Five Things I Liked This Week

1. “It’s Adventure Time” by Maria Bustillos (The Awl)

So, you all know how much I love Adventure Time. There was no way I wasn’t going to enjoy this hyper-longform article.

 

2. “The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie” by John Jeremiah Sullivan (The New York Times Magazine)

I’m pretty sure I just talked about my admiration for John Jeremiah Sullivan last week (?) but this is a new thing by him and it’s very good and also interactive!

 

3. “No Second Thoughts” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Uh, just a random Tom Petty B-side that I’ve had in my head all week.

 

4. “Is It Time For Us To Take Astrology Seriously?” by Amanda Petrusich (Buzzfeed)

I’ve gotten really into astrology during the last year, which surprises me since I was disdainful of it even when I read my horoscope in teen magazines as a kid. But many of my friends are interested in astrology and after absorbing stuff from them, I’ve gone from skeptical and belittling to very curious. Horoscopes and astral charts don’t change the uncertainty of the future, but it’s fun to pretend that we have even the tiniest bit of an idea of what’s going to happen.

 

5. Easter candy! I have been binge-eating chocolate all week, mostly at my desk, where I keep a stash in my drawer. Every time I want a piece of candy, I quietly open my drawer and look around to see if any of my co-workers are watching me. Then, I take out ONLY ONE piece of candy, which I quietly unwrap and put in my mouth. Finally, I place the wrapper in my garbage and then worry about whether anyone heard the wrapper crinkling. I complete this exact process 10-20 times during the workday, usually between the hours of 11 and 4.

 

 

Every Book I’ve Read So Far This Year (And Whether Or Not You Should Read Them, Too)

Finally! The first quarter of the year has passed and I can share the first of my reading roundups. I did not, as I had anticipated, start this year in reading off with a bang. It’s been hard for me to keep my usual pace, but I was able to get through a bunch of books, some of which I’ll recommend that you read!

JANUARY

hild

Hild by Nicola Griffith

What’s it about?

Hild is a historical novel, the imagined story of St. Hilda of Whitby, an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who became instrumental in converting England to Christianity during the 7th century.

Did I like this book?

Yes. It wasn’t a page-turner, but it’s one of the best examples of historical fiction I’ve encountered in a while. I was really impressed with the period details and the amount of research that undoubtedly went into this book.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

I’ve encountered few characters as complex and fascinating as Hild. She’s obviously the main event, but I think it’s worth noting that Griffith does an incredible job developing Hild. Also, the world of the Anglo-Saxons was not something I was intimately familiar with and I really enjoyed getting lost in Griffith’s imagining of it.

I highly recommend this novel to lovers of historical fiction or, even, fantasy, since the setting has a lot in common with something like The Mists of Avalon. 

***

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart

What’s it about?

This is about the life of Gary Shteyngart, author of novels such as The Russian Debutante’s Handbook and Absurdistan, as told by Gary Shteyngart himself.

Did I like this book?

I did. I liked it more than his novels. I thought it was funny and touching and I wrote a little something about all that here.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

If you’ve read his other work and liked it, definitely! If you’re not a Shteyngart fan, I’d probably skip it. But if you’re neutral and also happen to be a writer looking for inspiration or just like funny memoirs, you should check it out.

***

FEBRUARY

Berlin: City of Smoke by Jason Lutes

What’s it about?

This is the second volume in a planned trilogy of graphic novels about Berlin during the Weimar Era. This chapter takes place after the 1929 May Day demonstration, picking up with main characters, art student Marthe Muller and journalist Karl Severing, in addition to several other Berliners. The focus here is not only on the tense political climate, but also on Berlin’s nightlife and party scene.

Did I like this book?

I didn’t like it as much as I liked the first volume, Berlin: City of Stone. (You should start with that one anyway.)

Should you read it? Why or why not?

If you’ve read the first volume, well, you’re probably going to read this eventually. I highly recommend reading the first volume to anyone who is interested in German culture, the Weimar period, or World War II, as I think Lutes does a really fantastic job of portraying what it was like to live in Berlin – across class, religion, gender, and race – in the decade before the war.

***

Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel

What’s it about?

Bechdel explores her relationship with her mother and her understanding of herself through psychotherapy in this graphic memoir.

Did I like this book?

I loved this. Many of you may have read Bechdel’s Fun Home, which I liked very much when I read it. However, there were things about Are You My Mother? that I related to on a much deeper level, specifically the exploration of the mother-daughter relationship and the focus on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yes. Especially if you’ve ever been in therapy for a significant period of time. Also if you’ve ever had a mother.

 

***

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

What’s it about?

This book, based on the blog of the same name, is a collection of graphic essays about cartoonist and writer Allie Brosh’s life.

Did I like this book?

As I had expected, this book made me laugh. It also made me feel a lot of other things, which I wrote about here. And Brosh’s ability to tell a story in her own unique way makes me feel not-a-little-bit jealous.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Yeah! I mean, if you hate reading about someone struggling in the funniest way possible, don’t. But otherwise, yes.

***

MARCH

Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

What’s it about?

This novella is the story of how a man was murdered in a Caribbean backwater.

Did I like this book?

I did not. I felt it was heavy-handed and surprisingly boring for a short book about murder. I wanted to think it was good, probably because of who wrote it, but…it was frankly a chore to get through and I’m pretty sure I only finished it because we read it for book club.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

No. For the reasons I stated above.

***

We Think the World of You by J.R. Ackerley

What’s it about?

Frank, a middle-aged London man, attempts to connect with his lover Johnny, a married, working class man who has been jailed for theft, by caring for his beloved dog Evie. In the process, he must navigate relationships with Johnny’s wife and mother and sort out his growing attachment to Evie.

Did I like this book?

Yes? I think. I read this while I was at jury duty on-and-off over three weeks because I was reading a non-fiction book at home, so I had kind of a slow and weird experience with this one.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone. I thought it was a bit difficult to get through and, at times, made me uneasy. But I think if the premise sounds interesting to you, you should give it a try.

***

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson

What’s it about?

Oh, God. Okay. It’s about an elderly Chicago man, a Holocaust survivor named Ben Solomon, who decides that another elderly Chicago man, another Holocaust survivor who is a wealthy philanthropist named Elliot Rosenzweig, is actually a man he grew up with named Otto Piatek, a Nazi known as “the butcher of Zamosc.” From there, the reader experiences both a modern-day legal drama as Ben sues “Otto” over stolen property and the story of Ben’s experience during the Holocaust.

Did I like this book?

To be honest, this was one of the worst books I’ve read in a very long time, if not ever. It’s not all bad, but…much of it is. The way the story is told is ridiculous, as most of the stuff that takes place in the past is told in dialogue. Pages and pages of dialogue. Also, the history is super basic. (Like a character who is supposed to be smart asks what a ghetto is because she doesn’t know. And that’s just one offensive detail.) And I could have done without the legal drama, which seems jammed in here merely because the author was looking for a way to make this about the law, as he himself is a lawyer.

Should you read it? Why or why not?

Nope. Don’t do it. If you find yourself wanting to pick it up, just call me and I’ll recommend another book. (Even another book in the same genre, if you want!)

Another Green World

On Friday, I posted five things I liked from last week. One of those things, a FACT mix from British shoegaze band Slowdive, was published a month ago and included mostly decades-old songs that have inspired them. One of my favorite tracks on the mix was their former collaborator Brian Eno’s “The Big Ship” from his 1975 album Another Green World.

 

 

I should have listened to Another Green World a long time ago. I think, perhaps, I did listen to it once or twice, when I was methodically listening to “great” albums from the 1970s a while back. But that was an overwhelming process that left me with little appreciation for more than a few albums. I instead collected the tracks I liked and created a giant 1970s playlist that I listened to for the better part of a year. A few Eno albums were represented on that playlist – tracks from Here Come the Warm Jets and Before and After Science stick out in my mind - but not Another Green World.

I decided to give Another Green World another shot last week. I don’t know if “giving it another shot” is really the proper phrasing to use, because it’s not like I was dreading listening to it or anything. It’s more that I feel sometimes that it’s “too late” for me to get into certain music. I’m glad I didn’t let that hold me back, though, because I’ve listened to this album over and over again for days.

 

 

Another Green World is Eno’s first big foray into ambient electronic music, but there are still a few great pop songs on here. My favorites – for now, at least – would be “St. Elmo’s Fire” and “Golden Hours.” But I don’t find that I’m playing the pop songs or the few songs that have lyrics on repeat, as I’d probably tend to do with other mostly instrumental albums. I’m enjoying the experience of listening to the album as a whole. It feels like the perfect soundtrack not only for this transitional season, but also for this period in my life, which I believe I’ve described as “transitional” more than once during the past few weeks. So it seems that it wasn’t too late for me to get into Another Green World. It’s exactly the right time.

Five Things I Liked This Week

I feel like I can’t remember anything I’ve done during the past month-ish. It’s all a blur. I was mentally making a list of all of the things I liked during that time, but I seem to have forgotten it. So. Here we are.

I think these are five things I liked this week. Some of these are not new? I don’t know.

 

1. Dirtbag Anne of Green Gables (The Toast)

Mallory Ortberg is a perfect human and so are all of her teenage dirtbags.

 

2. “2 On” – Tinashe ft. Schoolboy Q

 

 

3. “Seeing The ‘Game of Thrones’ Cast As Normal Humans Is Still Completely Mesmerizing” and “25 Things They Altered For TV In ‘Game of Thrones’ That Will Change the Way You Watch It” (Buzzfeed)

 

4. FACT mix 430: Slowdive

A lot of good reminders on here of songs and artists I’ve loved (and still love).

 

 

5. “Back in the Day” by John Jeremiah Sullivan (GQ)

I was reminded not once but twice  this week of this essay on Michael Jackson, which is so wonderful. (I’m honestly considering rereading Pulphead today.)

Old Folks: Katie Cruel

The first time I heard “Katie Cruel” was about two years ago, when I bought 1966, a release of a found tape that Karen Dalton recorded in a Colorado cabin forty-plus years ago. The song haunted me for weeks. I remember listening to it in my bedroom, on the subway, in my parents’ empty house where I found myself alone one weekend and therefore able sing it over and over again at full volume with only our family dog to hear me.

“Katie Cruel” is the lament of a woman who was once desired and has discovered that that is no longer true. (The first verse: “When I first came to town, they called me the roving jewel / Now they’ve changed their tune, call me Katie Cruel”). I, like many others who have been captured by Karen Dalton’s music, was taken by how much the song mirrored Dalton’s life. A fixture on the 1960s Greenwich Village folk circuit, she recorded two albums, released in 1969 and 1971. (“Katie Cruel” was released on her first album, In My Own Time.) Battling addiction issues for much of her life, she disappeared from the scene and died in 1993 under still murky circumstances.

 

 

Though I’ll always think of “Katie Cruel” as Karen Dalton’s song, it’s much older, possibly dating back to the time of the American Revolution. I’ve read a lot of conflicting accounts of the source material, but it seems to have been developed from a Scottish song called “The Lichtbob’s Lassie,” about a camp follower. (The best roundup I’ve found of recordings and sources is here.) Unlike many of the American folk songs we still remember, “Katie Cruel” never really became a standard. But it has been recorded widely, especially as more people have become acquainted with Dalton’s version more recently.

I’ve searched for recordings of the song and other versions pretty extensively and I always end up liking the ones influenced by Dalton the most.

Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes has covered the song quite a bit. I like this live version in particular.

 

 

I also like this cover by Danish singer-songwriter Agnes Obel.

 

 

Further reading:

Laura Barton, “The Best Singer You’ve Never Heard Of” (The Guardian)
Mairead Case, “Karen Dalton, Roving Jewel” (Bookslut)
Joel Rose, “Karen Dalton: A Reluctant Voice, A Voice Rediscovered” (NPR)