Tired of reading the same recommended books from the usual sources? Just think of our weekly What We’re Reading column as your non-committal book club with The FADER and some of your favorite bands. For this installment, Senior Editor Amber Bravo, gives us her top picks.
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann: I finished reading The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach a couple of weeks ago, but Schnipper already reviewed it, so I’ll just reiterate by saying it’s a great read. Reading Harbach’s book, though, I was reminded of Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella Death in Venice. Like TAOF, Mann traces the story of an old, heralded writer, Gustav von Aschenbach, who falls morbidly in love with a young boy he sees while on holiday at the beach. His passion (obviously unconsummated—Mann was ahead of his time, but not that ahead!) is simultaneously life giving and soul crushing. Or maybe it’s better said the other way around. He becomes so enthralled with the young boy Tadzio (Mann goes to great lengths explaining mellifluousness of his name), stalking him around Venice and disregarding the multiple health notices posted throughout the city. (It’s unclear at first, but a cholera epidemic has overtaken the city). Aschenbach contracts the disease, and dies (the title serves as a sufficient spoiler alert) watching Tadzio wade into the water, before casting a backward glance at his pedophilic admirer. It’s an odd but engrossing read, and it’ll probably delight anyone who has read or is planning to read TAOF. If you don’t feel like reading it, the Italian director Luchino Visconti adapted it as a film in the ’70s. He does manage to capture Aschenbach’s desperate, pathetic infatuation really well, but I remember not liking the movie as much as I liked the novella. There all sorts of Nietzschean references in the book, but you’d be better served reading Wikipedia for that involved synopsis. While your there, why not help a guy out?
In America: A Novel by Susan Sontag: Susan Sontag is one of the writers who, when writing fiction, has to reiterate the fact that it is fiction. Best known for her speeches and non-fiction essays and criticism, In America is one of the few works she produced that ranged out of her comfort zone. In America apparently won The National Book Award in 2000, though I don’t think it’s a remarkable book. That said, I’m a huge sucker for historical novels, especially if any part of them takes place in the city I live in. This book is set during the last half of the 19th century and is about a Polish actress named Maryna, who convinces her husband and a group of friends to move to move to America and start a phalanstery in California. That’s her word not mine. Essentially, their goal is to create a Brook Farm-style commune based on the teachings of Charles Fourier. I’m only halfway through the book, but I’m guessing that things aren’t going to work out with the commune (they rarely do), but I’m still enjoying all the little historical tidbits, and I like imagining what it was like to arrive in New York during that time and to imagine what Anaheim (a city very close to my father’s hometown Whittier, California) was like when it was settled by a bunch of German settlers bent on becoming vintners. Sontag must’ve done a lot of research for this book, but it comes off a little stiff and winky. Apparently she was inspired by the real life story of the Polish actress Helena Modjeska. I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better if she’d just written a biography.
Dieter Rams: As Little Design As Possible by Klaus Kemp: Dieter Rams designed one of the most beautiful record players in the world. Hands down. The Braun SK-4 record player would potentially be what Apple might make if they went analogue. Certainly, Steve Jobs took to heart Rams’ “less but better” ethos. Rams was the design director at Braun for 40 years, during which he made a number of fantastic electronic products and solidified the brand as being pretty much unmatchable for quality and style. He wanted to emphasize that his products be fun and easy to use. He enjoyed a long and fruitful career at Braun designing everything there from audio equipment to lighters. This book is beautifully photographed, and true to Rams’ style: Simple, elegant and easy to navigate. Just looking through it makes you want to rush over to eBay and pretend like you might be able to bid. Rams is famously quoted as saying that good designers “should—and must—question everything generally thought to be obvious.” The sentiment shouldn’t be limited to designers.
Braun SK-4 Record Player
Next on my list, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.