Bowie’s Books, and Other News
January 11, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- First things first: David Bowie is dead, and the world is a worse place for it. Here, from 2013, is a list of his hundred favorite books, including DeLillo’s White Noise, Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and, yes, The Paris Review’s collected Writers at Work interviews, among many others.
- While we’re talking music, Alex Abramovich has put in a good word for that most maligned of instruments, the saxophone, which has for too long been discounted as an agent of sleaze. (Bowie used it to impeccable effect on “Modern Love.”) “A shitty thing about standard histories of rock and roll—ones that tell us that the music is half country and western, half rhythm and blues—is that they always slight jazz. (To do otherwise would be to suggest that rock and roll was was being played, by black musicians, well before Elvis Presley followed Ike Turner into Sam Phillips’s studio.) But the truth is that electric guitar solos are directly descended from saxophone solos via Charlie Christian, who defined his instrument (which was once seen as a joke among jazz musicians, much as the saxophone’s a joke in rock) by being the first guitarist good enough to cop saxophone riffs in cutting contests.”
- What’s the point of a literary magazine today? Our editor, Lorin Stein, essays an answer: “Writing fiction is pretty much the opposite of writing a good tweet, or curating an Instagram feed. It’s the opposite of the personal-slash-professional writing that is now part of our everyday lives. More than ever, we need writers who are unprofessional, whose private worlds come first … By writing offline, literally and metaphorically, this new generation of writers gives us the intimacy, the assurance of their solitude. They let us read the word I and feel that it’s not attached to a product. They let us read an essay, or a stanza, and feel the silence around it—the actual, physical stillness of a body when it’s deep in thought. It can’t be faked, in life or on the page.”
- Not dissimilarly, Christian Lorentzen wonders about the role of the short story, which was once the highest-paying, most robust form in fiction: “the revolutions of the past century have been absorbed by four generations of writers at work today, and that modes once heralded as avant-garde now linger among the array of strategies available to any writer … Literary fiction is at its worst when it’s easy to imagine it recast as quality television or low-pressure art-house cinema. The battle between words on a page and images on a screen has long been lost.”
- Elizabeth McKenzie’s The Portable Veblen is not, in fact, an easy-to-carry smattering of the seminal economist’s musings on conspicuous consumption. It’s a novel. About a woman with a fondness for squirrels. That woman’s name is Veblen, and she and her husband are at odds over a furry visitor in their attic. “It doesn’t take long for the reader to understand that the couple’s opposed feelings about the squirrel—he wants to trap or kill it, she wants to make friends—bespeak a deeper opposition in personality and values that might very well ruin their relationship … When Veblen cages the attic squirrel and takes him on a meandering driving trip, all the while holding conversations with him about the meaning of love and happiness, you begin to realize that McKenzie means to blur the boundary between adorable eccentricity and actual madness.”