A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
Michael Robbins’ Alien vs. Predator and Melissa Broder’s Meat Heart came into my life around the same time, so the two collections of poetry will be linked by time as well as the respective weirdness/genius of both books. I think I’ve mentioned my fondness for Ms. Broder in the past, but Robbins deserves heaps of praise as well; the guy’s pop culture-affected poems are something special. Rhymes like “Slash is both sad and happy for Axl. The nation’s pets are high on Paxil,” made me smile, and the smile remained on my face throughout the entirety of Alien vs. Predator.
Rivka Galchen’s “Wild West Germany,” from the April 9th issue of The New Yorker was a treat, as was the piece in this week’s issue, “Joyful Noise,” by Alex Ross. I especially loved the illustration for the latter piece.
Finished up Paris, I Love You but You’re Brining Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin and his novel You lost Me There, and now I’m officially psyched for our conversation at Greenlight Books on May 14th.
After finally kinda figuring out torrents (you’re supposed to turn the lever ninety degrees topwise, yes?) and thus listening to Christopher Hitchens read his memoir Hitch-22, I was reminded by the old boy that I hadn’t read enough Kingsley Amis or Philip Larkin. In perusing some of their works, Kingsley is coming out ahead. Having read a bit of his work years ago, he seems to remain the more visceral son of a gun. Amis’ semi-famous line “His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum” packs more of a wallop than most of Larkin’s still-entirely-very-nice-and-good Collected Poems from FSG. Throughout Larkin’s work often seems to juxtapose fine visual detail with maudlin and morose undercutting (see “Aubade”: “Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare. / In time the curtain-edges will grow light. / Till then I see what’s really always there: / Unresting death, a whole day nearer now”). But his best stuff totally redeems the grim snoozers, from his beautiful “Home is So Sad” (“Home is so sad. It stays as it was left / Shaped to the comfort of the last to go / As if to win them back.”) to a silly, nearly Syd Barrettesque line like “High above the gutter / A silver knife sinks into golden butter” from “Essential Beauty”. Well worth the hype, all told. Keep calm and carry on.
Carry on where, you ask? Why, to the internet blogging website Yr Friend Matthew, home to the glorious mind roasters of Matthew Caron, sometime V1 contributor and fantastic melder of all things music and film. I hype it here not only because we’re former next door neighbors, and because I ran into him on the street today, but because holy hell, his involvement in the video for ASAP Rocky’s “Wassup” is a veritable lifetime pass, as if a dude with his batting average needs one.
Finally, in the name of shameless plugs: get more of your Nick Curley fixins and grillets at the revamped and now totally worthwhile Slather: my Tumblr for people who usually ain’t into all that. The last week or so has been all about Harry Crews, Betty Draper’s new jawline, and Japanese lady wrestlers who shave each others heads in post-fight rituals. And if you’re not down with that, I can’t do nothing for you, man (or m’aam).
I was sick for most of the week, and so I couldn’t really focus on books. I tried, but from Monday to Thursday I couldn’t make it through anything longer than a short story without getting really, really tired. So, instead of any book-learning, I blitzed through Freaks and Geeks. I hadn’t watched the series since it first aired, but my vivid memory of it (and a near-constant refrain from almost everyone I’ve ever met, discovering it and bonding over it) made me think there was no need to revisit it. That said, I had one sick day of sloth this week, and I was yearning for something familiar but potentially full of rediscovery. I watched ten episodes in a row, and I regret nothing. It’s still so good. The pace of dialogue is so realistic — no one speaks with the kind of garbled precocity that very few coming-of-age auteurs can pull off, even though many of them try. The hot guys make bad jokes that the girls laugh at anyway, just like in real life; the nerds talk about what they’ve learned from television without giving it that glean of hipness that you’d get from other zeitgeisty teen soaps. All conversations about who was more like whom in high school aside, the best part about this rewatch has been the little bits of exposition you get from the dialogue. We find out, for instance, in one of the first episodes that Bill loves Dallas (oh my god, why) so much that he must watch it even in the midst of all the crazy plot that’s happening around him and his friends. He watches the episode while guarding a keg of beer (all part of a harebrained scheme), and he proceeds to get drunk by himself for the very first time, all while talking to the TV. (Again, this show is achingly relatable.) You’d think that would be one gag, but several episodes later we hear about Dallas again, this time as the reason that Bill has to be home by a certain time. His mom, who from earlier hints is revealed to be single, doesn’t like to watch Dallas alone. That hard-earned poignancy and slow burn is only one of the reasons to love the show, of course. There’s also all those famous people in it, which feels beside the point but still manages to impose on my viewing in hindsight.
Now that I’ve recovered from my consumption, I’m rereading Play It As It Lays. Something about Maria Wyeth’s voice is so intoxicating, even if there are lots of little flaws here and there in the narrative. I can’t imagine anyone reading this book in colder weather. I’m pushing it as it is by reading it in the spring. With every page, I’m getting antsier for summer.
I swear to God, Vol. 1’s own Jesse David Fox was absolutely right about NBC’s just-launched Best Friends Forever. I jammed out to the first two episodes this week, and holy moley, is it good. Sure, they have some room for growth and loosening up, but there’s an astonishing delight-per-minute ratio in this little saga of a harried lady who’s semi-forced to move in with her longtime pal after an abrupt divorce. Series creators Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair have built fully-realized female characters who relentlessly pass the Bechdel Test and avoid anything too predictable. And in this week’s installment, we learn the words to the first verse of “It’s Raining Men,” which is an even weirder song than you’d expect!
I’m also nearly done with John Jeremiah Sullivan’s mostly-dynamite collection of essays, Pulphead. There are all kinds of wondrous romps through weird corners of Americana, from 19th-century botanists to Axl Rose, usually festooned with “ooooh”-inducing similes. At times, he feels a bit like dimestore DFW in his self-satisfied admiration for things that go unexamined, and his post-death essay on Michael Jackson veers into very uncomfortable hagiography and molestation-apologism, but for the most part, it’s crackling and addictive.
I spent last weekend in New Jersey visiting family, working on some writing, and exploring old haunts. (And, as a pleasant surprise, finally locating a bottle of Art in the Age’s Rhuby — as well as a bottle of Jersey Devil Honey Wine. ) Also visited: Manasquan’s Book Towne, at which copies of Sons and Lovers, Wuthering Heights, and The Devil In The White City were purchased.
There was also some preparation for the Music Writing Book Club that Daphne Carr and I will be running at WORD beginning today — in this case, Alice Echols’s Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture. Echols provides both a good grounding in Why Disco Matters, and her own experiences as a DJ in Michigan in the early 80s help defy certain pre-existing notions about the music’s appeal.
Heading into noir territory: I finally got around to reading James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, which concentrates desire and corruption and not-always-contained violence into a brief and striking narrative. Jean-Phillipe Toussaint’s Reticence sustains a mysterious tone of surveillance and ambiguity over its hundred-odd pages; it’s the sort of thing that probably couldn’t be sustained for much longer than that, but it ably sustains its mood throughout.
Also in there: Nabokov! Unfortunately, Transparent Things wasn’t my favorite of his works — it struck me as beautifully written but ultimately emotionally cold, its characters’ actions arising less from their own inner lives and more from the necessities of the plot (and its orchestration.) I’m hoping to get to Speak, Memory before long — or perhaps his Lectures on Russian Literature.
As of this moment, I’m in the middle of reading Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, which juxtaposes matter-of-fact accounts of her upbringing in a fundamentalist Christian household with rhapsodic passages about the act of reading. (She also makes some unlikely connections between the two.) It neatly bookends my other recent bit of memoir-by-a-badass-writer reading: Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s a fantastic read, exhausting and exhilarating and at times incredibly moving. I also hadn’t realized that Strayed was a part of the same writing group that also includes Lidia Yuknavitch, Monica Drake, and Chuck Palahniuk, which seems like a Portland-literary version of Awesome People Hanging Out Together.
I’ve fallen for I Am An Executioner: Love Stories, the first book from Rajesh Parameswaran. The stories are smart, fantastically creative, and really show an infectious love of storytelling. I’m also waging an endless battle with my Instapaper feed. It can’t be won, but it leads to me a lot of good journalism. Peter Frase’s essay in Jacobin magazine, “Four Futures,” about four possible post-capitalist societies, is a fascinating thought experiment. Now might be a golden age for readers of small magazines (writers and publishers of them have their own slate of problems). Everyone should be following The Baffler, which has just returned from hiatus. It has some of the smartest, most scabrous and unmannered writing you’ll find; they bow to no one. Start with Maureen Tkacik’s hilarious, eviscerating essay, “Omniscient Gentlemen of the Atlantic,” in which she speculates whether The Atlantic magazine is a CIA front, and then order a subscription. It’s well worth it.
Heaven only knows how much server space has been devoted to the HBO show Girls in the past two weeks. I probably won’t see the show anytime soon (does HBO think that the Girls generation can afford the high-end cable package?), but I’ve been a big consumer of the coverage, and in the past few days I’ve steadfastly skipped over the hype. But the best article I found is this one by Troy Patterson at Slate. He rounds up many of the recent VOAG candidates from the 90s on, explaining their contributions and why they’re no longer relevant, coupled with his own mid-90s memories.
At the end, Patterson gives a passing glance to Marie Calloway, the girl who recently wrote the much-clicked “Adrien Brody.” Though Patterson’s piece didn’t mention it, Calloway returned this week with another story entitled “Jeremy Lin,” about a certain Muumuu House provocateur and author. No, there aren’t sexual details, but lots of miscommunication, awkward flirting, and angst about the writing life in a mini-novella (or whatever 11,000 words qualifies as). Maybe the Girls crew should give her a look.
Otherwise, I’m reading a book about food trucks.