What We’re Reading: Emilie Friedlander

November 20, 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, Emilie Friedlander preps us for Thanksgiving weekend and its introspective moods with two pretty deep reads. 

Love’s Executioner by Irvin D. Yalom:: Even if you’ve never been in therapy, it’s hard not to wonder what therapists are thinking about when they sit around listening to people’s problems for hours at a time. Back in the 1980s, when he was running a private practice in the San Francisco area, Stanford psychiatry professor Irvin D. Yalom wrote about ten of the most challenging and thought-provoking doctor-patient relationships he’d experienced, with an emphasis on encounters that actually changed the way he understood life. Whether he’s treating a woman with a condition that seems somewhat akin to Dissociative Identity Disorder, and fighting a personal predilection for one of her three personality states, or working with a man who won’t open up about himself, but whose fantastical dreams seem to speak volumes, the ten case studies in Love’s Executioner read like a collection of short stories, all of which tie back to the existential concerns that most of us don’t really have that much fun thinking about. Each and everyone of us, for example, is going to die someday, and even within our closest relationships, we are still, in a sense, fundamentally alone. Yalom seems to think that most every human problem is the result of our failure to deeply process these realities, and whether or not that’s true, or whether you feel ready to really think about them yourself, you’ll probably be unable to put this book down until you find out how each of Yalom’s patients is transformed (or is unable to transform). 

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway: I guess Angelmaker is kind of a spy novel, but its villain is a ninety-year-old lady with an apocalyptic masterplan, and its hero a kind of mousy, middle-aged clock repairman who gets his kicks repairing old mechanical ephemera. Joe Spork (yes, Angelmaker is the kind of book that would have a character named Joe Spork, and also characters called Mr. Titwhistle and Mr. Cummerbund) is the son of an extravagantly anti-social London gangster named Mathew Spork, whose bloodstained, safe-cracking legacy he has spent the entirety of his adult life trying to escape—chiefly, through emulating the much cozier career path of his grandfather, Daniel Spork, who was also a clockmaker. If the steam-punk movement didn’t make me cringe so much, I’d probably be pretty taken by Joe’s appreciation for the unsung ingenuity of obsolete mechanical devices; luckily, there are other quaint and quirky things about this novel that feel whimsical in a fresh way, like the fact that most everybody from the sooty London underworld that Joe grew up in actually gets around the city via a network of subterranean tunnels called the Tosher’s Beat. When Joe gets mixed up with the lady villain’s plot, his remarkably boring life takes a turn for the exciting and gravely dangerous, making Angelmaker read like a densely detailed, 478-page absurdist parable for the ways in which a person’s traumatic past will come back to haunt him so long as he tries to escape it.

From The Collection:

What We're Reading
What We’re Reading: Emilie Friedlander