A roundup of things consumed by our editors.
Finished Geoff Dyer’s Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasai last weekend for one of the book groups I’m in. At first, I wasn’t as impressed with it as I’d been with his other work, but over time, the gulf between its two sections — one third-person, set in Venice, the other first-person and set in Varanasai — began to impress me more and more. Dyer leaves open the question of whether the protagonist of the first section is the narrator of the second, and out of the tension that exists there emerges something strange and ambiguous and, ultimately, deeply moving. I’m presently reading this New Yorker dialogue with Dyer about the novel and finding it interesting. (And Dyer is, as always, incredibly charming.)
The stories that make up Roxane Gay’s collection Ayiti look at Haiti from different perspectives: some take the perspective of residents of the nation in question, others from those who have left for a life in the United States, whether prosperous or struggling. Gay channels a number of voices with equal precision, and can leave the reader reeling after only a few pages.
I suspect I’ll be writing more about Colson Whitehead’s Zone One in the weeks to come. It’s creepy and sometimes funny and deeply, deeply sad — sharp, horror-laced science fiction that seems more and more relevant the more I think about it. Right now, I’m making my way through Tim Kinsella’s The Karaoke Singer’s Guide to Self-Defense. So far, I’m enjoying it: it’s a subtle novel about a fractured family and the traumas in their past, full of lived-in details and unsettling moments where characters with anger issues sit on the verge of doing something awful. Eager to see where it goes from here.
I’ve also been working my way through the latest Bookforum, and was incredibly impressed by the first two issues of the third volume Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba’s surreal comic Casanova. (David Brothers has a review of the second issue that helps to explain why you should be reading it.)
I go through this every year around this time. Yo La Tengo, John Fahey, Red House Painters (as well as the Mark Kozelek solo record of all Bon Scott-era AC/DC covers), Marissa Nadler, etc. etc. etc. I find myself hiding under wool blankets listening to Mt. Eerie as the rain falls, reading books while playing The Ventures cover of “Classical Gas,” cooking as James Blackshaw’s guitar mastery comes out of my MacBook speakers: this is what I do with my Autumn. I have a very specific, ongoing soundtrack that I’ve been composing throughout my lifetime, and I wait for the right moment to really embrace it. I realize this week was that time, and that I’ve jumped feet first into this Fall. Feeling like going into hobbit mode with my soundtrack, books, wine, and whatever else doesn’t involve leaving my apartment.
I finished I Want My MTV by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum. I’m really in awe of what they’ve accomplished with the book, and I hope everybody picks it up despite its intimidating size. Also Roxane Gay’s Ayiti was a treat, but I’m not going to give too much away since we’ve got an interview coming up with her this week…
Also dipped into the Library of America volume of Flannery O’Connor’s collected works. Maybe it’s because I’ve read so much of her work before that I’m just now starting to realize what a master of dark humor she was. Maybe it’s because I’m a sick bastard, but I find that the way we lie to ourselves, and the way we put so much stock in faith to deliver us into an end result that we really have no way of foreseeing really makes for the best sort of humor.
I’m fighting the arctic thunder rapping on our door with Van Dyke Parks’ Arrangements, Vol. 1, an entirely off-season megaton bomb of silly citrus, tunes fit for improvised jigs and shuffling, and Bonnie Raitt crushing her surprising white girl calypso. Once you’ve played it through a few times, you wanna hear the goulash of beats that Parks cooked up for Surf’s Up. And Wild Honey. And Ys. And all the rest of his behind the scenes discography. It’s never a bad time of year for this true Svengali of pop: like Phil Spector if you replaced gun fetish with modern train sets.
Also: prepped for Volume 1’s live evening with Dennis Cooper by listening to moderator Brandon Stusoy’s “Scene Study” on black metal for WNYC’s SoundCheck, a show that has been on fire in recent weeks, covering among its interviews the authors of a book I’ve happily dug into with gusto this week, Maxwell Tremblay and Stephen Duncombe‘s White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race. Was also treated to Tremblay’s own punk band Sleepies play a “costumed” Halloween show last night at Death by Audio, undertaking the role of the Smashing Pumpkins brilliantly while letting their own unique sludge seep into the songs.
Semiotics is never more digestible than in October: it’s a handful of vitamins that the post-collegiate body craves. Having just finished Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, a work that quotes Roland Barthes early and often, A Lover’s Discourse was a book I also rolled around in the dirt with this week. I leave you this week with Barthes “fragment” on the subject of affirmation, rather fitting for time spent indexing the art that one adored over the course of a week:
“This morning, I must get off an ‘important’ letter right away – one on which the success of a certain undertaking depends; but instead I write a love letter – which I do not send. I perform, discreetly, lunatic chores; I am the sole witness of my lunacy. What love lays bare in me is energy. Born of literature, able to speak only with the help of its worn codes, yet I am alone with my strength, doomed to my own philosophy.”