I spent last weekend in Portland. One of my days there involved a trip to the Stumptown Comics Festival, at which I picked up a number of minicomics. Reviews of several are forthcoming, as are pieces on books picked up at Powell’s, Reading Frenzy, and Microcosm. What follows are brief thoughts on the books I read while there.
David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again
I’d read most of Wallace’s work before getting around to this collection of essays. And my experience with it was not unlike that of watching M*A*S*H after seeing numerous later Altman films — it’s a bit disconcerting to see an earlier version of a more pronounced style with which you’ve become more familiar. (If that makes sense.) You can see Wallace’s style evolve over the course of these essays, and by any standard they’re terrific — funny and perceptive and abounding with information.
Kathleen Winter, Annabel
The story of the early life of a child of indeterminate gender in Canada, spanning several decades. Winter has a fantastic eye for details and a clear fondness for nearly every character here: from her protagonist down to the more incidental characters, each is neatly defined. This humanism rests beside a vein of aching sadness that runs throughout the book and endures after the novel has run its course.
Catherynne M. Valente, The Habitation of the Blessed
A surreal, mysticism-tinged examination of the legend of Prester John. Enjoyable and mysterious, though given that it’s billed as “Book One,” a lot of my feelings on it won’t be complete until the larger work is complete. For right now, it’s a fine and generally unsettling beginning.
Ned Sublette, The World That Made New Orleans
Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams
Both of these book are nominally histories of one part of the world that are able to encompass…just about everything. Clashes of cultures, the aftereffects of European wars, the role of commerce in exploration. Both made for rich, fascinating reads.
Karen Russell, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
After hearing from nearly everyone that I needed to read Russell’s Swamplandia! — and being impressed by her story in the latest Conjunctions — I picked up her debut collection, and found myself enjoying these surreal yet tactile stories. Many of them read like excerpts from larger works (in fact, that’s how one of these stories is presented), and nearly all of them — in the best rock-show sense of the phrase — left me wanting more.
And presently, I’m reading Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful — my first foray into Mr. Dyer’s work. (A joint hat-tip here to the folks at WORD and to Luc Sante’s review of Mr. Dyer’s recent nonfiction collection.)
Much of my week’s reading time was spent catching up on the great work of our readers from our “Greatest 3-Minute Food Stories” event this past Wednesday at Bar Matchless . There is such a bevy of good work being done by this strapping crew every damned day: just find out where they e-reside and RSS their every whim. To merely begin, check out Chichi Wang’s running series on the food we dismiss or throw away entitled The Nasty Bits, Emily Gould and this week’s Pulitzeress Jennifer Egan making macaroons, and Aaron Lefkove’s dick-punch of civil disobedience SummerofMegadeth.
I formally begin with a modest proposal from Stephen Fry, animated by Matt Smith, and brought to my attention by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates spent the week parsing out such a swift variety of things: the new Tribe Called Quest doc, President Trump, Chuck Close, Tyler Perry v. Spike Lee, the new TV on the Radio, the budget, the Duke rape case, and practically live blogging his first reading of The Age of Innocence (read with rapture as he delights over one turn of phrase: “Where is that country?”) Coates is fun to read, enthused cultural study at its best: engaging his audience and responding in turn with clarified, articulate responses.
Equally good at firing neurons into my basal ganglia is Ezra Klein, who spent the week concisely eviscerating Ryancare with diplomacy and sound alternatives. At 26, Klein is sort of primed for our era of constantly revised, to-the-minute journalism. He’s not afraid to admit when he’s wrong, or when the numbers don’t go his way, and there’s vigor to the writing that suggests this is a guy who like most of us is waking up in the middle of the night to scribble down some minor eureka while half-asleep.
Hyperlinking is ideally a call and response: by alerting one another to what we read, we are widening our individual and perhaps collective irises. The risk then is that our cognitive hard drive crashes: we are too stimulated too often to the point where little breaks through to get rushes of blood to the heart. But when you get a writer like Coates, Klein, or Fry, and they’re in the pocket of genuinely stimulating the debates that will improve our lives simply by having them, there comes the overwhelming possibility that a Friday morning can seem an immensely hopeful time for the written word. As Stephen Fry lets on, language can and will evolve today, ceaselessly, such that in honor of his piece linked above I propose a new word for the aura of possibility surrounding this last gasp of the working week. Call it fridaylight. Or better still: frydaylight.