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This Week's Reading

What We’re Loving: Stridentists, Oblivion

August 31, 2012 | by

Of the first volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s long, uneventful bildungsroman, My Struggle, James Wood wrote, “Even when I was bored, I was interested.” Wood is a man who knows how to pay attention to long, boring books, even at times enjoys them, so I began My Struggle with trepidation; it was misplaced. The book kept me up till two almost every morning for a week. All the good things Wood says about the novel seem to me true; but I loved it even when the narrator slipped into clichés, because they made him seem that much more real and singleminded in his storytelling. I don’t read Norwegian, but it’s hard to believe that the translator, Don Bartlett, could have made such vital, humane prose—over such a long stretch—unless he was hewing close to a work of genius. —Lorin Stein

“Here’s my brutal / many-minded / poem / to the new city,” are the first words of Manuel Maples Arce’s “City: Bolshevik Super-Poem in 5 Cantos.” The poem was first published in Mexico City in 1924, and the subtitle isn’t entirely ironic. Another stanza begins, “Russia’s lungs / blow the wind / of social revolution / in our direction. / Literary dick gropers / will understand nothing.” I first read about Arce in Savage Detectives, where he is one of the deities in Bolaño’s pantheon of the Latin American avant-garde, identified as “the father of stridentism.” I thought this was a made-up group, but it really existed (that’s them, in the photo). They gathered in a café called Multánime (“many-minded”), where a contemporary reports that “the waiters placed their order via radio and the Pianola played music from intercepted Martian concerts.” —Robyn Creswell

If you want to know what oblivion feels like—if only for half an hour—head over to The Murder of Crows at the Park Avenue Armory. The sound installation by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller uses the building’s 55,000-square-foot drill hall to great effect: some two dozen chairs are arranged in the center of the room, together with ninety-eight speakers at various heights, some of which are scattered throughout the hall. The looped mix of dream narrative and sound collage produces a gentle but unmistakably nightmarish soundscape that stalks the emptiness, enveloping you, creeping around behind you, and coming up unexpectedly at your side. With the exception of the small central area, the giant hall is unlit. I crept into a pitch-black corner to listen unobserved to the crashing waves and disembodied footsteps only to be suddenly pursued out of the dark by a booming Russian men’s choir. It was startling, a little frightening, and quite thrilling. —Nicole Rudick

Where do books go when they die? By death, I’m not referring to the “inevitable fall of the book” or the “death of the independent bookstore,” but to the more basic question of what happens to a physical volume once removed from a library’s collection? While a tremendous number of titles continue to disappear from the public realm, havens like the Reanimaton Library in Gowanus, Brooklyn, strive to give new life to books of yesteryear. Librarian Andrew Beccone’s interests lie in preserving the visual information in bodies of work that are not graphically driven. With gems like Geoffrey K. C. Pardoe’s The Future for Space Technology (1984) and Jacques-Yves and Philippe Cousteau’s The Shark: Splendid Savage of the Sea (1970), the library, housed in the Proteus Gowanus complex, is a feast for image archaeologists, artists, writers, and anyone looking for a pleasant Saturday morning activity. —Justin Alvarez

“Tease Me” by folk singer Lianne La Havas has been my song of choice all week for after-work wanders around my neighborhood. Her delicate voice is the perfect complement to city sounds (as this performance of "No Room for Doubt" amply demonstrates). —Alyssa Loh

Last but not least, our Southern editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, has the cover story in this week’s Times magazine: a riveting profile of Serena and Venus Williams—really, of all the Williams women. Sullivan also makes a guest appearance on the most recent episode of Louie. At least, Pulphead does, right over Louie’s right shoulder while he’s talking to the erotomanic bookseller played by Chloe Sevigny. (Louie could make my staff picks pretty much every week, but when Pulphead and Sevigny show up in the same episode, one must salute.) —L.S.

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2 COMMENTS

2 Comments

  1. Kathleen | September 4, 2012 at 11:25 am

    Knausgård <3 I've read them all, except the last one. I have to do that soon.

  2. Kathleen | September 4, 2012 at 11:27 am

    (And it also kept me from going out to meet people for days each, I would rather stay home to read.)

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