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What We’re Reading
Elissa Schappell (Editor at Large): The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It by David Byrne, front man of the most successful art school band ever, The Talking Heads, has written a book that manages to be both personal and scholarly and altogether fascinating. The man is a genius. On one page he explains why he became a performer, “I couldn’t talk to people face to face so I got on stage and started screaming and squealing and twitching.” Then playing musicologist, he joyfully geeks out on the roles music has historically played in the lives of human beings, weaving in his own evolution as a musician, performer and lover of music.
Michelle Wildgen (Executive Editor, Tin House Magazine): I’m on a nonfiction kick at the moment–Marcus Samuelsson’s Yes, Chef: A Memoir, which I’ll blog about next week, was the latest in a long line of chef and restaurant memoirs that seem to be my comfort-food reading. (That books about such a brutal industry are a pleasant diversion probably says something unflattering about me.) Now I’m on to Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, his massive tome about the parents of children different from them in some profound way, from dwarfism to transgender children. It’s completely absorbing.
Heather Hartley (Paris Editor, Tin House Magazine): I literally just picked up MFK Fisher’s lovely and luminous An Alphabet for Gourmets, randomly opening to the entry “B is for Bachelors,” then skipping over to “J is for Juvenile Dining,” and finally onto “W is for Wanton.” One of the delightful things about this abecedary is that each letter offers a fine slice of a story, a recipe–or both, in whatever order you choose to read. Fisher’s twenty-six letters reveal her passion for and sensitivity towards all things gastronomical.
Devon Walker (The Open Bar intern): February finds me immersed in Alice Munro’s most recent collection of short stories, Dear Life. So far, the reading is slow, but ultimately rewarding––the characters unfold, like the language through which they are rendered, with restraint and nearly inviolable composure. As I read through these stories, many of which are filled with loss (of love, financial security, reputation, and health, to name a few), I find myself lingering over the austere surfaces of the characters’ everyday lives and marveling at the matter-of-fact way in which they shoulder each others’ shortcomings, as if these were inevitabilities akin to crop failures or economic crashes.
Young, old, male, female, urban landlord or rural schoolteacher, the people populating the pages of these stories are, at their core, artists when it comes to the subtleties of survival: they guard with virtuosity their intentions and desires, which they perceive as sites of frailty; and the small deceptions they employ to keep those intentions and desires hidden are among the most compelling aspects of Dear Life. Fragile and ritualized, these untruths function as tenuous points of balance capable of transforming hardships into bearable tasks; of rendering unfamiliar risks (and the dishonor associated with them) avoidable; and, at their most, of creating ephemeral spaces of belonging. To anyone who has the patience to appreciate a good slow dance or a quiet adagio, I recommend these stories. They are, of all things, subtly deceptive and undeniably human.
Cheston Knapp (Managing Editor of Tin House): Like about half the country, it seems, I’m reading Tenth of December and Vampires in the Lemon Groves–I like to picture Saunders and Russell doing loop-the-loops on motorcycles in some thunderdome of the imagination, high-fiving one another every other pass and wearing little carnations on the lapels of the their jean jackets from which the sleeves have been removed and looking to me from the outside like they’re just having the time of their lives. I’m also excited to devour Mary Szybist’s new collection, Incarnadine, as should you be.