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What We’re Reading

Desiderata

Michelle Wildgen (Executive Editor, Tin House Magazine): Blake Bailey’s The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait is one of those books of which I read a glowing review and then the memoir slipped my mind as it waited on my library queue. But I’m glad the book’s description didn’t stick in my head, and also that I didn’t read the cover copy, because it meant I got to experience the mixture of uncertainty and growing awareness as the narrative took shape and its focus emerged. It’s a family story, starting with the birth of Bailey’s older brother to their college-student parents, and it is so swift, lucid, and nonjudgmental that even when I wasn’t sure of the book’s aims just yet I was thoroughly engaged. By the time Bailey’s handsome, wild older brother, Scott, is a teenager, it’s becoming clear there is some fairly intense conflict in the house, but as the years pass it becomes evident that Scott’s lack of inhibition, his drug use, and his emotional neediness are well beyond the typical, or even extremes, for any teenager. He will loom over the rest of the memoir, as the family attempts to deal with him or leave him to his own devices. (See, now I’ve ruined for you the reading experience I had—the irony isn’t lost on me. My apologies) The book is not morbid or sentimental, but funny—I have been chuckling over one line all week—and painfully frank about this family’s—or any family’s—inability to help its most incorrigible member.

Tony Perez (Editor, Tin House Books): Needing a quick break from LBJ’s political ambitions, I decided to listen to the audiobook of Walter Kirn’s Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade between volumes of Robert Caro. I found myself making excuses to partake in headphone-appropriate activities: exercise! cleaning! walking my best friend’s terrible dog! I’m a sucker for true crime, but Kirn’s at his best when he’s explicating the nature of deception, in our complicity–even willingness–to be deceived. Now I have to go buy a physical copy just so I can underline all those passages that have since been nagging at me.

Rob Spillman (Editor, Tin House Magazine): There are perfect reading weeks when my “must read” pile for work coincides with my “must read” for pleasure. In the next week I’ll be interviewing Rachel Kushner (Saturday, at the Brooklyn Public Library) and Anthony Doerr (Tuesday, at Greenlight Bookstore), so in preparation I am rereading Kushner’s The Flamethrowers and giving myself over to Doerr’s incredible new novel All the Light We Cannot See. With both I am struck with the precision of language coupled with the ambition of scope and scale (with Kushner, the 70s New York art world contrasted with 20th century Italian political history and Italian motorcycles, among her many other obsessions; with Doerr, World War II, the intricacies of locks and radios and the lives of those swept up on both sides of the war). One of the pleasures of rereading a great book is seeing how well it was put together when you already know the pieces. The Flamethrowers certainly passes that test. With All the Light We Cannot See, I simply gave myself over to Doerr’s mastery and will worry about how he pulled off this feat on second read.

Heather Hartley (Paris Editor, Tin House Magazine): “You look like a real thug,” sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti told his good friend James Lord who was sitting for a portrait for him in Paris in the 1950s. Despite this comment—and a few other cheeky and uncheery observations—Lord records his singular experience of being an art model in a tiny studio near Montparnasse in his compact, memoiresque book, A Giacometti Portrait.  Engaging and candid and modest, the book is a sort of portrait within a portrait of both men and examines the relationship between artist and model and artwork, and more generally is a glimpse into the by turns harsh and lush art world in post-World War II Paris. First published in 1965 for a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, A Giacometti Portrait retains its novelty, its sincerity—and a few pithy remarks. Very cool bonus: grainy and evocative black and white photos of the evolving portrait.

Thomas Ross (Editorial Assistant):

” . . . no boy wanted to imitate his mother. No boy aspired to that yielding, self-effacing kindness, that quality of service. Boys wanted either to break things or build them. But now it was his mother who stayed with him, not for what she was to others but for what she had always been to him alone, one small being where all her affection was concentrated—for how she had loved when it mattered most.”

Happy Mother’s Day! (via Lydia Millet, from How the Dead Dream)

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