A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
If this week’s reading had any theme, it was a focus on writings on culture. Calvin Tomkins’s Lives of the Artists came highly recommended from friends on multiple coasts, and I devoured it early this week. Tomkins did a fine job of making assorted movements and theories of contemporary art understandable to someone such as me without a significant art-history background. And he also created a number of compelling narratives of artists’ successes and failures, managing to wrap all of them in a subtle but sharp awareness of class and economics.
Reading it, I was reminded of my love of the work of James Turrell; I think I would like to head to Minneapolis before long to sit in his Sky Pesher for a little while.
I also took in Eileen Myles’s The Importance of Being Iceland, which opens with a lengthy essay that’s part travelogue, part meditation on the Icelandic art scene, part confessional, and part….everything else. It’s sprawling and never fails to be compelling, and it sets up the essays to follow, touching on everything from Allen Ginsberg’s legacy to Myles’s relationship to her sister to a smart musing on testosterone in media.
The reading of culture-writing continued via Roland Barthes’s essay collection Writing Degree Zero, Charles Petersen’s excellent essay on the New York Public Library in the latest n + 1, and Alice Gregory’s “On the Market” from the previous issue of the same journal. And I caught up on a couple of issues of The Believer as well. Now I’m on to Anatole Broyard’s Kafka Was the Rage. (Update: it’s terrific, offering a precise evocation of New York in the late 1940s. Broyard also pulls off conveying male anxieties about women without being consumed by them, a fine line it’s hard to pull off.) Next up: a week (or at least part of one) in which I’ll be trying to get through the YA part of my to-read pile, including books from China Miéville, Kristin Cashore, and Tamora Pierce.
Forgiveness is difficult when it comes to politics. The whole thing of you having your opinions and I’ll have mine is good and fine, but it’s tough to put compassion into practice when I really don’t agree at all with what the other person thinks. You think abortion is evil? That’s fine, but I think you are a total idiot. You think the rich shouldn’t be taxed all that much because then they can’t help create jobs? Alright, that’s fine, you’re an American who is entitled to that opinion. But you’re also a jerk. That’s the give and take of politics: I can appreciate your right to have whatever beliefs, but I can still think you’re a total schmuck.
It gets tougher to look past politics when it’s an artist whose work I appreciate, and David Mamet is the perfect example of that. I’m a huge fan of Mamet’s work, but his politics have gone in a direction that I don’t agree with. And no matter how hard I try to look past those beliefs, I can’t help but think that he’s the same guy who said he’s crazy for Sarah Palin.
But I’m in a new phase of my life. I’m trying to be a bigger person. I’m at this point where I’m going to be the change I want to see in the world. Blah blah blah. My new thing is that I’m not shunning somebody whose work I previously loved because they just so happen to be a little off their rocker (in my own opinion), and Mamet is the first person I’m letting back in — as long as he leaves the Palin 2016 bumperstickers at the door. (That said, if you’re really off your rocker, then I’m still done with you.)
A copy of Mamet’s book of essays, Writing in Restaurants, was on sale at a local bookstore. Inspired by the fantastic Wallace Shawn and Tony Kushner interviews in the lates issue of The Paris Review, I’ve found myself more and more interested in reading the thoughts of playwrights. So I picked it up, liked reading it, and things between myself and Mr. Mamet are currently as copacetic as they can be.
Also started in on Edward St. Aubyn’s The Patrick Melrose Novels. I’ve been a little backed up with packing my old apartment, so I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to dig into it, but from the response I got on Twitter when I mentioned I was reading it, I’m going to be quite happy at the end. Also picked up a new copy of The Crowd by Mary McCarthy after reading Maud Newton’s piece in the latest Bookforum, and plan on reading The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets by Kathleen Alcott. I’m especially excited about Alcott’s book after reading her brilliant Sunday Story a few weeks back.