Prefuse 73 – Pagina Ocho

More books from 2011.

No Such Thing as Silence by Kyle Gann

Found this through Alex Ross’s blog. Kyle Gann’s book is a long examination of John Cage’s 4’33”, both the piece itself and its impact on experimental and popular music. Gann starts with an account of the first performance in Woodstock, NY, by David Tudor, and then moves into Cage’s biography. From there the book gets more interesting, especially in the sections, later on, where Gann lists the factors and people that might’ve influenced Cage’s ideas about the piece. Some of the best and most interesting passages in this are quotes from Cage’s own writings (which led me to get the 50th anniversary edition of Cage’s “Silence” from Wesleyan University Press, definitely worthwhile), or from anecdotes about the composer. Cage later on in his life said something like, “I listen to it every day. I turn my attention toward it.” Good introduction to Cage and his work, and a decent overview of some of the scenes he was involved with (Black Mountain College, the beginnings of Zen studies in America).


The Seamstress and the Wind by César Aira

Saw this book in the store and couldn’t resist buying it. Slim, pretty, and the name sounded familiar. Very glad I took a chance on it. This book, which is only 132 pages long, is beyond weird, though extremely funny too, and it reminded me of Thomas Bernhard’s work, but more like the silly, goofy, amiable analogue to Bernhard’s bitter/demented characters, morbidly humorous situations, and bleak/annihilating landscapes. Veers close to magical realism, but not quite, it felt more like the inventive and fantastic stuff that pops up in Oulipo works sometimes, or maybe like Flann O’Brien’s novels in his more out-there moments. I read this in my office at work, when I was supposed to be doing something else, and I think that only added to my enjoyment of it. This is a small book for a small space and for a small amount of time. Wonderful. Aira’s “An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter” is next on the list.


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Books first, then music

Belle and Sebastian – Wrapped Up in Books

In thinking about the books I read in 2011, I realized that my reading habits took me all over the place, and that I will fixate, unhealthily sometimes, on one author’s work for long stretches. I also realized that my reading activities have a weirdly normative/moral aspect, where, if I abandon a book in the middle of reading it for another book that I feel more excited about, I worry about the first book, and always make sure I go back to finish it before starting another new one. Actually, not always. There was one point where I was having nested affairs with several books at once: one at home, one in my desk at work, and one in the car (audiobook, obviously), and it was a race to see which one would be finished first. So promiscuous. I didn’t read as many books as I thought I had in 2011, though one of the reasons for that has to do with a trilogy of novels I read in the summer, and my predilection for re-reading old favorites when I’m between books. Here are a couple I felt strongly about, with more to come later this week.

The Sicily Papers by Michelle Orange

A book that’s really a series of letters, addressed to the mysterious B, written while the author was in Sicily and Italy in 2003. The best possible postcards anyone could hope to receive, the letters are funny, silly, serious, meditative, romantic, ridiculous, often all within one paragraph of a twelve paragraph chapter (letter). Reminds me of the sorts of emails you might cherish from friends who really take their time to write inventive and entertaining emails, but without being showy, i.e. the care they take is because the desire is to provide you with something special, not a desire to impress you with their writing prowess. That describes each one of Michelle Orange’s letters, which, because they are so personal, and friendly, and generous, it’s easy to forget that these were not originally written for you to read (that’s a strange effect of this book–I know there were a couple times when I suddenly felt weird about reading something that’s essentially a private document, and I had to remind myself of what it actually was–a book that someone had put together and decided to share). An intensely fun and satisfying read. The little drawings and marginalia in the letters are beyond charming.

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Those Guys Have All the Fun by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales

Mostly interesting, somewhat tedious oral history of ESPN. Listened to this one, which is maybe why I couldn’t get that into big chunks of it–a lot of these people, Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Chris Berman, have distinctive voices, ones that, presumably, you could imagine if you were reading the text. With the audiobook though, there are only two voices: one for the men and one for the women, so it kind of removes that element of being able to ‘hear’ a passage in that person’s voice. The first half of this is amazing, the material about the infancy of the company, the slapdash nature of everything they were doing, the intricacies and intrigues of the primitive pay cable world! Connecticut real estate! Programming decisions that require Solomonic wisdom! It seems like it would be boring, but the people who worked at ESPN in its early days are fascinating, weird, terrible, and funny, and all that comes through in their stories. The whole section about the rise of SportsCenter makes the book worthwhile, it’s a good examination of the personalities that made it work and established it as something special (back in the 90s).

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