A roundup of what our contributors have been consuming.
I’m reading Waiting for the Barbarians—the Coetzee, not the allusive Mendelsohn. This choice is part of an education, I guess. I had never read any Coetzee, in spite of (or because of) his name’s ubiquity on undergraduate literature class syllabi. Highly recommended as a good starting point, Barbarians is making me understand, finally, what the big deal is. The rhythm of his prose is very seductive. He can describe scenery and crowds just as sensually and generously as a transcendent foot massage. By the way: yikes, that foot massage. On another note, Coetzee stole his title from a poem I hadn’t read until this week, so that was a nice discovery.
Let’s see, what else? I dip into Mary Ruefle from time to time. “Trust Me” is a favorite. I read Adrian Chen’s expose of Reddit’s Violentacrez while I was on a train home last night, and I still feel uneasy, like I could go without talking to other people for a few days and be just fine.
It’s a book group week, and thus: time for me to talk about the books I’m reading for WORD‘s book groups. John Collier’s Fancies and Goodnights comes with an introduction from Ray Bradbury declaring Collier to be Bradbury’s favorite writer — not too shabby, as endorsements go. I enjoyed this collection considerably; though some of the stories felt, at times, a little predictable. (Though whether that’s because the twists Collier was fond of have now become commonplace is up for debate.) The best of these (which is over half the collection, I’d say) have a wry cynicism and pith about them; one highlight involves a devil ultimately tamed by therapy. And the opening, a tale of djinns in bottles, has an impressively nasty ending.
David Hajdu’s Heroes and Villains collects numerous pieces he’s written on culture, with a focus on jazz and a unique perspective on comics, which Hadju considers an art form akin to the jazz and rock that he’d dedicated to. A few of the pieces — including on on MySpace’s effect on music — feel a little of their time, but for the most part, this is top-notch stuff.
I’d been meaning to read Matthew Specktor’s That Summertime Sound for a while now. It’s his first novel, a beautifully-soundtracked book about a college student spending the summer in Columbus in the late 1980s. He falls in with a cult band, and there’s a smart set of contrasts between the narrator’s California roots, his New England college experience, and the small circle he finds himself a part of in Ohio. And hey: there are nods to the likes of Charles Willeford and the Swamp Rats and Big Dipper, which is never a bad thing.
A great editor will help make your work better, but an awesome editor will remind you to listen to albums you lost a long time ago and forgot to replace. Such is the case with the 1971 collaboration between Terry Riley and John Cale, Church of Anthrax. One of my editors stuck a mention of the record into a piece I wrote, and I felt it necessary to go and find the album on web. I’ve spent an entire morning working to it.
I spent an autumn afternoon train ride up to New England spending half the time gazing out the window and the other half reading through Robert Sullivan’s My American Revolution. The funny part being that I was leaving the part of the Eastern seaboard that Sullivan’s book on where the Revolutionary War was actually fought (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania) opposed to the parts we normally think of (Connecticut, Massachusetts etc.), but I have been enjoying it a great deal nonetheless.
In fiction, I forgot my copy of The Old Devils that I had planned to read after Maud Newton’s spoke so highly about it at our Kingsley Amis event the other night. All three essays (the other two by the great Rosie Schaap and Parul Sehgal) were so wonderful and diverse and make me want to read and reread Amis in a different light.