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What We’re Reading: Matthew Schnipper

June 08, 2012

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 for once doesn't read a novel.

A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful by Gideon Lewis-Kraus: I have ten mutual friends with Gideon Lewis-Kraus on Facebook. Yesterday I looked through his photos. I saw pictures of many of the people in his book—his brother Micah, Tom from Kiev and the camino, Alix from Berlin (we have two mutual friends), random Japanese people in Shikoku. I saw the pants that zip off into shorts Lewis-Krauss writes about. In the camino section of the book, there is regular mention of updating Facebook and it’s strange to see those actual updates. It’s like the pyramids: they just existed, no one actually made them, right? Not that a number of snapshots are anything like a wonder of the world, but there is something nicely mythical about A Sense of Direction and that extends to its details. Maybe hieroglyphics would be a better comparison. Those were mundane to someone at some point, too.

Lewis-Kraus’ book is ostensibly about pilgrimages, of which he takes three, though it’s largely about what the point of being a person. Why lead an artistic life? What is regret? What is valuable? He attempts to answer/answers (same thing) many of these questions by giving himself the pilgrimages as a device to mute the itching in his brain. To find out what is valuable you also need to be stuck with nowhere to sleep in the cold Japanese rain, to look at lilacs, to send a lot of emails, kibitz with your grandfather and make fun of Australians. Life has no center and Lewis-Kraus is smart enough to know that but also smart enough to continue looking like there may be one. Essentially he’s written a road trip story, but his terrain is simultaneously technologically up to the minute and ancient. That blend itself may be particularly timely, and his tone casually flows from deeply serious to jokily casual. It’s nice. For any restless young-ish person, which should be any smart young-ish person, many of his questions should be many of your questions and it’s reassuring to read someone you could be Facebook friends with try to grapple with them.

Television Recaps: I like reading television recaps because they are a new form of writing and anything new is exciting. But, man, what a weird new thing. What’s the use of storytelling when you already know the story? Are recaps basically just a modern internet version of papers in literature class? I know I wrote something that pretty heavily evaluated the narration in “The Waste Land” in college, maybe it’s not so different. Here is a piece of art, here is what it might mean. But who wants to read college papers? I want to read about (spoiler alert) Lane Pryce’s fucked up face. And fuck Pete Campbell, just in general. Anyone spilling ink about his twerpy being is fine with me. See? TV just gets you invigorated.

New York magazine's Vulture site may have the best recaps, though they can occasionally be too exhaustive. My favorite on the site are by Emma Straub’s on Girls. I was touched by her gentle handling of the “Home” episode of the show, where, as a native New Yorker, she was clearly confused and moved by Girls’ creator Lena Dunam’s—a fellow native New Yorker—take on what it must be like to move to the city. “It’s okay to be from where you’re from, Hannah. We all know you’re going places. But everyone needs somewhere to start from.” It’s a little cheesy, but so are television dramas. I don’t want it to be real. I will read a book when I want something to be real.

From The Collection:

What We're Reading
What We’re Reading: Matthew Schnipper