A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
After an abundance of densely-written fiction, including Peter Nadas’s A Book of Memories, my reading this week turned to the realm of nonfiction on arts and culture. Lawrence Weschler’s interview with The Art Guys in November’s Believer reminded me of how much I enjoy reading his writings on art, and on my return flight from out west, his Boggs: A Comedy of Values was one of the books I read. It’s a smart look at art and ethics and economies — thought-provoking and entertaining in equal measure. After getting home, I turned to his Uncanny Valley, which collects several decades’ worth of shorter pieces on culture and (occasionally) politics. Terrific stuff, from his piece on the titular concept from Wired a decade ago to a look at the novelist Mark Salzman to the perception-bending work of Ryan and Trevor Oakes.
Also in there: Janet Malcolm’s utterly fantastic The Silent Woman, looking at the complex literary history of Sylvia Plath, and Sarah Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World, which takes seven case studies (ranging from a class at CalArts to a profile of Artforum) and assembles them to give a deep look at one particular area of culture.
The best culture I consumed this week by a country mile was a Film Forum rep screening of Nothing But a Man, a nearly fifty year old romance/drama/comedy directed by Yale professor and Nazi Germany escapee Michael Roemer. While freely available online, this is one of those movies made better when seen on the big screen, here on a restored print that deeply contrasts the rich black and white depths of cinematographer Robert Young’s images. Man was utterly unique upon its release in 1964, both as an independent film directed by a white director profiling the black experience with respect and empathy, and as an almost cinema verite perspective of early 60s Birmingham and its neighboring suburbs, shot on streets that would not soon shake the afterglow of Jim Crow.
Ivan Dixon (who would go on to co-star in Hogan’s Heroes a year later) is a brilliant slow burn as Duff, the bravely stubborn railroad worker whose bad habits – inherited by his woeful sweet talker of an alcoholic dad – nearly destroy the best fortune he’s got: the love of Josie (Abbey Lincoln), the strong-willed daughter of an affluent but cowardly preacher. In presenting the power of love to offer a troubled soul the chance to change, it never ventures into hokum or cliche. It is raw and unflinching in its method toward marriage, death, and other great unknowns: I kept hoping to see Louis C.K. and Chris Rock in the audience, as Nothing But a Man‘s pungent mix of humor and cold hard truth kept reminding me of the hard-won little domestic victories within Louie, the shock honesty of Bring the Pain, and the genuinely adult romance(s) of their underrated collaboration I Think I Love My Wife. Rarely would I call a film “must-see”, but this is truly one which seems to expand the vocab of world cinema, in addition to looking gorgeous. Plus: more or less the debut of then-27 year old acting icon / future Republican / hardcore music namesake Yaphet Kotto!
I read the chapters I thought I’d be reading from to prepare for this weekend’s Moby-Dick Marathon. I think the estimate was somewhere between chapters 14-17, so I glanced over those a few times just to make sure I was prepared for any weird 1800’s lingo I might not normally used in my daily conversations. As a testament to the organizers doing an amazing job making things work in a timely fashion, I read starting at the end of chapter 17, but still got caught up with some of the words. Regardless of that, I still think I might give Pequod another ride sometime in the near future.
I also spent an evening looking through We’ll Never Have Paris: Greatest Hits, which has a few really great pieces in it, and might be the best zine anthology I’ve read in 2012. I guess it doesn’t have much competition since I’ve been slacking pretty hard on picking up new zines, but I’d suggest going over to Microcosm and dropping the eight bucks to grab a copy.
The little downtime I had this week saw me looking through the internet for some of my favorite 90’s screamy hardcore albums . Bands with names like Indian Summer, Ottawa, Portraits of Past, etc. Many of those records are out of print, so I dont’ feel especially bad downloading them, but for the curious, Make Friends With Me is a pretty amazing resource for many of the records I wanted.
I have a very faithful co-worker who hands me a stack of the weeklies late Monday or Tuesday. This is my routine: I throw away the Newsweek. I flip through Time, looking more for interesting print ads than actual articles. I waver on the Economist. I plunge into New York and Businessweek regularly and cherrypick The New Yorker. But this week, because of the election, I read everything (exceptNewsweek, I still threw that one away) plus whatever Nate Silver links I found. All of that was overkill–I’m glad this only happens every few years. The best article was the Ryan Lizza story on the GOP in Texas.