A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.
Something I learned is that when a natural disaster is at my door, I have a hard time concentrating. I don’t think it’s always been this way, but now I’m older with people and animals to look after, so I didn’t have as much time to pick up books when there was some downtime as Sandy hit.
I did get finished up with Douglas Smith’s Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy, and absolutely loved it. So well done and obviously Smith did a ton of research. But weirdly, it also weirdly got me thinking of any of the rich folks from pre-revolutionary Russian novels I’ve read in my life. I almost played this sort of mental fan fiction of what became of their riches after 1917.
I was lucky. The hurricane left my apartment without cutting the power, and I got some reading in: back issues of The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, the rest of Waiting for the Barbarians, half of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Rebecca is killing me. It’s everything I wanted Jane Eyre to be, with a little Hammer horror and Shirley Jackson mixed in. Maybe I was under the influence of the storm’s hellish winds, but I was picturing Mrs. Danvers as a Tallulah Bankhead type, preferably around the era of Die! Die! My Darling!, and our heroine as moon-eyed Julie Harris in The Haunting. And can’t you see Maxim played by some faceless doof in an ascot? Anachronistic, sure, but fun. My sympathies go to the second Mrs. de Winter, but she’s an idiot and she knows it. No romance is complete without a little judgment and doom, I suppose, but come on. This book can’t end well; I’m psyched.
Randomly, I picked up Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates on a short road trip this week, and I’ve been consumed ever since. It’s easy to tell exactly where the story is going, and really there’s not much difference here from a well-constructed Mad Men season, so I can’t explain my fascination. Except that the writing is that good. My only problem is that I bought the movie tie-in edition for like $2, so I’ll admit I’m embarrassed to be carrying around what amounts to a 6×8 of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett making out all week.
Alongside two novels about elections – V.S. Naipaul’s The Suffrage of Elvira and Jose Saramago’s Seeing – I combed through some Nate Silver. I also read a disheartening piece on Thought Catalog from an ex-pat living in Seoul, who opted to not vote in this election out of disdain for both candidates’ campaigns. Listening to the Slate Political Gabfest most Friday mornings, and they had some go-for-broke candor on this last show before Tuesday. Particularly from John Dickerson, the show’s in-house cool dad and Political Director of CBS News. Dickerson has insisted in the past that journalists typically aren’t looking to exaggerate a dead heat between candidates, and here he talks at the end of a long campaign season with a bit more grit.
Watched Jacques Becker’s Casque d’or on Criterion’s channel on Hulu: there’s a fantastic dance number in it. My goodness, do I like seeing people dance classy in movies. The sequences here are charged with reckless abandon: get behind them, Satan. You can genuinely picture these two dance partners falling in love. Throughout the rest of the film, sharp-witted blonde lead (Simone Signoret) is framed: by doorways, by halos, and by crooked lovers. Go see how she fares!
I sublimated a lot of my hurricane anxiety into reading, especially early in the week. Read both Jami Attenberg’s The Middlesteins and an advance copy of Rosie Schaap’s Drinking With Men, and was very impressed with both. Attenberg’s book is a very assured work of fiction, with subtle jumps forward and backward in time that create a fuller sense of the family at the center of her novel. (Am I crazy for saying that I was reminded, at times, of the film Two For the Road?) It’s fantastic; one of the best books I’ve read of 2012. Schaap’s memoir, a look at bars in and out of cities and of subcultures from Grateful Dead fans to Tottenham Hotspur supporters, is likely to occupy a similar place on my best of 2013 list. (I’ll have much more to say about this book in the coming months, I expect.)
Matthew Dickman’s Mayakovsky’s Revolver is a terrific collection of poetry, haunting and tactile and heartbreaking in places. Does it make sense to say that after I finished it, I ended up re-reading Bryan O’Malley’s graphic novel Lost at Sea? I’m not sure why, save that they’re both idiosyncratic works set largely on the West Coast. And Donna Tartt’s The Secret History had been on my to-read shelf for far too long, and discovered why so many smart readers I know dig it. You’ve got mysterious New England towns, moral ambiguity, class anxiety, and murder — a Gothic novel for classics aficionados.
Yesterday’s mail brought with it Provider, the solo debut from Bry Webb of the Constantines. As his band was responsible for more than a few jaw-droppingly good shows (and some terrific albums), I’m eager to put this one on the turntable.