dexter palmer, “version control”

Dexter Palmer
Version Control
(Pantheon, 2016)

I am probably not the person who should be reviewing this book, which is a time travel novel: I’m not especially familiar with how the trope has been used historically in the novel and elsewhere (my science-fiction reading has been nothing if not scattershot), and I’m certain that I’m oblivious to many of this novel’s engagements with past work in the field. It’s abundantly clear that Dexter Palmer is well-versed in the subject, and the reader who isn’t as well-informed is going to be missing parts of Version Control, maybe too much to have a full critical sense of what’s going on in the novel. With that caveat, I’ll continue: it’s an interesting book even for an amateur to think about, and I sense that it’s a book that deserves more critical reading than it’s received.

At the heart of this book, as the title suggests, is a consideration of different models of version control. This is important for understanding what’s going on here – and what’s interesting in the book as a whole. The characters distinguish between two forms. First, fork and merge, where different people can work on different chunks of code at the same time; the inevitable conflicts need to be manually sorted out. Second, lock, checkout, unlock: only one person can be working on the code at a particular time. The first is what is most commonly used when more than one person is involved in creation (this is the method that underlies things like Github); the second quickly becomes a pain and slows development.

In the novel, a government figure – who functions as a deus ex machina in this book – insists that a condition for the government funding the time machine the physicists are working on is that they use lock/check-out/unlock. This restriction is seemingly arbitrary; the characters are unhappy about this, but attempt to deal with this forced linearization of their project. This is also key to how Palmer’s concept of time travel differs from most others: in this version, if a person goes back to a moment in their own past, there would not be two people running around, but only a single one. The possibility of time travel here is frustrating (consciously changing the past is out of the question), though perhaps more useful as a thought device.

The government figure’s name is Cheever. This could be read as a reference to John Cheever; at a slight stretch, one could also point to Edward Arlington Robinson’s “Miniver Cheevy,” a drunken man consumed with the past. (An unseen associate who turns up later goes by Sidney, perhaps a reference to the author of the Faerie Queen.) Cheever the character might be better understood as a man behind the curtain pulling the strings of the plot – in a sense, he’s a stand-in for the author, a slight intrusion of metafiction. Without him, there is no time machine; without him, there is no book.

A central condition of prose as we generally understand it is linearity: one word follows another, building up to form sentences, paragraphs, chapters, books. The reader is forced into linearity: we read words in sequence, building a picture of a world out of that sequence. This constraint of time is more pronounced when you look at how a plot in a book happens as opposed to how a plot in a video game might happen: there the narrative might be different every time the game is played. (One Dickian touch in the book is a CGI President, who says different things to different people simultaneously: he is all things to all people, but has no being as a person who lives a life from birth to death.) Version Control is committed to linearity, even in its model of time travel: the book doesn’t exist in a multiverse of possibilities but in a single line through time. The characters are full of regret: but they can’t go back in time to fix things, only to mindlessly change things.

This isn’t exactly to say that Version Control is straightforward. The reader reads Version Control linearly: but at certain points, one flips back to previous points and re-reads, understanding differently. A dinner party early in the book ends badly; the next day, two characters talk about what happen, and it is directly revealed that one of the characters is black. Reading the scene a second time with that added knowledge, the scene becomes uncomfortably racist; the reader may be uncomfortably confronted with his own assumptions.

The reader, then, has more control than the characters do. But the reader is also consciously stepping into a constructed environment. The reader understands that certain devices that appear early in the book are Chekhov’s guns, and that the plot will have to get to a point where they can be used. (Can one have a time travel novel where the time travel device doesn’t work? I imagine this has been done, but as I’ve said, I’m not as familiar with the genre as I might be.) It’s not incidental that a minor character is a Unitarian minister, agonizing over the minimal possibilities for God’s intervention in the world.

A better-read reader than I would draw more from this book. I was reminded of both of Shane Carruth’s movies – the second perhaps more than the first, though the first is more apropos – and Philip K. Dick (probably inevitable, more for the slightly dystopian universe created here than for the ways that time travel tends to play out in his novels). There’s a certain similarity with Orlando: the sense of continuity across time through biography. Towards the end of the book, a character is reading Ulysses: it seems pointed that the character is not reading Finnegans Wake, with its Viconian cycles, a very different model of the world than is presented here. But maybe the best way to think of this book might be as an exegesis of Mulholland Drive: the narrative splits in the middle; the second half is a variation of the first.

jerzy kosiński, “the hermit of 69th street”

Jerzy Kosiński
The Hermit of 69th Street: The Working Papers of Norbert Kosky
(Zebra Books, 1988, 1991)

I can’t imagine there’s a great demand for the work of Jerzy Kosiński at this point in time: he’s remembered first as a vague fraud and second as the writer of Being There. (Maybe the latter, providentially plagiarized, will lead to a reassessment at the present political moment?) The Painted Bird used to be omnipresent in used book stores and presumably was still finding an audience of sorts; but the decline of used book stores has probably hurt its chances of finding an unsuspecting reader. I suspect there’s an edition of Steps out with a contrarian David Foster Wallace blurb, though I don’t know if even his endorsement would save the book. There’s certainly no demand for Kosiński’s last novel, The Hermit of 69th Street, though it’s been on one of my to-read lists for a while; and I was happy to come across an embossed mass-market paperback (printed a month before the author committed suicide) in a used book store in Los Angeles.

It is hard to imagine a stranger mass-market paperback. Almost every page is footnoted. The subtitle (“The Working Papers of Norbert Kosky”) gives a sense of the conceit: a writer, blatantly a stand-in for Kosiński himself (p. 10: “the year 1966 saw the publication of the unexpurgated edition of his first fictional tale, about a little Gypsy or Jewish toddler during World War II”), is trying to write a book, and (having been accused of citational looseness in the past) is citing everything for his editors/fact checkers/proofreaders. The text is larded with quotations, some real, some imaginary, bolded and italicized at whim; their citations are capricious and often willfully annoying.

I don’t know enough about Kosiński’s life to know exactly how close this matches or doesn’t match his own; the promotional blurb in the front matter of the book says that Kosiński dubbed it an “autofiction” (citation needed, though the word is repeated on the back cover; looking into what the word “autofiction” meant in 1992 might be useful). I’ll also say that I don’t particularly care that much about Kosiński’s hoaxing or status as a fake (not mentioned in the book’s promotional elements, though they would have been well known when this was published), though it’s hard to escape how much this book seems like an apologia: this is manifestly a book about fact-checking and the process of making books. At the same time, the book has a cavalier disregard for actual fact-checking. On p. 23, for example, the narrator (who is not Kosky) reports:

Thus among its newest sex ads, the seven character cryptogram USA-GIRL is, in fact, 872-4475, while the innocent looking 825-5739 can mean ISS-SINS and JKJ-KISS turns into 955-5477.

Looking at a telephone keypad (or even a dial!) would have shown anyone that while the first is correct, the second and third aren’t close to being so. There’s the same looseness with the book’s many citations. A representative passage:

Kosky trusts Dustin’s intuition. It is purely American since, as his name indicates, Dustin comes from a very pure Boston family. Propelled by an inner wind, Reverend Dan Beach Bradley Borell,(4) Dustin’s most revered ancestor, bravely sailed from Massachusetts all the way to Bangkok, where he – a typical Boston Brahmin! – hoped to introduce the Gospel to Siamese Brahmans – the all-time champs of what is latest in the art of meditation – to start a Meditational Church in Siam. (p. 103)

There’s a footnote:

4. The Reverend Dan Beach Bradley, M.D., author of Medical Missionary in Siam, 1836–1873, op cit., was “one of the many proper Boston Brahmins fascinated by the Orient and by its rigorous – almost puritanical – physical and mental discipline.” (Kosky, A Floating Lotus Lecture, 1986).

I choose this passage since Mr. Bradley and his two wives are buried five minutes down the street from me in the Bangkok Protestant Cemetery, which is why I happen to know about him. Today anyone can go to Wikipedia and learn about him; however, when this book was written I suspect he was unknown to almost all of Kosinski’s readers. There are a few odd things to note here. While Bradley studied at Harvard and did sail from Boston, his family was from New York, not Boston Brahmins; and his last name was not “Borell”. (As far as I can tell, this is done so that Dustin, “the nation’s supreme literary accountant,” can be referred to as “Mr. Beach Borell”: there are a lot of puns in this book.) A Floating Lotus Lecture is fictional; Medical Missionary in Siam, 1836–1873 is cited a bit oddly, as it’s probably Abstract of the Journal of Rev. Dan Beach Bradley, M. D. Medical Missionary in Siam 1835–1873 a posthumous collection published in 1936. After the quoted text, Bradley exits the book’s narrative for almost four hundred pages, until he calls the protagonist, who answers “Good to hear from you Reverend Dan” and there’s another footnote:

8. Rev. Dan Beach Bradley, M.D., “had an impressive number of accomplishments: He played a leading role in the introduction of printing to Siam; he was the first person to perform a surgical role in that country, and, after years of futile experimentation, in 1840 he performed the first successful vaccinations for smallpox. His was the first newspaper to be published in Siam, and it was he who printed the first royal decree (against the sale of opium) that came off a press in Bangkok. Most of all, he was a respected friend of the Siamese people, and through his journalistic enterprises in particular, he looked after Siam’s national interest in its relations with France and England.” From William L. Bradley’s Siam Then: The Foreign Colony in Bangkok Before and After Anna (1981). (p. 488)

What, exactly, is Reverend Bradley doing here? I will assume that Siam Then came into Kosiński’s library at some point and was raided for the quotation. Certainly the life and work of Anna Leonowens – whose deeply fictionalized memoirs The King and I were based on – seems more apropos to Kosiński’s project, though she’s only mentioned in the citation. I can’t make sense of what he’s doing here: and in this, he’s not unlike many of the book’s seemingly arbitrary quotations. Kosiński’s citations are willfully capricious and often seem a bit off (e.g. the text refers to “such films as Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)” and a footnote reads “Shoah, an Oral History of the Holocaust, the complete Text of the Film by Claude Lanzmann, preface by Simone de Beauvoir, Pantheon Books, N. Y. 1985”); verifying them wouldn’t be terribly hard at this point in time, but it’s not clear that it would be particularly useful.

There are a huge number of these citations; I can’t tell that they add up to anything, but the effect is that of a massive commonplace book, a sense of what Kosinski the person was reading. There’s a hint later in the book:

His head swimming from the overflow of seminal thoughts (“the brain’s semen” Jay Kay) Kosky takes out from his ever present shoulder-bag a bunch of Plot-Quote cards, “the portable table game of literary invention,” in the words of the nameless inventor. Each card contains a short fragment from a certain novel. The body then becomes, as it were, a Book of Revelation. In it is condensed much of out secret history. In it are latent the necessities of our future. (Gina Cerminara, op. cit., p. 69) (p. 400)

The bold text is of course Kosiński’s. Perhaps this is an admission of the process that constructed this book: quotations chosen at random and assembled to construct a book. Another quote:

Writing is creation. The Hellenistic period saw the birth of the novel. The earliest complete specimen, that of Chariton, is not later than the second century of our era, and the genre is certainly earlier. (A.D. Nock) Kosky cannot write his own story telling story – a full length novel at that – without writing, one way or another, about the very lengths to which a storyteller must go in his various trials of the writing process. Here, don’t confuse process with trial, particularly not the writing process with putting a writer’s writing – worse yet, a writer! – on trial. And writing means to him, skoaling life in the sizzling Swedish fashion since it is the Swedes who, awarding yearly the Nobel prize to a novel (not the other way around printer!) consider fiction – that is, a novel, or even a novella – more powerful than dynamite invented by Nobel. (p. 377–8)

Again, the bolds and italics are Kosiński’s, as is the capricious punctuation; I’ve left out a long footnote that’s another quote from Nock’s book about the recognition plot. Here we almost get an interesting defense of the writer’s ideas about creation and originality before it gets lost in dumb puns and alliteration.

* * * * *

This is a tiresome book. (This is at least partially intentional: pedantry is key to what Kosiński’s trying to get at, though he undercuts himself by being unreliable.) Every character speaks in exactly the same way, using dumb puns, copious and recondite literary quotations, and ending half of their sentences with exclamation points, which, combined with the often randomly sprinkled-in quotations, sometimes gives the reader the impression of stumbling upon a novelization of a particularly depressing Mary Worth. Every female character is a sex object; the male characters all leer or don’t lear because they are gay. Despite (or perhaps because of) the fetishization of copy editors and proofreaders, the book has been sloppily edited. The book’s length appears to be an effort to physically wear out the reader; not much would be lost if this were a tenth of its length.

Part of the interest of this book is its status as a roman-à-clef: a good literary historian could certainly dig through the characters and pin names on them. There’s a lot of score-settling. But at this distance, who really cares that, for example, Kosiński hated Hannah Arendt? At least as much time, if not more, is devoted to a recounting of the protagonist’s handing out of awards at the Oscars (as Kosiński did); there is a spirited defense of polo as a sport, and I will assume that Kosiński was criticized by someone for being a polo enthusiast.

One wonders whether the book was actually meant to be read: it almost seems like an act of self-sabotage in the tradition of Melville’s Pierre, a novel reworked to be about failure in the literary world. (Moby-Dick is mentioned in passing in Hermit, but none of Melville’s other works.) It also seems to prefigure David Markson’s work from Reader’s Block on – if you took out the narrative and only left the literary examples from this book, you’d end up with something very much like a Markson novel, complete with the writer’s overdeveloped sense of self-pity. (I suspect that Kosiński figures into those books, though I haven’t gone back to check.)

There’s the gem of something interesting here: an author accused of literary crimes attempts to defend himself in fictions as the worlds of the protagonist and the author increasingly intertwine. (Late in the book, for example, the protagonist watches the film version of Being There on television.) The protagonist identifies himself with various figures, literary and not – Bruno Schulz, Joseph Conrad (with whom he has a vexed relationship), Cagliostro (!), Chaim Rumkowski (!!!). There’s something unsettling with the way the horror of the Holocaust is presented as being a mitigating circumstance for literary misbehavior.

This is a strange book. It’s hard to imagine that this was pitched at the same general public who were the target of the ads in the back pages (a page and a half on the books from the woman who killed the Scarsdale Diet doctor; a page advertising books about an unfrozen Japanese aircraft carrier full of samurai fighting a Libyan madman; and so on). Certainly it could be read as an extremely prolix suicide note, and maybe there’s a rubbernecking appeal to that. But it feels like the work of a writer who was left to hang himself with his own words.

march 1–15, 2017

Books

  • Steve Erickson, Shadowbahn
  • Reminiscent of both Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 3 and Scott Walker’s The Drift but ending up as a light version of Dhalgren. I like the idea of Erickson’s writings, but he’s never really clicked for me. Here what fails is the way he talks about music: rhapsodizing about the extreme cultural importance of pop music (especially the same old guys with guitars) almost always seems tiresome, if not reactionary, to me.

  • Benedict R. O’G. Anderson & Ruchira Mendiones, editors, In the Mirror: Literature and Politics in Siam in the American Era
  • It’s not particularly easy to get a handle on Thai literature; this collection of short stories from 1955–1976 with a long contextualizing introduction by Benedict Anderson is easily the nicest I’ve found. Anderson doesn’t shy away from political analysis, almost always politely sidestepped in a Thai context; but that’s crucially important for understanding Thai writing (or more accurately the general lack of it). Unfortunately, this book isn’t that likely to show up outside of Thailand, having been printed in Bangkok by Editions Duang Kamol in 1985; a reprint wouldn’t be a bad idea, though I’m not sure who’d be willing to do it.

  • Roberto Bolaño, The Skating Rink, translated by Chris Andrews
  • Roberto Bolaño, Monsieur Pain, trans. Chris Andrews
  • Roberto Bolaño, Antwerp, trans. Natasha Wimmer
  • Roberto Bolaño, A Little Lumpen Novelita, trans. Natasha Wimmer
  • I burnt out on Bolaño after 2666, which seemed rambling, unfocused, and not nearly as good as the short novels that were the first translations of his published in English. While I’m glad that so much of his work is available in English, a lot of it does seem rather minor, more like excerpts from some bigger corpus. The Skating Rink (with no real writer figures) and Monsieur Pain (an attempt at historical fiction) seem like outliers in his work; Antwerp seems very obviously to contain seeds of later work; A Little Lumpen Novelita is accomplished but feels like an overgrown short story.

  • Apichatpong Weerasethakul et al., Apichatpong Weerasethakul Sourcebook: The Serenity of Madness
  • A collection of material related to Apichatpong’s recent (ongoing?) gallery show, published jointly by Maria in Chiang Mai and the Independent Curators International in NYC. Surprisingly interesting contents: a collection of emails from Apichatpong to the late Benedict Anderson, a long narrative by actress Jenjira Pongpas Widner on growing up in 1960s Isaan across the river from Vientiane, and an interview with Withit Chandawong about politics in Isaan in the 1960s and 1970s. Inadvertently sheds light on the stories in In the Mirror; what’s most striking about this collection is how forthright it is about politics in Thailand: it’s a bit surprising it was for sale in Chiang Mai. Recommended.

  • Jerzy Kosiński, The Hermit of 69th Street
  • Elif Batuman, The Idiot
  • I don’t know that I feel enough distance from this to say anything objective, but it’s a lovely book and worth reading.

  • Joshua Cohen, Four New Messages
  • A re-reading, kind of – I read (or heard) all of these pieces at one point or another, but never got around to reading the book version. Cohen’s diction seems unmatched among American fiction writers (who am I forgetting?), especially when he goes into Bernhard-style ranting (Witz) though his singular voice doesn’t necessarily lend itself to imitation, which he sometimes tries to do here: the voice of a Midwesterner relating the stay of a New Yorker among them strains credibility a bit. But these are quibbles.

  • John Darnielle, Universal Harvester
  • Darnielle, on the other hand, has the Midwestern voice down cold – that’s largely why I liked this book, a pleasant diversion.

  • Leonora Carrington, The Oval Lady, trans. Rochelle Holt
  • Reading Silvina Ocampo reminded me of Carrington, so I went back to look at this short collection, looking forward to the full edition whenever I get my hands on that.

  • Brix Smith-Start, The Rise, the Fall, and the Rise
  • There must be a book tracing the history of the male creative genius being an asshole: one would like to know when being an asshole as a side-effect of being a genius crossed over and people thought they needed to be assholes because they were geniuses.

  • Benedict Anderson, A Life Beyond Boundaries: A Memoir
  • This book isn’t as long or as interesting as one would like: Anderson clearly lived an interesting live, and this is more formal and detached than it needs to be. But there’s some useful thinking about interdisciplinarity and its intellectual history here; it reminds me I should go read his Indonesian writings.

Films

  • The Assassination of Trotsky, directed by Joseph Losey
  • Le Gai savoir, dir. Jean-Luc Godard
  • Gargandi snilld (Screaming Masterpiece), dir. Ari Alexander Ergis Magnússon
  • Mal de pierres (From the Land of the Moon), dir. Nicole Garcia
  • สันติ-วีณา (Santi-Vina), dir. Thavi Na Bangchang
  • Turnabout, dir. Hal Roach
  • Alle anderen (Everyone Else), dir. Maren Ade

february 15–28, 2017

Books

  • Virgina Woolf, Orlando
  • I don’t know why it took me so long to read this – probably if I had thought of it as being so obviously in the lineage of Tristram Shandy I would have gotten there sooner. Woolf’s snobbishness is still hard for me.

  • Georges Simenon, The Widow, translated by John Petrie
  • (Filling time somewhere.)

  • Linda Rosenkrantz, Talk
  • Late to this! It makes me want to reread Maggie Paley’s telephone novel, Bad Manners (1986), as well as Ed Friedman’s The Telephone Book (1979) and think about the ways in which people talk changed over time.

  • Qiu Miaojin, Last Words from Montmartre, trans. Ari Larissa Heinrich
  • John Glassco, Memoirs of Montparnasse
  • Enrique Vila-Matas, Never Any End to Paris, trans. Anne McLean
  • Three books, on the continuum between memoir and fiction, about the idea of being an artist in Paris. The Qiu Miaojin seems very young to me? I think I might have liked this more were I half my age and prone to making grandiose statements about love. The Glassco isn’t as good as Robert McAlmon & Kay Boyle’s Being Geniuses Together, a book it resembles; it’s maybe interesting for being a picture of the writer not as an artist but as a hanger-on. I fell off the Vila-Matas train a while ago, though I mostly like his book (having no real idea how much, if any, is real); it’s hard for me not to like something with so much India Song in it; and recounting stories about Marguerite Duras makes me think about her in Le Camion, explaining her great film to Gérard Depardieu, to which this novel is not, perhaps, dissimilar.

  • Silvina Ocampo, Thus Were Their Faces, trans. Daniel Balderston
  • I liked this collection of (mostly) short stories better than her collaboration with Adolfo Bioy-Casares from a couple years ago, though the quality varies (as indicated by the translator in the introduction). Probably should look at her poetry to give her a fair shot.

  • Albertine Sarrazin, Astragal, trans. Patsy Southgate
  • Fairly certain that I would have enjoyed this more were it not for the Patti Smith introduction; I should have known better.

  • Betty Gosling, A Chronology of Religious Architecture at Sukhothai: Late Thirteenth to Early Fifteenth Century
  • We went to Sukhothai, so I read about that.

  • Philip Glass, Words Without Music: A Memoir
  • I can see how this book would be somewhat frustrating to many readers – certainly it seems to lose steam about halfway through & it’s doggedly against personal revelation – but I like how thoroughly Glass explains what he was doing to make money: his stints as a plumber and a taxi driver would probably be glossed over in most treatments, but here they’re given their fair share of attention.

  • Eve Babitz, Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, the Flesh, and L.A.
  • I read Eve’s Hollywood a while back when I was working my way through Duchampiana; this is similar, somewhere between memoir and fiction. What’s interesting about Babitz’s use of this form is that it doesn’t feel particularly necessary to pin down the people she’s talking about (who are generally of interest) in the way that it feels absolutely necessary in, for example, John Glassco’s, which fails entirely as fiction.

Exhibits

  • Maiiam Contemporary Art Museum, Chiang Mai
  • Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders, Chiang Mai
  • Wat Ketkaram Museum, Chiang Mai
  • Baan Sao Nak, Lampang
  • Si Satchanalai Historical Park, Si Satchanalai
  • Ramkhamhaeng National Museum, Sukhothai

february 1–15, 2017

Books

  • Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Refugees
  • Sometimes a book gets lucky with its publication date? Not as overwhelming as The Sympathizer (also I don’t particularly care for the short story as a form), but Nguyen’s range impresses, as does his empathy.

  • Corrado Augias, The Secrets of Rome: Life & Death in the Eternal City
  • There aren’t many books that can be put on a shelf next to Georgina Masson’s Companion Guide to Rome but this is one of them. Not quite Carlo Levi’s L’Orologio, but what is? An old Italian guy telling stories about the cities: most of these are familiar, but they’re well-told, and there are entertaining digressions.

  • Pramuan Burusphat, Destination: Still Unknown
  • It’s not often that there’s an art show in Bangkok that’s actually interesting: most everything seems to be aimed at providing decorations for hotels or is cartoonishly amateur. (That said: right now is a weird high point.) This show at BACC was surprisingly good: though I wonder if my reaction to it was that he was educated in the U.S. and his references (conceptualism in the 1970s) are familiar?

  • Ellery Queen, Calamity Town
  • (for a writing project.)

  • Flann O’Brien, The Hard Life: An Exegesis of Squalor
  • A list claims that I read this when I was in college. I have absolutely no memory of it at all, which is mildly worrying. Maybe I was confusing this with The Poor Mouth?

Films

  • A Day at the Races, directed by Sam Wood
  • Little Sister, dir. Zach Clark
  • Love and Friendship, dir. Whit Stillman
  • La stanza del figlio, dir. Nanni Moretti
  • The Last Movie, dir. Dennis Hopper
  • The River, dir. Jean Renoir
  • Spider Baby, dir. Jack Hill
  • Il racconto dei racconti (Tale of Tales), dir. Matteo Garrone

Exhibits

  • “Pramuan Burusphat: Destination: Still Unknown,” BACC
  • “Erwin Wurm: The Philosophy of Instructions,” BACC
  • “Noppanan Thannaree: Simple-Truth,” People’s Gallery, BACC
  • “For Those Who Died Trying,” BACC
  • “Sopheap Pich: New Works,” H Gallery Bangkok
  • “Peeraya Suphasidh: Iterations of a Dream,” H Project Space
  • “Harit Srikhao: A Boy Who Was Kidnapped by Time,” Kathmandu Photo Gallery

january 16–31, 2017

Books

  • Eimear McBride, The Lesser Bohemians
  • I still need to finish A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing. I like how wonderfully oral McBride’s writing is; it loses power when a character’s monologue takes over the narrative and perspective is lost (as well as the distinctive voice). But a very well-done book. More books should be written like this.

  • Georges Simenon, Maigret Meets a Milord, translated by Robert Baldick
  • Álvaro Enrigue, Sudden Death, trans. Natasha Wimmer
  • There are a lot of reasons I should like this book: its preoccupations with Rome, Caravaggio, and the early history of Mexico City. But it feels a little too much like a research novel. Probably not fair to read this so soon after the death of John Berger: it suffers when compared to G.

  • Georges Simenon, Maigret and the Hundred Gibbets, trans. Tony White
  • Rosamond Lehmann, Dusty Answer
  • Is there a reason New York Review Books has not reprinted this? Could be shelved next to Denton Welch or Alain-Fournier.

  • Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea
  • Someone should have a project of recreating all the terrible-sounding meals described in this book and putting them in a gallery to rot without refrigeration.

  • Paul Murray, The Mark and the Void
  • This book is a probably twice as long as it needs to be, but it feels important: somebody’s using fiction to scrutinize how capitalism works, or doesn’t work, now. The subplot about the place of art inside of capitalism doesn’t come off as well, but it’s still a good effort.

Films

  • Julieta, directed by Pedro Almodóvar
  • The Cocoanuts, dir. Robert Florey & Joseph Santley
  • Horse Feathers, dir. Norman Z. McLeod
  • Monkey Business, dir. Norman Z. McLeod
  • Everybody Wants Some!!, dir. Richard Linklater
  • The Lathe of Heaven, dir. David Loxton & Fred Barzyk

january 1–15, 2017

Books

  • A. R. Ammons, Garbage
  • For a project on garbage, maybe never to be finished.

  • Karen Weiser, Or, the Ambiguities
  • Not sure that I loved this, but it’s nice that there’s still more to be mined from Pierre.

  • Iris Murdoch, The Italian Girl
  • One of the slightest of Murdoch’s novels that I’ve read so far: a bit too happy to indulge in the Gothic.

  • Jai Arun Ravine, The Romance of Siam: A Pocket Guide
  • I loaned this out before I could write something more substantial about this, and I kind of wish I hadn’t: this is one of the most thoughtful things I’ve read on the idea of Thailand and how that’s been received. Deserves more attention.

  • John Ashbery, Breezeway
  • I had a panic that Ashbery was about to die and I went out and bought this, thinking I might not have another chance to buy one of his books while he was still alive. A little slighter than I wanted?

  • Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project
  • I am confused why everyone gets excited about Dave Eggers and George Saunders when they could be getting about Hemon, who is better than either.

  • Georges Simenon, The Late Monsieur Gallet, translated by Anthea Bell
  • Georges Simenon, Teddy Bear, trans. John Clay
  • Georges Simenon, Betty, trans. Alastair Hamilton
  • I like how simple these are: working my way through Simenon trying to come up with ideas.

  • Jenny Diski, On Trying to Keep Still
  • I miss Jenny Diski’s writing, and I wish more of her books came my way: there’s the consolation of knowing that I haven’t read them all yet.

Films

  • The Pink Panther, directed by Blake Edwards
  • For Me and My Gal, dir. Busby Berkeley
  • The Friends of Eddie Coyle, dir. Peter Yates
  • Monkey Business, dir. Norman Z. McLeod
  • Tod für fünf Stimmen (Gesualdo: Death for Five Voices), dir. Werner Herzog
  • Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers, dir. Les Blank

december 16–31, 2016

Books

  • G. V. Desani, All About H. Hatterr
  • Leonard Cohen, The Favourite Game
  • George V. Higgins, The Friends of Eddie Coyle
  • Iris Murdoch, The Bell
  • Iris Murdoch, The Sandcastle
  • Jace Clayton, Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture
  • Chris Kraus, I Love Dick
  • Don DeLillo, Zero K
  • Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer
  • Iris Murdoch, An Unofficial Rose
  • Muriel Spark, Memento Mori

Films

  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, directed by Gareth Edwards

november 16–30, 2016

Books

  • Iris Murdoch, The Sacred and Profane Love Machine
  • Stanisław Lem, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, translated by Michael Kandel & Christine Rose
  • Aleksandar Hemon, The Making of Zombie Wars
  • Irish Murdoch, Bruno’s Dream
  • Stanisław Lem, His Master’s Voice, trans. Michael Kandel

Films

  • The Parallax View, dir. Alan J. Pakula
  • Rad der Zeit (Wheel of Time), dir. Werner Herzog
  • Glaube und Währung – Dr. Gene Scott, Fernsehprediger (God’s Angry Man), dir. Werner Herzog
  • Clouds of Sils Maria, dir. Olivier Assayas
  • The Witness, dir. James D. Solomon