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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
What We’re Reading
Michelle Wildgen (Executive Editor, Tin House Magazine): Right now I am reading Katie Crouch’s Abroad, which draws from the Amanda Knox case and is thus far pretty intoxicating stuff–a little grimy, a little mysterious, and captivating and exotic. And yet it’s also just about being a student and trying out a new identity, one of the most common stories around. But it’s one of those books I itch to return to when I have to set it down.
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): It is a sad, sad thing to have no cable and thus no Shark Week, even though the programming seems like such bad science when it tries to be science at all. (I will say nothing of the megolodon show from last year.) Still, I’ve tried to assuage my feelings of loss and alienation with some shark reading instead. The nonfiction book I’ve been reading on the cultural history of sharks is mediocre to a degree that it seems unkind to name it. I will say, though, that I’ve learned that if your attempts at shark calling fail, it is likely because a woman stepped over your canoe or because you stepped in chicken poop before the voyage out. The more you know. I also recommend sublimating your Shark Week feelings by going to the Imax movie Great White Shark, in which three world-class freedivers who’ve somehow been duped into working as unarmed shark taggers carefully triangulate in the water so the sharks can’t sneak up on them from behind, as they try to do every time. Shark calling from the relative security of a pontoon has never seemed safer.
Jessica Miller (Editorial Intern, Tin House Books): I’m reading Wonder by R.J.Palacio. Auggie Pullman has never been to a real school until now. Though he was born with a facial deformity, Auggie’s parents have tried to make his life as normal as possible and decide to send him to public school for the first time ever. Told by Auggie, his older sister Via and kids from Auggie’s school, Palacio tells the story of looking beyond appearances and finding humor in the most unlikely places.
Katrin Tschirgi (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): Right now, I’m reading The Empathy Exams: Essays, which is the kind of book that makes me want to write nonfiction. It’s the kind of book I’d recommend to strangers on an airplane, my parents, my friends in group text messages with the all-bolded imperative READ THIS NOW. I’ve underlined so many sentences thinking, Yes! This is my life! And there has been an equal number of times where I’ve thought Yes! This is how we should live. Leslie Jamison writes seamlessly about empathy and how it is problematized through systems of injustice, unfathomable loneliness, and tourism. Jamison’s insights are fresh, true, and unnerving.
Talal Achi (Editorial Intern, Tin House Books): I’d like to thank the sensible Tin House intern who told me countless times to read Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story. Wise homie, I’m glad I finally listened. This is dystopian fiction on par with classics like 1984, Brave New World, and White Noise. In Shteyngart’s tetanizing projection of the future of America, you enter a crowded room and your äppärät (super-advanced I-phone) shows you everyone else’s fuckability rating (0-800), among other juicy bits of personal data, like credit rankings (0-????)—that’s assuming you are wealthy enough to own an äppärät, and are not instead sequestered and perhaps ‘dealt with’ by Shteyngart’s thought police analog, a swarm of ungainly mercenaries called the American Restoration Authority. In this degenerate reality, the hero of the story, an ugly, middle-aged, bookish Russian-American Jew named Leonard (Lenny) Abramov (“bookish,” in this context, is a gross understatement. Lenny is one of the last people in America to read books, let alone own a shelf full of them), an employee of a firm that targets High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) to sell them immortality (via “smart blood”), whose dream it is to become rich enough to buy that which he is selling and live forever, falls in love with Eunice Park, a young and stunning Korean-American girl who, despite evidently being a product of her consumer culture (who spends outrageous amounts of time and money browsing Assluxury.com and JuicyPussy.com for best-selling items like Onionskin (see through) jeans and nipple-less bras), turns out to be just as interesting and complicated as Lenny. What else? This is a super sad, masterfully crafted story about a world we contemporary humans might very well be giving birth to.
Rob Spillman (Editor, Tin House Magazine): I’m 400 pages into The Bone Clocks, the new David Mitchell novel, which comes out in September. Much like Cloud Atlas, it jumps narrators and speeds through time, in this one from the 1980s to the future. Realism suffused with bursts of mind-and-body-inhabitation by a mysterious immortalist cult, with sharp political jabs (at the foolishness in Iraq) and much hay made of an ego-mad writer with rapidly declining sales working the international literary festival circuit. I am at the point where there are dozens of threads dangling about and am excited/nervous to see how Mitchell pulls them all together in the last 200 pages.
Heather Hartley (Paris Editor, Tin House Magazine): “When I put a green, it isn’t grass. When I put a blue, it’s not the sky,” said Henri Matisse, and in Jazz, his big book of collages and cut paper images, spiky, bright construction paper stars collide with dancing figures, braying horses and chariots. Jazz has whimsy all over the place—in sweeping shapes and arches and squiggles of the sky. Matisse worked on it when he was in his seventies and his notes about the collages, written in thick brushstrokes, are interspersed with the images. I’ve returned to Jazz over the years a lot and find it particularly delightful to peruse while sipping an icy little glass of something refreshing in late summer as September comes on, like just now.
Thomas Ross (Editorial Assistant): One of my favorite things to stumble on at Powell’s is a book I haven’t read by the Swedish writer Torgny Lindgren. I recently picked up a copy of In Praise of Truth, a 1991 novel about art, art forgery, and celebrity. Maybe. Two thirds through, I still couldn’t tell you what it’s about, except to describe the plot to you, and to do that, I’d basically be reading it aloud. Lindgren’s narrator is conversational and either honest to a fault or colossally deceptive, a self-described intellectual who reads Schopenhauer and art history exclusively, the blandest man, bald at thirty-two, obsessed with a lost Nils von Dardel masterpiece he picks up at auction at the cost of his “family inheritance,” a trunkful of cash courtesy three generations of his family’s piano and picture-framing business augmented by the cash his only friend, a child-like pop music megastar called Paula, has on hand in the middle of the night. Lindgren is funny and dark, and though his characters and even his narrator are quick to unload information and augur meaning, his novel is cleverly neutral, presenting the narrative with a sense of dispassionate irreverence.
Adam Segal (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): It feels like I’m brushing up against bookish taboo to admit that I became aware of this book only after I heard through the CNF grapevine that it was being adapted for film. I never took a class from D’Agata while a student at Iowa, but from friendly accounts – and from certain book reviews – he seems to have a reputation as a nonfiction antihero, a literary loose cannon who plays fast and loose with facts in the name of Truth or, anyway, Style. The struggle over the facts in the Believer essay that eventually became About a Mountain was so herculean and intellectually arousing that in 2012 it became its own book, The Lifespan of a Fact—a book that if nothing else is a monument to the quotidian heroics of editorial interns. But if it’s true (heh) that About a Mountain is built on muddled facts, tweaked names, and consolidations of human beings into composite characters, then it’s also true that it works, beautifully. About a Mountain explores, through the story of the since-defunded Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, the excesses, the lack of foresight, and the frailty of modern American existence. Expect the film to contain drawn-out sweeping shots of the mountain and its surrounding landscape, as well as quiet faraway views of Las Vegas itself, suggesting that the city will one way or another be ultimately reclaimed by that iconic dull-orange desert, the same one you see in the morning when your brain is pounding and your money’s all gone.
Sophia Archibald (Editorial Intern, Tin House Books): After hearing Wells Tower read an essay at the Writer’s Workshop, I knew that I had to get my hands on some of his fiction. The stories in Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned echo through my head in Tower’s voice, with all the wit, dry humor, and overwhelming realness that I remember from his reading. His characters are not heroes. But Tower’s honesty with the inner demons everyone faces, as well as the genuineness with which he captures relationships and human interactions, reminds me of the reality that we’re all made of the same stuff. In these stories (at least the first two), it just takes some quirky old-timers in strange, isolated settings to release the flow of feelings we all experience but rarely talk about.