Indexing: Revisiting Spy Magazine, Lauding Donald Antrim, Utopia in North Carolina, “Eugene Onegin,” Edward Hopper, and More

A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.

Tobias Carroll
Hot damn, Donald Antrim. I ended up picking up his Elect Mr. Robinson For a Better World based on Justin Taylor’s piece on Antrim in Bookforum, and was floored. Jeffrey Eugenides’s introduction suggests that Antrim’s novel defies categorization or comparison. I’m not entirely sure — at the very least, I think I could do a halfway-decent job handselling it. At times, I was reminded of a distinctly American, distinctly suburban take on J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise; I also think that it’s safe to guess that Chuck Pahlaniuk has probably read some Antrim along the way. It’s a beautifully-structured novel, sometimes comic and sometimes horrific (and sometimes both.) It’s also one of the best books I’ve read this year.

But also: hot damn, Virginia Woolf. I’d had The Waves on my to-read shelf for a few months, and finally made my way into it. It’s very much a book that teaches you how to read its own particular style, which at first seems arbitrary and quickly becomes deeply moving. Reading it, one can see the groundwork being laid for so much of the fiction that followed it — and yet Woolf’s style and insights still feel both fresh and essential. Making my way through it was a thrilling experience, and I found myself torn between savoring Woolf’s prose and simply wanting to devour the richness of it. (See preceding paragraph; repeat “one of the best books I’ve read this year” designation here.)

I should also throw a nod in the direction of the third highly-recommended novel I read this week, Terry Southern’s The Magic Christian. Which was also quite good, a bitterly satirical take on wealth and power that seems ripe for an Occupy-themed reconsideration.

Also worth noting are the two contemporary works I read this week: Karolina Waclawiak’s novel How to Get Into the Twin Palms and Joshua Cohen’s Four New Messages. How to Get Into the Twin Palms is a sometimes comic, sometimes bleak novel of Los Angeles; at some point, I’m going to write something up about its ending, which brings together two strands I’ve noticed appearing in several recent novels of note. And Four New Messages, while sometimes too layered in its construction for its own good, is thrilling at its best, with stories nestled within larger narratives that enrich their themes and content. All in all, it’s been a good week to be a reader.

I realize that this streak isn’t likely to continue — that, before long, I’m going to read something that leaves me cold or makes me want to toss it across the room (or merely close its cover gently). But for now, I’m grateful that these books have shown up when they have.

Jason Diamond
I spent about nine months exiled from Brooklyn, living in a tiny West Village apartment as sort of an incubation period after my wedding. My old lease was up right before we got married, my (now) wife’s was not. So I packed my things into a thousand tote bags (literally. Ask Tobias.) and made my way into the Big Apple.

I’m pleased to report that I moved back to the only borough I could call home earlier this week (thanks this time to Jen for the help), and I have unpacked 30+ boxes filled with books, some filled with ones I almost forgot buying.

One in particular that got my attention was Gordon Theisen’s Staying Up Much Too Late, which is a study of Edward Hopper’s famous 1942 Nighthawks painting, and also a look into the “Dark side of the American psyche.” I bought the book a few months ago when I learned my now old apartment in Manhattan was a few blocks from the place that inspired Hopper’s iconic painting that I’ve long been obsessed with. I’m always interested in meditations on art sort of books when they’re done by the right folks. Done by an amateur, 150-300 pages on a painting, an album or even a book can seem monotonous.

Jen Vafidis
I’ve been reading all of Junot Diaz in preparation for a piece I’m writing, so that’s been taking up a lot of time. But I just started, as a diversion, Eugene Onegin. A novel in verse! I’m prepared for a translation that feels lacking, but I’m looking forward all the same. And have you read “Having a Coke with You” lately? The line “partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt” made me laugh on the train the other day.

Josh Spilker
I plunged into a trove of print magazines this week: Bloomberg Businessweek, Reason, Alternative Press (guilty!), Surfer, Wallpaper, Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Believer to my normal steady diet of New York. the most interesting piece was in the Believer Music Issue (July/August) about Love Valley, NC and the Love Valley Thing–a 1970 (71?) music festival that overtook the small utopian North Carolina town. Here’s the piece.

One last shout to the Believer–their latest issue featured a cassette plastered to the front. I’ve picked up a few cassette releases in the past few years since their re-emergence, but it still is an odd thing to see a cassette tape on the front of a magazine that appers in some of the more mainstream outlets across America.

Nashville’s garage punk continues its surge–this time with Chrome Pony.

Other things–finally reading Amelia Gray’s Threats and decided to give Chuck Klosterman’s Eating The Dinosaur a chance.

Nick Curley
Currently going through Spy Magazine’s anthology Spy: The Funny Years following a piece on Kurt Andersen, which plops here at Vol. 1 next week. I am beginning to see doctored photos of Madonna and John Kennedy, Jr. whenever I close my eyes. It makes me laugh out loud, and other times out quiet. More often it makes me smile and pine for the early-to-mid ’90s. See you here for more on Andersen next week? Yes, good, thank you.

I was enthralled by Jacob Silverman’s “Against Enthusiasm”, including the parts with which I totally disagreed. Especially those, in fact! The varied responses from authors have been equally interesting. The piece is sour at times, but damned if it doesn’t identify challenges faced by burgeoning sites looking to simultaneously establish integrity and followers, and ask when and why un(der)paid freelancers would spend a lot of time thinking and writing about what they don’t like (or heaven forbid, meet with apathy). I would guess that if you gave the piece to a hundred people working in publishing you’d get a hundred different responses, which I’d typically consider a plus.

I think I’ve seen both Ted Leo and Mission of Burma about eight times apiece, and thought they more than held their own at their free show at the Prospect Park Bandshell last night. But the night was ruled by the headlining Wild Flag, who crushed through their whole set and encored with sharp Television and Patti Smith covers. On record: the new Nas is just okay after a few listens through. His voice is still the ideal instrument. I often end up listening to psych in the summer. Must be that “therapists on vacation in August” phenomenon folks always talk about. Right now it’s a lot of the 13th Floor Elevators, some solo Roky Erickson, and R. Stevie Moore’s Swing and a Miss / ’77all found and re-found on Spotify. Other light clothing ideal for this weather would include the version of “I Can’t Reach You” found on the poetically titled Petra Haden Sings The Who Sell Out.

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