april 1–15, 2017

Books

  • John F. Szwed, Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra
  • It’s still hard to know what to make of the life of Sun Ra: here he starts in the terrible reality of the American twentieth century and ends somewhere vague, a mysterious life lost in the recounting of the music and obscured by his own mythology. There’s something important here, and this almost gets it, but there’s more to be excavated.

  • Benedict Anderson, The Fate of Rural Hell: Asceticism and Desire in Buddhist Thailand
  • It is hard to imagine a better title than the one this sui generis book has. This was ostensibly banned in Thailand, though copies were openly being sold here – maybe a new cover is enough for authorities not to notice? A lovely little book – I wish Anderson had written more like it.

  • Christian Kracht, Imperium: A Fiction of the South Seas, translated by Daniel Bowles
  • Read because I was interested in island utopias. Marred by solecisms from the first page: it’s as ludicrous to describe people as “Malaysian” forty years before the country was created as it is to describe “tiny little cubes of mangosteen”. Maybe the first of these came in translation; the narrative voice is sloppy, and a good editor could have strongly improved this book.

  • Dexter Palmer, The Dream of Perpetual Motion
  • Read because I liked Version Control so much; the steam-punk set-up initially scared me off, but there’s a lot to like here: voices from J R and Harold Bloom’s pick-up lines filter through, among many others. I have the sensse that Palmer’s best work is ahead of him.

  • Claudio Magris, Danube, translated by Patrick Creagh
  • Feeling very late to this. So many pointers to things that are probably worth reading that I will not get to any time soon.

  • Ben Lerner, 10:04
  • I’m not sure why I like Geoff Dyer when he does this kind of writing and find myself put off by others writing in his footsteps: not very convinced by this.

  • Paul Beatty, The Sellout
  • Embarrassed I didn’t know Beatty’s work before this: it’s astonishing that a novel so much in Ishmael Reed’s tradition could reach such a mass audience. Will be digging into his past work.

  • Michael Allen Zell, Law & Desire
  • I’m interested in the trajectory of Zell’s career: starting as an experimentalist wearing avant-garde influences on his sleeves, he’s moved into regionalism via a detective series. I don’t know New Orleans at all, so it’s hard for me to judge his success. Still worth watching: he’s using the local to build, in small steps, to something bigger.

Films

  • Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve

Exhibits

  • “Latin Implosion!,” Anita Shapolsky Gallery
  • “Agnès Varda,” Blum & Poe, New York
  • “Breuer Revisited: New Photographs by Luisa Lambri and Bas Princen,” Met Breuer
  • “Lygia Pape: A Multitude of Forms,” Met Breuer
  • “Marsden Hartley’s Maine,” Met Breuer
  • “Marisa Metz: The Sky Is a Great Space,” Met Breuer
  • “Paradise of Exiles: Early Photography in Italy,” Met
  • “The Mysterious Landscapes of Hercules Segers,” Met
  • “Mimmo Rotella,” Gladstone Gallery
  • “The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin,” Jewish Museum
  • “Charlemagne Palestine’s Bear Mitzvah in Meshugahland,” Jewish Museum
  • “Time and Cosmos in Greco-Roman Antiquity,” Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
  • “Frédéric Bazille and the Birth of Impressionism,” National Gallery, Washington, D.C.
  • “Theaster Gates: The Minor Arts,” National Gallery, Washington, D.C.
  • “Connections: Contemporary Craft at the Renwick Gallery,” Renwick Gallery, Washington, D.C.
  • “Company School Painting in India (ca. 1770–1850),” Met
  • “Collecting the Arts of Mexico,” Met
  • “An Artist of Her Time: Y. G. Srimati and the Indian Style,” Met
  • “Seurat’s Circus Sideshow,” Met
  • “Caravaggio’s Last Two Paintings,” Met
  • Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum

march 16–31, 2017

Books

  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman, With Her in Ourland
  • Somehow I’d never read this! Or even known that it had a sequel. (There’s another utopian novel that she wrote before Herland, which I’ll probably look into, though I think it’s unconnected.) The sequel is interestingly conflicted: a woman comes back frok Herland married to the dopey narrator of that book, an apologist for America, and is disappointed by the WWI-era world she finds. It’s hard to tell if she knows that the problem is her terrible husband? The unreliable narrator keeps these two books interesting (and funnier than you might imagine). A useful project would be re-writing these two books every fifty years.

  • Samuel R. Delany, Tales of Nevèrÿon
  • A re-read: something was reminding me of this? I don’t remember what. It does tie in well with the Gilman books. I read the whole sequence at once & my memory is taken up by the third volume’s shift to 1980s New York; but there’s something compelling about even the first volume here. Will keep re-reading.

  • Raduan Nassar, A Cup of Rage, translated by Stefan Tobler
  • This turned up in Bangkok unexpectedly (though vexingly without Nassar’s other novel); I kind of wish I had a little more context. Was Thomas Bernhard being translated into Portuguese? Did Nassar read German? Or is this some kind of convergent evolution? My knowledge of Brazilian fiction is so sparse as to make it impossible for me to say anything intelligible about this.

  • Bob Stanley, Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop
  • Filling in time: I don’t think I’ve ever read a general history of pop music, and this one seemed decent.

  • Dexter Palmer, Version Control
  • Karen An-hwei Lee, Sonata in K
  • (writing more about this soon.)

  • Tony Tulathimutte, Private Citizens
  • It’s odd to find someone who can turn the tech world into interestingly written fiction. I can’t think of anyone besides Henry James who can get away with using the expression “hung fire”; I also like how the ending seems like a recasting of Nathanael West’s A Cool Million. Setting it in 2007 makes the occasional anachronisms here more visible to me; but this is a strong book & I’m curious where Tulathimutte goes next.

Movies

  • Don’t Bother to Knock, directed by Roy Ward Baker
  • Mayor of the Sunset Strip, dir. George Hickenlooper
  • La messa è finita, dir. Nanni Moretti
  • Palombella rossa, dir. Nanni Moretti
  • Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, dir. Declan Lowney

Galleries

  • “Wei Yifeng: Action In/Action,” Serindia Gallery
  • “Investigating Inspirations,” Thavibu Art
  • “Photo·synthesis,” Tentacles

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

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

november 1–15, 2016

Books

  • Mohsin Hamid, Exit West
  • Iris Murdoch, A Severed Head
  • Georges Simenon, Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett, translated by Daphne Woodward
  • Iris Murdoch, The Flight from the Enchanter
  • Grace Chia, The Cuckoo Conundrum
  • George Szirtes, Singapore Notebook & Blessed Isle
  • Yong Shu Hoong, Right of the Soil
  • Jean Tay, Saint
  • Timothy O’Grady & Anthony Lott, Belfast
  • Ben Watt, Patient: The True Story of a Rare Illness

Exhibits

  • Singapore Biennale, Singapore Art Museum
  • “Port Cities: Multicultural Emporiums of Asia, 1500–1900,” Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore

Films

  • Into the Inferno, directed by Werner Herzog