We’ve further expanded the definition of AVQ&A—our Monday and Friday discussion prompts—by asking you (and two of our regular contributors) a simple question once per month: What have you read in the past month, or what are you currently reading? If you have suggestions for AVQ&A questions, big or small, you can e-mail them to us here.
June was a big month for highly anticipated book releases. The first of two Stephen King books due out this year, Joyland, arrived from Hard Case Crime. Fantasy giant Neil Gaiman returned with The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, his first novel since 2009’s The Graveyard Book, and the author is currently finishing what he’s calling his “final U.S. signing tour” in support of it. Colum McCann’s newest offering, TransAtlantic, which follows his 2009 National Book Award win for Let The Great World Spin, is an ambitious telling of U.S.-Irish relations. The Long War, the second book in Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s Long Earth series, continues to build out the elaborate world from the first book. After an incredibly successful memoir and a novel inspired by true events, Jeannette Walls’ The Silver Star arrives as the author’s first full-fledged novel and follows the coming of age of two sisters in 1970s Virginia. Another notable fiction release examining the bond between two sisters is Curtis Sittenfeld’s Sisterland. On the non-fiction side, two releases in particular have music-history fans talking: Mo Meta Blues: The World According To Questlove, a memoir from The Roots’ Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, and Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History Of Rock ’N’ Roll In America’s Loudest City, an oral history from Steve Miller.
I just finished Failure, Karl Stevens’ final collection of his autobiographical comic strip that appeared in the Boston Phoenix. I picked this one up mainly because I wanted it off my desk, but I was surprised by how well Stevens captures the hyper-intellectual, alcohol-hazed existential nightmare of grad school. I’m also reading Tony Whyton’s Beyond A Love Supreme: John Coltrane And The Legacy Of An Album. Whyton, a professor of jazz and musical culture, examines Coltrane’s creative process as well as the far-reaching cultural influence of A Love Supreme, an album that has become universally acknowledged as a modern masterpiece. I’ve just started Note To Self, Alina Simone’s first novel, a satirical tale that examines the difficulty of living and creating art in an age where every moment of life can be examined on the Internet and late bloomers are just considered failures. And just to lighten the mood a bit from those three, which can be serious downers, I’m also reading A Game Of Thrones: The Graphic Novel—Volume Two, a graphic adaptation of the first book in the George R.R. Martin series, written by Daniel Abraham and illustrated by Tommy Patterson.
Laura M. Browning
I’m at the very last story in Lorrie Moore’s collection Birds Of America, which was published in 1998 but somehow never made it onto my radar until fairly recently. If you’re a fan of her longer work (most recently, 2010’s lovely if sometimes disjointed A Gate At The Stairs), Birds will astonish you. As always, the writing is rich and gorgeous, but Moore excels at the short story, where she distills human emotion and experience down to its purest, sometimes most painful, elements, without the complications of a longer narrative. The result is a collection of stories that, on the surface, cover everything from cancer to divorce to aging actors, but ultimately are all about the terrible beauty of being human.
I’ve also been plowing through the handful of Maureen Johnson books I haven’t read yet, namely her Shades Of London series. Although I own the first two (The Name Of The Star and The Madness Underneath), I’d been putting them off until the entire series was complete (I have a book-binging problem; might as well indulge it). Anyone who follows MJ on Twitter (which everyone should), will immediately recognize her delightful zaniness in the protagonist’s inner dialogue. That protagonist, Rory, gets pulled into a secretive world of ghosts, Jack The Ripper murder mysteries, and murderous cults. Rory’s London, despite its supernatural tremors, is not the setting of a high fantasy tale. In fact, Johnson might just make you believe in ghosts.
If the general public knows anything about the Upright Citizens Brigade, it may be because of the UCB theaters in New York in L.A., or if they have deep memories, the group’s short-lived sketch show on Comedy Central in the late ’90s. But the sketch and improv group, which cohered around Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh, Matt Besser, and Ian Roberts in Chicago in the early ’90s, has had a seismic effect on the comedy world, one that could rival Second City, iO, and The Groundlings in time. Journalist Brian Raftery (Wired, Spin, GQ) speaks to all the important players for his oral-history ebook, High Status Characters: How The Upright Citizens Brigade Stormed A City, Started A Scene, And Changed Comedy Forever, a detailed chronicle of the UCB’s formation to its current taste-making, comedy-incubator status. For comedy nerds, particularly those who love what became known as “alt-comedy,” it’s pretty engrossing, especially once it’s clear just how great UCB’s reach has become.