A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
My mind is on this Sunday’s Brooklyn Book Festival, so I’ll say that I’m enthused by any opportunity to see pro pencil-sharpener David Rees (here talking to Sam Anderson about the artisan life). There’s also the curious-but-interesting matchup of Amelia Gray, Dennis Lehane, and Sapphire on one stage. And the Hernandez Brothers divided over two panels, one with Adrian Tomine and Bob Fingerman respectively! And James Wolcott, Nile Rodgers, Cynthia Carr, and Will Hermes on the NYC music scene of old! Still the most intriguing panel of all may be the straightforward “So You Wanna Publish a Book?” at 4pm, with top editors and publishers Reagan Arthur (Reagan Arthur Books/Little, Brown), Pamela Dorman (Pamela Dorman Books/Penguin), Sean McDonald (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and Tina Pohlman (Open Road Integrated Media). For a day with arguably less uber-star power than recent years, BKBF’s 2012 edition may up having more meat on its bones for the hungry bookworm within.
In keeping with the theme, I’ll add that I am reading Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller – Brooklynite of old – for the very first time. Like my earlier encounter with Miller’s squeeze Anais Nin’s diaries earlier this year I am finding it to be an amusing, easy read, if only because it is so breezily strikes the topics of being a writer who isn’t getting much work done, walking around cities, drinking and flirting, nausea, catching STDs, bad breakups, and repressing whatever urges still remain.
Michael Ignatieff’s biography on Isaiah Berlin has been on my nightstand the last week. It’s great, but I’m trying to plow through it pretty fast so I can get to my galley of Sam Lipsyte’s The Fun Parts that I just received. I recently loved Lipsyte’s contribution to the forthcoming Jewish Jocks collection (out in October), so I’m excited to immerse myself in more of his shorter works. I’m also quite excited to read through Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany, which arrived on my desk earlier this week.
Ah, all the impending reads that I’m holding back on because I’ve been reading several works by one particular author! How fun.
In the late 90s, my friend Scott played in a band called Situation at 1200. I think it would be accurate to say that they wore their shoegaze influences on their sleeve, and did the loud/quiet/loud thing quite well (if I do say so myself.) I have many a fond memory of working merch for shows that they’d play in New Brunswick basements. Which makes me happy to hear Gates, who are proof that shoegazers can still be found playing New Brunswick basement shows. Their album You Are All You Have Left To Fear has been heard through my stereo’s speakers quite often in the past month; there’s a booming sound that blends angst with the louder side of post-rock; the presence of guitar noodling that brings back memories of the first Minus the Bear EP doesn’t hurt.
Also in the “new stuff I’m listening to” department: Seattle’s Wimps, who have an impressively antisocial garage-punk sound that bristles around the edges and periodically threatens to turn into something much harsher and darker. (I liked it a lot.) And I also picked up the second volume of Jamaican gospel released by Mike McGonigal’s Social Music imprint; so far, I’m really enjoying it. Notes on reading will return next week, as pretty much everything I read this week was for a forthcoming review or article.
I finished The Slaves of Solitude earlier in the week. With a thud, really. The prose seemed kind of dull to me, but the narrative was propulsive and Mr. Thwaites was a great character, my favorite actually, which sort of makes me feel like I’m reading the novel incorrectly. Immediately after, I started In Hazard, Richard Hughes’ novel about a ship in a storm, and it’s delightful so far. There’s a scene early on with a young girl getting too drunk on whiskey, and the writing made me a little breathless. I’ve also been skimming Elizabeth Bishop’s letters to The New Yorker and re-reading the poems they rejected—did you know that Bishop cattily said to a friend that “of course nobody wants to send [The New Yorker] anything really ‘good’”?—and I had a fit of insomnia last night that I cured by reading the beginning of The End of the Affair. Also, did you know that Iris Murdoch’s essays are sort of intriguing? I did not.
Because I sent her a playlist once, my friend can see my Spotify history, which both terrifies and overjoys me. She gets to see how often I listen to hair metal, Rolling Stones bonus tracks, teen pop, and Killer Mike at work. I wish there were a way to edit that.
Still making my way through Proust. About to finish book four, Sodom and Gomorrah, which finally finds Proust discussing homosexuality. His apparent self-loathing towards his own sexual orientation is a bit disconcerting and I do feel uncomfortable reading many parts of this book. He consistently forces me to rethink my definition of the novel and genius and for that I remain grateful. I feel somewhat at the point where the goal of finishing all seven drives me more than my enjoyment of the actual books. I don’t really know what to think of this ambivalence towards Proust’s work of genius that seems often shallow and vapid.
Over the High Holidays I read a lot of Iris Murdoch. I wish more people existed in her mold: a top notch novelist and artist who knew Western philosophy better than most in the world. Murdoch acutely felt the most exigent questions of our time and devoted her life not to mere intellectual exercises but to answers that matter. She deserves considerably more attention that she gets, I believe.
In the realm of movies, I watched all of P.T. Anderson’s movies chronologically then I saw The Master. Not my favorite director, (I happen to find his movies engaging but largely empty of compelling content,) but watching him mature as a filmmaker is a rare delight. The Master, though often confusing and disconnected, features one of the best relationships to grace the screen in forever. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix act their hearts out to display soul-mates in transcendent love. The trailers tend to make this film look considerably more ominous that the movie itself, but it’s a gorgeously filmed movie with electrifying dialogue.
I saw a Bon Iver show at Radio City. The music itself, through a bit repetitive and indulgent, was largely pleasant. The fans, obsequious and simply obsessed with this man made the show a bit of a downer. I played the new Grizzly Bear album on an endless loop and it never lets me down. Kanye’s new album, Cruel Summer, as many note, lacks consistency though of course certain lines stand out. Kanye, not content with noting how much President Bush didn’t like black people, takes the early jump on Romney to point out that, “Mitt Romney don’t pay no tax.”
Have you read Ben Lerner in Harper’s? (Does anyone read Harper’s?) (I do. -ed.)
Oh man, Ben Lerner. I’ve read tons of interviews with this guy, read Atocha Station, read some of his poetry, and he has to be one of the best writers today. I mean, out of all of them. This piece is amazing. All in one piece, he explains the many forms of high school debate, displays why his training is beneficial for freestyle rap, and then marvelously proposes why the lack of oratorical ability in our modern political discourse has made our populace settle for less.
But if you just want Ben Lerner trivia you’re in for it, too: He grew up in Topeka. He hung out in shady basements. He was a nationally ranked high school debate champion. He had the most points ever in the NFL (uh…the National Forensic League, BAM!).
Did I already say this? This piece is amazing? I’ll say it again, just so the argument doesn’t drop, because the disadvantage is sure to be nuclear war + 2 famines or something.
Hipster Christianity. Someone explained it, and I’ve been reading about it.
I have nothing specific to share about these two pieces, except heck yeah. It’s nice that some mags and major websites are hanging out with some writers, bringing their works to a larger audience. It’s nice that these are not Q&As, but honest-to-God feature stories. Writers hanging out with writers and writing about them. Editors of the Earth, find a way to keep this going.