A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
I am going to devote my indexing this week to one thing because I am so excited about it: Slake. I had heard about the new lit mag, read an excerpt from it, and shamefully forgotten about it until I was in Stories in Echo Park (a bookstore crush to end all bookstore crushes, at least for this week). I saw it among the new Eileen Myles, a Harry Crews anthology, and a few cookbooks and atlases that were all threatening to distract me. I resisted them and picked up a copy of Slake and didn’t look back. Where to begin? There’s an interview with William Finnegan that has me drooling in anticipation over his upcoming surfing memoir. There’s also a sneaky knock-out of a poem by Lauren Groff and an expectedly great Aimee Bender story. But that’s just a tiny sampling. The magazine is huge, made with love and intelligence, and deserving of your attention. Find it and buy it.
Do you live in the Los Angeles metropolitan area? Do you have a couple hours to spare? Do you like it when you’re unsure about the nature of reality? Then why aren’t you constantly going to the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City? I’m on the tail end of a journey to the Far West and I can firmly tell you that this oddly-named cabinet of curiosities is 100% required viewing. In ornate, dimly lit rooms, you get lessons in odd technological curios from throughout human history (Argentine suspension bridges, 16th-century theories of magnetism, and the like) mixed in with tidbits of things that may or may not be Borges-esque faux-encyclopedic bullshit. And upstairs, you get free tea and cookies from an eerie Eastern European lady with an elderly dog!
Also: comics, comics, comics! The smaller the press, the better! Pile on the chronicles of awkward sex! Hit me with some sweet middle-class angst action! I just worked through a fantastic pile of obscure, creator-owned graphic lit that I picked up in LA, and you’ve gotta check some of this stuff out. Matt Furie’s “Boy’s Club” uses anthropomorphic creatures to straddle the line between scatology and mournful nostalgia, Lisa Hanawalt’s “I Want You” is a cornucopia of observations about human bodies (despite the fact that all of its characters are animals), and Igloo Tornado’s “Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever” will break your heart with its depiction of a struggling long-term relationship between Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig. Seriously! It’s almost too real!
I’m pulling this odd maneuver wherein I am trying to plow through books that have been on my shelf for ages but which I haven’t gotten around to. The curious part is working my way through them alphabetically by last name. In theory this can lead to reading multiple titles back to back by the same author should I keep up with it. The whole thing is kind of a gauntlet, one foolishly trying to make sport of reading. Who knows how long I’ll keep this up, but for the meantime, here goes nuffin’.
Kathy Acker’s Don Quixote would have been the first up to bat had I not accidentally sold it last week to Book Thug Nation in the midst of spring cleaning. Avenge me by buying it from them and letting us know what you think of it. Instead we move to Woody Allen’s Side Effects, a collection of humor shorts penned throughout the mid-to-late seventies, typically considered the Woodman’s prime. It would be a tall order for these stories offer the same combination of well-drawn characters and poignant pathos of Annie Hall and Manhattan. This stuff is broad comedy, yet still often whip-smart in its turns of phrase. There are moments that feel a bit like early Allen (Take the Money and Run, Bananas) in their satisfaction with cartoonish characters with increasingly absurd monikers. At worst these pieces sometimes felt like that weird era when Rick Moranis – by then unseen onscreen by the public for years – started submitting op-eds to newspapers where he’d make corny puns about the Bush administration. But at their best you get to see the beautifully circular and crafted capability as a joke writer, and the uniqueness of his approach from out of film and into prose, where he can do longer setups to pay off punchlines, and make his assorted Western philosophy references in peace. And indeed, no one takes more of a ribbing throughout nearly all of these stories than a certain brand of pompous, faux-worldly “intellectual” whom Allen at once recognizes as his enemy and his reflection.
From there I got halfway through Martin Amis’ The Information. The set up is a bit too on-the-nose: “failed experimental novelist feels unappreciated, considers killing his frenemy who writes best-selling, prize-winning drivel”. It initially seems like a tavern joke shared among authors and not much more. But the black comedy often achieves the right wicked temperament, and Amis nails a protagonist who’s unreliable simply because he often doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and wants to sound smarter than he really is. I’m also quite fond of Amis’ rhythms of short sentences that seem to peter out and fade away, often having to gather and re-gather themselves, as if they are built to match the tempo of the wistful would-be assassin Richard Tull, whose resentment is a slow burn, emitting from him like London fog rolling off damp back alleys.
You know how, on some weeks, I list a bunch of books that I read and then follow them with the caveat that I can’t say too much about them because I’ll have longer pieces to follow? Yeah, this is one of those weeks: Brian Evenson’s Immobility and Leni Zumas’s fantastic The Listeners both fall into that category. I can say that Mike Faloon’s The Hanging Gardens of Split Rock is a fine collection of short work, mainly focusing on members of the same communities in North Carolina and upstate New York. Faloon has a wry sense of humor, and some of the portraits — a man dedicated to producing a sort of southern-rock Tommy; a hockey player turned sheriff — veer in unexpected directions.
I read Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude after enjoying his Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, which I quite enjoyed. This is a bit less bleak, and follows the lives of several residents of a boarding-house just outside of WWII-era London. It’s something of a comedy of manners, at times wrenching and at times hilarious — and then Hamilton brings everything together with a brilliant ending.
And I got to see Brian Francis Slattery read, which is always a fine thing — this time, he led a five-piece band, occasionally joining them on banjo. It fits his work terrifyingly well, in a very organic way, and I really hope someone gets the notion to record one of the group’s performances one of these days. Would I purchase a Brian Francis Slattery 7″? I certainly would.
For the weekend, I’ll be introducing myself to the work of Annie Dillard via her Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and finishing Chloe Caldwell’s Legs Get Led Astray; I’ll also be catching up with the latest issues of Tin House & Paris Review.
I haven’t read a book about the Second World War in quite some time. I guess since I was the editor of a Jewish website for two years, I’ve earned that right. That’s all coming to an end since I can’t escape the praise for HHhH. I’ll be taking that along on vacation with me along with Emma Straub’s Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures and Seth Greenland’s The Angry Buddhist.
I was officially the last person to start watching Mad Men until last week. I know people like to kvetch about what they see as the pointlessness of television recaps, but in my case, Adam Wilson’s “Dear Don Draper” series at The Paris Review made me decide that I’d been a schmuck and it was time to put my Netflix to good use. I really don’t know what I can say other than I totally get what you’ve all been talking about all along.