The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Peter Ackroyd’

Staff Picks: Buses, Basements, Boots, Bed-and-Breakfasts

July 24, 2015 | by


Space suits.

I finally got my hands on a copy of Spacesuits, an illustrated history of the protective clothing worn by space explorers, from the earliest designs in the 1930s to the universally recognizable suits worn during the Apollo missions. The book, with its clinically detailed photographs and methodical descriptions of suits, helmets, gloves, and boots, is surprisingly enthralling; one doesn’t expect vacant clothing to so easily assert its own cultural significance. What’s also surprising are the immense efforts required to preserve these suits—which, it turns out, are among the most fragile items in the Smithsonian’s collection. For some rather timely evidence, look no further than the Kickstarter campaign launched this week by the Smithsonian—with a $500,000 goal—to better document, display, and preserve the space suit worn by Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11. —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

I have copies of most of Dubravka Ugresic’s books, and all of them are heavily dog-eared; flip to any page, and it’s more likely than not that several sentences are underlined. I suspect my various notations are due to the fact that Ugresic pulls no punches, and so reading her work—especially her nonfiction—is like having it all laid out for you. And by “it,” I mean, to borrow from Douglas Adams, “life, the universe and everything.” The editors of Music & Literature have given over a third of their latest issue to Ugresic, and my copy of the magazine is already thoroughly dog-eared and underlined. Ugresic’s writing is radical, accessible, aggressive, pungent, and funny, and she is one of the most unique writers in exile at work today—and one of the best writers, period. In an interview in the issue with Daniel Medin, she explains that “as an outsider I was free to shape my own literary taste, to pick my own literary traditions, to build my own system of literary values.” She is quick to add, however, that “going against the mainstream is not an aesthetic category. Risk is moral category, which shapes our attitude toward our vocation as well as our ideological, political, aesthetical, and ethical choices.” —Nicole Rudick

nextnextlevelHaving just returned from a two-week tour in which my band played for many a small crowd in many a dank basement—see photo below—I approached Leon Neyfakh’s The Next Next Level with some trepidation. It, too, concerns musicians, small crowds, and dank basements: that is, it concerns “the problem of making art in the twenty-first century.” Neyfakh tells the story of his friend Juiceboxxx, a white rapper who’s pursued his craft on the fringes of DIY culture for more than a decade. Juiceboxxx, whose name belies his creative energy, tours constantly, publishes ceaselessly, and self-promotes relentlessly. But what’s the point, really? As he tells an interviewer, “When you fucking kind of have this identity based on this totally absurd premise—like, where do you go if you want to stop doing it, man? Like, where do you go?” As someone who’s poured time and energy into a band called Vulture Shit, I ask myself these questions a lot. Neyfakh’s perceptive, thoughtful book may not make them easier to answer, but it’s a much-needed balm: a funny, broad-minded, enchanting reflection on the intersection of art and commerce. You’ll find no better account of what it’s like to make music outside the mainstream in 2015. —Dan Piepenbring
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Will Self on ‘Walking to Hollywood’

June 22, 2011 | by

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Ever since the publication of his first collection of stories, The Quantity Theory of Insanity, twenty years ago, Will Self has blazed an entertainingly wayward trail across the British literary scene by satirizing cultural mores, institutional prolixity, and political hypocrisy alike. His novels, How the Dead Live and The Book of Dave, ingeniously remapped London from the respective viewpoints of the deceased and a postapocalyptic puritanical cult. In his latest book of nonfiction, Walking to Hollywood, Self takes us on three ambitious walks, including a traversal of the fast-eroding East Yorkshire coast and an “airport walk” from his home in Stockwell, South London, to Hollywood, all the while trailing his and our sense of reality a long way behind. I met Will at his home on an overcast spring afternoon. He proved a generous host and entertaining company. Before we could start, I had to suppress my lifelong phobia of dogs and win over Maglorian, the tiny hero of this splendid vignette, who remained sweetly indifferent to my anxiety while listening in on our chat.

Why did you start these walking tours?

I think it was to do with stuff in my own life—with not drinking and consciously wanting to exercise more. My father was an academic who specialized in urban and regional development, so I grew up with somebody who talked about cities. Back in 1999, I was writing a column for the British Airways flight magazine and conceived of this incredibly environmentally incorrect idea that I would fly somewhere in Britain every morning from Heathrow, or one of the London airports, then take a long country walk, then fly back in the same day, and write about that. In the last one, even with my malformed environmental consciousness, I began thinking, “This is wrong, it’s not right on all sorts of levels!” So instead, I decided to walk to Heathrow. It occurred to me when I set out to do it that this was an adventure—it really was terra incognita, probably nobody had done it since the pre-industrial era. There was something profoundly strange about this. After that, it occurred to me that I didn’t know anybody who had walked from Central London to the countryside, and I began to conceive of these ex-urban walks as a way of curing myself of the sense of dislocation that had come over me in my adult life. I’d ended up not knowing where I was in a very profound sense.

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