Fright, Lust, and the Russians – The New York Times
In the previous issue of this newsletter, I asked readers what their preferred lighting configuration for book consumption was – and I was amply rewarded. Emails poured in. Hundreds of emails! I liked to imagine each correspondent in the setting they described: reading with a headlamp in a tent surrounded by nature, nibbling on caramel candies while beaming a neck lamp to their chosen text, or travel with a solar lamp that looks like a shiny gemstone. Thanks to everyone who wrote to provide a free feature to consumers!
Wishing you a bright new year,
Has winter depressed you? Break out this heartbreaking novel, which centers on a criminal trial closely resembling that of the Menendez brothers, who were convicted in 1996 of the murder of their parents. Seth is a magazine writer who has flown from New York to California to profile an empty celebrity while simultaneously working his fixation on what Indiana calls the “Martinez brothers.” Jack is Seth’s former lover, JD is a popular radio host, and the three spend their nights in a lounge called Black Light among meth-drunk Hells Angels, drag queens and drunken actresses who are in the third acts (perhaps even the epilogues) of their career. It’s Los Angeles around 1994: a painting by Bosch in neon colors; a place where you can get strangled by a puppeteer in a basement dungeon or smile at Matthew Modine in the elevator at Chateau Marmont or eat a piece of fatty tuna while someone tells you you have “a really negative and pessimistic aura”.
Indiana has the kind of ruthless comedic intelligence that I cherish in my friends and fear in my enemies. There is no better descriptor of people (a guy is “a slice of pathos”; a woman’s hair is “messy like the high note of a show tune”) or conjurer of terror and lust . Reading “Ressentment” is one of the few times that the phrase “Great American Novel” has come into my mind.
To read if you like: Kathy Acker, obsessed with Patricia Lockwood, “The Bonfire of Vanities” by Tom Wolfe
Available from: MIT Press
“The possessed” by Elif Batuman
non-fictional works, 2010
This book has the distinction of being among the least converted recommendations I have ever provided (people’s eyes are frozen when they learn about it) but the highest positive feedback rate among those who persist in reading it. . I don’t know if passing this data on to you counts as reverse psychology or normal psychology, but it does.
“The Possessed” is correctly captioned “Adventures with Russian books and the people who read them”. We start our journey in Palo Alto, where Elif Batuman is a Stanford student, then we follow her around the world and into the heart of Slavic sensibility, answering questions such as “Was Tolstoy murdered?” And “What does it feel like when an Uzbek woman paints a unibrow on your face?”
In St. Petersburg, Batuman visits the reconstruction of an ice palace where a Russian empress once forced a couple of jesters to marry. In Turkey, she goes to a town called Tokat, which means “a slap in the face”. In Tashkent, she watches a monkey eat a boiled potato. You will collect many interesting facts during your journey with Batuman; for example, that Uzbekistan is one of only two dual-landlocked countries in the world and the other is Liechtenstein. Loving Russian literature is not a prerequisite for appreciating “The Possessed”, which is worth reading just to find out how such a claim might be true.
To read if you like: Sherlock Holmes, dressed in a large shapeless coat, reflecting on your fate, the comedy by Tim Robinson
Available from: Random penguin house
Why not you…
Break your heart to pieces with a worthy Douglas Sirk melodrama / mystery about PARTHENOGENESIS (you heard me!) set in the English suburbs of the 1950s?
Watch with GROWING CONCERN as a charming Princeton-educated boy goes into finance, watches 9/11 on television, and becomes radicalized? (Where is it ?)
Dive into “Cassandra at the wedding”If you believe, like the narrator of this novel, that BRANDY is a drink superior to SCOTCH because it’s more “twisted”?
Sinks to the ground in despair after you finish this mystery then resurrect dramatically at the MICHAEL MYERS IN “HALLOWEEN“ when you realize the book is even better at second reading?
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