Indexing: Mindy Kaling on Comedy, Robertson Davies Obsessions, The-Dream and Aziz Ansari, Bolaño Meets “Mrs. Doubtfire,” and More

A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.

Josh Spilker
I was at a lake for part of this week and that’s the closest I’m getting to “beach read” for awhile. I took Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? along and skimmed it. Kaling is best known as Kelly Kapoor on The Office and she’s a longtime writer there. This fall, she has her own show. I’ll be honest, most of the books I pick up don’t have pink covers (don’t worry, she addresses that in the book) or author photos prominently displayed. But I became interested in Kaling after hearing her WTF podcast interview and thought it would be a good read. There’s a quick wit on display in describing her childhood and collegiate life and she shows honesty in discussing her weight and eating issues. There are a few Office discussions, but really not much.

The mailman dropped me a new copy of Mel Bosworth’s Every Laundromat in The World out now from Safety Third Enterprises, one of the best small chap presses around. I know Mel mostly for his prose, but he shoots off small poems in this book full of simple moments. I’ve only read a few, but I’ll dive in more this weekend.

And one of my favorite Nashville bands, Jeff The Brotherhood, dropped the perfect summertime video this week for their song “Sixpack.” Check it.

Jason Diamond
Bolaño on the bookshelf at a party eventually leads to a few minutes of Bolaño discussion. It was one of those, “I’ve read this, this and this,” sort of things, and it left me realizing that the three books (plus the New Directions book of essays and lectures) is pretty paltry, and that something needs to be done.

The next day I was walking through Mercer Street Books, and the first thing I saw as I walked in was a copy of By Night in Chile, facing out at me almost saying, “Helllooooo,” in a Mrs. Doubtfire sort of voice. Even though By Night was one of the Bolaño books I’d read in the past, it seemed like a logical choice considering its small size compared to the other two books (2666 and The Savage Detectives).

I don’t know what it is about reading Bolaño, or any great writer for that matter, for a second time. I feel almost like I’ve been given another shot at life, like I didn’t appreciate the book as much as I should have the first time around. Part of me wants to give up reading everything else I had on my list for this summer and just go through as much Bolaño as possible, but I also realize what sort of emotional effects that might have on me.

Abraham Riesman
God bless you and keep you, Slavoj Žižek. I’m jamming to In Defense of Lost Causes, a 2008 tome from everyone’s favorite Slovenian philosopher/crank. It’s got everything you want from a Žižek tract, I suppose: absolutely no running thread between chapters, a title that has barely anything to do with 85% of the book, unending references to obscure lectures by Lacan, and tons of sweet, sweet crazy. I’m about 3/5 of the way through, and here’s just a small sample of what I’ve gotten to delight in: a convincing argument that the Spartans of 300 are very much like the Taliban, a passionate and emotional indictment of torture, an explanation of how the Ode to Joy explains everything that’s wrong with the European Union, and repeated uses of G.K. Chesterton novels to explain why Heidegger’s turn to Nazism was somewhat admirable. The best way to read a Žižek book (and I highly recommend that everyone do so at some point in his or her brief time on this planet) is to just let it wash over you. Don’t bother re-reading passages that you don’t understand, because you’ll never get through it that way. And always remember that he’s basically on your side, even though he pretends he’s not.

Speaking of the Taliban, everyone should read Dexter Filkins’s latest thing in the New Yorker. It’s a big ol’ #longread about the state of things in Afghanistan, but it’s in no way a slog. Christ, he’s such a good nonfiction prose stylist — never flashy, always direct, and deeply humanistic. Spoiler alert: it’s a bit of a weeper at times. Completely unrelated: I’ve been listening to The-Dream’s 2010 album, Love King, and it’s quite catchy, but it’s been hard to take it seriously ever since Vol. 1’s own Jen Vafidis pointed out that his singing voice is nearly identical to that of Aziz Ansari.

Tobias Carroll
I kicked off this week in reading with a pair of books from writers who’ll be doing an event for us later this month: Emily St. John Mandel’s The Lola Quartet and Barbara Browning’s I’m Trying to Reach You. Mandel’s novel continues in her tradition of atmospheric, noir-laced work; it concerns a disgraced former journalist attempting to sort out the disappearance of his girlfriend ten years earlier. There are conspiracies here, and betrayals small and large; in placing together a half-dozen damaged characters each seeking some form of redemption, Mandel combines familiar elements but avoids rote answers. Her characters end the book in unexpected places, yet each conclusion seems satisfying. Browning’s book is very different from her previous novel, The Correspondence Artist — while that was an experimental work that shattered its narrator’s account of a relationship into four distinct narratives, I’m Trying to Reach You is more straightforward. It’s a satire of both campus novels and paranoid conspiracy thrillers, as its dancer-turned-academic narrator becomes obsessed with a series of YouTube videos made by a dancer and begins to detect a conspiracy afoot in the deaths of Merce Cunningham, Michael Jackson, and others.

2012 seems to be shaping up to be my year of reading abundant works from Norman Lock and Robertson Davies, much as previous years have focused around the likes of Javier Marias and Geoff Dyer. This time out, it was Lock’s The King of Sweden and Davies’s Murther & Walking Spirits, both of which come recommended. Lock’s book is less surreal than the dreamlike narratives I’d previously read from him, though it’s no less concerned with internal lives. Here, it’s a fractured narrative of one woman’s life, moving from an uneasy Depression-era childhood to a kind of romantic bliss to a harsh and brutal institutionalization. And Davies’s novel uses the device of an arts editor murdered by his wife’s lover as a gateway into one family’s history.

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