What We’re Reading: The FADER

September 16, 2011

It’s September, time to say goodbye to your Tevas and tank tops and hit the books. We asked a handful of artists releasing music this Fall to find out what’s on their reading list. To close out our week-long series, we've decided to share The FADER staff's top picks. What we learned: It's hard to pick just three books, but now thankfully we've got an awesome list of books to read.


Great House by Nicole Krauss: Straight up and down the biggest bummer book I read this past year, but boy is it pretty. I have a thing with and for Nicole Krauss and have read her three books voraciously, loving some moments and hating others. Her first was an all-night, one-sitting read, about a man who loses his memory. It was perfect until she made him do stuff. Just let him have a hard life readjusting! He doesn't have to get super into NASA or whatever because that is what he liked when he was eight and he remembers it a little! Who needs a point? Life doesn't have points. I suppose that's why you read a lot of books, though, some succinct translation of a random series of events into a decided tale of change and a decent moment of moral. Cool, I guess? Just make me feel like something and don't make me realize I am feeling it. And that's what her strength is, her books, at their best, exist in a world where no one has ever written a clunky sentence. It's a nice place to visit. With Great House, you stay there a long time, you also just get pretty devastated. Heartbreak! Mild mental problems! The Holocaust! Death! Abandonment! Tackling so many large ideas head-on makes you inevitably a little trite, but she embraces that, too. Sometimes shit hurts, is bad, etc., but you know that because occasionally it is amazing! Those amazing parts, by the way, mostly happen in Great House’s past. The present is a bummer, but it's a pretty one.

Open City by Teju Cole: You would be forgiven for calling this book pretentious, but it also has a very moving scene based around forgetting your ATM pin number. It's not that Open City is a mix of high and low (it's basically just high), but that it tackles much of the everyday within your own head with the grace it deserves. Cole's narrator is a Nigerian immigrant to the US, now a psychiatry resident, who ambles across Manhattan (and briefly Brussels), talking about whatever passes his mind. He meets people, spends days alone, pines, gets laid, get mugged, looks up at the skyline because, honestly, it's really pretty. There is not a great deal of plot, but wishing for that is like wishing for a Van Damme movie to have a plot. It's about the action, even if that action is a slow unfurling of one man's mind. He's not a boring dude.

Ladies' Man by Richard Price: I read Ladies' Man immediately after Open City, and it took me until the very end to realize it was another book about a guy walking around New York City. While Open City is current, Ladies' Man was written and is based in the late ’70s. Though it is fiction, Richard Price is so minute with his detail, reading Ladies' Man almost 35 years after its publication is like reading an anthropological survey of a very different city. It's also written in first person, by Kenny, a door-to-door salesman who breaks up with his obnoxious girl and quits his job to float around Manhattan looking for love and sex. He finds it occasionally, but mostly finds companionship in his old school friends from The Bronx. They make him feel old and like he hasn't lived up to his potential, he is kind of old and he definitely has not lived up to his potential. He is pretty funny, though, and occasionally a dickhead. What's not to love?


The Cabbie Vol. 1 by Marti: Sometime in the last ten or so years (probably less, really) a lot of companies started re-publishing comic strips like Peanuts and Gasoline Alley and Dick Tracy in a deluxe format. It's about the art—most of which is phenomenal—as much as it is about the archiving. Without these editions, this stuff would be lost to time and yellowed newsprint forever. There is one weird thing about all of these reprints though: reading them has a hypnotic, disorienting effect. They weren't designed to be read in such rapid succession. Ideas repeat themselves, themes run too long or too short; it's a fascinating way to look comprehensively at a serial medium. Plus it makes you feel like you are on a lot of drugs. The Cabbie is an especially interesting one, though. Initially published in the ’80s, it mimics the basic comic strip format—even going as far as aping the way Chester Gould used thick black lines for basically everything with Dick Tracy—but is supremely screwed up. The protagonist, a cab driver is obsessed with money, has a tricked out cab, happens upon bizarre crimes, and even gets tortured by a family living in the slums. It is a really uncomfortable experience from cover to cover, and I am stoked it exists.

Shakey: Neil Young's Biography by Jimmy McDonough: It is worth reading this book even if you have no interest in Neil Young. Besides capturing the turbulent times of...every decade that Neil Young has been making music, McDonough is able to create a complicated, contradictory portrait of an artist trying to find his place in the great pantheon of rock music. That means there are entire sections about a dude that hung out in the studio supplying them with Honey Slides (weed mixed with honey, for some reason) while Young and Crazy Horse were recording. It also means that there is close to a hundred pages devoted to Young's love of model trains, but presented in context, it is fascinating. It's a huge book, but if you make it through, there's a good chance you'll care pretty deeply about Neil Young, even if you didn't before.

Acme Novelty Library #20: Lint by Chris Ware: I just re-read this for the first time, and it's phenomenal how Chris Ware is able to track an entire life from beginning to end so completely and heartbreakingly. Like most of his work, Lint can be relentlessly bleak, but there's a comfort in that. Lint is about life and death, but unlike those things, it's not sloppy. Instead, it is meticulously translated to paper with—and I mean this in the best way possible—plodding beauty.


The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald: Reading Sebald is like following a wayward, hyperlinked trail of the most eloquently written Wikipedia entries. How do you get from Rembrandt's "The Anatomy Lesson" to the biography of Joseph Conrad to the dowager Empress Hzu Tsi? The book recounts the story of a walking tour of Suffolk, which the author took in 1992, but it's unclear whether or not the narrator is actually Sebald. Like all of his books, the text is interspersed with black and white documentary images that trace his mental (and physical) perambulations; this interruption has the strange effect of making you feel like you're actually inside of Sebald's head, like you're part of the delicately crafted internal monologue of a very singular mind. It's nice to feel so rare and so smart, at least for a couple hundred pages.

Hella Jongerius: Misfit by Louise Schouwenberg: Even if someday I am able to afford Hella Jongerius' Polder Sofa (not likely), I do not have the heart to declaw my cat (who would?!), so I'll just have to look at pictures and wonder what it's like to sit on a sofa designed after the dutch landscape. While I'm pretending to sit on said sofa, I might as well read about all of the other strange and beautiful objects Jongerius makes at her studio. The bonus is that an equally brilliant Dutch designer, Irma Boom, designed the book, which gracefully captures Jongerius' style and approach, with it's thick black exposed saddle stitch binding, untrimmed edges and quirky removable color film decals.

The Land at the End of the World by Antonio Lobo Atunes: This was one of the best random bookstore purchases I've made in a long time. I'd never heard of or read Lobo Atunes, which is maybe embarrassing because, according to the dust jacket, he's the most famous living Portuguese writer. Nevertheless, I know him now and I plan to read him more. This book basically traces the protagonist (thinly veiled autobiography) through a slew of drunken one night stands, over which he tries to overcome the grief and trauma he experienced as an army medic in Angola during the Portuguese Colonial Wars. At first, I thought Lobo Atunes' language was overly dense and metaphoric, but after I eased into his style, I was totally blown away by how strange and totally apt his observations are. Props need to be given to his translator Margaret Jull Costa; I am amazed that she can reconstruct those sentences in three languages.


A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos by Tim Dlugos: I'm not much of a poetry fan but reading this book has been like falling in love with a new boyfriend for me. Dlugos died in 1990 from complications due to AIDS, but he left behind a couple decades-worth of insanely personal poems recently published in this anthology, and it reads more like a personal journal than a grand retrospective. One poem in particular, about losing his virginity, makes me wish I knew him then, was his best friend so I could hear his gushing in person or on a late night telephone call. He describes pivotal young adult moments exactly as I would if I were as sensitive and sweet a writer as he, and he makes me want to be a better, more romantic man.

Retromania by Simon Reynolds: This book is about the suffocation of pop culture by an obsession with YouTube and MP3 nostalgia, how young people's good taste and love of the canon is preventing new things and new sounds from emerging. Reynolds is worried that the sheer availability of so much old shit means we're doomed to wade in the past's waters. Everyone's become a collector of aesthetics. I picked this, in part, because I think FADER stands, at least partially, in contrast to the nostalgia industry. I hope we never dwell too much on the past and try to celebrate the fact that at any given moment, great music is being made.

Blue Nights by Joan Didon: Wow is this book a bummer! Joan Didion's new book is about the death of her daughter, but also the end of her days as she gets older and more frail. I suppose writing can be a way out of pain for some authors, but I wonder if Didion even felt better after unloading all of this tragedy, or if she just feels more doomed. Even more importantly, I wonder if she thinks we should feel doomed as well, that after a long life of fulfilling activities, the end of the line is always inevitably sad.


The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster: I've been reading this book on repeat since I was little, mostly when I need a good mind vacation. It's about a little boy and his limitless imagination, a tollbooth that transports him to various nonsensical worlds full of interesting characters. Kind of like a The Never Ending Story meets Alice In Wonderland-type of story. My brother came home one day with a hardback copy signed by Norton Juster and the illustrator Jules Feiffer. I'm halfway thru that same hardback right now. It's still so awesome. Thanks, bro.

One Day by David Nicholls: I know I know, this movie looks terrible and trust me, it kind of is. But I only saw it because I had so much fun reading the book on the subway to and from work. That was really the only time I could get into this book for some reason. It's my favorite rom-com guilty pleasure that follows the intersecting lives of two people on the same day over the course of twenty years. If one were to roll their eyes at this book and then read it, chances are they might stop rolling their eyes.

Bossypants by Tina Fey: Tina Fey is the ultimate cool mom. It took me almost half of the book to realize those arms on the front cover are in fact not hers. Her account of her real life is just as hilarious as I thought it'd be, you may even giggle in public on the subway. Just don't ask her about her face scar.


On Beauty by Zadie Smith: I read this novel years ago during undergrad. I loved it and tore through it, wishing it would never end. I'm rereading now, slightly older, in a deliberately slow manner, dissecting Smith's sentences and trying to suss out why it's such a successful story. I'm in awe and somewhat baffled that it still holds up as a devastatingly gorgeous book.

Thy Neighbor's Wife by Gay Talese: This is my first time reading Gay Talese. I've heard far and wide the praise for his essays and of the Swinger shenanigans that are recounted throughout this book. I guess I wanted to see what all the transgressive fuss was about. I haven't gotten to the good bit where he introduces himself as a character.

The Gentlewoman: This is a biannual London-based women's culture, fashion, art and lifestyle journal. The interviews are very thoughtful, personable, and just very different than most women's style rags. It's not often that you get intelligent and creative women asking each other about such things as astronomy, good hostess-ing tips or abstract things like modern intimacy.


Kinfolk Magazine: Guide for Small Gatherings is comprised of a bunch of amazing artists collaborating to share simple and elegant ideas for naturally entertaining family and friends. Not only their content good, but their presentation is wonderfully refined.

Monster Children Magazine: The current issue really caught my eye with its playfully naive cover. Their surf-and-skate cultural niche and constant urge to push the boundaries of their photography and design will continue to keep their readers hooked.

Material Magazine: It's an ad-free publication that features texts by international artists. The layouts are extremely experimental but aren’t necessarily thematically driven, giving it an incomparable voice.

From The Collection:

What We're Reading
What We’re Reading: The FADER