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What We’re Reading
Michelle Wildgen (Executive Editor, Tin House Magazine): I really wish I had read John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead in time to give the book to my nonfiction students last fall. It’s not just that he’s extremely funny on subjects like a Christian rock festival or MTV’s Real World complex, though he is. For three days now I have been laughing at the line, “I’d assumed that my days at Creation would be fairly lonely and end with my ritual murder,” but Sullivan reaches well beyond obvious music fest targets and into something more expansive when he meets up with a crew of very devout, maybe crazy, but mostly kind and welcoming guys. An essay on his brother’s recovery from accidental electrocution feels haunting, strange and funny, but I think my favorite writing in here is on pop culture. Sullivan is particualrly wonderful at considering figures like Michael Jackson or Axl Rose, and hitting upon what it was like to see experience their iconic performances and the oddities into which they devolved. He manages to encompass it all: the physical presence of a performer, the emotional states they evoked and out of which they seemed to spring, and he makes the moments that stick in our collective cultural head feel both new and familiar. It makes me want to randomly assign him subjects just to see what he’ll do with them. “Specialty foods shows! Arthur Murray’s Dance Academy! Software development! Go!”
Heather Hartley (Paris Editor): Jacques Réda’s The Ruins of Paris guides the reader through the city’s neighborhoods and suburbs–from beautiful to gritty, noble to popular, spirited to silent. A true flâneur (stroller or walker or loafer), Réda moves from Montmartre to Belleville to St. Germain des Prés to everywhere in between. His love of jazz music is evident in his syncopated, lyrical and at times disjointed prose. “A courtyard, no, an impasse that is illuminated by a solitary tree–I stop. But it’s not out of curiosity that I keep walking past the dark wood . . .”
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): Seeing Maggie Nelson read with Wayne Koestenbaum at St. Mark’s a few weeks ago inspired me to dip back into some (relatively) vintage Nelson, her collection Something Bright, Then Holes. This book holds a particular charge for me in its second section, where Nelson writes about a trauma in the life of someone I happen to know. At St. Mark’s, Nelson was asked whether her willingness to bring her readers so close to fraught personal material has lead them to tell her that they ‘feel like they know her.’ I understand exactly the reading experience behind that question. Yet even more astonishing to me is the closeness and care and perceptivity with which she attends to the emotional life of the world on beyond herself. Nelson is so deeply smart and fearless that it’s easy to look past how deeply kind her writing is, too, and there’s maybe no better reminder of that than this book.
Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer): What if Robert Oppenheimer’s famous declaration, “Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds,” was not just a reflection on the creation of the atomic bomb, but a warning of intergalactic proportions? In The Manhattan Projects, a comic series by Jonathan Hickman, the Project serves as a front for more mysterious experiments. The solid cast of characters (Einstein, Feynman, Fermi, Von Braun) is made stronger by Hickman’s knowledge of real history and by his addition of fictional complexities (Hint: Oppenheimer is not what he seems).
Artist Nick Pitarra has a style that complements this disturbing alternate history in a way that is both gritty and refined. His use of color, especially his technique of changing palettes to tell parallel stories, is effective and striking. And, I will admit that my initial interest in the series was based entirely on Pitarra’s gorgeous minimalist covers.
I just finished the first trade edition (issues 1-5) and can’t wait to see where this story of the world’s most elite and insane scientists takes me.
Desiree Andrews (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): This week I read A Room with a View for the first time. Victorian literature sure knows where a girl’s heart lies, which is to say that men who are emotionally unavailable, vaguely troubled, and certainly unattainable, are attractive, even when they don’t get much time in scene. This book cashes in on the romantic imprint that forbidden love/radical freethinking is sexy and conventional thinking is not; it does it in a pretty brilliant way and I ate it up like candy.