Staff Picks: China, Children, Church


This Week’s Reading

Gary Panter.

Printed Matter, one of the best art bookstores on earth, recently moved into spacious new digs, which means their legion of artists’ books, posters, zines, and whatnot has room to breathe. So, too, do their exhibitions—great news for the current show, “The Rozz Tox Effect,” an astonishing survey of publications produced by Gary Panter over the past forty-four years. On view (and for sale) are issues of Slash and Raw and Wet, copies of Jimbo books, Pee-Dog zines, a Screamers print, the stunning comic Alamo Courts from 1977, and much more. What makes this exhibition deeply weird is the ridiculous amount of Pee-Wee Herman ephemera Panter has culled from his own collection: lunch boxes, children’s clothes, coloring books, Colorforms, suspenders, dolls, and placemats—all manner of commercial objects he helped create as an extension of his role as set designer for the show. Panter’s output is voluminous and kaleidoscopic, and yet I’m constantly reminded how it’s all of a piece, sprung from the mind of one man. —Nicole Rudick 

Tom Bissell’s Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve is loosely framed as a travel narrative, one in which Bissell explores the tombs and the cultural history, theological evolution, and folklore surrounding the men who shaped the Christian church. All this demands a close and curious reader, but Bissell hangs the trickier stuff on moments in his journeys, moving back to the narrative exactly when this reader felt too deep in some obscure history or another—this is what’s known as “teaching you things you didn’t know you wanted to learn.” “I have long believed that anyone who does not find Christianity interesting has only his of her unfamiliarity with the topic to blame,” Bissell writes in the book’s opening pages. As I read on, I’m coming to see exactly how right he is. —Jeffery Gleaves

From the cover of Destruction and Sorrow

Years ago, wanting to understand China, I brought home a fat book called Understanding China. Ever since, it’s remained unread on a high shelf. And yet I had no trouble getting into László Krasznahorkai’s Destruction and Sorrow Beneath the Heavens, an unlikely work of reportage from the People’s Republic. (We ran an excerpt on the Daily earlier this month.) Krasznahorkai’s books always surprise, but I’d never expected a Hungarian experimental novelist to turn out a travel memoir, much less one as wise and well observed as Destruction. In his sinuous prose—and in the third person, for some reason—he chronicles the grime and fog of a long bus trip to Jiuhuashan. From there, most of the book comprises interviews with Chinese poets, calligraphers, museum administrators, even garden managers, all of whom he presses curiously and at times restively in an attempt to understand their country. How, he wonders, can we square a nation full of “the world’s most dispiriting glittering department stores” with its rich cultural history? In his eyes, most people “celebrate the renewal of Chinese traditions in cultural monuments restored in the most dreadful and coarse ignorance, or their attention is engaged exclusively by modern life, and are altogether unconcerned with that which was, even if it has passed, their own spiritual tradition.” His journey makes for weirdly provocative reading, especially given China’s outsized and increasingly shaky role on the international stage. It helped me understand. —Dan Piepenbring

Homero Aridjis’ The Child Poet is something of a dream memoir, composed of vignettes that Aridjis re-experienced as vivid memories in 1971, when his wife was pregnant with his daughter, Chloe. The childhood years chronicled in the book were lost to him at age eleven, when he accidentally shot himself with a shotgun his brothers had left in his bedroom—an experience that inspired him to write poems. “My father always said that he was born twice,” his daughter, who translated the book from the Spanish, writes in the introduction. The book celebrates not only solitude and shyness in budding artists, but also translation as a form: the memories therein were translated first from Homero’s dreams into reality, and then from Spanish into English. There’s another layer, too, in that the text was written first in fatherhood, then in daughterhood. My favorite passages are the ones that I imagine overwhelmed Chloe: “I did things on my own. And if someone went off because I didn’t show my interest, I would let that person go: their being remained within my being, in my thoughts.” —Daniel Johnson

Homero Aridjis