Did You Hear? Waterfalls

New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!

The title of this column is “Did You Hear?” and I’m fairly sure that for the vast majority of you, the answer this time is “yes.” So maybe this week we change the name to “Did You Hear (that ridiculous bass line that should have been blowing your mind for the last 20 years)?”

The first time someone pointed out the bass line to me, it felt like one of those life-changing moments where you start to question everything you once thought was true–could this really have been there the whole time? Maybe the reason we never noticed (and let me know if you did!) is that every other part of this song is also amazing. But try and tune everything out except the bass. You’ll be impressed.

Bonus link for bass players.

– Brook Reeder

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The Meursault Investigation

His book isn’t even on sale in the United States yet, and already Kamel Daoud has been the subject of breathless coverage in The Nation, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The New York Times Magazine. A Salafist imam in Algeria issued a fatwa against him on Facebook. He narrowly lost the Prix Goncourt—France’s top literary prize—by only two votes. A movie adaption is slated for 2017. So if you haven’t heard of Kamel Daoud yet, take a deep breath. Here we go.

The Meursault Investigation is a novel-length rebuke of The Stranger by Albert Camus. Remember in The Stranger, how the main character—a self-questioning young Frenchman in Algeria named Meursault—goes to the beach at mid-day and lazily shoots a stranger dead? The whole book hinges on that scene. It’s meant to show us that Meursault is so conflicted about conventional morality that he genuinely doesn’t know if killing a stranger is wrong anymore. Must be tough to be Meursault, right?

Maybe. But it’s even tougher to be the guy Meursault killed. In The Stranger he’s only described as “The Arab.” Even though this character’s death is the crux of the novel, and he’s been, you know, murdered for no good reason, Camus barely mentions him. Doesn’t even give him a name. The death of this nameless Arab is a blip in the life of our European hero. For decades, readers have venerated Camus and discussed The Stranger in those terms.

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A Stranger in My Own Country by Hans Fallada

A Stranger in My Own Country

Is there an ethical voice in German literature in the 1930s?

Among the Oscar nominees this year (which included no shortage of Nazi tales, including Fury and The Imitation Game) Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel serves as Hollywood’s sweeping take on “fascism, Nazism, prison, uplift.” His whimsical anti-fascist flick is solemnly dedicated to the work of novelist Stefan Zweig, who fled the rise of the Nazis and, despairing at the rise of Nazism, killed himself in exile. Anderson tries to sum up the age at the end of the film, in an elegy to the fair and uptight concierge of the hotel: “To be frank, I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it—but, I will say: he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace!”

Anderson has no obligation to realism, and yet speaking in epochs prevents his characters from feeling like regular people grounded in time and space. The concierge and his lobby boy are like mythological figures that illustrate history from a vantage point in the present. Real people don’t see themselves through such grand narratives.

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The Beginning of The End of the Tour

Watch the first preview for “The End of the Tour,” starring Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace…

…then tell us what you think.

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The Boomstick Film Club: Crocodile Dundee II

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The Boomstick

Watch it with us: Netflix streaming

If I could review this movie using one of its lines, it would be the one where Mick Dundee makes the paste of berries and gives it to Sue to smell and she recoils and says “Ugh! It stinks!” What a turd this movie is.

Here’s what happens: Sue’s photojournalist ex-husband is in Colombia trying to get intel on a drug cartel. He takes a photo of a drug lord shooting one of his minions, mails it to Sue for safekeeping, and then gets himself shot. This all happens during the first act of the movie; the rest involves the drug cartel guys trying unsuccessfully to recover the photo from Sue. They kidnap her and hold her hostage, but Mick rescues her and spirits her off to the Outback, where of course the drug guys follow them for a final showdown. It’s preposterous from beginning to end, which wouldn’t be so bad except that it’s also incredibly boring, and the one thing adventure-comedies should never be is boring.

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Gender in Cold Worlds

The Left Hand of Darkness

I first read Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness in eighth grade, and though for the years following I called it one of my favorite books, I couldn’t have given a very solid account of the story or its meaning.

I learned the word “envoy,” and the next few stories I would write, in pencil on lined notebook paper, featured alien envoys navigating a stubborn planet. I didn’t know enough about sex to recognize the power of omitting it from daily life, as LeGuin’s androgynous inhabitants of the planet Gethen do, but I wrote about big-headed green aliens who reproduced through a sort of meditative mind-meld, which I suspected to be more evolutionarily sophisticated than the mess of feelings and fluids that my own species engaged in. I didn’t know enough about the cold to recognize how it creates a bond among those who endure it together, as it does between the novel’s two central characters as they traverse the planet’s desolately beautiful ice fields, or its power to remove sex from the equation. What I recognized, and kept with me, were these words from the book’s introduction: “I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth.”

And that, for an adolescent trying on artistry and atheism, was enough to make the book a favorite—story, metaphor, and meaning be damned.

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Non-Fiction by Non-Men: Andie Tucher

Andie Tucher

In the second installment of her series of interviews with women who write nonfiction, E.B. Bartels converses with historian and journalist Andie Tucher.

Andie Tucher is the author of Happily Sometimes After: Discovering Stories From Twelve Generations of an American Family and Froth and Scum: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and the Ax Murder in America’s First Mass Medium, which was the winner of the Allan Nevins Prize from the Society of American Historians. She served as a speechwriter for Clinton/Gore ’92, an editorial associate to Bill Moyers at Public Affairs Television, and an editorial producer of the ABC News documentary series The Twentieth Century. She currently teaches in the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.

EB: What drew you to writing nonfiction?

AT: It sounds odd to say I write nonfiction because I am fascinated by the stories people tell about their lives, but those stories––especially the ones told by ordinary people who don’t have access to the traditional channels of communication or power––have been the focus of my work as both a journalist and a historian. Societies as well as people create stories to explain things to themselves and others––perhaps the way things are, perhaps the way they aren’t. And even if the stories include inventions, distortions, or embellishments, they are always in the service of some truth important to the teller. I explore those truths. So: I write nonfiction about a kind of nonfiction! Besides, I’ve never been able to invent anything that’s half as interesting as the world that’s already here.

EB: Does being a woman have anything to do with your desire to write nonfiction?

AT: When I was growing up, if you were a girl and you loved books, of course you wanted to be a novelist, or a poet, or maybe a dramatist. No girl I knew dreamt of the day she’d publish her first nonfiction, and it seemed almost perverse to be interested in something that named itself after everything it was not. I think the perverseness is what first appealed to me and what eventually led to my fascination with the volatile boundaries between the “non” and the otherwise. Continue reading

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Mislaid by Nell Zink

Mislaid

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Nell Zink’s newest novel, Mislaid, has the official Jonathan Franzen seal of approval. The front cover blurb indicates that Franzen sees Zink as “A writer of extraordinary talent and range.” This is true, yet my dominant thought as I read the book was not “here is talent, here is range, here is writing at its best,” but rather, “this book is going to piss a lot of people off and I’m not sure whether it’s worth it.”

The novel opens with a description of Stillwater College, an all-girls school that is not a direct parody of either Wellesley or Sarah Lawrence. Yet, as is soon revealed, it is the typical picture of a women’s liberal arts college, full of bull-dykes and radical feminists and man-haters, which stereotypically amounted to the same thing in the 1960s and ’70s when the early sections of the book take place.

One of the main characters, Peggy Vaillaincourt, is everything her rich parents don’t want her to be. Within the first few pages of the novel, we find out that Peggy “was intended to be a man,” that “girlhood was a mistake,” and that she is a “thespian” (by which Zink means to convey a mishearing of lesbian). She is only happy many years later in life when she tells herself, in a moment of clarity, “You idiot… You’re a femme!” Only then does she find true love and happiness, when she wears pantyhose and makeup. I can already hear the roars of dismay from various factions of the feminist and LGBTQIA communities; as someone who considers herself a part of both, it is often hard to remember that the novel’s irreverence toward political correctness is (probably) purposeful. Whether it is satirical, however, is harder to decipher.

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