One theme of the past week’s reading: Russia. I made my way through Vladimir Sorokin’s Ice Trilogy while spending last weekend in Pittsburgh. It’s a surreal book (more specifically, it’s a surreal group of books), centered around a shadowy organization whose members believe themselves to be the fleshbound incarnations of immortal light-based entities. They spend much of the book attempting to “awaken” other dormant entities by, well, smashing other people in the chest with hammers made of ice; their ultimate goal is to restore cosmic order via the destruction of the planet. It’s utterly batshit, and calls to mind several cults and crypto-religious organizations, except that Sorokin’s angle is that this is no delusion. It’s bitterly satirical in places; in others, there’s an unhinged quality to the narration. Some of the motifs that recur from book to book lose something when displayed in such close proximity, but in general, the book’s over-the-top qualities won out.
Alina Simone’s You Must Go and Win was an entirely different kind of Russian story: a series of essays focusing on different corners of Simone’s life. Some focus on her experiences as a musician; others, with her fascination with obscure corners of European history. (Her piece on the Skoptsy, titled “The Benefits of Self-Castration,” is particularly memorable — and no, it’s not for the obvious reason.) It doesn’t hurt that Simone is a fine storyteller, able to ease into a particular topic in an unexpected fashion, and projecting a sort of congenial bemusement at the more frustrating people she encounters along the way.
My George R.R. Martin fixation continued; a long bus rides to Pittsburgh gave me plenty of time to read A Clash of Kings, and I spent the hot and humid Monday afternoon searching Oakland for a copy of A Storm of Swords. I did indeed find one, and spent the bus ride back to New York engrossed in it; upon arriving at my apartment, I continued reading until some ungodly hour that night. And as an added bonus, A Clash of Kings has one of the niftiest Lovecraft hat-tips I’ve encountered to date.
Also read (and admired) in there: Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums. It’s been ages since I last read anything of his, and between Lauren Cerand’s recommendation of this novel and a suggestion that I check out The Subterraneans, I figured it was time to revisit his work; I suspect you’ll see more mentions of his novels in this section in the months to come. Up next in my queue, however: John Darnielle’s Master of Reality.
I’ve been listening to the latest Crystal Stilts, In Love With Oblivion, and two albums by Biff Rose, The Thorn in Mrs. Rose’s Side and Children of Light. This second Crystal Stilts album seems to have received less fanfare than their debut LP (which was stunning), and I’ve got to wonder if it was just released on a busy week, or did the mail screw up getting it out to other music reviewers, because it’s really something else. They’ve really pulled together their surf/jangle pop sensibilities and their Joy Divisionesque vocals, and created something nearly perfect. (Plus, any album that has nothing but paisley design when you open it up is always going to be good.)
Working through Parisians: An Adventure of Paris by Graham Robb. I’d like to say I picked it up in honor of Bastille Day, but that’s not the case. I’d been meaning to read it, and I found it on sale.