We’ve expanded the regular AVQ&A discussion prompts to ask three of our regular contributors (and you) a simple question once per month: What have you read in the past month, or what are you currently reading? This month, assistant editor Andrea Battleground, film editor A.A. Dowd, and assistant TV editor Sonia Saraiya get the spotlight. If you have suggestions for future AVQ&A questions, big or small, email them to us here.
My reading for pleasure time has taken a real hit over the past month, but I’ve started two books recently that I don’t think I’ll be writing about in any official capacity, so I’ll touch on them briefly here. Oliver Sava did a great job in his Big Issues review of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s new graphic novel, Seconds, so I won’t reveal much of the plot here. I haven’t read Lost At Sea or any of O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim books, so this is my first experience with his work. And it took a bit of an adjustment to get used to his drawing style. His main characters resemble such childlike figures, yet this is a very grown-up, nuanced story about choices, consequences, memory, and regret—which can be disconcerting at first. But the story is great, the art is evocative, and it’s a rewarding reading experience. Seconds is closing in on Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? as my favorite comics/graphic-novel reading experience of this year.
I’ve just starting reading one of the two Peter Mendelsund books scheduled to release August 5: What We See When We Read. This is a fascinating, ambitious book that I’m sure I’ll be picking up again and again, as if falls right into my literature- and design-nerd sweet spot. Mendelsund is associate art director at Knopf Books and an award-winning book-cover designer. With this illustrated, fragmented volume, he attempts to get at the very essence of reading, the phenomenology of the experience, how a reader’s own imagination and memory activates to visualize what is (at its most elemental) just words on a page. Mendelsund’s own prose is evocative as he touches on such aspects as music, spatial recognition, textual deconstruction, and the minute physical details provided by an author, and weaves the results into what is essentially a portable collage of a book about visualizing reading. Quite a feat.
I’ve been spending the last few weeks trying to catch up on reading—the number of books on my to-read pile has grown terrifying large, and that whole New Yorker free archive thing is not helping. I finally broke the ice with Emily Gould’s Friendship and Nora Ephron’s Heartburn, both of which I wrote about for Staff Picks. And then I picked up a novel I’ve been meaning to read for months, especially since its film adaptation was announced: Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, the murder-mystery that is really a marriage-mystery. It’s a good summer book: Flynn’s prose is absorbing and moves the reader through the complicated story with ease, making it great vacation reading. It’s also kind of a downer—or at least, if not exactly depressing, a book that takes a cynical, bleak look at what marriage means to people. I would recommend not reading it on a honeymoon, for example. As much as it’s a clever deconstruction of the true-crime genre, it also borrows enough from the cops-and-lawyers stable that I’m back to a feeling I have at the end of every TV season—no more murder mysteries, please.
This explains why my next reading selection is The Massive, a Dark Horse series written by Brian Wood. I’ve been following this post-apocalyptic story for a while now, but the last few issues I read are the clear high point of the series. The Massive is about a crew of environmental activists in the “post-Crash” world—a world where climate change has essentially reshaped the planet. Economies have collapsed, major cities have flooded, and rule of law has disappeared. In the midst of this is the story’s heroes: a group of flawed characters who are trying to make the world a better place but also just trying to survive. The Massive’s strength isn’t character work, though. It’s setting. Each issue has at least a few pages of detached narration that might be coming from a textbook, and though that can be disorienting, Wood uses that voice to offer a wide-ranging look at the landscape of the future. While frequent artist Garry Brown is not the strongest when it comes to facial expressions—characters in The Massive don’t have pliable visages—his work with cityscapes and vast tracts of land and sea is breathtaking. Colorist Jordie Bellaire adds her considerable skill to washing the landscape in golds and browns and blues, depending on the mood of the scene. The fourth volume is starting to deliver more than just captivating setting, which is exciting. There is a mystery here, but thankfully, for me at least, it’s not a murder mystery. (Not yet, anyway.)
Shameful confession: I’m such a hopeless workaholic that almost all the reading I do is some form of due diligence—an attempt to bone up on source material or provide myself useful context for an upcoming assignment. What that usually amounts to, honestly, is reading the book before seeing the movie. To that end, I’ve picked up a copy of Thomas Pynchon’s acclaimed 2009 novel, Inherent Vice, which Paul Thomas Anderson has adapted into a film opening this winter. Consensus about this ’70-set detective yarn seems to be that it’s one of the author’s more accessible efforts—though our own Zack Handlen, reviewing it upon release, insists that it’s a much tougher read than a basic plot description might suggest. As a Pynchon virgin, I have no idea what to expect from the book, but Inherent Vice seems like a suitable entryway into one of my major, modern literary blind spots.
In the meantime, in a concerted effort to read for pleasure and not simply obligation, I’ve taken a friend’s recommendation (hi, Greg!) and ripped into Herman Koch’s The Dinner, another well-reviewed bestseller from 2009. As the title suggests, the novel revolves around a meal—specifically, a reservation for four at some upscale establishment in Amsterdam, where the narrator begrudgingly agrees to meet his wealthy and famous brother. I’m too early in the story, which unfolds in punchy, two-to-five-page chapters, to have the foggiest idea where it’s headed. But a strong undercurrent of dread has got me excited. Koch manages to create the impression that something is seriously amiss, suggesting the presence—among banal details about the dining experience—of an enormous elephant in the room. (Apologies for drawing a cinematic comparison, but I’m catching a strong, possibly premature whiff of Benny’s Video.) Perhaps the source of the discomfort will prove unsatisfactory; I have a habit of getting hooked on a narrative’s sense of mystery, only to be let down when clarity arrives. But Koch’s lean, acerbic prose—or at least Sam Garrett’s English translation of it—will probably keep me reading, even if the plot doesn’t pay off how I want it to.
Notable August book releases:
Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little (out 8/4)
The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman (out 8/5)
2 A.M. At The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie Helene-Bertino (out 8/5)
Colorless Tsukari And His Years Of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (out 8/12)
Your Face In Mine by Jess Row (out 8/14)
Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark (out 8/19)
Flings by Justin Taylor (out 8/19)
Adultery by Paulo Coelho (out 8/19)
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (out 8/5)The Birth Of Korean Cool by Euny Hong (out 8/5)
What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund (out 8/5)
In The Kingdom Of Ice: The Grand And Terrible Polar Voyage Of The USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides (out 8/5)
Worn Stories by Emily Spivack (out 8/26)
Augustus by John Williams (original 1972; out 8/19)
Alfred Ollivant’s Bob, Son Of Battle by Alfred Ollivant and Lydia Davis (original 1898; out 8/19)