Indexing: Summer of Cohen, Coming-of-age Books, Wharton in Europe, Nitehawk and More

A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.

Jen Vafidis

Over the weekend I was in Baltimore, a city I’d never visited before, and I ate too much seafood and inhaled too much Old Bay seasoning and drank too much beer. Whatever, I have no regrets. It’s not like I was driving. Returning home on the train, a light hangover in tow, I alternated between the Patrick Melrose novels and Valley of the Dolls. Really. I was looking for something trashy and catty, and I got either or both from each. I love the Patrick Melrose novels so much that I’ve been reading them slowly over the last few months, picking them up when I feel like it and stopping myself before I race through the whole book. There are times when I love–actually I mean need–books where everyone hates each other and does it in style. This is one of those times. As for my drifting toward Valley of the Dolls, what can I say? I love the movie, I’m a little (okay, a lot) obsessed with the Russ Meyer non-sequel, and I love something about the book that I can’t put my finger on quite yet. I’m not a trash connoisseur, nor do I really want to become one, but sometimes my eye wanders and I become desperate for characters who are just raw nerves pulsing embarrassingly. Why yes, I’ve also been reading a certain ex-beauty writer’s columns, to which I’ll politely refuse to link. Why do you ask?

Hm, what else. At work there’s a copy of Marguerite Yourcenar’s The Dark Brain of Piranesi eyeing me, and I pick it up on my lunch breaks. I’m also listening to the new Fiona Apple album once or twice a day, and I show no signs of stopping. Please read this wonderful profile in Spin by Zach Baron, then revisit Tidal and sing along because you know all the words. Oh, and it was my birthday on Tuesday. I bought myself some perfume and took myself to the place with the nice iced coffee. It’s the little things, you know.

Jon Reiss

I’m most excited this week, about a film that I saw at the Nitehawk in Brooklyn.  When I first moved into town I worked at video store on Bedford Ave. called Reel Life (I wrote about the experience for NY Press some time ago.)  The owner of Reel Life was a guy named John Woods who simply has the best taste in movies of anyone I’ve ever met.  When I had the opportunity to work with him, he’d turn me onto some of the best movies I’ve ever seen.  So when I go to Nitehawk, I watch the movie that I know the least about, knowing that it will both surprise and enthrall me.  This week I saw, Safety Not Guaranteed starring actor/writer Mark Duplass and Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza.  At the moment, I cannot think of a film I’ve seen this year that I’ve enjoyed more.  It’s a movie about time travel and I highly recommend it.  I will leave it at that so that you too can be surprised.  Allow me to put his out there, Mark Duplass, who is excellent in the FX Series The League, is going to be the next indie it lead, ala John Krasinski but with far more ability, that’s my prediction.

This week I finally cracked the galley for Bronwen Hruska’s Accelerated a novel about a Huxleyean plot within one of Manhattan’s most expensive and exclusive private schools, a book which also just got a starred review in Library journal. As I expected, it’s an engaging and compelling read.

It can be difficult to keep up with what’s going on in mainstream music if you don’t watch TV or listen to the radio. While I don’t particularly want to watch TV or listen to the radio, I do like to know what is going on in mainstream music world, outside of the music nerd blogger bubble, if only so I can be curmudgeony about it.  The podcast Who Charted with Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack (some of the best chemistry I’ve heard on a podcast since Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanaugh) is an excellent way to keep abreast, without having to listen to the same songs over and over again all the way through.  There’s still a thread out there, it’s just far more tenuous than we were growing up, and Who Charted is a great way to stay on top of it while laughing.  If not for this show, I’d never know how much I begrudgingly enjoy dubstep.

Tobias Carroll

The end of my June travels found me opting for an odd trifecta of novels: Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country, Justin Cronin’s The Passage, and Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels. From satires of social mores to biological vampires to transformed bears, I think my bases were pretty well-covered. Cronin’s book came highly recommended by numerous friends, and I went into it knowing little except for the scope (epic) and the rough concept (a science-fictional take on vampirism). That was a good thing: there was one narrative shift that I wasn’t at all expecting, and the whole thing abounds with pulpy thrills recounted in a sober, humanistic tone. And Wharton’s novel hit much harder than I was expecting: while there is a satirical (and at times bleakly comedic) component to the book, it also never loses sight of the human cost of its protagonist’s at times ruthless mobility. 

Lanagan’s novel featured some of the most brutal scenes I’ve encountered in a book in a while; there’s plenty of grit and emotional horror to be found here, even as it riffs on the legend of Snow White and Rose Red. The opening pages feature a series of awful events befalling the book’s protagonist; later, a supporting character meets a horrific death that Lanagan describes in careful detail. And the book’s conclusion avenges an earlier wrong, but does so in a particularly brutal fashion. It’s hypnotic at times and wrenching at others.

After that, I returned to the works of Jeanette Winterson, with her Sexing the Cherry. (Sadly, I nearly mistyped this as Sexting the Cherry numerous times over the course of the week.) I read a pair of Victor LaValle books in preparation for a freelance assignment, and I returned to the Magnus Mills library after far too long afield, with his Three to See the King. And I read the last issue of Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba’s Casanova: Avaritia — which is baffling and amazingly structured and left me with a sick feeling as I read it. I mean all of this in a positive way — it’s a devastating conclusion to the series, and much of that feeling in my gut came from realizing just how drastically Fraction and Ba were willing to go with their characters. Highly, highly, highly recommended.

Josh Spilker

I’m marching through two different coming-of-age novels from two different eras: A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley and The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac by Kris D’Agostino. The latter is more plotted and clearer stylistically, the former is sometimes a thick knot of overlapping sentences and contradictory perspectives. Completely enjoying them both, especially since I’ve heard so much about A Fan’s Notes in the past 6 months. Kind of hard to believe I’ve never read it before.

Summer is when I kick it with mostly punk rock. Red Collar is working-class Americana-punk, covering the same ethos as Lucero or The Gaslight Anthem. I’m a huge fan and their new one, Welcome Home, is out from the small, but awesome Charlotte-based label, Tiny Engines.

Another record I’m also into is Michigan’s Homelife, which has a sound similar to Small Brown Bike or Hot Water Music. This record is perfect to pound away the hot days.

Jason Diamond

I spent the start of the week going over some of Rich Cohen’s books in preparation for my talk with him at Community Bookstore. I reread Sweet and Low and The Avengers, and enjoyed both of them more than the first time I read them.  This was how I kicked off my Summer of Cohen.

Next up was a head start on Joshua Cohen’s Four New Messages by reading the story “The College Borough” in the latest issue of Harper’s.  Now I’m planning to get working on the actual book itself for my upcoming discussion with Cohen at McNally Jackson in August.  Also going to be reading All We Know by Lisa Cohen in the next few days.

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