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A recap of what we read, watched, and listened to this month.
Matthew Dickman (Poetry Editor): My favorite book I’ve read this month is The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton edited by Kevin Young and Michael S. Glaser (with an intro by Toni Morrison). To read this book is to know how love feels, it’s an experience of the heart and mind, of the beauty of language and the celebration of all that is human, including what hurts about being human. The book contains over 700 pages of poetry which is the right size for a poet who affected so many lives.
Heather Hartley (Paris Editor): David Mamet’s Three Uses of the Knife has been living under a pile of papers for months. Compact and spirited, it explores with humor what good drama is (or isn’t). Also under the papers is The Letters of Sylvia Beach, a complete, gorgeous compilation of her correspondence. A sensitive writer with a subtle sense of humor, Beach’s letters are addressed to a large cast of characters including many writers (no surprise with her amazing entourage of writer friends), lovers, publishers, acquaintances and family members. A fine way to read about the history of Beach’s Shakespeare & Company—and Paris—in the early twentieth century by randomly opening and browsing a few letters.
Tony Perez (Editor, Tin House Books) In anticipation of “Holy Motors” (opening here in Portland
tonight next week), I’ve been watching Leos Carax’s earlier films, which has been a wholly edifying and invigorating experience. I’m new to his work, but it’s been like finding Lynch, or Almodóvar, or Greenaway for the first time: you start to identify the signature movements and cuts, the odd and wonderful performances he gets from his actors (Denis Motherfucking Lavant!), and the particular way he picks and probes at human relationships. If you’re curious to sample his goods before shelling out $10 to Regal Cinemas, The Lovers on The Bridge (Les Amants du Pont-Neuf) is streaming on Netflix, and I oh-so-highly recommend it.
Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer): In the City of Shy Hunters (Tom Spanbauer) has been shaming me from the middle of my to-read stack for far longer than I’d care to admit. Tom Spanbauer’s growly prose never fails to push me to manic prowling through his pages—foregoing sleep to reach the end. His torch song about the early days of AIDS in Manhattan constructs an elegiac mythology of death and survival. It’s about fear and fucking and heartbreak. It’s also about love.
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Editorial Assistant, Tin House Magazine) Jon Krakauker’s Into the Wild has been seeing me through my subway commutes to and from Brooklyn this month. Certain of Krakauker’s stylistic tics grate on me, and I get annoyed with the book’s looping structure and sometimes patronizing tone. And yet I can’t turn away. In fact, this is the third or fourth time that I’ve read the book and been so taken in. There’s something quasi-religious about reading it in the midst of subway chaos, communing with its portrait of solitude and life on the fringe while people around me wrestle with leather attaches and iPod cords. This morning, I was creeped out by a guy staring at me across the F train until I realized he wanted to talk about Into the Wild. “That’s a great book,” he said, “There’s a lot of that guy in me.” I wasn’t sure if he meant Krakauker or the book’s subject, Chris McCandless, but either way, I knew we both understood what it is like to feel feral in a too-urban world.
Lance Cleland (Workshop Director): “Wake In Fright”, a cult Australian classic that has been hitting the revival house circuit, contains one of my favorite scenes of the year. In a masterfully framed and frenzied five minute sequence that centers around Two-Up, a ridiculously simple betting game traditionally played in the backwater pubs of the outback, the film’s protagonist goes from mocking those in hell to joining them in the flames. And while that plot line has been a stable of cinema since its inception, this descent differs from most by the fact that we as an audience aren’t made to particularly care for the lead, thus removing the filmmakers need to offer up any sort of salvation for him, a usual must have in films like these. Throw in kangaroo hunts, the menacing culture of mateship, and a wicked Donald Pleasence performance and you have the most singular and disturbing film experience I have had all year.
Diane Chonette (Art Director): Wild Nothing’s album Nocturne has been on constant rotation at home and in the car this last month. You can’t help it. Once you hear it, you want to hear it again, simple as that. The album has been a perfect accompaniment to the Northwest seasonal shift.
Holly MacArthur (Founding Editor): Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist is a novel about poetry whose 50-something, Brown Ale-swilling protagonist, Paul Chowder, is tasked with writing the intro to a poetry anthology of rhyming verse. Beset with writer’s block and other personal troubles the poet-misfit spends his days conjuring oddball theories (as well as learned observations) of poetry, and spouting bitter critiques of its masters, from Dr. Suess to Ezra Pound to Billy Collins. Baker makes reading about the world of poetry both enlightening and entertaining.
Devon Walker (Editorial Intern): November has found me moving back and forth between The Dream of the Unified Field, a collection of Jorie Graham poems, and Gina Oschner’s debut collection of short stories, The Necessary Grace to Fall. Both the poems and the stories share a sort of otherworldly logic in which myth effortlessly embeds itself in everyday ritual and history becomes less of an abstract collection of extinguished hours than a malleable and present object being shaped and reshaped by our imaginations, language, and bodies. There are also these fantastic landscapes that unfold in both: Graham’s poems might root you in an initially comfortable interior setting and then spiral out from that point with questions that seem to physically press against the boundaries set forth to contain them–the effect: a tenuously bound and very cerebral landscape; Oschner, on the other hand, uses her landscapes to almost agoraphobic effect, physically locating her characters in these wide open spaces defined by a quiet unimpeded isolation. I have enjoyed both books so much that I have rarely left the house these past few weeks without one or both tucked in my purse.
Cheston Knapp (Managing Editor, Tin House Magazine) Over Thanksgiving weekend well-meaning family members compelled me to see “Flight.” I watched a bloated + boastful Denzel booze his way through a two hour AA infomercial, a Rube Goldberg machine of cliches about addiction (it’s so hard, so deliciously debased) and I was sad. Its lame-o script and rollercoaster effects and its cooked-up tension seemed to make sport of the real drama at its heart. Had I been there alone and paid my own $ to be there, I would’ve walked out of at three different points in the movie. The entire time I felt like I was being called an asshole. At the spectrum’s other end sits Joachim Trier’s second feature film, “Oslo, August 31,” which I watched earlier this month. Man, talk about fucking drama. It’s also about a guy struggling with addiction, but it’s quiet, lyrical, and haunting; it oozes a terrifying authenticity, for lack of a less weighty, more ironic word. There are small moments of humor but each scene has the tension that inheres in real deal desperation. Watching these movies so closely together, seeing the stunning success of one and utter failure of the other, I couldn’t help but think that addiction just isn’t sexifiable. You can’t make it more interesting, not even by adding a plane crash, ample boobies and bush, or a chance relationship with an incredibly (impossibly?) attractive heroin addict (who might, just might, an early scene wants us to believe, do porn for a fix). Not even when you add Dan Connor, affable cokehead. Addiction is deadly serious and sad business, and the narrative art that treats it should be too.
Meg Storey (Editor, Tin House Books): If, like me, you are a child of the early seventies, you were probably old enough in 1979 to understand that Americans in another country had been kidnapped and that the yellow ribbons everywhere were for them. You may have vague recollections of someone named “the Shah” and a song that encouraged the U.S. to “bomb Iran,” sung in falsettos mimicking the Beach Boys. The recently released Argo, which tells the little known story of a small group of Americans who escaped the embassy when it was overtaken by Iranian revolutionaries and who were successfully exfiltrated by a CIA agent named Tony Mendez, brought back those hazy yet defining memories (as well as the regrettable fashions) of my childhood. My cognizance of the events happening in Iran, scant as it may have been, was probably the first time I became aware of a world outside of the U.S.—a world much more complicated than mine. Thirty-three years later, things aren’t any less complicated and there have been many more crises in that part of the world. But rather than dated, for me, the story of Tony Mendez feels poignant in our present moment. Mendez’s mission was a noble one, and these days, we need reminders that there are individuals (and especially individuals in government-affiliated organizations) who are willing to risk their lives for others, who believe that six lives caught amid a violent revolution of thousands are still worth saving. Perhaps if some of the world’s current governments could be convinced of that, things would become less complicated.