I recently caught the last weekend of Stephen Walters’ Anthropocene exhibition at the Londonewcastle Project Space in Shoreditch, on a sweltering July day. I’ve been a map nerd for a long time, and I first saw Walters’ work on the BBC4 documentary The Beauty of Maps, which is the best programme ever made about maps ever. When I saw that he had an exhibition running in London, I made sure to get there before it closed, and frankly I was blown away. Continue reading
New Yorker staff writer Sasha Frere-Jones posted a slightly confused article about Jay Z on the magazine’s blog section this week. He draws a line that links the rapper’s new album release, Magna Carta Holy Grail, with the Trayvon Martin tragedy and the Obama administration’s twin-prong assault on public opinion in the form of online surveillance and drone warfare. This line is ambitious and questionable, to say the least. Frere-Jones begins with a sorrowful analysis of the mood that the George Zimmerman acquittal has cast over American race relations (and writes with heartfelt conviction), but he veers quickly into a remarkable hatchet job of Jay Z’s new album that seems to well from somewhere a little different.
So I just finished Junot Díaz’s second book, This is How You Lose Her. A friend lent it to me, and I’ve been wanting to read something of his since hearing his brilliant interview on KCBM’s Bookworm. He’s got to be the only guy in the world who can use the phrase ‘dope short stories’ and not sound like an idiot. I haven’t read The Brief Life of Oscar Wao, which won him the Pulitzer, but I’ll be getting on that pretty fast.
As for This is How…, I’ve never read a book that combines such mad irreverence for language with moments of such transcendent beauty. It’s full of sex and death and impenetrable, unexplained Dominican slang. You don’t know what a rabo is until someone’s putting it into their mouth, you don’t know what mota is until someone’s smoking it until they can’t see, and all the time you’re asking ‘what’s a sucio? A papi chulo?’; ‘what does “figureando” mean?’ We piece together the clues, and most of the time when meaning emerges, it’s clear why the English isn’t used. My ignorance of Spanish wasn’t helping, of course, but there’s something really tantalising about having these words held above your head, like shiny fruit. Continue reading
“Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.”
- Roland Barthes
Just a quick one. In January I interviewed poet and author Matthew Francis for New Welsh Review about his upcoming short story collection, Singing a Man to Death. He told me how he attempts to recreate ‘the chaotic pluralism of modern culture’ in his work, and about his early flirtations with surrealist literature (‘the idea of it liberating, the practice usually disappointing’). His collection weaves together a truly staggering breadth of settings and influences. Did you know, for instance, that the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary was a mythical tiny sheep once thought to grow from the stem of a plant? I know. Now. Like Michael Ondaatje or Anne Michaels, Francis’ background as a poet (he was named as one of the Poetry Book Society’s ’20 Best Modern Poets’ in 2004) has given him a prose style that is at once spare and energetic, and an impressive eye for detail makes his new collection an enchanting read. Maybe worth an amazon one-click.
For some time now, we’ve been watching for what Jeffrey Eugenides will do next. He has cultivated a reputation as one of the safest hands in modern fiction, and his new novel, The Marriage Plot, topped international best-sellers lists and won the 2011 Salon Book Award. It is in many ways an impressive book. It follows the lives and loves of three students in their final year of Brown University in 1982, and pursues them through their first year of graduation.
Madeleine, a somewhat naive English major, has been sucked into one of the biggest crazes to sweep Brown University in the early 80’s. Is it toga parties? Ecstasy? No, it’s semiotics, the new, byzantine study of sign and signification. Continue reading