The Daily

On the Shelf

The Year in Odd Book Titles, and Other News

February 29, 2016 | by

  • Another year, another volume of My Struggle, another news cycle rich in Knausgaard. Here he reflects on the shame of writing about himself: “Building a fiction room requires either great strength or great ignorance … To me all writing is blind and intuitive, either it works or it doesn’t, and the explanation as to how a novel turns out the way it does is always a rationalization after the event. What works always wins over in the end, seemingly of its own accord. So when, after ten years of trying, I sat down one day and wrote a few pages about something that happened to me, something I felt so ashamed about I had never mentioned it to a living soul, and did so using my own name, I had no idea why I went there, nor did I to begin with connect it in any way to the novel I wanted to write, it was just something I did.”
  • Voting is open for the Oddest Book Title of the Year. This is direct democracy in action, people. Will it be Reading from Behind: A Cultural History of the Anus? Or perhaps Behind the Binoculars: Interviews with Acclaimed Birdwatchers? Or the dark horse, Paper Folding with Children? Get out there to the polls and make a difference.
  • Today in role models: Remember when Mark Zuckerberg started his “book club” and it seemed as if the very act of reading was doomed to serve as part of the Silicon Valley lifestyle-guru agenda? Well. It was. And it gets even worse, Matt Haber reports: “Mr. Zuckerberg’s efforts have made him the object of fascination and emulation among a subset of millennials in and around the tech industry … ‘I run three experiments each year inspired by Zuckerberg,’ said Dave Fontenot, 22, a San Francisco resident who used to be an agent for engineers, but who said he is currently ‘focusing on myself.’ This year, Mr. Fontenot aims to improve his posture, meditate and spend more time alone. He also trained himself to send thank-you notes, either handwritten or as voice recordings via text, inspired by Mr. Zuckerberg. ‘For a period of time, I wasn’t thanking people at all, but then, for one of the most powerful person in the world to do it, I was like, Wow,’ Mr. Fontenot said.”
  • Today in Pearl Jam: Eddie Vedder’s unlikeliest contribution to the culture has been an enduring image of the archetypal school shooter: Remember the music video for “Jeremy,” in which a teenager raises a gun at the front of a classroom? The song was about teen suicide, but because MTV censored the original video, it’s become part of “the cultural script of school shooters.” Daniel Wenger writes: “I asked the director, Mark Pellington, who went on to direct many other videos and films, about this misreading of his work. He said that people were responding to a ‘Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox,’ as the story was translated from life to song to screen … Eddie Vedder identified ‘Jeremy’ as part of a lineage of ‘teenage death songs.’ The music biographer Graeme Thomson has written that the genre marks ‘the first time in modern musical culture youth equates with introspection and unhappiness.’ One of the early anthems was ‘Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots,’ recorded by the Cheers, in 1955.”
  • And today in reminders that George Plimpton was a helluva guy—“George Plimpton—he didn’t disappoint me, aye? I was really taken by him, Timmy. He was sort of an exaggeration of himself. With his big hair, his suit, his accent. But what I will remember about this day is that he was so kindly. And he loved you. He stopped doing what he was doing to pay homage and respect to you and I liked that because I love you, too. Me, I would always pay homage and respect to you. But who am I? I’m just Sunny. The fact that he did it—this is George Plimpton. I know he’s not better than I, not worse than I, but he wasn’t full of himself, aye?”