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Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Specktor’

Staff Picks: Fever Dreams, Tragic Spells, and In-betweens

July 22, 2016 | by


Detail from the cover of Jesse Ball’s How to Set a Fire and Why.

Carole Firstman’s ambitiously titled debut, Origins of the Universe and What It All Means, is an essayistic memoir about her relationship with her estranged, eccentric (read: undiagnosed Asperger’s) scientist father, but it’s really a thumbed nose at binary argument and an objective romp through subjectivity’s headspace. Throughout the book, Firstman sets up oppositional arguments in order to force them apart and marinate in the liminal in-between. Is her chauvinistic, mostly absent father good or bad? Firstman thinks it’s hard to say, but it doesn’t stop her from examining the relationship through myriad philosophic and scientific lenses. (I doubt there has ever been a book about family in which one learns more about science and the history of thought.) Though the father does and says things that would make even the least feminist, or simply decent, among us cringe, Firstman’s characterization of family dynamics is pitch-perfect: her own impatience and frustrations with her father balance his foibles and thoughtlessness—and her humor softens the lot. This is a very endearing book, a summer read for the curious mind. —Jeffery Gleaves

The Guggenheim’s recent exhibition “Photo-Poetics: An Anthology” made a huge impression on me; the show featured works by ten photographers—nine women, including Erica Baum—who all work closely, sometimes exclusively, with the printed page. So I was delighted to discover Dog Ear, a book of twenty-five exquisite photographs by Baum. For the series, she dog-eared pages in mass-market paperbacks, then photographed the intersection of words at each fold to create a text of her own. In each tiny piece, bits of sentences read horizontally (“skirts, bee-stung lips,” “It’s a funny thing”) and vertically (“made up her face,” “itchiest dresses”). Part photo, part poem, the results vary in tone, from longing to manic, minimal to marvelous. In “Bear,” which feels like a Tomi Ungerer picture book, where animals scheme and smoke cigars, a polar bear is drunk on schnapps and “pawing” “the birds.” A new, limited edition of Dog Ear comes courtesy of Ugly Duckling Presse. Fittingly, the book jacket doubles as a poster. —Jessica Calderon

It may be based on a British procedural, but the new HBO series The Night Of is unmistakably shot in New York and, just as unmistakably, written by Richard Price. The premise: a studious Pakistani American kid sneaks out of the house with the keys to his father’s cab, then ill-advisedly picks up a passenger, a distraught beauty headed to the Upper West Side. It’s classic noir, with John Turturro as the boy's schlubby but dedicated defense attorney; and because it’s a Richard Price script, even a desk sergeant (the excellent Ben Shenkman) can steal a scene. Two episodes in, it’s the best TV I’ve seen this summer. —Lorin Stein  Read More »

Live Like William Blake, and Other News

July 16, 2013 | by


  • The picturesque West Sussex cottage where William Blake lived, sometimes nude, from 1800–1803 (the period during which he wrote “Jerusalem”) is on the market for £650,000. The agent says, “The original part of the cottage has been altered little in its essential features. The rooms in which William Blake lived retain enormous character and the dining room was at this time the site of his printing press.”
  • Reading (along with writing and doing puzzles) improves cognitive function in old age, a study shows.
  • In which writers such as Emma Straub and Matthew Specktor discourse on their favorite literary streets.
  • Google’s Kafka doodle was not remotely Kafkaesque, Twitter feels.
  • July 17, obviously, is Take Your Poet to Work Day. Herewith, handy cutouts of several bards. Blake not included (but that’s probably a good thing).


    A Week in Culture: Matthew Specktor, Writer and Editor, Part 2

    May 26, 2011 | by

    This is the second installment of Specktor’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

    Photography by Lisa Jane Persky.


    8:30 A.M. Breakfast, and a chunk of The Pale King.

    11:40 A.M. I meet up with The Los Angeles Review of Books’ splendid poetry editor, Ms. Gabrielle Calvocoressi. Knowing her is even better than saying her name, which you could, if you wanted, skip rope to. We talk about Fairport Convention, Vietnam metaphors, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Joe Boyd, Frank Bidart, Richard Howard, and Led Zeppelin. (Always, Led Zeppelin!) We eat soup. I walk away feeling the way I always do after talking with Gaby, namely that I got the better half of the bargain.

    3:20 P.M. Nicolas Jaar, and a nap. My draft of Zeroville is very nearly almost done, and I’ve gotten my licks in on a few more LARB essays. I feel semijustified in caving in to fever, and so, do.

    8:15 P.M. I find myself standing in an intolerably humid Skylight Books, listening to an invisible Bret Easton Ellis—he’s somewhere up there, obstructed by the mob—read from Imperial Bedrooms. He then answers questions about The Hills, Glee, Twitter, screenwriting, loneliness. Just about everything except books. He’s charming, patient, funny, articulate, and reminds me how odd it can be when the reality of an author—or of anything—gets eclipsed by reputation. Lethem has a piece in his forthcoming Ecstasy of Influence in which he argues that notoriety is the only form of postwar American literary fame. He’s persuasive, dividing fame from regard among readers and suggesting that knife fights (Mailer), feuds (Vidal), and censorship (Nabokov, Ellis) are the royal road to visibility. Maybe. But this place is packed, largely with people half my age who are carrying thoroughly destroyed–looking Vintage editions of Ellis’s older books. Someone’s reading him, and that’s a good thing, regardless of what strains they’re locating in his work. A stray tweet I read later refers to “being here with other weirdos waiting to hear Bret Easton Ellis read.” I take that as proof positive that literature has not nearly outlived its use.

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    A Week in Culture: Matthew Specktor, Writer and Editor

    May 25, 2011 | by

    Photography by Lisa Jane Persky.


    11:00 A.M. Where better to start a Los Angeles–based culture diary than on the city’s enpretzeled freeways? I leave an editorial meeting and take the 101 to the 5 to the 10 to Boyle Heights, en route to David Kipen’s Libros Schmibros, “a community bookstore and lending library.” It’s pretty much the best bookstore in the world, not so much for its scope (its stock is superb, but it’s an average-size storefront), but for its curation and spirit. Not only is every book in the shop one that any sane reader would covet, but if you happen to empty your pockets while you’re there, you’re free to borrow books you don’t buy. Kipen is clearly some sort of a pinko, but if you can get your head around it—a store that lets you take out works of art on loan—the idea kind of grows on you. (If only someone would make so free and easy with the closely guarded spoils of the music business!) I plan on sending David’s children to college by bankrupting myself in his store. Today’s haul: some replacement Greil Marcuses, swanky hardbacks of Philip Roth’s The Counterlife and Our Gang, Leonard Michaels’s Time Out of Mind, Lewis Hyde’s Common as Air, Daniel Fuchs’s The Golden West: Hollywood Stories. Also, a handsome copy of Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September. The rest I left, just because I was too embarrassed to ask for a dolly to carry it all to my car. (Edit—there’s no store here! I’m making this up. Book lovers, stay away! David, I’ll be back next week.)

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