A roundup of things consumed by our editors.
Mostly: this week’s involved reading coverage of Occupy Wall Street, whether up-t0-the-minute reporting on protests and arrests or the essays by Jeff Sharlet and Sarah Leonard in the latest issue of Bookforum. Sharlet’s omnipresence in my Twitter feed (and my already-high opinion of his writing) has also had the side effect of prompting me to pick up his essay collection Sweet Heaven When I Die. Between that and John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead, which I’m reading now, I suspect I’ll be meeting my recommended monthly allowance of smart writings on politics and culture.
Earlier in the week, in an effort to catch up on some of the more acclaimed books of 2011, I finished Alex Shakar’s novel Luminarium. It’s a tense, sometimes (intentionally) claustrophobic novel in which ruin seems to befall the protagonist from all sides. Overall, I enjoyed it a lot (though I’m not sure I found said protagonist’s evolving relationship with a fetching scientist entirely believable) — it’s ambitious and yet finds time to make a number of good points about unknowability and the intimacy of belief. In the end, I found myself agreeing with many of the points made in Justin Taylor’s review; both this novel and Taylor’s essay also left me very interested in picking up Shakar’s earlier novel The Savage Girl.
After that, I gave Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City a read. At its heart, it’s a crime novel, with the wrinkle being that its world finds anyone feeling guilt — generally from crimes of some sort — psychically bound to animals ranging from butterflies to bears. Narrator Zinzi December is a onetime journalist now undertaking small-scale investigations. As is generally the case, a seemingly innocuous case turns out to be something bigger; it’s a fairly traditional arc rounded in its setting (Johannesburg gone slightly askew) and made memorable by the small details, both in terms of Beukes’s worldbuilding and her knowledge of pop culture and its intersection with journalism.
There were rewarding repeated listens of favorites new (Freddie Gibbs’ Cold Day in Hell, Frank Ocean’s Nostalgia/Ultra, and El Guincho’s Pop Negro) and old (Chairs Missing, The Lyre of Orpheus, Tusk). There was a dash to complete in twenty-four hours Jerry West’s surprisingly candid, crooning bio of hoops and heartbreak, West by West. There was my first viewing of If.. Lindsay Anderson’s vivid, confident, expertly crafted 1969 prep school rebellion, which as of now seems one of that noble decade’s best films.
But none of that particularly matters this week. For more immediate rebellion and heartbreak, we needed only to venture downtown to the protests, or lack thereof. Or into any bus stop, tavern, or boulangerie, where it was fresh on the lips of strangers conversing. #OWS, facing strife, is now firmly the first widely established resistance movement of the Twittered world: revolt in real time. To try and elaborate on each source who offered sharp intel and discourse this week would take too long.
Instead let’s settle for thanking but a few who stood out: Glenn Greenwald and Justin Elliott summarizing Bloomberg’s legacy, Jami Attenberg salvaging what was left of a decimated on-site library, former Canadian PM Paul Martin out in favor of the work being done, The New Republic of all places on the dangers of a third term, countless disturbing confrontations between protesters and police caught on tape, and Ed Champion’s relentless watchdog of a feed. Still, nothing shook me to the freaky-deaky core like n+1’s “Last Night at Zuccotti Park“, an ongoing, possibly stunted-in-growth but still amazing series of eyewitness accounts that contains the most chilling words yet uttered regarding this week’s sordid affair. Officer Cho to the protester whose chest he was standing on around 1AM Tuesday morning: “It’s a game. We push you back, you push us back. We’re both doing our jobs. A game.” Will the immediacy of the people’s media bring forth justice at the speed with which it brings outrage? The book ain’t written yet.
I’ve been working through Louis Menand’s 2001 The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America. The book came out right around the time I was immersed in schoolwork, and even after it won the Pulitzer Prize, it still took me ten years to read it. It’s interesting reading it now, as we seem to be on the verge of some major change in our country, much like the turbulent years between the Civil War and the beginning of the 20th century that many of the people in The Metaphysical Club lived in. It’s been making me think more and more about the question of “Where do we go from here,” not just on an American level, but a world one.
I’ve also been taking pecks at Mark Yarm’s Everybody Loves Our Town, and should hopefully finish that one up this week. Then I plan to get my head back into fiction by Gary Lutz and Alexander Maksik’s You Deserve Nothing.