New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!
Check out this rather unassuming but masterful version of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” played on the pedal steel. It’s a mind-blowing performance on a really great instrument that doesn’t get the spotlight often enough. It’s also nice to hear this song out of the context of old-timey country music.
For another track song featuring the pedal steel, listen to this bonus track from the Japanese release of the latest Daft Punk album, called “Horizon.”
- Brook Reeder
A boy reads “Jabberwocky” for the first time and is troubled. There are words in the poem he doesn’t know. Words that aren’t like other words he hasn’t known in poems or stories before. He goes to a dictionary or asks a parent and discovers, even more troubling, there are words in the poem that Lewis Carroll…just made up. Apparently, you can do that, just…make up new words for new things and maybe those words stick in the language like “chortle” and maybe they don’t like “manxome” but either way, it can be done. A boy reads “Jabberwocky” and learns something about words. A boy sees a Van Gogh self-portrait in a book and is troubled. The brushstrokes are viral and the colors are viral and though it looks like a face, it doesn’t look like any face he’s ever seen. But it’s in a book and if it’s in a book it must be OK. He realizes that paintings aren’t required to look like their subjects. Artists can paint things that are not visual. A boy looks at a Van Gogh self-portrait and learns something new about art.
White Girls by Hilton Als is not a pensive essay collection. It is not meditative and if it’s critical or scholarly, it’s critical and scholarly in ways critics and scholars rarely are. White Girls is full of ideas and themes, but they are not approached the way you expect ideas and themes to be approached. Hilton Als pit-fights the shit out of them. Ringed by prisoners who don’t know whether to stop cheering or keep cheering, and guards with their guns and sunglasses and smirks, Als beats those ideas like they were Cool Hand Luke. And beats them, and beats them, and beats them, because there is always more in Luke, in racism, in courage, in love, in cowardice, in hate, in hubris, in straight white American male privilege, in empathy, in music, in comedy, in commodity, in Luke both good and bad than you can ever beat out, but you’re a brave exhausted prison pit dog and eventually you hit your word limit and carry your limp but still swinging opponent away and you didn’t win the fight and Luke didn’t win the fight and the spectators didn’t win the fight either. Nobody wins. Except for the guards, who win every fight by being born people who don’t go to jail.
All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld comes out today!
It’s the story of an extremely standoffish girl who flees the rough-and-tumble sheep stations of Australia for a craggy farm in Britain. Why she fled, and how she plans to survive in a world of livestock, sex work, and lifelong guilt, are the questions that burns this story down to the nub, like a candle. Evie Wyld is one of Granta‘s 20 best young writers, and All the Birds, Singing is one of the most gripping books of the year.
We asked the author one question.
How are you celebrating the US publication of All the Birds, Singing?
Evie Wyld: During the day, I’ll be working in my bookshop–I’ve been negligent with the dusting lately and I need to do a stock take, so I’ll be keeping the shutters down and having a spring clean. Exciting times.
I’ve just started mentoring a young woman and we’ll have our first meeting at lunchtime–somewhere in Soho. I’m a bit nervous about it, so it’ll be nice to get the first one out of the way. Afterwards if there’s time, I might go and buy myself some publishing-day boots.
In the evening I’ll be reading at an event called Faber Social with Ben Marcus, Jon McGregor and Sarah Hall. I’m on pretty late so will have to abstain from drinking until afterwards because I can’t read after a drink. But after I’ve finished I’ll be aggressively demanding someone feeds me and gives me drink.
Read the first chapter of All the Birds, Singing here.
Get the book here.
- Brian Hurley
Me: You’ve been writing for Salon for nearly 20 years. In that time, book reviews have largely migrated from print publications to join you on the web. How do you think reviews have changed as a result of their migration?
Laura Miller: I think the public’s idea of what reviews mean has changed a lot, and that only some reviewers have caught up to it. This has to do with the authority — usually institutional — invested in any particular review. You still hear people say “The New York Times loved this book,” when really it’s just one of the staff critics there who loved it and probably no one else who works there has even read it. Nevertheless, I think the informality of web publishing and the proliferation of amateur reviewers on sites like Amazon and Goodreads have made many more people than ever before aware that any given review is not the last word on a book. Reviews are seen more as points in an ongoing argument, which to me is a welcome change.
Read the full exchange and see all the winners here.
- Brian Hurley
New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!
Well, it’s come to this: Jessup Tamberlock. I mean Just-a-tinderbox. I mean JT. You know.
Now, Timberlake is certainly a polarizing figure, meaning you either love him or you just kind of like him. Despite the controversy, I can’t stop listening to his latest two-album spread, The 20/20 Experience. Not only his talent (this guy has clearly put in his 10,000 hours, everyone), but the production and arrangements are surprisingly nuanced and layered. “Dress On” is a good example of all of that, and includes one of the best opening lines I’ve heard in a song for a while. One thing I really like about the album is that there’s lots of space–every song is over 4 minutes, and more than 10 songs are over 7 minutes. This also means that every track has a built in remix at the end, which is often where the most interesting stuff happens, like the a cappella breakdown at the end of this track. Face it, he’s the heir apparent to the throne of pop.
If you can’t get enough, try out this track from the second part of the album.
- Brook Reeder
Barbara Ehrenreich’s memoir, Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything, came out recently, from the same publisher who brought us Christopher Hitchens’ memoir Hitch-22. And like the Hitchens book, Ehrenreich’s seems destined to become a classic of the enlightened atheist canon. There’s a good Q&A with Ehrenreich over at Harper’s, but I want to share my favorite quote from the book with you here.
When someone wanders so far from the flock, people, in their collective vanity, tend to blame the flock. Anyone who wanders off must have been actively pushed away—by family dysfunction, social disappointment, sexual rejection, whatever. Or maybe it was the wanderer’s fault, and, like one of Conrad’s characters, she lost her way because she failed to cultivate the appropriate intraspecies bonds; she forgot about love. Either way, the idea is that what happens to people is all about people; no other factors merit consideration. Try telling a therapist or other member of the helping professions that you are menaced by hazy sunlight or that the sumac trees growing like weeds along the railroad tracks fill you with dread, and he or she will want to hear accounts of childhood abuse. This is the conceit of psychiatry and unfortunately of so many novels, even some of the best and most riveting ones: that except for the occasional disease or disaster, the only forces shaping our lives are other humans, and that outside of our web of human interactions there is nothing worth looking into.
- Brian Hurley
The itch started in my leg, and then I felt it somewhere on my back. I was reading an essay about Morgellons disease, a malady in which people feel they are being infested by—what?—a virus, a parasite, something on their skin?—and I began to itch.
For a moment I might have mistaken my itching for empathy for the individuals in the essay, who describe the torments they experience to Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams. But my itch was simply an unconscious sensation, something about me,not about them. How easy it was for me to direct my attention to myself and away from those I was reading about.
To further complicate my feelings, Morgellons disease is, well, “made up.” Jamison never says so, but at one point she does say:
This isn’t an essay about whether or not Morgellons disease is real. That’s probably obvious by now. It’s an essay about what kinds of reality are considered prerequisites for compassion.
I didn’t play many video games as a kid, but when I did, I gravitated toward games with a level editor. Say you’ve beaten all 50 levels of an army-building strategy game; you’ve conquered all the known lands. What next? The best games would provide you with software to build your own levels. Starting with a blank field of grass, you’d drag a forest onto the screen, click a few rivers into action, and maybe carve a rocky canyon down the middle. To me this was more fun than the game itself—to shape and explore a brand new world, a place without names or history.
Two new books offer similar thrills. Continue reading