A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
I’m reading Threats by Amelia Gray. I love it so far and will reserve any big thoughts on it until I reach the end. There was also more Ellen Ullman this week. I read her fantastic book By Blood and chatted with her about that and other things. I also read that long piece in the New Yorker about Tyler Clementi and felt sick. I expected the story’s main antagonists to have stunted ideas about homosexuality, but the background noise about class and race was disturbing on another level. To borrow Louis C.K.’s summary of Huck Finn, “these boys are racist and are not nice boys.” The story’s more complicated than that, of course, but Louis kept ringing in my ears.
Via Alex Ross’s blog, I found a clip from a 1965 music show hosted by Aaron Copland that I wish I could watch all of on DVD or something. In it there is a beautiful performance by Lotte Lenya of “Surabaya Johnny,” the tale of a woman who fell in love with a crook only to be left in the dust for a life of crime and money — with subtitles in English to underscore the imperialist weirdness and the morally complicated but heartfelt lyricism of Kurt Weill.
So: I finished up J. Robert Lennon’s Castle, and found it pretty stunning. I’m really reluctant to write too much about it, as the slow unfolding of the plot is one of its strongest aspects, but I will say that it’s an impressive evocation of trauma, and that the novel does interesting things with the reader’s sympathy and empathy for the protagonist over the course of the book. From there, I moved on to Ali Smith’s Hotel World, which masterfully traces a chain of reactions to a different sort of trauma. This was my first encounter with Smith’s fiction; given the cadences of her prose and the deft way she moves from perspective to perspective, it surely won’t be the last.
I re-read Amelia Gray’s Threats for a review to run here in the coming weeks; also in the surreal fiction vein, I read some of the stories from Melissa Pritchard’s The Odditorium, which mesh the surreal and metafictional with a deeply-felt humanism. My current and future reading seems oriented around book groups I’m in: first, the Lydia Davis translation of Madame Bovary; then Middlemarch; and finally, Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet. I suspect I’ll need a comic novel chaser after that trio; with that in mind, I also picked up Jincy Willett’s Winner of the National Book Award.
I’m also knee-deep in LPs right now; the second installment of my subscription to the Social Music Record & Tape Club has brought work from Visitor (blissed-out drone-pop), Daniel Kroha (stark takes on traditional folk & blues numbers), Abner Jay, and more; the latest from The Beets and Hunx on Hardly Art; the Wendy Rene reissue from Light in the Attic; and Nâ Hawa Doumbia’s La Grande Cantatrice Malienne Vol 3.
Somebody is going to have to do a collection on the writings of the 2012 Russian presidential election when all is said and done, because I’d really like to re-read a lot of what I’ve read with the benefit of hindsight. I’m about to read an excerpt from Masha Gessen’s The Man Without A Face, right after I finished up “The Master And Mikhail” by Julia Ioffe in this week’s New Yorker. Everything I’ve read so far has me mostly interested in the push back the Russian elite has been facing. As you probably know, protesters and dissidents (as well as artists, journalists, doctors, Jews, doctors who were Jewish, etc.) haven’t exactly had the highest survival rate in the years since the Tsar and his family were executed (and for Jews, even before that). So the thousands of people trying to publicly oppose more years of Putin; shouting down Mikhail Prokhorov with words that are reminiscent of Occupy Wall Street (“One billionaire–a million hungry!”), to what almost sounds like soccer chants (“Fuck, you’re tall! Fuck, you’re tall,” to the 6″8 Prokhorov) and punk bands getting arrested for playing in Red Square, all seems incredibly badass to me. I just hope that whatever results the election brings, it keeps up.
As some of you might know, I got married last Sunday. It was indeed the happiest day of my life, but trying to commit to a book was hard with the amount of family, friends, and other obvious distractions. My quest to read as much P.G. Wodehouse as possible in 2012 has been put on hold, but I’ll be back on that next week, and I will have also probably watched the first disc of Jeeves & Wooster. I’ve become a huge Stephen Fry fan since watching a few episodes of Stephen Fry in America (which is available on Netflix streaming), and also Edward Champion’s wonderful interview with him. I also got to finish Pulphead in the hours leading up to my nuptials. Totally worth every bit of hype.