In our monthly book club, we discuss whatever we happen to be reading and ask everyone in the comments to do the same. What Are You Reading This Month?
I keep telling myself that I’m rereading The Handmaid’s Tale to prepare for the TV adaptation that premieres next year. But that’s just to avoid thinking about the actual reasons I grabbed Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic off of the shelf, which have to do with a more ominous premiere scheduled for January 20, 2017. It’s the curse and blessing of all speculative fiction to be subject to perpetual “more relevant than ever” claims (just ask Amazon’s take on The Man In The High Castle!), but given the impact a Trump-Pence administration could have on civil and reproductive rights, the saga of Offred and the cautionary tale of Gilead have gained some renewed urgency. Those circumstances aside, I’m finding myself captivated all over again by Atwood’s prose, from the punchy lyricism of Offred’s internal monologue (“My self is a thing I must now compose, as one composes a speech. What I must present is a made thing, not something born”) to the way she patiently builds the world of Gilead and describes how its dehumanizing theocracy came to pass. I think it’s a great blueprint for a TV series—I just hope it doesn’t become a blueprint for real life.
After starting it over a month ago I’m still plugging away at Bruce Springsteen’s book, Born To Run. As good as it is, there are moments that are so over the top I need to give myself a break. When Bruce starts going off about the power of rock music, it reads like stage banter transcribed, so I need to temper these ellipsis-filled sections with something else. Thankfully, I’ve had a few things to break up all those Bruce-isms.
I plowed through Chelsea Martin’s Mickey in a couple nights, which is a breezy read based around a narrator’s assorted diary entries following a breakup. It’s a simple work, one that touches on the struggle to connect with other people and to be a creative person in a world that never ceases to be demanding. At times it feels like Martin is cribbing a bit too liberally from the influence of So Sad Today, but it’s a brief enough work to not let any of these less focused moments become stumbling blocks. Similarly, I’ve been digging into Does Not Love by James Tadd Adcox, which has thrown a few curveballs my way. What starts as a book about a dissolving marriage slowly transforms into a dystopian sci-fi book that takes place in a depopulated Indianapolis. The further the book slowly unveiled itself, the more it grabbed me, sucking me into the world Adcox built and then tore apart so effortlessly.
But the thing I’ve gone back to the most is also the shortest work I consumed, the Desafinados zine. Released in conjunction with the weeklong event chronicling the punk and hardcore scenes in Chicago’s Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods, the zine features writings about the scene’s early days, along with collections of show fliers, album covers, T-shirts, and other ephemera. It’s a digestible look at one of Chicago punk’s most inspiring subsets, one that I hope gets a more thorough analysis in years to come.
Zak Sally was the bassist in one of my favorite bands—Low—for a particularly fruitful decade of its existence, adding low end and color to a bunch of fantastic records. These days, he’s known better as a comic artist, having drawn and released a ton of work—most notably Recidivist—via his own imprint, La Mano. But, not being a huge comics fan, I was more intrigued by the recent release of Sally’s Folrath Part One, a little chapbook autobiography about his wandering younger days. (It’s subtitled Being An Account Of Stupid Shit I Did In The Early 1990s.) The 100-page, tiny-printed novella offers an almost stream-of-consciousness take on Sally’s sometimes harrowing cross-country adventures as a younger man. It starts, more or less, with the forgery of a Greyhound friends-and-family pass that allows the bearer to travel on any Greyhound bus as long as there are empty seats. Sally, intimately familiar with copy shops as every good ’80s and ’90s punk was, sees the pass as a push to explore: His dream—crazy, he acknowledges—is to show up at the door of Fantagraphics and show them some of his work, hoping they’ll want to publish it. It’s a bit like a hopeful kid showing up at Capitol Records with his demo tape, hoping to get signed on the spot. Getting there isn’t easy: Sally spends plenty of time sleeping outside, meeting weirdos and drug addicts, and trying to get a handle on his own feelings about life. Folrath reads like a first draft in the best ways; it’s lively and funny and scrambled. It’s a perfect fit for its physical form, too. It looks like a photocopied zine, the kind—like Cometbus, which is a stated inspiration—that people put together late at night at Kinko’s back then, liberating thousands of copies with help from friends who worked there. I’m excited for part two, though I’m not sure if that will make it out before Sally’s next project, a graphic novel about the life of author Philip K. Dick.