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What We're Reading: Matthew Schnipper

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, editor-in-chief Matthew Schnipper looks at three recent readings. The image is—along with all those to come—is the author's own.

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
This is a beautiful book and I am so bummed to be done with it. I happened to read it during the same time as the lead up and release of Yeezus and I’ve found the novel and album tangled together in my thoughts, as they are the two big pieces of art I’ve been living with the past few weeks. Both are crushingly powerful and have quite a way with words (though Kanye is really not fucking with Rachel Kushner’s lyricism, admittedly it’s peas and carrots to compare prose and rap). But it’s been a pleasure to see how one informs the other. Both briefly feature Nina Simone, a favorite artist of mine. The Flamethrowers’ use of her, as having shot a fictitious young artist with a gun she pulls out of a bathrobe, prompted me to think of Chris Burden, the sculptor who himself was shot in an art gallery as a performance. This is the kind of silly shit that I love, that is the endeavor of crazy people who are on another plane than you or me and that help me experience life. Who the fuck wants to get shot in the arm? And who decides it’s art? The same person who says he is Steve Jobs and the same person who writes something as mind-blowingly ambitious as The Flamethrowers. Ok that’s being a little dramatic, but as someone who loves words I found myself repeatedly stunned by the language in this book. One paragraph about an older Italian woman and I am pretty sure it is the most stunning character description I’ve ever read:

"She had been at a beauty salon in Bellagio in the afternoon, and I could see that her hair was sprung a bit too tightly. She wore a long, brocaded tunic like something purchased from a Turkish bazaar, with espadrilles whose constricting ties crisscrossed up her ankles, as if the ribbons were meant to compensate for the swollen and blotchy appearance of her old legs. She seated herself, touching the curls that clung to her scalp like Mongolian lamb's wool. It was obvious she had been beautiful when she was young, with eyes that were the splendid gold-green of muscat grapes. She was in her seventies now, her complexion like wet flour, clammy and pale, with the exception of her nose, which had a curiously dark cast to it, a shadow of black under the thin tarp of skin, as if her nose had trapped toxins from a lifetime of rich food and heavy wines."

Even writing about this sloppily now is making me have a insecurity heart attack but this is just gorgeous writing. It’s wonderfully evocative, unique, sophisticated and just kind of funny. The entire novel is a similar pleasure to read, not just in terms of poetry, but in its soaring plot construction and assortment of vivid characters. Oh, the plot: it’s about a young woman nicknamed Reno (she’s from Reno) who rides motorcycles and falls in with a set of other artists and sort of artists in the late 1970s. It also touches on radical Italian politics. But mostly it shows the life of one woman and her journey back and forth from empowerment to subjugation, and how strange it can be to shuffle between the two, and to sometimes see them thrown in the pit together. Towards the end of the book it briefly switches voices and takes the tone of a young boy kind of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man-ishly and I’m not positive I understood everything but I also didn’t care. I wanted to feel the words and to me that’s the best sign of a piece of good art, when who cares what it means, just give it to me.

“The Way Back” by Carl Phillips
I read this poem (in its entirety here) in college and revisit it every few years when something reminds me of it, as a particular exchange did recently. Phillips is one of strongest poets I’ve ever read (though I’m far from an expert) and this is my favorite of his poems. Its literal subject is simple: two people are walking and they come across a dead bird, which one person picks up and shows to the other. But, to me, it’s so much about intimacy and primordial closeness, two people’s connection and how generally mystifying and fucked up it is to be alive.

The New Yorker
Hey, huge surprise, I read The New Yorker. But sometimes when things seem super obvious that’s worth parsing. Honestly, I have not been reading tons of books lately. Before The Flamethrowers I had read about half of Zadie Smith’s NW, which I put down beside my bed, hoping at some point to finish, and it’s sat there for months, literally gathering dust. I do hope to finish it at some point, but it felt interminable which really made me sad. So I’ve just been reading magazines, and mostly The New Yorker. I got into magazines because I’m a curious person and have always wanted to know how things worked. As a young kid I remember talking to a friend about how some toy had been made, all of the decisions that must go into the creation of something so small. He looked at me like, What are you talking about and said he did not think like that and I was surprised. I don’t think it’s considerably unique to have a curiousity about the universe, but I guess not everyone does. The New Yorker does and fortunately they also have some kind of insane budget to send a bunch of geniuses to wherever the fuck to meditate on whatever and then they send it to my house once a week. I’ve been lucky enough to meet a few New Yorker writers the past few years and they have given me zero insight into how this publication actually comes together. We make FADER once every two months and it is not easy. This is some miracle worker shit and I am grateful for it so I can learn about filibusters, Syria and weird lion cats. In the current issue, pictured, John McPhee writes an essay about how he is obsessed with collecting stray golf balls. Why not?

What We're Reading: Matthew Schnipper