CONSUMED: A PARTIAL LIST.
beautiful ruins (book). torn at the jfk jetblue terminal book kiosk between hate-reading tom wolfe's latest* and buying beautiful ruins, an unknown novel that sparkled like a stephenie meyer vampire, i went for the sparkle; it was a new york times times best book of the year, its first sentence ("The dying actress arrived in his village the only way one could come directly—in a boat that motored into the cove, lurched past the rock jetty, and bumped against the end of the pier.") seemed more promising, and it turned out (o shame!) that the author, jess walter, is a man. yes, i am apparently more likely to get past a book's glittery cover if its author is male, and i hate myself for it. ironically, my biggest disappointment with beautiful ruins (which has dazzling, complicated, david-mitchell-esque descriptions tucked all over the place) is how male it can be; that dying actress is kind of a snooze, a foil for male leads, and a prostitute's work is described so unkindly that i felt in reading about her like i'd missed the point of her character altogether. not an epic romance, this, but a solid series of travelogues. a good book to meet at the beginning of a trip to a place in the sun.
changing places (book). i've spent something like fifteen years feeling guilty for really, really hating nice work, the third novel in david lodge's "campus trilogy;" when i found the first one, changing places, at a thrift store, i felt it was time to give the old fellow another chance. i enjoy it when people make fun of berkeley, so the scenes set in the fictional bay area city of plotinus, in the state of euphoria, were mildly entertaining (the other "place" in the title is rummidge, modeled on birmingham in england; a mousy professor from rummidge trades jobs with a rock-star academic from plotinus, and what-count-as-hijinks-when-you're-an-englishman-of-a-certain-age ensue). a lot of changing places is about the titillations of wife-swapping, and while i can sort of understand why a novelist would be excited about that in 1975, it feels awfully juvenile now. a lot of changing places is also experimental (chapters written as scripts, chapters written as newspaper clippings, conclusions completely ignored), and i hated that as much here as i did when jennifer egan rocked it in goon squad. thanks but no thanks, lodge.
lost at sea (book). welsh journalist jon ronson's "mini-adventure stories" (in this collection, mostly his guardian articles) are tasty, and i appreciate his investigative vim (he followed a psychic on a mediterranean cruise for one piece and took an intense church of england evangelical course for another). i haven't yet decided how i feel about how he reacts to the weird data he collects; he doesn't always seem interested in journalistic objectivity, even in the presence of his subjects, and his pieces end abruptly, as if tipping his hand throughout each essay left him without material for conclusions. the american writer john jeremiah sullivan covers a similar variety of weird pop subjects in pulphead (compare his "on this rock," on a christian music festival, to ronson's "and god created controversy," on insane clown posse) with what feels like much greater success, because he's...writing for magazines and has more time on his hands? that seems unfair. more empathetic? no, ronson isn't unfeeling. my friend cara recommended ronson's the psychopath test, a book-length examination of "the madness industry;" i picked it up from the library this afternoon and will report back with my findings on those findings.
love's labour's lost (musical). by the last week of this year's shakespeare in the park season we were sure we wouldn't make it through the online ticket lottery, so i bit my lip, spread out a poncho in the dirt, and camped for three hours in the standby line. a bad man with a saxophone played show tunes at us for one of those hours, some acorns beaned us, and we didn't get seats until the show had been underway for ten minutes, but i think everything that needed to happen happened: the seats we eventually got were fantastic, and the show was boiled down to its essential plot points (a bunch of bros swear off women, then reconsider) and filled in with songs and pop riffs like "single ladies" and "to be with you" (this love's labour's lost is a musical), so we didn't miss, like, crucial exposition. as joe noted, the production was a bit like stoner cooking: a big mess thrown together with confidence that the end result will be satisfying. that's true both as a criticism (some of the random pop references felt like too much; i think the audience could have been trusted to appreciate the text as shakespeare wrote it, without prompting or seasoning**) and as a compliment (the show was a lot of fun, even though some of it was cheap fun; this was the summer of poutine theater, and i'm still okay with that). some of the new music is solid stuff, and "love's a gun" in particular ("in the end there's still a marriage to someone you hardly know"), minus its cheesy power-ballad ending, is a bright and painful takedown of the comedies. this show will end up on broadway, i think; my virtual-line bitching aside, i hope this means broadway audiences end up in shakespeare as well.
mooncakes (pastries). "you should get some of these at the bakery on essex," said joe, and so i did: three lotus-seed mini-cakes, one lotus-seed cake, one mixed-nut cake, and one bitter-melon cake with a salted duck egg baked into the center. according to the chinese lunar calendar, the mid-autumn festival is september 19-21 this year, and mooncakes are gifted and eaten to celebrate prosperity and the harvest, in memory of a mythical archer and his beloved, sort of. the lotus cakes tasted a bit like the japanese red-bean wagashi i've gotten from minamoto kitchoan, the nut cake tasted like a slightly-mysterious pecan pie, and the bitter-melon cake with salted duck egg tasted like a thousand years of suffering at the hands of vindictive ancestors. i will try any (vegetarian) thing once, but i would have to lose a poker game nicolas-cage-in-honeymoon-in-vegas-style before i'd take another bite of one of those.
mr. burns (play). if i can get over the idea that i might have to see a musical every now and again, joe and i might go ahead and subscribe to playwrights horizons, which has yet to present us with anything less than capital entertainment. this time around we bought almost blindly and ended up seeing mr. burns, the best post-apocalyptic love song to people who quote the simpsons i'll probably ever see. it follows a handful of scrappy nuclear-meltdown survivors who pass the time by helping each other remember "cape feare" (episode 2, season 5), in which the simpsons move to terror lake via the witness relocation program because sideshow bob has been sending bart death threats. it's eventually about everything from storytelling and memory to gilbert and sullivan and britney spears (mr. burns deploys "toxic" almost as well as jen did at her wedding last year), and it's absurd and moving and wildly clever. it was also rather splattery at our matinee: one of the actresses whacked the blood pack on her chest a bit too enthusiastically, and joe and the guy in front of him took jets of stage blood to their chests. no big; at intermission i asked the assistant stage manager how he made his blood (it was detergent-based and "very washable"). culture in a blender and an unexpected splash zone: best day ever?
savages @ webster hall (concert). silence yourself (savages' debut album, just shortlisted for the mercury prize) is one of the best albums i've brought home in a long time, and their concert was the best live event i've attended in years; jehnny beth is utterly riveting on stage, ian curtis's geometry multiplied by pj harvey's gravitational field plus siouxsie sioux's upper register and diamond-sharp red heels. savages aren't exciting because they're women, they're exciting because they're confident and uncompromising and blisteringly talented, but i'd be lying if i said it was anything less than thrilling to watch music like that pour out of people who look like me. in, you know, a very poorly-lit room.
sweet tooth (book). hooray for giving ian mcewan one last chance! his latest, a novel about a beautiful young cambridge graduate who ends up working for MI5 (the UK's domestic counterintelligence agency) and grooming a young author to write novels favorable to the government, is a cross between atonement and a pulpy old john le carré novel (fine work on an unreliable female narrator's inner life plus meditations on writing plus safe houses and mysterious scraps of paper). in the sunday book review kurt andersen called it "about as entertaining as a very intelligent novel can be and vice versa," and he's right; it's an extremely fun book that doesn't feel trashy and an extremely thoughtful book that doesn't make you want to walk into the sea. i kind of want to send it to david lodge.
the world's end (film). it's entirely possible that simply getting to spend two air-conditioned hours in a large, plush, mostly-empty, probably-VD-free southern california movie theater in which no one texted or shouted or answered their damn phone made it impossible for me to dislike the world's end, but i think i'd be a fan anyway; i liked both shaun of the dead and hot fuzz, i appreciate how simon pegg and nick frost aren't too vain to play unlikable characters who don't especially deserve happy endings, and the idea that the corporate standardization of british pubs is probably one of the more visible signs of the coming apocalypse makes total sense to me. also the fights are really spectacular. god, i'm still thinking about that air conditioning.
imaginary reading group discussion questions
01 how do you feel about tom wolfe?
02 do you judge books by their covers?
03 is following a psychic on a cruise ship the welsh version of david foster wallace's "a supposedly fun thing i'll never do again"?
04 have you ever had a mooncake? what did you think?
05 would getting splattered with stage blood upset you?
06 what made the last great concert you attended so great?
07 if you're a fan of the pegg/frost family of products, which movie is your favorite?
*delightful as his emperor-of-ice-cream suits may be, i cannot forgive tom wolfe for i am charlotte simmons. never forget, internet.
**at one point armado auditions sonnet 29 as a love note for jaquenetta, and he and his friends dismiss it immediately; the joke was solid, but it also felt like broadway pouring one out for dear, departed (traditional) productions of yore.