Last week, I read Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in Sixty Days or Less. It came highly recommended by a number of fine people I know, and it definitely met my expectations. It’s an exploration of Glidden’s 2007 Birthright trip to Israel, and about the difficulties of analyzing the conditions over there. It’s a dense exploration of political ambiguity, and it does a fine job of making Glidden’s own internal debates — and the conflicted history around her — dramatic and compelling.
I also read J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise, which opens with one of the best first sentences — hell, one of the best first ten words — I’ve encountered in a novel: “Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.”
Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog. At that point, it’s awfully hard to not keep going.
The rest of the novel pays off handsomely; without saying too much, it’s about a massive luxury apartment building slowly devolving into chaos. It eerily anticipated news stories like this one, and its influence can be seen here and there. (If you’re a reader of the comic book The Filth, you might remember the one where the occupants of an ocean liner reverts to savagery? Yeah.)
In the “books I really should have read already” department, I just finished Jane Eyre; in the “unconventionally structured satirical novels whose structural choices pay off” department, I also completed Jacques Jouet’s Mountain R. And now, I’ve begun a block of nonfiction by starting Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell, about which I’ll have much more to say next week.
Favorite thing read this week was my old Newton, MA comrade Simon Waxman’s months-old editorial for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, “An Open Letter to People Who Insist That New York is the Only Place to Get a Decent Bagel”. It’s topical, ‘cause it’s about us! You can call this a straw man argument in the wake of the recent praise mounted upon Montreal’s contributions to the form, but would we even be talking about our neighbors to the north were it not for Brooklyn-approved deli-mecca Mile End? Besides, you’re here for Simon’s acid-tongued verbal volleys.
Waxman, Managing Editor of The Boston Review (a shockingly good publication for which my praise in a New York-centric blog may prove a bark up the wrong tree), reads like a literary codpiece: he grabs you by the junk and brings our attention to what counts.
I also dug the “To Go: Opera Buffet” piece in the Talk of the Town section of this week’s New Yorker, as pleasant a Mimi Sheraton penned venture as you’ll find in recent memory. An opera star’s wife drying pre-prepped ducks on her shower curtain and scouring the world for the perfect ginger is my kind of pre-lunch appetizer.
Reading music: who needs Trent Reznor’s The Social Network soundtrack to remind you we live in a dissonant, angular world when you can have John Williams’ theme to Jurassic Park, slowed by one thousand percent to a haunting, fifty-four minute chamber screed? Eat your heart out, Ridgewood Goths Discovering Oscillators!
I spent waaaaay too much money on Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Writers and Artists Who Made the National Lampoon Insanely Great, by Rick Meyerowitz. But I truly believe it was worth every single penny, as I’ve been obsessed with National Lampoon since I was a kid. The only problem is, I never really got to see many issues — so this is perfect.