A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
The millennials (? Gen Y?) took over The New Yorker this week with Lena Dunham and Justin Taylor. First, I’ve always had an immense affinity for Taylor. We’re close to the same age, he has the same fascination with punk rock and spirituality that I do, and many of the tales in his two books are drenched in the same Southern sweat that I experience every day. With all of that, I think I’m most impressed by Taylor being in the New Yorker. I mean, this is the co-founder of HTMLGiant and just the week before the fiction story was by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Come on. The takeover has been long and slow, but it’s always good to see writers you’ve followed make it.
The story, “After Ellen,” boils slowly and casually, and then it just ends. I didn’t think anything really happened, I just liked his voice, but then I start to think about it, and it hits, and it makes sense. It read so easy, so I’m sure it was extremely hard to create.
I still like hearing about or reading about Dunham, precisely because the “way things are now” hasn’t crept all the way in. You know what I mean. With her hit TV show, people will naturally change the way they interact with her. Her friendships will be different, her outside conversations will be different, her business is just plain different. So it’s nice to still read a piece about her past, when things were “normal,” when she was just a young person interested in art-y things, not a full-fledged auteur. And this story about one of her boyfriends provides yet another of those fleeting glimpses.
Still on a Proust bender. Now in the third book of the series, The Guermantes Way, 1200 pages in only 2100 pages to finish up! Of all the books so far, this displays Proust’s passion/obsession with “society” more than the other books. I still it distancing to read such an intelligent person obsess over both the delusions but also grandeur of aristocracy. Though slightly heretical, at some points, I still feel like I am reading a very brilliant US Weekly. Still trying to figure out that issue. In that vein, I keep on returning to Lionel Trilling’s important essay, Manners, Morals, and the Novel, which makes a somewhat contentious argument that classically, the novel found its strength in its ability to shine an analytic light on society, snobbishness and all. He then argues that the American novel, given American more voluntaristic egalitarian setup, and our cultural allergy of deigning to discuss “society” American novels tend to lack an essential power of the literature. As of yet, I don’t fully understand this argument, especially because I find Proust frustrating on this exact point, but I am excited to think this through. Any insights are welcome.
As a sort of supplement to this endeavor I read Edmund White’s pithy, but engaging biography on Proust. In the end, like a real masterpiece, Proust is the only real and true commentator on his own work. In this manner I find him similar to David Foster Wallace. As of yet, no critic, or commentator really illuminates DFW past anything that DFW himself said, and as of yet, no one, despite the all star retinue that discusses Proust: Benjamin, Beckett, Gilleuze, Woolf, the list goes on, say anything past nifty appreciation of how much of a shadow Proust casts over the Novel. I find this fact wholly heartening i.e. that even our best critics, for the most part, can never say anything that compares with the work of Kafka, or of Proust.
In the realm of articles, the New Yorker’s website really made my week. The addition of the Borowitz Report to their retinue adds a much needed jolt of youthful playfulness to the magazine, and I really enjoyed Avi Steinberg’s review of Mike Tyson’s one man broadway show. Tyson is really an endlessly fascinating cultural icon and Steinberg does the man justice. Also, and this isn’t news, I adore pretty much everything Richard Brody writes about movies. Even when I disagree with him, as in this case to the merits of Moonrise Kingdom, I find his analysis insightful and sharp. He might stand as our best movie critic these days, maybe. Brody never phones it in, and he always manages to create a larger argument instead of just a focused review of a specific movie telling us whether we should see it or not.
Starting on Battlerborn after reading Roxane Gay’s interview with Claire Vaye Watkins at Salon, and finishing up Lisa Cohen’s All We Know. It’s been a hectic few weeks with most of my books being boxed up thanks to my move and finishing up books for reviews and my live interview with Josh Cohen the other night at McNally Jackson. Now that I’m mostly settled, I just want to sit on my couch reading books and watching a bunch of movies that I rented from the (last) local video store.
Saying that this week was a slimmer one for reading for me wouldn’t entirely be accurate, and yet: I don’t know if I have as much to write about on this particular Saturday. Some of the reading that I did was for freelance project; and another of the books that I read, Shane Jones’s Daniel Fights a Hurricane, is one I’m still working my head around. (Though I think there’s an interesting think-piece to be written comparing this and Amelia Gray’s Threats — both cases of an author putting their penchant for surreal imagery into a more overtly conventional narrative. Ah, think-pieces.)
I can volley out a solid recommendation for Preston Lauterbach’s The Chitlin’ Circuit: And the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll, which stands as a fascinating musical and social history. And Victor LaValle’s Lucretia and the Kroons is a nicely composed novella, blending a funhouse fantasy version of Flushing with some genuinely moving moments (and a nice dose of ambiguity.)
And in the middle of last weekend’s swamplike weather, I ventured out of the apartment for some record shopping, picking up music from Giant Peach, DIIV, the Moritz Von Oswald Trio, Grass Widow, and the Walkmen. Though in terms of musical obsessions, Merchandise is still looming large in my brain…