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This Week's Reading

What We’re Loving: Kim’s Video, Grant’s Memoirs

September 14, 2012 | by

Even if you’ve never read a book about the Civil War, the Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant will grip your imagination. Dictated by Grant on his deathbed, championed and published by Mark Twain, celebrated by Matthew Arnold and Edmund Wilson (who compared it to Walden and Leaves of Grass), the Memoirs were cited by Gertrude Stein as a main influence on her own prose. However you may write, you'll find their power is contagious. Every page is a lesson in force, clarity, and grace under pressure. To read Grant’s description of a military problem, then to read the orders he gave, is, among other things, to see a great modern writer at work. —Lorin Stein

Have you ever imagined a music video as you listen to a song? Sigur Ros asked a dozen filmmakers to do just that with songs from their new album. The results are pretty great, but my favorite—and I’m hardly impartial—is Dash Shaw’s animated (I mean that literally) take on “Valtari.” Penned with Shortbus and Hedwig writer John Cameron Mitchell, the video features backgrounds by Frank Santoro, whose colors are, as ever, divine. —Nicole Rudick

If you’re in agreement with a friend of mine who considers most recent American covers of Cormac McCarthy’s novels “oversaturated Windows wallpapers” (why yes, Cormac, that horse is very pretty), then perhaps you will be both pleased and envious to know that the British ones now look like this, and apparently have for some time. Thanks to the now-defunct Aesthetic Book Blog for this gritty eye candy. And check out The Millions’ annualish comparison of American and British book covers for further contemplation.  —Samuel Fox

Hunter S. Thompson never had a problem coming in hot, opening his breakout book Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga with humdingers like, “The Menace is loose again … Genghis Khan on an iron horse, a monster steed with a fiery anus, flat out through the eye of a beer can and up your daughter’s leg with no quarter asked and none given; show the squares some class, give ’em a whiff of those kicks they'll never know.” He keeps it up straight through in what may be his most lucid writing ever. After all, this was before the whiskey, women, bright lights, and cocaine got completely hold of his soul. —Graham Rogers

Rineke Dijkstra’s Guggenheim retrospective is a study and celebration of adolescent awkwardness. Her lens does not shy away from exposing the comic aspects of being “not a girl, not yet a woman,” as Britney Spears so astutely put it, but at the same time monumentalizes this stage of being which many feel they’d rather forget. —Thea Slotover

In college, I had a buddy who lived above Mondo Kim’s Video on St. Mark’s Place. During the day, you went through the video store to get up to the apartment. Outside business hours, you signed a death wish traveling up a rickety staircase one breath away from collapsing. Just like the apartment, Kim’s was always a little strange, and all the better for it. When the store closed in 2008, the story got even stranger, as Karina Longworth details in a great piece in the Village Voice. While it was devastating to see such an institution go, the fact that its entire 55,000 DVD and VHS collection was shipped to a small Sicilian town oddly fits Kim’s storied past. —Justin Alvarez

Though I wouldn’t recommend starting off your morning with Mavis Gallant’s journal entries—they’re rather dour, anxious accounts of being a hungry and poor young writer in Europe—that’s just what I’ve been doing. In July, The New Yorker published a selection from the early fifties, when Gallant lived in Spain, and what keeps me coming back to them are the snippets of descriptive joy—“girls in white skirts so starched they stand out like lampshades”; “the sky is like blue paper”; “brown tiled walls, greasy soup”—that give hue to gray days of despair and disgust. —N.R.

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3 COMMENTS

3 Comments

  1. James Davies | September 17, 2012 at 8:46 am

    I have all of the British Cormac McCarthy novels. Wasn’t aware there were other (recent) covers.

    My personal favourite of the covers is the one wrapped around the heft of Suttree. The dark background; the raised lettering with a slight wooden grain to them. Both convey the feeling of the book rather well.

  2. bob | September 23, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    generally i find british book design uninspired, but i like these.

  3. Amos Humiston | October 29, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Grant’s Memoirs changed the voice of American letters as much as, say, “The Sun Also Rises” did. But please double-check: Matthew Arnold wasn’t so impressed; his praise was very backhanded.

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