Friday Reads: All of the Profiles

Friday Reads: “Outside In” by Kathryn Schulz (on Nell Zink) & “Meaning Machines” by Calvin Tomkins (on Charles Ray) (The New Yorker) 

I go through phases with The New Yorker. Sometimes, I try to “catch up” on the pile that sits on an armchair in my bedroom. Other times, I throw away any issue that is older than two weeks, its presence an awful reminder of all the time I spent watching The Shahs of Sunset instead of reading. I’m going through a catching up phase right now and am happy to report that I am only a few weeks behind. Anyway, my relationship with The New Yorker is not really the thing I want to tell you about. (Well, I sort of do, obviously, because that’s what I started talking about in the first place, but never mind.) Rather, I wanted to tell you about profiles that I read about two different artists, both of which I’ve been thinking about a lot this week.

The first is Kathryn Schulz’s profile of Nell Zink, the author of The Wallcreeper and now Mislaid, which came out this month. She is notable for her age (51), residence (Bad Belzig, Germany), and not giving a fuck about American publishing or really America in general. (She is American.) The thing I found the most interesting about Zink is that since she was a child, she has felt inferior and incapable of writing that would measure up to novels she considers great. She wrote only for herself or small audiences until The Wallcreeper was published last year. I related to her on that level, not feeling like your work is worth sharing. Otherwise, I simply enjoyed reading about her surprising life and interests.

I also read Calvin Tomkins’ profile of the sculptor Charles Ray, which very much made me want to see the exhibition of his work that opened at the Art Institute of Chicago this month. Ray’s mid-to-late career work pushes the boundaries of modern sculpture while employing techniques from the past. And no piece speaks to this more than his “Huck and Jim,” a life-size, nude representation of the characters from from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, that was first proposed for the plaza outside the new Whitney Museum and ultimately rejected. (It’s on display for the first time at the Art Institute.)  The behind-the-scenes look at how Ray creates sculptures like “Huck and Jim,” as well as the quiet story of how he became a great artist, made this profile unputdownable for me.


And here’s what I was reading elsewhere…

This inside look at Lilly Pulitzer’s headquarters in King of Prussia, PA and the apology Lilly Pulitzer had to issue after someone noticed – and alerted the internet to – fat-shaming cartoons that were pinned up inside one employee’s cubicle. (New York Magazine; BuzzFeed)

Everything that Gawker published about the Duggars, the Quiverfull movement, and the Advanced Training Institute method of homeschooling.

Frank Bruni on Catholics and same-sex marriage. (NYT)

The Frugal Traveler’s “$1,000 Day in Paris for $100.” (NYT)

Brit Bennett’s beautiful “Addy Walker, American Girl.” (The Paris Review)

And another profile, this one on the hard-to-define country music star Kacey Musgraves. (The Fader)


Finally, here is the video for Lil Mama’s “Sausage,” which has been overwhelming me since I watched it for the first time earlier today. Have a great weekend!

Some Kind of Mojo

Last night, after a long day spent mostly outside, I settled in to watch The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir, a documentary about the Grateful Dead guitarist that’s now on Netflix. I’ve been, I guess, a casual Grateful Dead fan since I was in high school (you can read something about that here) and found the film to be equal parts entertaining and enlightening. Weir will never have the legacy and cult status of Jerry Garcia – the title of the film alludes to that – but he remains an incredibly talented and dedicated musician who had just as much to do with the development and ultimate success of the Grateful Dead as any other member. Unsurprisingly, I’ve been revisiting some old favorites today and thought about sharing something from History of the Grateful Dead, Volume One, an album that was very important to me as a teenager. Or perhaps “Sugar Magnolia,” which is probably the best-known Dead song penned by Weir. But then I remembered one thing that struck me while watching the documentary last night: images and footage from the Dead’s three-night stand near the pyramids in Giza, Egypt in 1978.

Basically, the idea for the trip evolved from the band’s – specifically bassist Phil Lesh’s – fascination with “playing at places of power,” i.e. locations that had more cosmic energy that the musicians and their audience could tap into. Lesh reported that he felt that there was “some kind of mojo about the pyramids.” In 1976, with the help of concert promoter Bill Graham, the band started to work on a plan to get into Egypt. They ended up using other contacts, well-connected Americans who had worked at the American University in Beirut, to help them present their proposal to play at the pyramids to the Egyptian government. Lesh spoke with a deputy culture minister, who as it turned out, completely understood his feeling that “music changes when you play in different places.” And so, that’s how the Dead ended up rocking the pyramids in April 1978, with all of the shows’ proceeds going to Egypt’s Department of Antiquities.

I think this event was a particularly cool moment in the history of the band, an example of how they used history and mysticism to further their own sound and image. I’m looking forward to researching it some more this week. (And listening to the live album covering the shows from April 15 and 16 – Rocking the Cradle, Egypt 1978 – which was released in 2008.)

Finally, here is a very good cover of the magazine Relix from February 1979 with an image of Bob Weir in front of a pyramid.


Sources Consulted:
Haas, Charlie. “Still Grateful After All These Years: In Which the Grateful Dead of the Haight-Ashbury Become the House Band of the Certain Age of Doom.” The Grateful Dead Reader. Ed. Davide G. Dodd and Diana Spaulding. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. 133-134.

Friday Reads: Very Long

Friday Read: Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens

I’ve long been a fan of Charles Dickens, but starting a new Dickens novel is always intimidating to me, as I know it will be about a six week commitment. That’s why Dombey and Son has been sitting on my shelf since I bought it for $6 at a Borders that was going out of business in 2011. I just started it earlier this week, picking it off of my shelf because I had an urge to read a long novel with lots of characters that wasn’t a recent iteration of the “VLN.” (Also, I figured I should read it before I reread Bleak House, which is something I want to do soon.) I’m only about an eighth of the way through and hoping it doesn’t go too deep into the shipping industry or nautical instruments because then I might have to put it down. As usual, I’m delighted by Dickens’ character names and descriptions, which is making reading Dombey and Son more than worth it so far. (Favorite character names: Miss Lucretia Tox and Polly Toodle; Favorite description: “But the Major, with his complexion like a Stilton cheese, and his eyes like a prawn’s…”)


Other stuff?

Well, I linked to this above, but here’s something on “The Year of the Very Long Novel.” (Vulture)

I read “An Interview With @SoSadToday” last week and this week found out her identity. (The Awl; Rolling Stone)

This profile on Judy Blume made me nostalgic for my days as an adolescent bookworm and made me feel like I should just write the damn book I’ve been thinking about for so long. (NYT)

Jami Attenberg’s essay on viral fame reminded me that internet fame does not sell books. (BuzzFeed)

Pete Wells made me smile during a brutally boring day with his review of Javelina. (NYT)

This piece on the making of Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” brought back memories of many a summer road trip with my dad, who is very fond of that song. (WSJ)

I will read anything about New York City’s affordable and public housing situations. “The Plan to Save Public Housing” is new and good. (The Awl)

I usually save music for Mondays, but “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” was officially released this week and I can’t stop listening to it.

On a related note, I read two pieces on Jamie xx and his new album, In Color, this week:

“Taking Shelter in Loud Places” (Pitchfork)

“One Last Rave” (TNY)

And if you read “One Last Rave,” here’s Mark Leckey’s “Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore” (which I had never seen before, so!):

Several Stories High: Songs From Mad Men

My fellow fans know that Mad Men did not lack for musical moments. Some songs simply gave us historical context for an episode. Others conveyed the show’s sense of irony. And many served as proxies for the central meaning or conflict of an episode (or entire season). Mad Men has, kind of unexpectedly, been a source of music discovery for me as long as it’s been on television, turning me on to forgotten pop hits and artists I’d long ignored because of my far remove from the era in which the show is set.

So. In honor of the series finale of Mad Men, I’ve created a playlist of my favorite songs that were used in some way, either playing in the background of scenes or as finales that played over the closing credits. (I have to credit Basket of Kisses and TuneFind for helping me find many of these songs.)

Friday Reads: Crime Wave

Friday Read: People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry

I just finished reading People Who Eat Darkness – full title People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo–and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up – for this month’s book club. I highly recommend it to fans of true crime and also to people who want to read sentences like, “The summer brought out the fart smell of Tokyo’s shallow sewers, an unexpected stench of the Third World, which blended with the smoke of pizzas, grilled chicken, fish, and perfume.” Parry investigates the 2000 disappearance of Lucie Blackman, a British twenty-one year-old who worked as a hostess in a Tokyo club. The story is chilling and not what I expected at all (in a good way). I almost couldn’t put it down, but I was a very busy lady this week.

I have the true crime genre on the brain. My younger brother, who is home for the summer, didn’t exactly ask me to tell him what to read in his downtime, but he was looking for good books in our parents’ house and I felt very strongly about him not reading The Great Gatsby, which I hate, so I told him to pick up Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi. I can picture the yellowed paperback, the same copy I devoured while lifeguarding the summer after my freshman year of college, on my dad’s bookshelf. Even though I would count it among the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read, I’ve never really wanted to revisit Helter Skelter. Reading about the Manson Family murders and trial made me feel literally crazy. However, now it’s on my mind and I’m thinking maybe I’ll get my own copy to read this summer. If only the experience could be similar to the one I had the first time around, reading poolside at the country club where I worked and also at another country club where I was a member, where I spent all of my free time tanning on a lounge chair. But alas, those days are gone.

Otherwise, I have Mad Men on the brain. And not just because of that theory a few years ago about how Megan is actually Sharon Tate or whatever. The series finale airs on Sunday and I feel like everything I’ve read on the internet this week has been about the show. I haven’t been too interested in trying to figure out what’s going to happen in the finale. Rather, I’ve enjoyed reading TV writers and fans reminiscing about the experience of watching the show. (I’m enjoying privately reminiscing about my own Mad Men-watching experiece.) Today, I’ve been working my way through Kate Authur’s ranking of every Mad Men episode “from good to perfect” on BuzzFeed. I also liked Matt Zoller Seitz on How the Mad Men Pilot Predicted the Final Episodes of the Series.”

That’s all I’ve got for this Friday. Come back next week to read more about what I’ve been reading (or not reading).

I’ll leave you with a question: If you could be any Don Draper lady love, who would you be?

(I would be Dr. Faye Miller.)