Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What We're Reading: Fall Edition

Posted By on Tue, Sep 18, 2012 at 11:32 AM

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It’s time for another roundup of what we Scene writers have been reading lately.

Read on for recommendations from me (I’m on a smart lady protagonist kick) and Jim Ridley (when does the man find time to read so many books? I’m in awe), plus freelancers Ashley Spurgeon (historic fiction and poisoning techniques, as per ushe), Randy Fox (hard-boiled genre fiction), Lance Conzett and Joe Nolan. You can find previous installments of this series here and here. Tell us about your most recent reads in the comments section.

Laura Hutson, Arts Editor

How To Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran
I’ve seen this book on so many news outlets (Time, Jezebel, Fresh Air) that I can’t even remember how I first heard of it — it just absorbed into my consciousness. I read it in a quick couple days and couldn’t stop telling all my friends about it. (You guys! Pornography isn’t inherently sexist! Being feminist is really just a matter of being polite to everybody! Puberty is like good drugs being wasted on teenagers!) And even though it was strikingly hetero (I don’t remember one mention of lesbians in all 300 pages of a book about women), overall the book is a solid must-read. Like a Feminism Is for Everybody for the pop culture set. Fans of Sassy magazine, Tina Fey, Janeane Garofalo and Cat Marnell will want to sleep with this book under their pillow.

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True Believers, Kurt Andersen
Two of my favorite things are combined in this book. First: Kurt Andersen! He was founding editor of Spy magazine, edited COLORS after Tibor Kalman left, and hosts Studio 360 on NPR. He’s smart, hilarious and always curious about obscure pop culture trivia. Add to that: revolutionary countercultures in the vein of the Weather Underground and the Baader-Meinhof Group! Andersen manages to write the fictional memoir of a woman who came of age in the 1960s, rose to political power as an adult, and is now faced with trying to tell deep secrets about her past. Think Bernadette Dohrn meets Joan Didion.

Just Started: Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit
It’s a history of walking! Solnit is one of the best minds in contemporary literature, and I’ve just started getting into her work.

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Jim Ridley, Editor

Finished:
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
Terrific Tudor-era historical fiction, with Thomas Cromwell an incredibly vivid and assured hero.

The Last Werewolf and Tallula Rising, Glen Duncan
Ultraviolent, witty, rapturously written werewolf saga with 1,000,000-Scoville-unit sex scenes.

The Uninvited Guests, Sadie Jones
One of the best novels I've read in years — starts as The Rules of the Game/Gosford Park, ends as ... whoa, buddy!

Reading:
Canada, Richard Ford
Like being led down a hallway that keeps getting darker with no door at the end.

Air Guitar, Dave Hickey
Pisses me off exactly the way Pauline Kael and Manny Farber did the first time I read them.

The Rest Is Noise, Alex Ross
History of 20th century classical music as The Right Stuff, without all the stylistic whizbangery.

Also broke down and bought Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl.


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Ashley Spurgeon, Contributing Writer

The Uninvited Guests, Sadie Jones
http://www.amazon.com/The-Uninvited-Guests-A-Novel/dp/0062116509
I read this over the weekend based on the recommendations of a couple of friends (including Mr. Ridley): but I can’t say I loved it. The novel was clearly Trying to Say Something about class, which is fine, but not really what I was looking for; I think I was expecting something lighter and a bit more fun and frivolous. Also, I think I’m always going to prefer authors who write about their own time rather than contemporary authors who try their hand at historic fiction. It was a quick read and not bad, but as far as sex and social mobility and odd houses are concerned, it mostly made me want to bust out Howard’s End.

The Book of Poisons, Serita Stevens and Anne Bannon
http://www.amazon.com/HowDunit-Book-Poisons-Serita-Stevens/dp/158297456X
I’m way into murder, mysteries and true crime (all that gory stuff that women love), so this was the logical next step. It’s a super-handy compendium about different kinds of poisons, from plants and bugs to chemical weapons and DIY. And even though I learned that there are plants called “spurges” that can totally kill you, my favorite chapter is on “the classics": arsenic, cyanide and strychnine.

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Lance Conzett, Contributing Writer

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

I picked up David Mitchell's ultra-high-concept novel Cloud Atlas from Bookman a few weeks ago and, although I'm just over the halfway mark, I'm still confused. Cloud Atlas is a parabolic epistolary novel — meaning that it eschews typical single-perspective narrative in favor of telling a story with documents. In this case, Mitchell starts with journals by a shipwrecked notary in 1850, then jumps into letters by a British music student in 1931, to a novella, to a memoir, to an interview and finally a sort of campfire tale. Each story is touched by the previous in some way. Then it goes backwards. I'm not quite at the backwards part yet, which is where I suspect all will become clear, but damn is it engaging. Mitchell is a style chameleon, effortlessly hopping from classic British lit to noir to sci-fi to Faulknerian yarns. Even though I still don't quite know how all of the stories tie together, Mitchell's writing style is mesmerizing. I just hope it starts coming together soon.

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Her, Lawrence Ferlinghetti

At the recommendation of a handful of people who know that I'm fond of the current wave of neo-beat poets, I started Ferlinghetti's semi-biographical epic poem Her and almost immediately put it down. You see, I made the mistake of trying to read it at a bar, and it's impossible for me to get a grasp on esoteric avant poetry outside of a sensory-deprivation tank. I've enjoyed little lines here and there, but the self-indulgence is exhausting. I'll try again soon, after I'm done with books that I actually enjoy from page one.

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Randy Fox, Contributing Writer

I’m in full-blown, all-out hard-boiled mode right now.

The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ’n’ Roll, Preston Lauterbach
Lauterbach details the amazing story of how African-American numbers runners, bootleggers and gamblers collaborated with musicians to create some of the greatest music ever made. Starting with swing orchestras who found a lucrative business touring Southern juke joints and theaters and on through the music that would evolve into rhythm & blues, soul and rock ’n’ roll — a great musical and cultural history.

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A Rage in Harlem, Chester Himes
Lauterbach’s book prompted me to revisit the Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones crime novels, starting with the first in the series. Himes was easily the equal of classic hard-boiled writers like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald and Jim Thompson, and his writing sparkles with atmosphere and unforgettable characters along with absurdist and cynical humor.

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The Simon & Kirby Library: Crime , Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Classic so-called “true crime” comic book stories from one of the greatest teams to ever work in the medium. The stories in this collection range from 1947 to 1955 and show Jack Kirby’s incredible mastery of the comic book page, not to mention the well-known quirkiness that make his stories unique. And nobody could draw tough guys in fedoras like “The King.”

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Joe Nolan, Contributing Writer

Jubilee Hitchhiker, William Hjortsberg
William Hjortsberg was a friend of poet, novelist and short story writer Richard Brautigan, and he stitches together gossip, memories, legends and 20 years of research and interviews in his new biography of the writer, Jubilee Hitchhiker. The result is a 900-page volume that defines the life and work of the author of Trout Fishing in America as much as it captures the 1960s counterculture he will forever be associated with.

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