Tuesday, December 16, 2008
The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listenin in 2008, Part Four: Jeffrey Ford and Wendy Walker
A pox on ’08. I had a bummer of a year, personally, although it was not devoid of reading, viewing and listening pleasure. Some of the items listed below were islands of solace amid an ocean of relentless bullshit. Oh well, onward to 09, which, sans the Bush administration, is already shaping up to be a winner. Hope you all have a great holiday season and a choice New Year.
I never thought I’d find another duet album that could rival the one I’ve worn out three CD’s of in the last ten years – Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, but this one, A Musical Romance (from Sony ), Billie Holiday and Lester Young, gets about as close as possible. Every song a winner. My favorites are “This Year’s Kisses, “ “Back In Your Own Backyard,” and “Mean To Me.”
Secret Knowledge is a fascinating study by the artist, David Hockney, about the use of optics and optical devices and their influence on the history of painting. Very well written. Lavishly illustrated in both black and white and full color.
Here’s a fiction discovery for me this year – the work of Italian writer, Anna Maria Ortese (1914-1998). Most well-known for her novel The Iguana, she was also the author of many other novels and short stories. I sent for her two volume collection of stories, A Music Behind the Wall, from McPherson & Company, translated by Henry Martin. Her work could best be described as “fabulist,” “magical realist” perhaps, but she has her own unique style and voice. I’m looking forward to getting a hold of a copy of The Iguana in the coming year.
Gaetan Soucy was another discovery for me this year – a fiction writer from Canada. I read The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches and Vaudeville. Both of these books were very original in plot, style and voice and quite unique from each other.. They were easy to read, but I imagine they must have been difficult to translate from the French. Sheila Fischman did the translations. Hard to describe but well worth your reading time. Soucy deserves a much larger reading audience in the US. I’ll be writing more about him in 09 at my blog. I know it’s terrible to do this, but these books are very difficult to describe as they are so unique. The Little Girl is like a cross between The Wasp Factory by Banks, though nowhere near as beautifully brutal, and The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz, with every bit as wonderful language. Vaudeville is like Kafka’s Amerika, but with a better sense of humor and more enchanting.
I didn’t get to the movies much this year, and when I did it was usually with my son, Jack, and we saw whatever shoot em up, super hero deal was going down. All of which we thoroughly enjoyed for what it was – eye candy and a chance to crack together, but for a real movie, I was enthralled by Stray Dog (1949) directed by Akira Kurosawa. Here’s the plot lifted from wikipedia: Rookie homicide detective Murakami (Toshirō Mifune) frantically seeks his stolen Colt pistol which, to his shame, has been pickpocketed on a bus. A manhunt begins when the stolen gun is used in a murder. The older and wiser detective, Sato (Takashi Shimura), takes Murakami under his wing. The evolving relationship between the two men gives the film depth. The action throughout takes place during a heatwave in a bombed-out post-war Tokyo. Quote: "A stray dog sees only what it chases." --Detective Sato
There are these long scenes of Murakami traipsing through post-war Tokyo, trying to track down his lost gun, beautifully filmed in black and white, that are worth the price of admission.
Best museum exhibit I saw all year was the Kim Deitch retrospective at the Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art in New York City. They had the goods, from Deitch’s early “underground” days at The East Village Other to his most recent graphic novel, Alias The Cat. Deitch and his brothers, Simon and Seth, had a new book out in '08 from Fantagraphics – Pictorama.
Jeff is the author of The Shadow Year, The Physiognomy, and other fine novels and stories. He has won numerous awards, including the Nebula and the World Fantasy Award. He blogs at 14th Eldritch.
Because of the election, and my new job as editor at Proteotypes, I’ve done less reading “for pleasure” this year than usual. The books I’ve been preparing for publication constitute a special subcategory of my favorite books of 2008, since I’ve read and re-read them so many times! Here are the titles:
The Social Vision of Alfred T. White (essays by various authors)
The Museum of Matches by Sasha Chavchavadze
13 Writhing Machines by Tom La Farge
Titles Without Paintings by Ernst Benkert
All will be available this spring. If you want to read more about them go here and look under Proteotypes.
As for the rest, the best novel I read this year was Karel Capek’s War With the Newts, a masterpiece of dystopian satire that pivots on our underestimation of animals. Guy Endore’s Babouk, about the Santo Domingo revolution, is the runner-up. Other novels I recommend: Allen Kurzweil’s A Case of Curiosities and Martin Nakell’s Settlement. The latter is a very striking depiction of the academic milieu as a Siberian camp for dissidents.
In non-fiction, Margaret Murray’s The God of the Witches put me back in touch with ideas that I was once completely obsessed by. Her thesis, long dismissed by historians, was revived not long back by Carlo Ginzburg in his Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath, and is now widely accepted as generally valid. I found Murray’s discussion of Joan of Arc particularly fascinating, and read further in work by Marina Warner on that subject.
Interesting for its subject and format, although not for its writing, is The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny. Non-fiction Gothic, a much-needed genre category.
Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea
Born Into Brothels
Los Ultimos Zapatistas
Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate
Zaman, the Man from the Reeds
Wendy is the author of The Secret Service and numerous short fiction and essays. She was nominated for the National Book Award in 1995. Aqueduct published her collection KNOTS in 2006.