It’s the second week in January, which marks the beginning of magazine subscriptions received at Christmas! Oh, Fabled Day! There’s still roughly fifty-one to go, so no worries about New York Magazine’s current double issue being kind of a dud, featuring celeb takes on “New York’s Greatest-Ever Everything”. A “controversial” think-piece without controversy (Best Athlete: Babe Ruth! Best Musical: West Side Story! Best Financier: J.P. Morgan?), the kind of harmless bloat that lets editors extend their vacations.
Better finds came from this week’s New Yorker. Namely “Portraits of Imaginary People”, a fun trifle on George Condo, the Haring/Basquiat compadre best known of late for his upcoming New Museum retrospective, and for painting Kanye West’s “Banned in the USA!!!” cover art for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Even better was Jill Lepore’s “The Commandments”, a blistering history of the Constitution, what it is and isn’t, and why the Tea Party has elected to co-opt it with the subtlety and reading comprehension of a Kodiak bear.
Still uncracked: a Strand-purchased copy of Conquest of the Useless, Werner Herzog’s diary of the treacherous shoot of his 1984 Amazonian epic Fitzcarraldo.
Much of last week’s reading was occupied by John Williams’s novel Stoner. You know how sometimes, everywhere you turn you find a glowing recommendation of a particular novel (or film, or album)? Stoner occupied that space for me in the later months of 2010. (Its successor in literary omnipresence seems to be Alexander Chee’s Edinburgh, which I’m hoping to delve into in the coming weeks.) I’m still gathering my thoughts on Williams’s novel; just after finishing it, though, I felt drained, moved, and exhilarated by the precision and force of its prose. And I’m intrigued to check out his novel Butcher’s Crossing, which looks to delve into a wholly different terrain.
Also read: Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker. I’d enjoyed his The Wind-Up Girl when I read it last summer: smart, morally ambiguous science fiction. Ship Breaker is more of the same, and though it owes more to the adventure novel (as The Wind-Up Girl was laced with espionage tropes), there’s no shortage of moral complexity here. All of which makes for a fine hybrid — a coming-of-age novel with morally gray areas in abundance.
Salt Hill Journal #26 has taught me that I have two things in common with Gary Lutz: We’d both like to have Steve Buscemi read our work and we’ve both lied about enjoying our time in Syracuse.
Okay, that second one was bullshit. I love Syracuse. I also loved this interview and pretty much the entire journal. I haven’t gotten around to reading any of the fiction in it, but I will sooner or later.
I’m still in the middle of The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, but will begin tackling J.D. Salinger: A Life and Justin Taylor’s The Gospel of Anarchy this weekend.
Also, Iron & Wine did Daytrotter. That’s really a beautiful thing to write.