This week, I read Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia, on the recommendation of Alex Eben Meyer. (Who, you may recall, contributed to eMusic’s project of creating covers for the albums described in the novel.) Ed Champion’s five-part roundtable discussion of the book (which concludes with comments from Spiotta) is invaluable, and it’s left me curious to read her other two novels. At the novel’s heart is a reclusive musician who makes compelling music in isolation; it brought to mind Mingering Mike and Bobb Trimble. The novel’s structure is fragmented (in a good way) and disconcerting; Spiotta played with certain things about its narrative in a way that hearkened back to Philip Roth’s American Pastoral — and given that said novel helped change the way I look at fiction, that’s fine company to be in.
Julian Barnes’s recent Booker nomination reminded me that I hadn’t read any of his work as of yet, and I set out to change that via picking up his novel Arthur & George. It’s rooted in history — the “Arthur” of the title is Arthur Conan Doyle — but illuminates a lesser-known facet of it. I’m being deliberately cagey here because Barnes’s dispensation of information is meticulous, and reducing the book down to an elevator pitch would rob much of the first half of its tension and suspense. That deliberate quality did make for somewhat dry reading in the novel’s first third, but the accumulated momentum eventually pays off; it’s both an illumination of history and a work that steadfastly avoids easy categorization. And, in its very creation, it serves as a fitting tribute for its subjects.
Also read this week: Adam Hines’s mammoth graphic novel Duncan the Wonder Dog: Show One. (See also: Douglas Wolk’s essay on the book, and Noelene Clark’s interview with Hines.) I also recently finished Hillary Jordan’s When She Woke, which I’ll be discussing in much greater detail in a dedicated post. (I will say, though, that I was impressed with the inclusion of blurbs from assorted smart literary folks in the galley I received.)
This weekend, I’ll be thinking about Dwight Garner’s recent New York Times Magazine essay about certain novelists needing to be more prolific in order to take part in the cultural conversation of the day. I’ll be visiting New Orleans for the first time, and I may attempt to rectify my earlier crimes against traditional crawfish-eating techniques. My travel reading will include Karl Marlantes’s Matterhorn and Péter Nádas’s A Book of Memories.
I might enjoy one rock book a year. Last year I didn’t count Girls to the Front by Sara Marcus under that banner, because it was so much more than a testimonial to the sounds of the Riot Grrrl movement, and if memory serves me correct, I didn’t really read any books about the baby that the blues had (that would be rock n’ roll…), and that might be a first for me. Earlier this year I read and reviewed a book on Christian pop music and evangelicalism, so that would mean I’ve read one more rock book in 2011 than I did in 2010. This week I added another to the list when I finished up Jagger: Rebel, Rock Star, Rambler, Rogue by Marc Spitz (Gotham Books).
Marc Spitz is one of those guys who I forget about for a few years, and then he puts out a new book, and suddenly I’m talking to everybody about how he’s one of my favorite pop culture writers. I still think the 2001 oral history he put together (with the late Brendan Mullen), We Got The Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story Of LA Punk, is the best book on late 70s punk that I’ve ever read. He’s written abut Bowie, Green Day, and an homage to The Smiths in novel form, and you know what — it’s all been good. Jagger is definitely no exception. If you were one of the billions of people that read the Keith Richards memoir, you should do yourself a favor and read Spitz’s carefully researched biography on the slippery Stones singer.
Also cracked open Masscult And Midcult: Essays Against The American Grain, Dwight MacDonald’s collection on NYRB Classics, and listened to way too much Lloyd Cole as I wrote this. Now I’m going to think of something clever to do to celebrate F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birthday. Maybe I’ll go chug a few gin rickeys or something fun like that.