A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
If you’re following global politics, particularly those of a cultural variety, then you’ve probably had your eyes on Russia in the past week or two. Reading Masha Gessen’s piece on the Pussy Riot trial, I was reminded to read her book The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. I’m about halfway through with it as of now; it’s both an interesting history of Putin, who comes off as a terrifying enigma for much of the book, and an informative account of post-Communist Russia.
It’s been something of a nonfiction-themed week for me, with rewarding results. I also read, and thoroughly enjoyed, Lisa Cohen’s All We Know. It’s a fascinating look at intellectual lives in a certain societal milieu in the first half of the twentieth century; Cohen’s three subjects navigate numerous aspects of culture and sexuality.And there are cameos aplenty, from writers like Virginia Woolf and Ivy Compton-Burnett to Chester A. Arthur’s bisexual, hippie-friendly grandson. Highly recommended.
I’d also had Rich Cohen’s The Fish That Ate the Whale on my to-read shelf for way too long. Fascinating stuff — and, much like his piece on Jean Lafitte, he does a good job in capturing what makes his subject compelling without hiding the less-savory aspects of his life. (And as a bonus, there are frequent citations of the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.) Cohen’s an expert storyteller who meters out the life of Samuel Zemurray precisely, with care, detail, and an eye towards history.
I can’t be particularly unbiased regarding Emma Straub’s Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, the sole novel I read this week. That said, I enjoyed it considerably, and felt like it continued a lot of the themes from her novella “Flyover State” (and her collection Other People We Married as a whole): marital balance, isolation, and clashes with one’s earlier ideals — albeit with a serious dollop of golden-age Hollywood as its setting.
At this week’s raucous reading entitled “Vol. 1 vs. the End of Summer”, I picked up one of that rare breed of poetry collections to be read from cover to cover. Piano Rats by Franki Elliot (from the Curbside Splendor press out of Chicago) is a slim volume that you will burn through all too quickly, as I did in the small of hours of dawn heading into Friday morning. That so many of the pieces read like quietly extinguished love letters perhaps lends them to very late nights. Bukowski inspired only as far as she can throw him, Elliot takes his bombastic characters and sets them to sweeter music, her ditties hopeful and vibrant. These often tired old souls measure their worth in small dollar amounts, drug spoons and cravings for delicious morsels like Dr. Pepper and cayenne. “What are you reading?” asked the crook-nosed boy in the pink wig riding the L train home. “It’s only rock and roll,” I said, “but I like it.
And if you need more tunes when you’ve reached it’s end, and summer’s end to boot, try on the jangling tunes of Jacques Dutronc, the only man cool enough in this world to have married Francoise Hardy. His music is ripe with end credits material fit for the close of the party season: to listen to his hit “Et Moi, Et Moi, Et Moi” is to hear the finale of a good time.
I watched Paris, Texas for the first time ever this week. Not sure why I let a film that stars both Harry Dean Stanton and Dean Stockwell slip by me for so long, but it was good I finally got that out of the way. Seeing Stockwell made me think that maybe a Quantum Leap marathon is in order at some point in the future. But I’ve been also contemplating a Paul Thomas Anderson marathon in anticipation for The Master.
Currently reading Marco Roth’s The Scientists: A Family Romance. I’ve always loved Mr. Roth’s n+1 essays (I’ve used his term “Neuronovel” at least a dozen times in the past), and his memoir is positively heartbreaking. I found myself trying not to get emotional while reading it on the train to work. Also finished Battleborn, which is absolutely essential. I got the same feeling from Claire Vaye Watkins’s stories as I did stuff by Denis Johnson or Rudy Wurlitzer. An absolutely fantastic book.