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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
Cheston Knapp (Managing editor): Karen Green’s Bough Down. What can I say but the book floored me. For those few who don’t know, Green is David Foster Wallace’s widow, and though it’s not formatted this way, the book is basically a journal of her grieving. The entries are jagged and raw, jump around tonally, from lyricism to a kind of throat-punch bluntness, and they accrete in such an overwhelming way that I found myself having to put the book down from time to time. Green is, first and foremost, a visual artist, and she’s intercalated pieces of her art and it’s fascinating to watch how the visual and textual gears click together, how they’re in conversation and develop. Basically, I felt like as I was reading, the book was carving out a kind of alcove or hypogeum in my mind, where it alone will sit, singular and self-assured and so, so haunting.
Heather Hartley (Paris Editor): Erik Satie’s works for piano are vivid and limpid and unadorned. At a time when Paris was a little bit dandy and then a little bit Dada, Satie composed works like “Les Gymnopédies” and “Les Gnossiennes” that followed their own lyrical and wistful directions. Living in Montmartre, he was a regular at the cabaret Le Chat Noir and a friend of Claude Debussy. “I came into the world very young,” he said, “in an age that was very old.” And whatever age you are and wherever you may be in the world, his music is a delight to listen to.
Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer): I had the office plague for a good chunk of the month and the only cure was equal doses of echinacea and television. I took advantage of the quality time with my couch and rewatched a significant portion of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the series, not the also great, but somewhat vapid movie, featuring Luke Perry).
It’s easy to downplay a horror-themed teen drama. Yes, the show is about a teenage vampire slayer and her gang of misfit friends, but it’s really about the terror and awkwardness of growing up, as well as the pressures of finding your place in the world (whether one is fated to fight demons or not). While the special effects and fashion are dated, the series is just as smart, campy, and often deeply moving as it was when it aired. (Season five’s “The Body” is one of the most realistic portrayals of grief in television.)
Whedon is, as usual, a master of quip and interaction. His characters are complex and genuine in the face of ridiculous situations (a pack of roving hellhounds is out to ruin prom and maybe your boyfriend is a werewolf …). The series is full of groundbreaking content and risky stylistic choices (a musical episode and another with 23 minutes of no dialogue). I may have felt terrible for most of the month, but at least I had the Scooby Gang to keep me company.
Thomas Ross (Editorial Assistant): Sometimes it’s just happenstance and the good taste of others that leads you to something new and amazing. This month I read for review xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths, Kate Bernheimer’s anthology of contemporary fiction writers writing new/to/through classic myths and mythological subjects. Anthologies are difficult to review, but this one gave me plenty to write about, due in no small part to Kate Bernheimer’s introduction, which is thoughtful, illuminating, and—I think—wrong about the relationship of myth and fiction. My review/rebuttal clocked in well over my poor editor’s imposed word limit. But I have to thank Bernheimer for putting together such a stellar group of writers, including my new infatuation: Manuela Draeger.
Draeger is a French author of adolescent fiction, but she’s also a fictional character created by Antoine Volodine, which is a pen name of an anonymous French writer. In Volodine’s stories, Draeger is a containment-camp librarian who writes stories for children, but in France she’s published without that backstory. Thank god for The Dorothy Project, who published three of her stories in the US in a delirious, playful Brian Evenson translation called In the Time of the Blue Ball. The stories follow Bobby Potemkine, a makeshift detective who lives in a post-apocalyptic world with startlingly few signs that it was actually our world pre-apocalypse. In my favorite story, Bobby searches for a mother pelican to solve the inexplicable plague of morbidly placid but endearing baby pelicans that have appeared in the city. That turns out to be a tall order, as Bobby soon learns, because it seems “nobody has invented mother pelicans yet.” Language means something different in this world, but maybe meaning means something different, too. It’s fascinating and fun and I’m going to learn French immediately just to read more.