Archive for April, 2010

Righteous Dopefiend!

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

This week I have been rushing through the new Harpers (“Readings” this month is stunning!), watching the Falcon Cam nonstop (baby falcons hatching before your eyes!), reading Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli (holy opus), and reading Philippe Bourgois/Jeff Schonberg’s monumental Righteous Dopefiend.  I have also been packing, which has been much less fun.

Righteous Dopefiend is a photographic/ethnographic account of homeless heroin addicts in San Francisco.  It has been interesting for me to consider how powerful this book might be if it were one or the other–it would certainly remain shocking and moving if it were only photography, and conversely, the ethnography would be no less effective and evocative without the photography.  It should come as no surprise that this collaboration is, then, incredible.  This book should probably required reading for every single American, as it has plenty to say about addiction, drug abuse, marginalization, racism, de-industrialization, marxism, relationships, and more.  Largely, I think, this book has plenty to say about America, and an America that most Americans might be resistant to either even consider or want to explore.  It is thus both exciting and important that this book is readable, practical and rarely alienates by using anthropological jargon that an average reader might be unfamiliar with.  I am not wholly familiar with much ethnographic theory, but the resulting collaborating between Bourgois and Schonberg is inspirational and fanfuckingtastic.  My admiration for Bourgois is well documented, and this book is building on it more.

I will have more to say about this when I finish it, I think, as well as Asterios Polyp.  Additionally, I hope my archaeologist boyfriend doesn’t mind that I want to be an ethnographer anymore.  Or that I just used anymore incorrectly.

More songs about buildings & food

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Last week:

Massacre at El Mozote-Mark Danner

Salvador-Joan Didion

This week:

Shadow Tag-Louise Erdrich

Joan Didion is unfuckwithable.  The Danner book was great, but now I am even more distrustful of most people & things, which probably isn’t good.  The new Erdrich reminds me a little of the Squid & the Whale, in that the adult characters are a little despicable and my heart breaks for their children in every scene.  Last month in New York I finally saw the real squid & the whale and I stood there for awhile in front of them feeling a little sad and simultaneously really grateful.  I don’t have much to say because I feel like I am constantly reorganizing my innards & my brain, which is when you know you are a little too into classification schemes.  That or it’s because I’m moving in 2.5 weeks.

In which I gush endlessly about John D’Agata

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Last week, I lingered over John D’Agata’s About a Mountain.  This is probably the only way to read this book: lingeringly (I wish I had my own copy, to love and touch gently and reread forever!).  I have always learned so much from D’Agata.  I can’t think of many writers who indirectly taught me more about form than him & the Seneca Review.  I found this book staggering, which wasn’t a surprise.  I think I probably expected to be staggered.  Within this book I encountered so much anger and beauty and shock.  Charles Bock charges D’Agata with compromising the book by conflating two crucial dates (dates that were in reality 3 days apart), and while I was mildly irritated by this conflation, I don’t necessarily believe it compromised what was otherwise a gorgeous and important work.  This is one of those cases in which I wish I hadn’t read the review before I read the book, but as OMC has pointed out, I can’t do anything unless someone has done it first and told me what to expect (thank you restaurant reviewers!), so, here I am.  Would I have been more irritated if I had noticed it in the footnotes and Bock hadn’t pointed it out?  I certainly would have been MORE irritated if D’Agata hadn’t (methodically) footnoted it.

Can we talk about the footnotes?  This book is so meticulously researched.  The irritable reference librarian in me loses it with happiness when something is researched so lovingly.   There isn’t one sentence in this book that didn’t need to be fact-checked (I am probably exaggerating, but you get it).  This book made my brain burst with new knowledge, and I respect that.

Can we talk about the structure?  D’Agata clearly likes the list (me too!) and he uses it to terrific effect in AAM.  I would argue that D’Agata has mastered the lyric essay better than just about anybody (the only person who comes close to touching him is Lia Purpura in On Looking, which is so effing good it makes me never want to write another thing again), and AAM is just exploding with wonderful language and sentences and I want to roll around on so many of the pages, smiling wildly.

Sigh.  I loved this book.  Another thing I want to gush about is Julie Klausner’s I Don’t Care About Your Band, but Lydia is (supposedly) guest-blogging it, so I will leave that to her.  This is otherwise the year of Latin America, so next up, expect some ranting about El Salvador and, frankly, little else.