A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
I read Pulphead in a whirlwind session over the weekend. You hear the David Foster Wallace and Tom Wolfe comparisons, and really they aren’t right after you get past the superficial connections. These are all magazine writers going out on assignment and covering the subjects magazines would cover, but that, to me, seems to be the intention behind the title of Sullivan’s collection. Within that genre he carves out his own place. I can easily pick my favorites in the collection: the Axl Rose essay and the Christian rock festival essay. (An aside: the titles, while usually very good and well-chosen, tend to get thrown overboard when anyone talks about this collection. It’s always, “the one about One Tree Hill” or “the one where he lives in that guy’s house,” which isn’t necessarily a bad way to talk about these pieces, considering the material looms so large, but is worth mentioning at least once, I think.)
What else did I do? There was that essay in Pitchfork about queer rap, which made me think more and more about Zebra Katz (not an unwelcome thing). There was also the profile of Armando Iannucci in The New Yorker, which I devoured because I am obsessed with him and all his work. I’m reading the latest Nadine Gordimer novel for Vol. 1, and I enjoyed Mike Powell on Lil B’s new mixtape in Spin. He had a great line in there that basically sums up Lil B for me:
On “February’s Confessions,” he raps, “I’ll be Albert Einstein times a million, bitch.” The content of the statement is that Lil B is a genius. The form of the statement suggests otherwise. It’s like rewriting the definition for “glass” as “something I can break.” Whether or not he realizes this seems immaterial: Logic, for Lil B, has about as much bearing on his music as farts have on international banking.
I could also just copy and paste the whole review, but I will refrain and just reread it again.
R. Stephen Shodin
My current fascination with all things gritty and damaged could be the result of a mild winter or my own psychosis. The jury is still out. Spring has sprung, but my mind is still stuck in the deep freeze of winter and I definitely have murder on the brain. I blame most of it on having read Frank Bill’s Crimes in Southern Indiana last week, which rocked me out of a reading slumber with such fervor that I found myself wanting more tales of the psychologically damaged and hopelessly fucked up. With no new material from Mr. Bill until sometime next year, I was forced to resort to the dreaded “to-be-read” stack. And what joy did I find there. I had (stupidly) forgotten that our own Tobias Carroll had lent me not one, but two Brian Evenson books, namely The Open Curtain and Fugue State. I blasted throughCurtain and am currently doing battle with the stories that make up Fugue State, and my need for blood, guts and bad dreams is being stoked like the engine of a runaway train. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any darker or heavier, Unsane’s new record dropped and it’s providing exactly the right soundtrack for all of this chaos. Spring might be all sunshine and flowers, but it’s currently raining buckets of blood in my world and I’m enjoying every minute of it.
A lot of what I’ve read this week — Robert Andrew Powell’s This Love Is Not For Cowards, Matt Bell’s Cataclysm Baby, and Kris D’Agostino’s The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac — will be written about elsewhere, so this might come off as a light week. It began with Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, a taut and memorable meditation on the color blue, art, and intimacy. From there, I moved on to one of the year’s best-reviewed books so far; Hari Kunzru’s Gods Without Men lived up to the excellent reviews many folks I know have given it. It’s ambiguous and smart and — despite centering around one particular stretch of land — sprawling. In one case, he points out a structural device that he uses, which I wish he hadn’t done — but other than that, which is a minor quibble, I was thoroughly taken with the book.
I’d had a copy of Marguerite Duras’s Yann Andrea Steiner on my to-read shelf for ages. It was my first exposure to her fiction, and I found it hypnotic, and very particular in its images and concerns.
I’ll probably write more about Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama as its release date approaches. For now, I’ll just say that it’s an excellent follow-up to her earlier Fun Home, with the added bonus that Bechdel’s begun to do some interesting things with her storytelling; this is a book that satisfies on a number of levels, and one that balances her earlier work while still largely standing on its own. (I’m not sure that someone coming to this who hadn’t read her earlier book would be entirely sure of just how fraught Bechdel’s parents’ marriage was, but otherwise…)
And now, on to Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker, and to the abundance of music books and albums I’ll likely end up picking up as this year’s Pop Conference runs its course. And, hopefully, I’ll be getting to Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers before long as well, given its impressive trajectory so far in the Tournament of Books.
One constant joy I always mean to mention here is NYMag’s feature “The Grub Street Diet”, in which the famous and semi-famous among us write a diary of everything they’ve eaten over the course of several days. Aside from offering killer dining recs, the weekly column is also an insight into the minds of some rad New Yorkers at their most ravenous, their most rapturous, and their most fulfilled. Hearing people talk about food, particularly food they’ve really enjoyed, is an utterly warm experience for me. The origin of this pseudo-fetish stems from the “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” episode of Shelley Duvall’s Fairie Tale Theatre that I saw when I was a wee lad. I remember thinking the woman playing Snow White (Elizabeth McGovern, pre-Downton or Sean Penn!) to be strangely alluring, particularly in a scene in which she raids the kitchen of the dwarves while they’re off at work in their fun-sized coal mines. Grub Street’s tales of brunch ecstasy and closet Diet Coke addictions take me back to that boyhood place, where watching a poor man’s Liz Taylor slurp a midget’s soup felt like the most thrilling thing I’d ever seen. This week’s edition with Paper editor Mickey Boardman is a gem, full of unabashed love of carbs, diners, and strapping delivery boys. But You, True Believer and Reader of Books, will also fall hard for Sloane Crosley’s oyster amour,Gavin McInnes’ Wolverine-shaped pancakes, and dual wits Rae Cohen and Noah Bergamoff of Vol. 1 mecca Mile End. Eat rich or die trying.
Besides reading lawn care and marketing books (the two maybe related for some, but not for me), I really dove in this week to the new Mark Leyner book, The Sugar Frosted Nutsack. A review maybe forthcoming, but my initial opinion is that it has Gen-X written all over it.
The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London originally came out in the late 1970s, but according to the forward, had been a work in progress for around twenty years before it actually became a book. I’ve been reading through it for research on an upcoming piece, and all I can say is that I probably wouldn’t be that welcome in one. I’m a bit too uncouth.
John Leonard’s Reading For My Life: Writings 1958-2008 has been on my desk all week also. As I’m currently living in the area discussed in his 1958 essay, “The Demise of Greenwich Village,” I’m happy to know that the neighborhood started becoming something of a joke long before I loved here. I’m skipping around the book, reading Leonards thoughts on AIDS, Joan Didion, Socialism, and just about everything else as I see fit.