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 FADER and some of your favorite bands. For this installment, senior editor Naomi Zeichner reviews what’s on her nightstand.
Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers
By Janet Malcolm
At college I majored in art, so I learned how to use a circle saw, wrote papers about rock collecting in ancient China and studied the sea change between modern and postmodern art. Ostensibly, art history classes about modern art are about actual works of art, but I remember mine as total soap operas, where we’d pit one critic against another: TJ Clark hates on Clement Greenberg, Michael Fried and TJ Clark beef, Edward Said makes everyone look stupid. It was fun to get caught up in the drama, but also nearly impossible to really identify with a lot of the writers or their ideas. (That’s the frustrating thing about college—heads up.) Recently, after reading Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and The Murderer and her perfect profile of Eileen Fisher in the New Yorker, I picked up her new collection of not-new essays. In the same spirit as my old classes, I especially enjoyed “A Girl of the Zeitgesit,” Malcolm’s 1986 piece about then-new Artforum editor Ingrid Sischy that’s also a wide portrait of the art world at that time. Malcolm goes into the homes of embattled critics like Rosalind Krauss and really reads them, exposing their writing and their furniture as self-serious and sloppy. She makes fun of how inefficiently Sischy cuts tomatoes but ultimately finds her to be nice, a “responsible, ethical young woman,” and lets the reader know she’s really disappointed by that, proving herself once more to be a better, braver writer than the critics she’s blasting. Why didn’t my professors have me read this?
By Dave Eggers
I tore through this in three days, and recommend it totally, especially if you liked The Hunger Games. But while this is a great Young Adult drama, it’s a pathetic critique of the internet’s impact on our lives. The protagonist is ridiculous—she’s a supposedly smart and creative college grad who works at the biggest company in the world, a Facebook/government hybrid on steroids. She quickly rises in the ranks, though remains totally oblivious and unbelievably separated from the insane company culture, until one day she suddenly becomes the face of that culture. She basically leaps, in a couple weeks, from refusing to do something like Instagram a picture of her weekend outing, to broadcasting her entire life to millions of users. This is supposed to be a cautionary tale, how quickly we might lose our minds in the name of a more connected, frictionless world, but it’s pretty stupid. The surveillance culture of The Circle is total science fiction, while the tech Eggers uses to illustrate its nastiness is pretty real-life, which for me, came across as him profoundly misunderstanding today’s internet. He’s tweeted twice ever—he may be weirdly proud of that ignorance, but I’m not sure why.
The Big Payback
by Dan Charnas
I started Dan Charnas’ unprecedented, exhaustive history of the rap business back in 2010, lugging it to Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house and reading through to the beginning of Run-DMC. I’m super ashamed that I never finished, and now I’ve been reading three pages or so every night before bed (I’ve gotten to the point where two white, annoying intern dudes start Yo MTV Raps! and The Source, respectively). My favorite character, so far, is Ann Carli, essentially the game’s first female A&R and an early girlfriend of Russell Simmons. She ran a tri-state rap newsletter, writing a gossip column under the name Tokyo Rose. As I understand it, she’s the godmother of rap blogging, equal parts tastemaker, muckraker and fan. She also discovered Will Smith, and is still talking about rap on Twitter.