Tuesday, May 2, 2017

April Consumption Diary


Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (novel, audiobook)

I was really looking forward to this. I even changed which Audible shop my account was under to access it. And I knew that the variety of narrators (both on the page and in the audiobook) would take some getting used to. But as a novel, it never really lifted beyond two linked concepts (Lincoln through the eyes of contemporary accounts; the 'lives' of those in the Bardo). It just felt like a (really) long Saunders short story; the length left this reader unable to escape (or forgive) the work's unevenness.

My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki (novel, audiobook)

I can't remember why I read this. (Stares into space for five minutes.) Oh yeah, one of the two plot lines followed a gopher/translator/producer of a TV show, and I thought this might be interesting given I'm working on a novel about a director/location scout. But it was so dull. The two parallel plotlines with periodic convergences. The deflating prolepsis. Oh well.

Time Travel: A History by James Gleick (non-fiction, audiobook)

I can remember why I read this: a) I listened to this and Danyl and Pip made it sound good and b) I've been interested in time travel for a long time (I even have a notebook dedicated towards a time-travelly novel on Evernote).

Gleick's book was really good. Like one of those popular histories for people who like to think they're too smart for popular histories. Most of the recent time travel books/films I thought about during the earlier sections were mentioned later on in the book - but by then Gleick has abandoned literary criticism for theoretical physics and philosophy. Which is fine. This is the guy who wrote a book about chaos theory. But I think there's another book (or at least a few decent chapters) on what people are doing with time travel after a century of the genre, and dismantling this from a predominantly literary perspective.

Picture This by Joseph Heller

I was writing a scene where people clambers to see a friar levitate in the year 1653, and wanted to show that this wasn't so long ago by mentioning things going on elsewhere in Europe. One of these was Rembrandt painting Aristotle contemplating a bust of Homer. Which led me to read Heller's novel all about this painting.

After the first three chapters, I was like: fuck this is good. God, Heller's a genius. But after another I was like: Hmm. Didn't I think the same about Closing Time and Something Happened but can't really remember what happened in either (and did I even finish Something?)?

And eventually I started skim reading.

I think the technique - factual retelling of history (focusing on the quirks/convergences) powered by a strong narrator - could work over a longer narrative, with a few tweaks (or with some narrative breadcrumbs followed in a more traditional fashion). I thinking of Vonnegut's Galapagos, which is by no means perfect, but (perhaps because it has to get fictional very quickly as it relies on flashing 1000s of years into the future) does enough of the story-telling basics to pull a reader through to the final page.

Others: poetry (especially when looking for things to read at the Town Belt Traverse), academic articles about Damanhur, Nomadelfia, magnetic levitation... but the big 'other' was podcasts, which probably deserves it's own category (I haven't recorded these in my previous two consumption diaries). So...


I devoured this over about 48 hours. I don't think it was morally indefensible. (Someone in my Facebook timeline posted this righteously - and no, they hadn't listened). I thought it worked we as a non-fiction audio-novel. I liked the way it shifted gears at the end of the third episode. Yes, it was a bit uneven. Yes, the last two episodes were a bit circular and drawn out. But it was a good story, well told in a (relatively) fresh way: the best book I read this month (if it had been a book).

Missing Richard Simmons
I listened to this late March/early April. Not quite as absorbing as S-Town while ploughing a similar field. The fact Simmons is still alive, still hiding, meant the ending was always going to be a bit of a fizzer. But the way the penultimate episode promised a bunch of things that then weren't covered in the finale was shoddy and disappointing.

The Director’s Cut
Unlike the first two podcasts, this isn't sequential story-telling in podcast form. It's standalone talks (generally 30-50 mins) where one director interviews another director about the film they've just finished and (in most cases) the audience has just seen. And because this is the Directors Guild of America's podcast, you get some heavy hitters (Scorsese interviewing Spielberg, the director of Rogue One interviewed by the director of the young Han Solo Star Wars flick, etc).

Even the lesser names/films are interesting (especially in my quest to write a novel about a couple of filmmakers). The most recent episode featured the director of straight-to-Netflix-movie The Discovery, which I just watched on Netflix and thought - this was like The OA without the time afforded by a TV series. And who was he interviewed by but the director of The OA (and the two of them went to film school together!!).
I also listen to every episide of 3 New Yorker podcasts: New Yorker Fiction Podcast (a writer picks a short story from the New Yorkers archive to read and discuss... I did a list of my top episodes of this podcast to date in 2011); New Yorker Poetry Podcast (poet chooses a poem from the archive to read and discuss and also one of their own); The Author’s Voice (short stories from the most recent edition of the magazine read by the author).


This was the month where I found out how remiss of a Tragically Hip/Gord Downie fan I’ve been the last few years. When I first heard about Downie’s terminal diagnosis last year (a couple months late on that, too), I was numb. Downie’s music meant more to me that Bowie and Prince. I’d exchanged emails with him (basically: Him: thanks for the book, I haven’t read it yet, but found it again when we were moving house; Me: hurrmurrhurgunugh!). I don’t know if he ever got around to reading A Man Melting.

I listened to The Hip’s most recent album, Man Machine Poem (2016), a few more times after learning The Hip’s days were numbered, but didn’t take to it. There seemed too much overlap with Now for Plan A (2012), another album that never really stuck with me. I could have gone back and listened to Phantom Planet and Day for Night and Trouble at the Hen House and Music @ Work and Battle of the Nudes but that kind of maudlin impulse didn’t fit with how I felt about those albums.

I thought about writing another email to Gord, but that would really be for my benefit, wouldn't it? His time was more precious than mine, so I saved him the hassle of reading and deciding whether to reply (eight months on, I’m not sure this was the right decision, but).

So I put Gord outta my mind.

For whatever reason, in April all of this came back to me. I found out Gord had already released his solo album, Secret Path, which is really good. Maybe not as great as Nudes, but at least as good as The Grand Bounce.

Then I found Downie had made an album with The Sadies, And the conquering sun, in 2014. (It isn’t available on Spotify, hence the absence of any tracks from this album in my April playlist).

THEN I found Justin Rutledge’s Daredevil, also from 2014, which is an album entirely of Hip covers (cherry-picked from their heroic peak). Rutledge strips back these songs in a way that’s reminiscent at times of Gary Jules’ cover of Tears for Fears’ ‘Mad World’. The ‘Jules Approach’ has been employed often since, but Rutledge isn’t mellow for the sake of mellowness. He’s trying to give Downie’s words fresh air, and succeeds.

From the songs Rutledge selected (eg ‘Grace, too’, ‘Thugs’, ‘Springtime in Vienna’), I reckon we have similar tastes. Though I could easily propose another ten songs for a covers album that’d be just as awesome and complete.

I've also been working on a project about the Dunedin Sound, hence all those bands on my playlist this month. And I discovered Arboretum and am really into them at the moment. They remind me of Rook-era Shearwater (y'know, before they went all disco).

Films & TV

Better Call Saul (Season 3 thus far) - I agree with Jose Barbosa's claim that BCS is better than Breaking Bad (at least more consistently good-to-great) though my reasons might be different.

Fargo (Season 2)
The Discovery
I'm Still Here
Heavy Metal
Gangs of New York
Louis CK 2017
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