A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
First of all, have y’all heard that Godspeed You! Black Emperor surprised the world by abruptly releasing their first album in nine years this week? With zero advance notice! They just started selling it on vinyl at a show a few days ago! I snagged a high-quality rip of it (don’t worry, I (a) pre-ordered the vinyl version and (b) know for a fact that Godspeed are pretty much okay with pirating, given that they’re anarcho-syndicalist hippies), and it is incredible. Definitely on par with their other (mostly perfect) releases. For all the (half-dozen) Godspeed nerds out there, you should know that the two main movements are studio versions of live staples “Albanian” and “Gamelan,” plus two shorter, drone-y pieces. And the album artwork is, unsurprisingly, great. Just… just listen to it. Unless you’re not into lyric-free post-rock that suggests a world in decline.
Speaking of the world, I just finished the fantastic anthology, Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular and the New Land, co-edited by Paul Buhle and the late, great Harvey Pekar. It’s a mixed-media masterpiece, a concise panorama about Yiddish literature, language, theater, music, and politics. You’ve got comics, essays, and even an extended (and lovely) stage script. Get ready for weird anecdotes about Paul Robeson’s Yiddish song repertoire and grumpy Pekar takedowns of Isaac Bashevis Singer. In a related story, I’m nearly done with Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine, which is dry in spots, but mostly a fantastic primer on that strange country upon which so much of the world has secretly turned.
And sometimes, you realize that you’ve decided to read back-to-back novels about poets. Samuel R. Delany’s Dark Reflections and Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist are stylistically very different, but both are excellent, honest attempts to wrangle with the life of an artist — particularly one in a discipline without, say, the largest of audiences. Baker’s novel is more humorous, while Delany’s abounds with low-key tragedies, but each is deeply felt, with memorably flawed characters at their heart.
The fact that I preceded these two with Steven Millhauser’s Little Kingdoms, which opens with the novella “The Little Kingdom of J. Franklin Payne,” has left me with an abundance of stories of artists brutalized by the world rattling around in my head. Millhauser’s collection is terrific, incidentally — “The Little Kingdom” is probably the most realistic work I’ve read from him, and it’s heartbreaking.
I started making my way through William Gass’s The Tunnel, as part of Conversational Reading’s group read of it. 120-odd pages in, I’m — well, I don’t know if “enjoyed” is the right word. I’m impressed with it — there are a wide range of allusions in there, and the narrator’s juxtaposition of beautiful pastoral imagery with loathsome observations on the world and history is unrelenting.
And I wrapped up the week’s reading with Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick, which abounds with smart observations on the lives of artists, the nature of art, gender relations, economics, and more. (Lest that make it sound too dry, it’s also a funny, very readable work.) Highly, highly recommended.
Also: saw The Master (very impressed) and picked up the Mountain Goats’ latest (the horn arrangements work very well). Hoping to spend some time this weekend with Criminal Code’s Cold Thought, based on this review.
I guess since I live out in the wilds of Brooklyn, I get my issue of The New Yorker on Fridays. By the time it reaches my mailbox, I should have rightfully read the entire thing using my digital subscription, but I’m a print guy, so I hold out. I figure this latest issue will take up a chunk of the forthcoming weekend. I got through the week reading Esquire’s latest Big Black Book, and also finished up Tony Judt’s Thinking the Twentieth Century. Now I’m on to my galley of Stuart Nadler’s Wise Men.
The Master was disappointing. I got it to the extent that anyone “gets” anything (SPOILER: IT’S ABOUT AN OCEAN), and I usually defend these movies, but this was bloated. I was hyped and ready to go for it, though, after reading the Joaquin Phoenix piece in the n+1 Summer Issue “Awkward Age.” The piece broke down the Joaquin-meltdown film, I’m Still Here and tried to explain how Joaquin had extended the boundaries of “reality” and “acting.” To the degree that I hated The Master, I will fight with the same intensity for the greatness of I’m Still Here (SPOILER: IT’S ABOUT (A) RIVER).
In the past 2 weeks, I tore through the David Foster Wallace biography (Every Love Story is A Ghost Story by D.T. Max) faster than even I could have imagined. It’s been awhile since I went on a jag like that, taking every possible break at the computer, at the house, and wherever else to take a peek at it. It was taut, but fascinating. The influence of recovery culture on David was probably the most revelatory part for me–how someone so smart struggled mightily with the perceived “triteness” of the self-help cliches. The biography compelled me to complete The Broom of the System, a novel I started at the beginning of the summer. It’s definitely a different comedic piece than anything else David did. A 2nd move was to complete my Stuff-White-People-Like destiny and finally purchase Infinite Jest, something I’ve never done. I’ve tried to read it several times, and now that I have a firmer understanding of its authorial intent, I’ll probably stick with it longer.