A Week in Culture: Caitlin Roper, Editor
July 14, 2010 | by Caitlin Roper
9:20 A.M. Owen Gray album Forward on the Scene (1975) in my headphones on the way to work. This album is so good, it lightens my heart. I remember my favorite Gray song, his version of “Give Me Little Sign.” I put it on. Before I realize it, I start smiling at strangers. Q train over the Manhattan Bridge, you’re beautiful!
10:00 A.M. I’ve been reading an incredible novel that we have on submission. I don’t mean to be a tease, but I can’t give any revealing information away. The novel is set in Alaska and it’s so damn good I want everyone I know to read it. A Culture Diary blind item should probably be juicier than this. I apologize.
11:30 A.M. My friend Aram Goudsouzian’s new book King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution arrives. I actually bought it on Amazon. Aram teaches history at the University of Memphis. His last book was about Sidney Poitier. This man impresses me.
5:15 P.M. This article on “forest-bathing” in the Times makes me happy. “The scientists found that being among plants produced 'lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure,' among other things.” But then I look out the office window and feel sad. I love each of the many plants in my apartment, but I need a forest bath.
6:40 P.M. After a conversation about a book idea, my friend Dave recommends I read Janet Malcolm’s “Iphigenia in Forest Hills” in The New Yorker. How did I miss it? It was published at least six weeks ago, the issue is sitting in one of many stacks of reading material that accumulate in my apartment, layer after layer, like dust (except that I long to read them, not sweep them up). I start the piece1 online.
12:00 A.M. I have to read so much for work that I tend to consume a lot of visual and audio culture when I have free time. I often look at photography online. The Big Picture’s photo essays are often incredible and I love the visual narratives on the Lens Blog but I also check out Burn Magazine and Multimedia Muse when I want my web browser to transform into a window that looks out at a new view.
1:30 A.M. My friend Max sent me this beautiful Flickr set of Edward Gorey’s book covers. I have to look at each and every design. They blow my mind. The cover for Nineteenth Century German Tales features a huge spider on fire. I love it. I think I first fell in love with Gorey’s work2 as a kid, after I saw his enchanting title sequence3 for PBS’s Mystery!
2:15 A.M. I wonder if my late-night habits are stranger than most people’s. I often spend the hours online looking at images while I listen to records. Right now I am listening to an album I love, The Pointer Sister’s Energy (1978). These ladies have it all: beauty, strength, soul, and talent. They started out singing at the Church Of God in West Oakland as kids. I’m from Berkeley; is it an East Bay connection I have to the Pointers? I’m not sure. Their careers took off before I was born. My first interaction with their music was probably Pinball Number Count on Sesame Street4.
I have already spent an hour on ffffound.com threading through all kinds of images, now I’m looking at butdoesitfloat.com. I love these sites. I save my favorites in folders like: “Albinos,” “Michael Caine,” “Lions & Tigers,” “Sky,” “Apocalypse,” “Hot or Not.” How weird5 is that on a scale from normal to freaky?
6:45 A.M. I start my day with the new preview for Never Let Me Go6, the Mark Romanek film based on Ishiguro’s book. Gah. My heart is broken and it’s not even 7 A.M. But I’m excited to see the movie. The book took me by surprise. I knew very little about it, and packed it for a beach vacation to St. John years ago. I was there for relaxation, romance and snorkeling, but it rained, and I stayed in the cabana until the last page, my face glued to the book, my eyes wide with empathic horror. I watch the Never Let Me Go trailer a second and a third time. Yup, it makes me sad each time.
8:45 A.M. I need levity. So I am listening to the WTF with Mark Maron7 podcast in my iPod. He cracks me up. I like his guests, usually. The introductory gambit of this episode has not grabbed me. I consider This American Life, but it feels like too much of a commitment. Instead I listen to an episode of the Moth’s unbeatable podcast, and then switch to music8.
7:00 P.M. Screening of Life During Wartime at IFC. Ryan Werner of IFC introduces the director, Todd Solondz, and calls him peerless. I agree9. Welcome to the Dollhouse is one of my favorite movies. Solondz introduces his movie. He is wearing a yellow plaid shirt. He’s generous and articulate. He has an odd, high, soft voice. I listen intently, although it’s hard to focus because Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) is sitting in the row behind me. I mean THE Omar. From The Wire. He is probably my all-time favorite television character. Life During Wartime opens on Williams, an uncomfortably tight shot for an uncomfortable scene. I resist looking back at him. By the end of the film, I’m obsessively not-looking at Dylan Riley Snyder, the talented child star of the movie, who is sitting directly behind me. I want to turn and look at his freckly face so bad. I resist.
11:15 P.M. Jim Woodring’s Weathercraft. Blessedly light on text, but heavy on heavy. I read in a slightly nauseated anxiety state, afraid of what will happen to Manhog next. This may not be my favorite Woodring, but I am unable to put the book down until the last frame.
12:00 A.M. Role Models by John Waters. I’m interviewing him for the blog, but I’d read this book even if I wasn’t. His chapter about convicted Manson family member Leslie Van Houten is surprising and moving. Waters’s tone is conversational, so I feel like we’re chatting, and he’s articulate and funny. Plus, he writes about Lionel Shriver’s book We Need to Talk About Kevin in a way that makes me say, “Yes! Exactly!” Waters offers a succinct recap and explanation of what was the key moment in this book for me:
Here’s a page-turner from the Devil’s Reading List about a child all parents pray they never have. Fifteen year-old Kevin, three days before the legal age of accountability, has murdered seven of his high school classmates… The mother, Eva, “exhausted with shame,” desperately tried to understand not only her son’s violent behavior but her own vague dislike of him… After his conviction, Eva visits Kevin in the juvenile correctional facility, but her son tells her, “Keep it up if you want a gold star. But don’t be dragging your ass back here on my account. Because I hate you.” After a moment’s hesitation, Eva replies, “I often hate you, too, Kevin,” and finally they have somewhere to start in rebuilding their relationship.
7:20 A.M. The May/June issue of Wax Poetics is about hip hop. I read it cover to cover. The great interview with Ice Cube inspired me to listen to AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted on vinyl (I had it on tape when I was a kid). I put it on this morning and then feel old when I am not in the mood for angry rap before I have coffee. I think about a video I saw recently of Ice Cube’s son (unfortunate rap name is “OMG”) performing his first song. The video shows his dad standing behind him as he rhymes. Kind of sweet. Cube doesn’t sound so sweet on "The Nigga Ya Love to Hate." I put on a Johnny Clarke record and feel much better.
11:30 A.M. William Deresiewicz’s review of The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis in The New Republic. There are a few critics who I admire deeply. They remind me of the best English teachers because they light up a book for me, reveal and clarify things I hadn’t considered. Deresiewicz is brilliant.
2:45 P.M. Charles Simic on The New York Review of Books Blog about Robert K. Elder’s Last Words of the Executed. I love the post, and I promptly order Elder’s book. Introduction by Studs Terkel10! Many of the final words of the condemned are moving11.
8:15 P.M. Opening of the Lush Life group art exhibit on the Lower East Side. The concept of organizing a whole neighborhood of visual-art show around a book—a book that was itself organized around the Lower East Side—is interesting, and I like Price’s book. I head to my favorite gallery in NYC, Invisible-Exports, on Orchard Street. I know the owners, who are not only participating in the neighborhood-wide show, but who also reached out to Richard Price to produce this cool walking tour.
1:30 A.M. Late night Internet image prowling. I visit most of my favorites:
An image I stare at and file away reminds me of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, one of my favorite books. I find it and take it into bed with me, exchanging a book for my laptop. I’d rather sleep with a book. My laptop warms the sheets, the book warms my heart.
Check back tomorrow for the second installment of Caitlin Roper's culture diary. Roper is the Managing Editor of The Paris Review.
- Malcolm’s account of the trial of Mazoltuv Borukhova and Mikhail Mallayev for the murder of Borukhova’s estranged husband is the best article I’ve read in months. Janet Malcom makes sense of mayhem. She is patient. She lurks in all of the grey areas of this case. She’s perceptive, she allows the characters to take shape, and her own feelings about them to shift and evolve. I admire her brain and her writing. This isn't journalism, exactly—but what is it?
- Did you know Gorey, the great midcentury Victorian, never traveled to Britain, not once in his entire life?
- I’ll never forget that woman with a bob, lying on the top of the stone wall in her flapper dress, her ankles bound, dangling her handkerchief and moaning suggestively.
- Do you remember the psychedelic one-minute segments on how to count to twelve? I do. Why? Soundtrack by The Pointer Sisters!
- People do weirder stuff than that, right? RIGHT? IS ANYONE ELSE AWAKE?
- Never Let me Go looks promising, a movie from a book I care about that (might) do the book justice. It stars Andrew Garfield, who I loved in the Red Riding Trilogy, especially the first installment, and Sally Hawkins, who I’ll never forget in Mike Leigh’s Happy Go Lucky. Less psyched about Keira Knightley, who seems to have the same slightly disgusted, hostile expression on her face at all times. And for some reason Charlotte Rampling terrifies me. I have not been able to unearth the root of this. She is beautiful, she has always chosen interesting roles, I liked her in Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict and more recently I thought she was great in Swimming Pool. So why does she scare me?
- I feel like we’re friends, Mark and I. He talks to me right in my ear!
- I’m listening to Brand New Crime, a split EP by two hip-hop groups. I heard about it because a friend of mine was in one of the groups, mic.edu. The re-release is a tribute to another member of mic.edu, Lafura Jackson, who passed away ten years ago at twenty-four. The proceeds from this re-release are being donated to the Cancer Research Institute in Jackson’s memory. I bought the album because it was for such a good cause, but also because I love their songs, especially “Surrogate Role Model,” which I listen to on repeat while I walk to the train. One of the highlights is Jackson switching seamlessly between Japanese and English as he raps.
- I’ll see anything he makes. I don’t always love the films as a whole, but I am never disappointed. He is twisted and observant, two traits I admire. He is a great writer. As Werner said, there are lines and scenes from Solondz movies that you will see and then remember for the rest of your life.
- Terkel is someone who we missed interviewing for the magazine before he passed away. It plagues me.
- I like this one: “When I die, bury me deep, lay two speakers at my feet, put some headphones on my head and rock and roll me when I’m dead.” (Douglas Roberts, convicted of kidnapping, robbery and murder in Texas and executed on April 20, 2005.)