Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

What are you reading in January?

AVQ&AWelcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences.

We’ve expanded the regular AVQ&A discussion prompts to ask several of our regular contributors (and you) a simple question: What are you currently reading? If you have suggestions for future AVQ&A questions, big or small, email them to us here.

Cameron Scheetz

I’ve been a fan of Megan Amram for a little while now. She’s part of the revered Parks And Recreation writing staff and I can’t get enough of her absurdist, wordplay-heavy Twitter feed, so I was pretty delighted when I heard that she’d be bringing her talents to the literary world. Her first book, Science…For HER!, is a textbook by way of the modern lady-baiting magazine, like Cosmopolitan or Marie Claire. The premise is simple yet ingenious and allows Amram to make some great puns (select readings from the book include “Carbon Dating” and “Bachelors Of Science”) while completely destroying the confining standards of femininity often peddled by these publications. Each chapter focuses on a scientific discipline, but that’s only a jumping-off point into all sorts of lunacy with some loose narrative through-lines (like the author’s struggle to get over her ex-boyfriend Xander) moving things forward. I frequently laughed out loud while reading, but would caution that this is a fairly specific brand of humor that not everyone will be into; it’s not for the easily offended and many jokes will only work if you have a high threshold for The Rake Effect. And, for fellow longtime followers of Amram, some of the book’s highlights may seem familiar: Both her TV Club style review of America and her “script” for an apocalyptic Sex And The City movie are hysterical, but pulled directly from her blog. All in all, it’s a fun if fluffy read that would probably be best enjoyed piece-by-piece. Maybe leave it in the bathroom and read some each time you go? I’m sure Megan Amram would love to know you’re thinking of her every time you’re on the toilet.

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On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve been making my way through David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, which came highly recommended from this very site. For someone who often cowers in fear at the sight of books as large as VHS tapes, I’ve found the first half of the 600-plus-page novel delightfully breezy and fun. I’ve clearly only peeled back a few layers of this time-jumping narrative, but can’t wait to find out how it all comes together. In the meantime, I’m just happy to spend time with Mitchell’s endearing characters and dexterous language.

Alex McCown

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My pathway into film obsession came through psychoanalysis, randomly enough. Like many college freshmen, I became fascinated with the pop culture-obsessed critical theory of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek. His writings on Lacanian psychoanalysis and the films of Alfred Hitchcock sent me spiraling into a nerd rabbit hole of theory and American cinema. Even though I’ve since kept the film obsession and largely dropped the theory obsession, I still like to revisit overlaps between the two now and then. For those who haven’t immediately fled this description, Todd McGowan’s The Impossible David Lynch hits all the sweet spots of philosophical musing about one of America’s great auteurs. After a brief introduction of the key argument (in a nutshell: Lynch’s films are best understood via psychoanalytic theory, and his films “seem bizarre to us precisely because of their excessive normality”), McGowan surveys most every movie in Lynch’s oeuvre (sans his early shorts and the later Inland Empire). The result is a thoroughly enjoyable intellectual exploration of subjectivity, desire, fantasy, and why those haunting images in Lynch’s work resonate so deeply.

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Or, if all of that sounds like pretentious horseshit, there’s the other book I read this month, Duff McKagan’s autobiography It’s So Easy (And Other Lies). The Guns N’ Roses bassist ably details the rise and fall of his most famous band, along with plenty of wild stories before and after. The through-line of the narrative is his spiral into drug and alcohol addiction, and eventual rebirth as a health nut and martial-arts fanatic. The A.V. Club gave it a B+ when it came out, which sounds about right; to be honest, I was hoping for more of the insanity of the early years and less of the sober-minded inspirational message of the later chapters. Not that those are badly written, per se; it’s just that, when it comes to unnecessary rock star bios, I tend to be of the opinion that trashier is better. In that regard, McKagan’s book delivers solidly about half the time. By the end, he just seems like way too nice a guy to really bring the ostentatious showbiz vulgarity.

Josh Modell

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I’m a huge fan of Peter Hook’s two main bands—Joy Division and New Order, the latter of which he is now estranged from—but I wasn’t terribly keen on his memoir about his early days in the punk and post-punk scenes. Still, I was anxious to read his prior book, which was only recently published in the U.S., The Hacienda: How Not To Run A Club. It recounts the story of one of the world’s great nightclubs, Manchester’s Hacienda, from the inside: Hook and his bandmates—as well as their record label, Factory Records—opened the club in 1982, and though it was musically and culturally incredibly important, it was also a money pit that eventually turned a bit dangerous.

Hook’s writing style is completely conversational: The story is presented chronologically, but he sort of wanders around what was happening in his life at the time, stopping frequently to complain that all of New Order’s money was being sunk back into the club. He has funny recollections about his own personal latrine—the club was built with too few bathrooms, so he used a mayonnaise jar—and everyone’s rampant drug use. In the late ’80s, the club was responsible for bringing house music to the U.K., and helping it blow up in the rest of Europe. Simultaneously, the “Madchester” sound was being born there, with The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays cutting their teeth at the Hacienda.

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How Not To Run A Club helpfully lists every act that played at The Hacienda, and it’s a murderers’ row of influential acts: The Smiths, New Order, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Birthday Party, and Grandmaster Flash performed there in 1983; Madonna played her first U.K. date there in 1984. The lists go on, sometimes handily annotated by hook with details like “the audience all sat down” for a William Burroughs performance. Eventually things go very sour for The Hacienda, with the fun blur of ecstasy culture burning down into gunfights and other violence. Still, hearing Hook tell it makes it all sounds pretty fun—like he secretly doesn’t regret anything that happened.

Notable January book releases, assorted

  • For the self-doubting with a sense of humor: The First Bad Man by Miranda July (out January 13)
  • For those of the fictional but semi-historical Game Of Thrones bent: The Empty Throne by Bernard Cornwell (out January 6)
  • For the non-adult “adult”: How To Grow Up by Michelle Tea (out January 27)
  • For the F. Scott Fitzgerald fan: West Of Sunset by Stewart O’Nan (out January 13)
  • For the bibliophile who loves YA but wants something more adult: Mobile Library by David Whitehouse (out January 20)
  • For the Inherent Vice fan who wants another trippy mystery: Glow by Ned Beauman (out January 20)
  • For those interested in interesting stories: Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman (out January 6)
  • For anyone addicted to gripping thrillers: The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins (out January 13)
  • For those who were bullied or did the bullying, and carry that trauma with them into adulthood: Whipping Boy by Allen Kurzweil (out January 20)
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