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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): In reading Susan Orlean’s My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who’s Been Everywhere, an anthology of her best travel writing, I’ve been thinking about what makes Orlean’s nonfiction genuinely charming where others’ writing in the same vein can feel twee to me. So much of her material here might seem to write itself; how could an essay about tiger hoarders in suburban New Jersey or little league basebull under the thumb of Castro be anything less than a slam dunk? And yet there’s plenty of nonfiction out there that I think misses these shots by trying too hard, by being too smug or too contrived or too cute instead of letting the greatness of the story be the greatness of the story. I’ve come to hate that adjective “quirky” and most of the not-so-truly-quirky stuff it often tags. It’s a term that one might be tempted apply to these essays, too—but they’re better than that, because Orlean approaches them with heart and honesty instead of ironic distance. Let’s call them instead perceptive, precise, well-researched, engaging. I recommend you read them all, especially the one about the tigers.
Heather Hartley (Paris Editor, Tin House Magazine): Samba + jazz + bossa nova = the rich and languid tunes of Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto, daughter of super-famous singers João Gilberto and Miúcha. Her cover of Bob Marley’s “Sun is Shining” from her 2009 release “All in One” is best listened to with a chilled drink in hand, and most every track on her 2000 album Tanto Tempo is cool and smooth. For me, the most delightfully soothing tunes from Tanto Tempo are “So Nice” and “Samba e Amor,” and a little glass of Sancerre—or an icy glass of beer if preferred—pairs beautifully.
Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer): I only knew two things about Under the Skin before watching it: the basic premise (a woman, played by Scarlett Johansson, roams the streets of Scotland, preying on men . . . something something aliens) and that it’s based on a novel by Michel Faber, the author of the story collection, Vanilla Bright Like Eminem, which I enjoyed, but also The Crimson Petal and the White, a novel that I still loathe eight years after slogging through it. My concerns vanished within the first minute, when it became clear that director Jonathan Glazer took his stylistic cues from Tarkovsky (specifically Solaris) and Kubrick, among others. The movie is a slow burner with a bit of an art film vibe. It’s gorgeously shot and Johansson is superb. Creepy, seductive, and sad, Under the Skin is my favorite film of the year, so far.
Thomas Ross (Editorial Assistant): I’ve tried to get into Sting’s new rock opera or concept album or soundtrack or whatever the hell he calls The Last Ship, but to no avail. I don’t know if it’s the heavy-handed production on the album not striking me right or just the bone-deep itch I have to listen to Todd Terje’s It’s Album Time over and over, but I can’t finish The Last Ship. While Sting repeatedly mines narrow swaths of Quadrophenia, Terje is all over the place, blending spacey disco and bossa nova with house and techno touches, occasionally turning singer-songrwriter for a spell or glitchily scratching a track to shreds. It feels like it might have been written for a great remake of a nineties video game—I keep expecting that old drawn-out sung “Seeee-gaaaa” tag that preceded Sega Genesis games, or the sound of Sonic the Hedgehog picking up gold rings in a Casino Night zone . . . Maybe that’s just me. Regardless of your touchstones, Terje plays the past against the future and comes up with a bright, dancing album that provides a perfect counterpoint to the dog-driving-a-car theatrics of Sting belting out “The Night the Pugilist Learned How to Dance.”
Cheston Knapp (Managing Editor, Tin House Magazine): Been a good month, culture-wise. Read Matthew Zapruder’s incredible new collection of poems, Sun Bear, in which he bends and bubbles syntax like Chihuly does glass. Turns out Tony Doerr’s new novel, All the Light We Cannot See, is as good as the excerpt we published last spring promised it would be. But my most impactful media experience came in the form of a cocktail. One part Adam Curtis’s documentary, The Century of the Self, and one part Astra Taylor’s new book, The People’s Platform. Curtis’s movie is, hands down, a masterpiece of the documentary form (h/t to another Curtis, White, whose The Science Delusion should be out in paperback soon). It shows how Edward Bernays used Freud’s (his uncle’s) ideas to found what we know as PR and marketing and then how that trickles down to give us our current conceptions of happiness as self-realization. Movie’s moral can be summed up swiftly: shit is fucked. And then Taylor. Lord. This book cuts through all the Pollyannaish hype of Internet enthusiasts, all the apocalyptic talk of its naysayers, and dwells in a kind of littoral zone of ambiguity. It is so, so good. It feels like it’s been written in conversation with Lewis Hyde’s two classics, The Gift and Common as Air, as well as Trow’s Within the Context of No Context. But it is wholly her own, wholly new. If we’re not careful, she seems to suggest, future generations could make a documentary about us called “The Century of the Persona.” Basically, this is a book that we should all be reading (or at very least buying).
Masie Cochran (Associate Editor, Tin House Books): The NBA Playoffs mark my favorite time of year—the best basketball played by the best teams. Not to mention the best postgame interview fashion. I love the ritual at my house during The Playoffs. Out come the good luck t-shirts and the game time grub. We stand until our team scores and for the last two minutes of every game. I vacuum, sweep, or fold clothes when we are losing. I yell D-FENCE and clap along with the home crowd when we are winning. Right now my team is off to a shaky start, but with this guy on the floor I think we can turn it around.
Tony Perez (Editor, Tin House Books):