Matthew Specktor on the Secret Narratives of Los Angeles

Matthew Specktor

No matter what your preferred artistic discipline is, odds are good that Los Angeles has contributed in a significant way to them. In his new book Always Crashing in the Same Car: On Art, Crisis, and Los Angeles, California, Matthew Specktor traces both his own history with the city in question and ventures into the lives of some of its most underrated chroniclers. Its blend of cultural commentary and memoir is never less than beguiling, and I talked with Specktor via email to get a better sense of how it all came about.

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Visceral Mythology and Transformational Songs: A Conversation With Jeanne Thornton and Alex DiFrancesco

"Summer Fun" and "Transmutation" covers

Alex DiFrancesco’s collection Transmutation abounds with moments of intimate revelation and transforming bodies. Jeanne Thornton’s novel Summer Fun draws inspiration from a legendary rock band and takes it to a wholly unexpected place. Both books are among the best I’ve read this year, and I chatted with both authors over Zoom one summer evening. The conversation covered a wide range of subjects — from pandemic coping mechanisms to the music of Tom Waits — and an edited version follows.

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Did William Friedkin Direct 2021’s Most Urgent Movie in 2006?

"Bug" scene

The other night, I did something I’d been meaning to do for years: watch William Friedkin’s 2006 adaptation of Tracy Letts’s 1996 play Bug. That it had taken me so long remains a mystery to me: Friedkin is, after all, the director of The Exorcist. I’d seen Letts’s play August: Osage County on Broadway and loved it. And the film’s two leads were the always reliable Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon. It took me over a decade to watch the film, but in the end it might be that I saw it at exactly the right time.

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The Secret History of Naples, Then and Now: An Interview With John Domini

John Domini

One of the most challenging tasks for any writer is evoking the physicality of life using only words on a page. With his new book The Archeology of a Good Ragù: Discovering Naples, My Father and Myself, John Domini does exactly that. Simultaneously a concise history of Domini’s family, a portrait of contemporary Naples, and an exploration of the region’s food and art, the book seamlessly moves from one topic to the next, memorably evoking a holistic sense of the minutiae of life. Domini and I chatted via email about the long process of writing this book and how it connects to his other works.

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“This Mode Can Serve as a Gateway Into a Deeper Honesty”: An Interview With Melissa Wiley

Melissa Wiley

Few essayists blend the cerebral and the visceral the way that Melissa Wiley does in her work. Her latest collection, Skull Cathedral: A Vestigial Anatomy brings together a host of works inspired in various ways by vestigial organs. It builds on the work in her previous collection, Antlers in Space and Other Common Phenomena, which wrestles with mortality and humanity, along with the complexities of both. I spoke with Wiley to learn more about the genesis of both books and what’s next for her.

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“The Ground Didn’t Stop Moving Beneath My Feet”: Hermione Hoby on Writing “Virtue”

Hermione Hoby (c) Benjamin Kunkel

Class and privilege; morality and identity. These are all themes that have fueled novelists and storytellers over the years. But it’s difficult to think of a novel that’s used them in quite the same combination as Virtue, Hermione Hoby‘s new novel. At its center is a young man named Luca, who works as an intern at a prestigious literary magazine and falls into the orbit of two successful artists, Paula and Jason, who are several years his senior. Hoby’s novel offers a stunning take on recent history and a haunting look at interpersonal connections. I spoke with Hoby via email to learn more about how Virtue came to be.

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“Cowboy Notes” and Space Rock: An Interview With numün

Numün

For the last year or so, I’ve been seeking out music that pushes towards the blissful, the contemplative, and the immersive. Cue the band numün and their 2020 album voyage au soleil, which brings together a sense of the cosmic with some virtuosic playing. I’m a fan of the other bands in which these guys play, including SUSS and Gamelan Dharma Swara, and I was eager to hear what this configuration would come up with. When I finally did, I was ecstatic; last fall, I spoke with the trio over Zoom to learn more about their approach to ambient music.

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Doubles, Fiction, and the George Costanza Method: An Interview With Matthew Salesses

Matthew Salesses

Since the beginning of 2020, a pair of books by Matthew Salesses have reached bookshelves wherever books are sold. On the surface, they couldn’t be more different. Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear is a distinctive spin on the idea of the fictional double, blending the surrealism inherent in the concept with a harrowing take on contemporary politics. Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshoppingoffers a stunning take on how fiction and writing are taught, and where some of the foundations of the form fall short. I talked with Salesses about the writing of both books and whether they helped to shape one another — and what George Constanza had to do with it all.

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