Each week, Vol. 1 editors band together as one to discuss their week among literature and the written word. This is the place to hear about all the best that they’ve thumbed through, bookmarked, lauded, and consumed in the last seven days. This is where “praise” hits the blogosphere bong and becomes “high praise”. This, dear reader, is Indexing.
A number of smart people had said good things to me about Alexander Chee’s Edinburgh. Now that I’ve read it, I can understand why; the man has a stunning ability to both describe people and places and to do so in a way that feels consistent with the character handing the narration. And he’s able to establish characters quickly, yet also give the sense of fully-lived lives outside of what we read on these pages. (It doesn’t hurt that Chee can authentically evoke both youth choirs and all-ages shows; can comfortably evoke medieval Europe and Korean fables.) This is a fundamentally wrenching book, and I suspect that I’ll be thinking over its characters, its handling of the legacy of trauma, and the haunting and interconnected images with which it’s populated for a very long time.
Also read this week: Emma Straub’s Other People We Married and Justin Taylor’s The Gospel of Anarchy. I believe reviews of both are forthcoming from my fellow editors here, so I’ll be brief in the hopes of not stepping on any toes. Straub’s debut collection is a fine one, ranging from finely observed travelogues to academic comedies to sketches of surreal spaces; all are united by wry narration and precise characterization. Her skill here is in establishing unexpected places (the outskirts of Palm Springs, a roadside attraction in upstate New York) in which characters can spark off of one another.
As for The Gospel of Anarchy, it’s wildly ambitious and yet deeply intimate; aiming at large-scale concepts (both parts of its title are taken very seriously), yet also very specific in its evocation of Gainesville punk circa 1999. There’s degradation and transcendence in equal measure: Vollmann’s The Royal Family by way of ABC No Rio.
I’m going to say something, and I reserve the right to change this at any point: Ben Greenman’s latest musical (which actually has no music), “FRAGMENTS FROM DOOMED MUSICAL! THE MUSICAL,” is my favorite so far. Everybody is talking about how incredibly shitty Spiderman the Musical is, but I haven’t seen much in the way of good parody. Maybe I’m just not looking hard enough, but Greenman got this one pretty spot on.
I also finished Benjamin Hale’s The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, just in time for last night’s reading. Buy the book, and go see Benjamin if he comes to a town near you. His reading from the book gave it a whole new dimension.
I am thoroughly titillated by the thought of one day reading Bruno Littlemore after the aforementioned reading! We’ve been covering it like plastic wrap on old people’s furniture, so go find this week’s V1 pieces about it. Also worth noting that Hale is a fantastic live reader, evoking with great animation the best of Plimpton, Kerouac, and the primate community which Hale so gracefully chronicles.
In preparation for a review here next week, I’ve been reading David Lipsky’s road odyssey with colleague David Foster Wallace, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. I don’t want to surrender all my precious reactions here, but let it be said that while I expected Wallace to be a great if begrudging conversationalist, I was not prepared for how much Lipsky brings to the table. Astute in his observations and always a great prompt for his shaggy bandana-ed subject, Lipsky is wry but never dry, tender without saccharine, and fit to present an itenerary of desire that is an apt eulogy to Wallace, albeit a work never intended as such. I’ve come away from it thinking the highway a great place for mourning. A full review pending: tune in next week!
In today’s reading, here’s an interesting book story I drank up thanks to the barista who, deciding I was someone who could use a previous patron’s abandoned and crumpled pile of discarded New York Times pages, tossed the inky lump at my head at around nine-thirty this morning. It was good natured and a kind offer, even if the possibility of facial paper cuts would top a Reverse Bucket List were I ever to pen one. Now there’s an idea for a ‘think piece’.