Photograph” by Def Leppard and wandering aimlessly through the crowd? I’m not sure. If you care to know, I did a pretty good Miley Cyrus impression. Didn’t even have to look at the words on the screen.
After spending most of the summer obsessed with their album Children of Desire, I saw the Tampa band Merchandise play to a sold-out crowd last night at St. Vitus. I wasn’t sure how their sound — folks with a background in hardcore making drone-infused pop music — would translate, and the fact that their set’s opener found their drum machine mixed far louder than it needed to me left me a little worried. Things settled in after that, though, and the energy in the room remained constant. (There was an unlikely pit up front for most of the set.) The level of energy in the room was fantastic, and by the time the group got to “Time,” the mood was practically beatific. Highly recommended, both live and on record.
I’ll also throw in praise here for two worthy (and decidedly different) nonfiction works. Simon Kuper’s Ajax, The Dutch, The War: The Strange Tale of Soccer During Europe’s Darkest Hour is a smart, sometimes horrifying look at soccer in the 1930s and 1940s, primarily in nations occupied by the Nazis. I’ve read a couple of Kuper’s other books, and as with them, I was impressed with his ability to place compelling sports narratives into a larger geopolitical context. And Mark Baumgarten’s Love Rock Revolution: K Records and the Rise of Independent Music provided a good history of said label’s aesthetics and origins, along with a history of founder Calvin Johnson’s musical projects. (It also prompted me to order a couple of Halo Benders albums.) What I liked best about it, however, may have been Baumgarten’s refusal to leave things with nostalgia; the final section makes the case for the continued relevance of the label, and does so in a compelling fashion. (And it also reminded me that I need to pick up the new Mount Eerie album.)
Also this week, I read a fair amount of books from authors reading at our 3-Minute Book Stories event happening on Tuesday, along with a couple of books that should show up covered here in one form or another.
About a week or two I wrapped up Matt Bondurant’s The Wettest County in the World, the novel the movie Lawless is based on I haven’t seen the movie yet, but from what I heard it’s a pretty accurate retelling. Sherwood Anderson, the writer is in the book as a narrator/framing device for the story of the Bondurant brothers (yes, the author is related to those portrayed in the book) and gives some (fictional?) perspective on his writing process. Though Bondurant’s prose was often too meandering to the point of distraction, it was still enjoyable.
With fall TV starting up, I thought it was good time to tackle Warren Littlefield’s oral history about the “golden age” of NBC comedies, Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV. I’m not very far in, but I’ve enjoyed the Cheers section and decided to watch some of the show since I was too young to really be interested when it was first broadcast. The book is more than just behind-the-scenes stuff, and is about the production process and the way things have changed.
Should I read Telegraph Avenue next or the new DFW autobiography?
I need to listen to more music.