Of the many ways you can organize humans, one messy organization is makers vs consumers. It’s messy, imperfect (makers are also consumers), but for the purpose of this post I’m thinking about this distinction. I write here almost every day, but I’d fall pretty squarely on the consumer side of things. I consume poetry (don’t write it), consume novels (don’t write them), consume music (pick around a little for fun but no more), consume movies (don’t make them). And boy do I consume. I throw back books the way an alcoholic throws back a fifth of vodka, but with more discretion. I probably read 3 to 5(+) books a week, on average, between work and pleasure. I probably read 15-30 poems a week. I used to go out to see a movie once a week and I’d like to find a way back to that rhythm. Now that I’m walking every morning I consume a podcast; I’ve missed them since I started working at home. I used to listen to them to and from work in New York, which was a solid 45-minute train ride and a solid 15-minute walk, good for two podcasts a day.
When you’re pretty isolated, as I am, and a ‘mature’ person, it’s hard to find new music. And the old stuff that holds all your memories, well, that’s just such good stuff to listen to, but it can turn you into an old fogey if you’re not careful. Marc was 18 in 1968 and that music is still just about all he likes. He has no interest in finding or learning to like new music. So thank heavens I have kids who tell me about new music! Lately I’ve found some new musicians I really enjoy, and that’s the impetus for this post — I want to share some good stuff I’ve enjoyed lately with you, my friends.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve read some new books and some older ones (and oh how I wish you could read the one I just evaluated for a client, it’s one of the best books I’ve read in so long….). Some I’ve mentioned here or there, but I still recommend them heartily:
Self-Help, by Lorrie Moore. Also: Birds of America. She is an amazing storyteller, and just so damn brilliant in her observations. And hilarious. I’ve been re-reading Self-Help in the middle of the night when I’m in the mood for little bites of sly humor and gorgeous writing. Both of these books are older, but just so very very good.
Dark Lies the Island, by Kevin Barry. He wrote City of Bohane, one of my favorite books ever, and you’ll hear him in this brand new collection too. He just has such an ear, and such an eye, and you get to know the experience of being in Ireland. Not like you do in a movie, but like you do from the inside of an Irish man, looking through his Irish eyes, filtering through his Irish mind and ear. I particularly enjoyed the story called “A Cruelty.” I’ll always read him.
U and I: A True Story, by Nicholson Baker. I wrote about it previously, so here I’ll just refer you to that post and emphasize again how much I love the book. It’s not one to race through, though; I find I read it slowly, savor it, and then set it aside for a bit. It’s really a pleasure, and it’s like being inside Baker’s mind, somehow.
The Reenactments: A Memoir, by Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, which (a) is my very favorite memoir, (b) and somehow it’s my memoir, can’t figure that out, and (c) was made into an OK movie. The movie did capture the flavor and color of the book pretty well, I enjoyed it. So The Reenactments is Flynn’s telling of the experience of having the movie made of his earlier book. His mother (played by Julianne Moore in the film) committed suicide, after having read something he wrote in his notebook about her. The day they filmed that scene, people on the set were concerned for him and said he didn’t have to be there for it. He said, “I survived it the first time,” and then he wrote something about their eyes suggesting to him that maybe he really hadn’t. Ugh, so brilliant, and so wonderful on lots of levels simultaneously. Flynn is a poet and in The Reenactments he brings in some famous glasswork plants, research on phantom limb syndrome, and consciousness theory, and intertwines them so beautifully together so they just illuminate everything. Aah. I’ll be reading that again, and soon.
Mary and O’Neil, by Justin Cronin. Such a beautiful story, truly — a novel of stories strung together, and gorgeous characterizations of the people you come to know as well as anyone in your life. I think about O’Neil and keep thinking I see him here and there. I wish I could.
Paris, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down, by Rosencrans Baldwin. This is a lightweight little memoir, and if you are a Francophile like me, you’ll eat it like a little confection. The author and his wife lived in Paris for a year or more (gee, can’t remember now), and were crazy about Paris before they arrived. They mostly loved their time, felt baffled by the enormous bureaucracy that accompanied every single thing, and tried to find their way to an easy comfort and feeling of belonging — I don’t think they really did, until it was time to leave. It’s a great little book, worth one reading if you fantasize to any degree about chucking it all and moving to Paris. As I do, regularly.
Divergent, by Veronica Roth. I read this one for my book club, and it was excellent. A page-turner for sure! It’s a dystopian future tale in which the culture is divided into five factions, each one meant to uphold a particular virtue of humanity: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave) and Erudite (the intelligent). On a given day each year, all sixteen-year-olds take an aptitude test that will tell them which faction they are best suited for, after which they decide whether to remain with their family or transfer to a new faction. And since this is a human endeavor, of course it doesn’t go well — certainly not ideally. The main character, Beatrice (later known as Tris) leaves her family for another faction. It’s extremely visual, and the first book of a series. I can easily see it being made into a movie. Really enjoyable book in every way, especially if you enjoy dystopian stories.
I’m starting to read Half the Kingdom, by Lore Segal, for book club in November; The Afterlife: A Memoir by Donald Antrim, Bleeding Edge by Pynchon, and Constellation of Genius: 1922: Modernism Year One, by Kevin Jackson. I have extremely high hopes for all of them, but we’ll see! (And let me PLEASE spare you from reading Night Film by Marisha Pessl. Really, just don’t do it. Here’s my Goodreads review.)
Lots of good music lately! (And note: “new” means relatively new.) Instead of filling up the post with YouTube videos, I’ll link the song title to the video so you can click over and listen to the ones you want. But I’ll probably not be able to help myself completely….
Neko Case has a new album out titled “The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight / The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You.” (And lucky me, I will be seeing the taping of her Austin City Limits concert next Tuesday!) The album is truly outstanding, there’s not a bum song in the bunch. I first listened to a particular song and then listened randomly to the album, but it’s one that’s meant to be played in order, I believe. Or rather, there is a brilliance to the ordering and I recommend listening straight through, like we used to when we’d buy a new record. Remember? My favorite song from the album is called “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.” This link will take you to the YouTube video of it. But really, every song from the album is amazing.
Laura Mvula has an album titled “Sing to the Moon.” She’s just a lush and beautiful singer, and I’ve enjoyed almost every single song from that album. The ones I didn’t enjoy, it was a relative thing — I just enjoyed them less than the others. They’re all beautiful. Here’s a link to “She,” which is such a beautiful song and video.
The Wailin’ Jennys have a new album called “Bright Morning Stars” and the title track is exquisite. Listen here, on YouTube. The harmonies will give you chills, if you are anything at all like me. I’m such a sucker for three-part harmony. If I’m ever in a mood and you want to soften me like gelatin, just put on some three-part harmony, a capella, and I’ll be as pliant as you want me to be. So beautiful (and thank you, Dixie, again).
Janelle Monae has an amazing new album called “The Electric Lady.” DADGUMMIT, she is sizzlingly alive, entirely electric indeed. Here’s the official video for “Dance Apocalyptic,” and if you aren’t dancing in your seat, I’m not sure we’ll be boon companions.
You’ll need to know Valerie June, if you don’t already. “Pushing Against a Stone” is a fantastic album, and she’s magnetic, hard to fathom in some way I can’t figure out. Here’s a video for “Workin’ Woman Blues.” Just watch and wait and listen. Amazing. (And I want her hair!!)
And finally, Megan Jean and the KFB do it for me big-time, especially “These Bones.” DAMN. OK, here. I knew I couldn’t resist showing you one. 🙂
DANG. I want one-a-them washboards and a pair-a-them fancy gloves.
Next time I’ll have to tell you about some new poets to track down, I’ve got some really good ones. And stuff to watch, too. Happy Sunday, my darling ones. xo