babayaga (book). toby barlow's book-length werewolf poem introduced me to a new breed of supernatural fiction, and i was thrilled when his follow-up novel materialized here at my office. scrappy eastern-european witches and noirish spy types in postwar paris, you guys! smoking owl pellets, turning policemen into fleas, and, er, developing ad campaigns (i'm probably ready for TB's other career in marketing to stop informing his novels)! this one (in prose, except for the witches' songs) is also wildly inventive—the subplot about the policemen who become fleas is particularly lovely, and the magic is fascinating and brutal—but it is also seriously patchy. the central love story falls kind of flat, and the main character, he of the ad campaigns, is so undercharacterized that i had a hard time caring about what happened to him. while i still think barlow's work is umpteen times more interesting that your average summer murder-in-paradise pop fiction, i also think he needs to crank up the lyrical spookiness with his next project; it's still the most exciting thing about his work.

the bling ring (film). sofia coppola's latest, based on a vanity fair true-crime piece called "the suspects wore louboutins," follows emma watson and several other sweet-and-sour young things as they burgle* their way through star-spangled los angeles. hey, there they are in paris hilton's house (seriously, coppola filmed there)! it's megan fox and brian austin green's unexpectedly-tasteful stuff! it's gavin rossdale, "acting"! i suppose one could argue that the film's anemic plot and abrupt ending double down on its characters' superficiality and junior-varsity existentialism, but let's call a spade a spade: the bling ring is exquisitely-composed television,** not a movie. i miss lost-in-translation-era sofia c.

the comedy of errors (play). shakespeare in the park is playing to the groundlings this summer: both of the public's 2013 offerings are comparatively short (90 and 100 minutes, respectively), intermission-free comedies, and the second (love's labour's lost) is a musical by the folks who brought us bloody bloody andrew jackson and peter and the starcatcher, which is probably why joe and i haven't been able to score tickets via the virtual line (for three goddamn weeks we've been trying! get out of my line, broadway types!). comedy's goofy double-mistaken-identity plot is perfect for extra-broad, scooby-doo-times-three's-company hijinks, and the cast was up for it. hamish linklater and jesse tyler ferguson are accomplished clowns, and it was satisfying to see them with a full show's worth of the sort of material shakespeare usually hands them for short riffs. 90 minutes of, like, the pyramus-and-thisbe slapstick from a midsummer night's dream is not the sort of thing i need to see every summer, but this summer it was grand. also, it began with "sigh no more" performed as a forties-era torch song! that was as satisfying as watching a nun hand out licorice (grand street, i salute you).

the dog stars (book). a world-devouring superflu has killed almost everyone on earth; now a man flies a prop plane around colorado with his trusty dog, occasionally feeding him the survivors they encounter. on paper the dog stars sounds like a touchy-feely post-apocalyptic cross between illusions and the road, and it...is, but that's not such a bad thing. peter heller is a widely-published outdoor writer, and he writes like a guy who's spent a lot of nights in a tent (i recognize this type because i spent a lot of nights in my backyard in a tent). he also writes like a guy who really loves dogs, like a guy who's taken care of a white-muzzled dog or two, and the way he describes old jasper, man-jerky-eating aside, breaks me right in half. i don't tend to recommend novels i've enjoyed to joe—raymond chandler is maybe the only writer i've gotten under his skin—but i might have a go with this one; it's an elegant alternative to those child-contestant-killing and brain-chomping ends of the world you hear so much about these days. it is also, predictably, solid in-flight reading.

great plains (book). ian frazier, dear reader, is a motherfucking delight. i think i have a crush on his curiosity: he knows just when to ignore a story's paved route and crash through the laundry lines in someone's backyard. i came out of his travels in siberia nearly as besotted with the place as he is, and this earlier account of how he cobwebbed across the US in a nasty old van in search of ghost towns and crazy horse's people makes me want to bully my stepsister into letting me drive her car to california.*** he presents watching the beautiful robinson sisters of nicodemus, kansas perform a founder's-day dance in church-lady clothes to prince's "when doves cry" as an unironic peak life experience (or platonic anamnesis, depending on where you're sitting?), and i totally buy it.

the master builder (play). i like both john turturro and ibsen, and i made the mistake of thinking i would like john turturro in ibsen (as halvard solness, the titular builder). i'm almost alright with having made this mistake, for katherine borowitz**** as his bereaved and thrown-over wife was fascinating, if not as fascinating as ibsen's other ladies. solness is supposedly tormented (the next generation is clawing at his heels! his erections, har har, are few and far between! he has an annoying and probably imaginary young friend in a petticoat!), but turturro just seemed irritated, like a guy who promised himself he'd remember to buy coffee on the way home last night and woke up to a cupboard of weird old tea. fortunately my theatregoing ladydate kinda hated the show as well, and collective indignation is a hallmark of our friendship, so the evening ended on a high note.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 have you ever gotten into trouble in mexico?

02 what would your version of "sigh no more" sound like?

03 blood meridian was unreadable for me. should i give cormac mccarthy another chance and read the road, or should i move on and read some young-adult vampire novels instead?

04 how many nights have you spent in a tent?

05 do you pass books on to significant others?

06 team joan or team ian. pick a side.

*emma watson's "i want to rob," pronounced in her best unskilled-british-mimic's-approximation-of-a-so-cal-accent, is funny but misleading: robbery is, say it with me now, the taking of property by force or threat of force.

**call it an extraterrestrially-gorgeous episode of the OC, perhaps one of the ones where marissa cooper gets into trouble in mexico.

***joan didion, she of the languid cigarette and the white stingray on a thousand pinterest boards, never brings me along on her "secular communion" with freeways. i'm turning into the sort of reader and perhaps the sort of writer who needs generosity in her nonfiction. and muchness.

****turturro's offstage spouse, as it happens.


Anonymous said...

jacob says:

1. when i was 6, my family drove down to tijuana for the day, and a bug stung me right on my eye and it was swollen shut for days. and, of course as you know, my honeymoon was marked by food poisoning, a jokey mexican doctor, a anti-emetic shot, a slap, my ass, and pedialyte. enough said.

3. move on.

4. i come from a decidedly non-camping family, so outside of a week-long boy scout camp, not much.

6. tough. nothing can beat my excitement at finding a used copy of "slouching towards bethlehem" at the strand, and then opening to a story not only about my hometown, but about a murder case where my dad knew most of the major players. but i've felt her later work is decidedly less interesting, despite my fondness for her style. and last week i "sold" "great plains" to a prairie lights customer (which, to be fair, i had just warned her off a book the actual bookseller was trying to get her to buy, so i needed to act quickly). and "laws concerning food & drink" is the funniest faux-jewish poem ever written, so i'll give the trophy to frazier.

LPC said...

01. I tried but failed.
02. Greensleeves. I have a puny musical imagination.
03. I never figured out mccormack, that's a data point, nothing more.
04. Once I couldn't sleep in my tent because I burned it down. Luckily when I wasn't in it.
05. Always.
06. I'll get back to you.

lauren said...

i should say at this point that it was a copy of STB from you that got me excited about didion in the first place, and that i still think it and the white album and book of common prayer (sorta!) are remarkably solid. i'm just a bit exasperated, as you know, after blue nights and magical thinking.

lauren said...

i need more on this tent-burning.

Anonymous said...

...mdf said
01 With "the sky that special shade of blue that goes so well with circling vultures"? No es bueno. 02 Counting Crows Storytellers. 03 That question is very mysterious. 04 Outdoor camping discourages beyond mere words. 05 Only very infrequently, happily 06 Both are close at having just the right blend of essential herbs and spices. 0? O' Mediatrix, wasn't Lodge excommunicated? Is he judged in full communion henceforward? Disposed back into the crepuscule? Of the pit in perpetuum?

lauren said...

@mdf more on lodge in the next installment of media notes; i had to truncate this one for the sake of getting it into the world before, like, thanksgiving.

uncle paul said...

The world is so full of books Cormac McCarthy didn't write, and it's okay to celebrate that fact. I'm genuinely warmed that he spends his time hanging out with physicists in Santa Fe, but damned if I'll read The Road.

Amanda said...

01 Only twice
02 The Mister Rogers' Neighborhood theme song
03 Move on
04 There's no telling
05 Whose significant others?
06 I regret that I will be unable to do so
07 "Collective indignation" necklaces could be good

rdela said...

Listen to Paul. if you didn’t like Blood Meridian Cormac McCarthy is not for you, which is totally okay.

Rachel said...

01. Only in the sense that I couldn't get Xanax when I desperately needed it. The O.C. totally deceived me as to the ease of getting meds there. Next time I will pack my own, esp for a family vacation.

03. I haven't done Blood Meridian but I liked The Road (so quick, too) and I just finished No Country for Old Men, years after first attempting it. I think The Road might be the gateway drug?

04. So many I can't count. My parents didn't believe in hotels.

05. D is so busy with the New Yorker that he never gets to books, which bums me out. I do sister swaps, though.

06. If I were on a team with Joan I might strangle her out of sheer irritation. I can only appreciate her from a distance.

maggie said...

Didion-I continue to find her unsatisfying in various ways, though at this point I think I have enough material for an intellectual biography on her.