What We’re Reading: Duncan Cooper

July 13, 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, associate editor Duncan Cooper talks Infinite Jest, diabetes and democracy in Dubai.

Solution 186-195: Dubai Democracy, Where Desert Dreams Come True by Ingo Niermann
The German author/artist Ingo Niermann edits an ongoing series of Solution books that I love, where he or someone else interesting—Momus has written two, and architects often contribute—engage a problem in a country or city—democracy in Dubai, for example, or welfare in Finland—by imagining a series of clever but unlikely solutions. In Dubai, for example, Niermann suggests turning the ambitious but abandoned manmade World Islands archipelago into a self-sufficient sanatarium for people with diabetes, where buildings are coated in sugar and powered only by inhabitants’ physical exercise. In another solution, he proposes that Dubai form an alliance with Düsseldorf in Germany, so the two of them can precisely recreate the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, except only one tower in each city, forming a sort of East-West Friendship Towers. The proposals are the wacky hook of the series, and they’re immensely entertaining, but they’re always rooted in compelling arguments and actual, serious stumper type issues. Solutions is basically a camp approach to urban planning and social programs, and I think that’s actually really productive.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
I don’t remember exactly when I started reading Infinite Jest, but I was definitely living in New York, so it was sometime within the last two years. I’m still reading it. First I bought the actual physical book, which according to Amazon.com weighs three pounds—actually I bought two copies, one for me and one for my girlfriend, and we were going to have a little book club, which you’re free to form an opinion about. Three pounds with pointy edges is annoying in a backpack, so I got a Kindle to carry Infinite Jest around. It says I'm 45 percent done. So many people already have opinions about this book that I’ve got nothing clever to add. I can’t remember the last novel I finished, but I hope I finish this one because it’s teaching me a lot about writing interesting sentences. Here’s an example, one not even from Infinite Jest, but a David Foster Wallace sentence I liked and wrote down to remember later. It’s from an essay about John McCain’s 2000 presidential bid, as found in the book Consider the Lobster: “Everything looks dead and not happy about it.” His whole deal is so maximal it’s practically anxious, as if by saying everything no one can accuse you of missing something (which I do love, stylistically), but I’m always impressed when he gets so straight to the point.

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What We're Reading
What We’re Reading: Duncan Cooper