Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Oldies but goodies

Two books that I read earlier this spring are some older gems from William Maxwell and Walker Percy. I read Maxwell's The Chateau (1961) which is set in post WWII France. It's a long, graceful novel, very simply about an American couple traveling in France--some of the relationships they make, their observations on the country, and the differences in culture. If you're looking for action or mystery or some other splashy plot point, it isn't really for you. But for beautiful writing and being drawn into a past world, it's wonderful.

The Moviegoer (1961) won the National Book Award, and it is a very engaging story of a young man trying to find meaning in his life. A somewhat scarred young veteran of the Korean War, he finds escape and--sometimes--answers to life's questions at the movies. There's a funny scene of him quietly stalking William Holden in the New Orleans streets. One of the other snarky little bits is his mocking "This I believe," which I had never heard of until reading this novel. Then all of a sudden, NPR is relaunching it. So now, I always think of Binx when I hear it--thankfully erasing all traces of the intended earnestness of the commentaries.

Odd, that I chose these books randomly and they were published in the same year by almost exact contemporaries.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Summer music: White Stripes and The Vanity Project

There's Coldplay too, but I've yet to hear a song that motivates me to go out and buy one of their CDs. Either I've always heard the same song, or all of it sounds alike. I also had the misfortune to catch them in a snippet on SNL recently and thought it sounded like a lonely cat singing on a fence (there's an old cartoon there somewhere). And I don't mean that in a good way. Maybe one day they'll finally click with me...

The new White Stripes, on the other hand, is very addictive. Jack White: the man who makes the marimba sound really, really creepy. I'm a latecomer, I admit. I finally bought Elephant after numerous recommendations from siblings, and it quickly became one of my favorites. I enjoy Jack's playful, subversive, slyly humorous lyrics and just the general weirdness of the White Stripes. I think he and Meg are the louder, less wholesome, post-modern Carpenters (a drumming "sister"...uh-huh). And I do mean that in a good way. (I love the Carpenters, and think Karen has just about the richest, most beautiful voice I've ever heard.) I also get shades of--of all things--The Rocky Horror Picture Show. "Forever for her (Is over for me)" reminds me of "Dammit, Janet." Seriously.

I got The Vanity Project on the same day (hence, the combo) -- the new solo album from Steven Page of BNL. The lyrics are always thoughtful and surprising and his voice is gorgeous (the male Karen Carpenter? Yeah!). The whole album hangs together well--sort of brooding, world-weary, someone trying gracefully to say goodbye to youth and heading resignedly into... maturity. I know the feeling. Anyway, there's a line in "Thank you for sharing" that keeps running through my head: "Thank you for scaring the hell out of me." I can think of so very many people/organizations/administrations to whom I could deliver that line with the same degree of desperation. It's like sweet Nellie Mackay's background-snarled, "Die, motherfuckers!" in "Sari." It's very cleansing. Which really brings me back to "Get Behind Me Satan." Once you've brooded, reflected, and chilled with Page, it's time to hear some cathartic wailing and thumping. You should listen to dark, gentle Meg--as one reviewer put it, and I can't improve upon it-- "beating the crap" out of her drums.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Alejandro Escovedo

I was in Birmingham, AL over the weekend and got to see some of the CityStages Music Festival. My husband and I headed downtown to see Alejandro Escovedo and caught the last of Loretta Lynn's show at the same stage. I could barely see her over the crowd from the back. Every now and then, a glowing white dress, a glimpse of her face in the gap between heads. Luckily, I could hear her, and she sounded really strong. We edged our way to the front for Alejandro and found a good spot not far from the stage. He sounded fantastic, particularly on "Rosalie" and "Everybody Loves Me." His band was very good--violin, cello, drums, keyboard, and guitars. It was good to see him live--he looked fit and pretty happy to be there. I didn't even know he was feeling well enough to tour after his bout with Hepatitis C. He said he was working on a new CD--maybe out this fall.
We had to leave before Ryan Adams & the Cardinals on Sunday night, but I'm pretty sure I spotted him at the Galleria, looking very Ryanesque with the bed head, the glasses, and seemingly chattering nonstop on the cell phone. A certain spazzy quality convinced me it was probably him. I like his music--and I liked Whiskeytown a lot. I've heard he's a bit of a brat, but I'm not planning on having a beer with him, so it doesn't really matter to me. At least he hasn't thrown a phone at anyone...yet.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Known World

The Impac Dublin Literary Prize has become one of my favorite literary prizes to watch. I've found some good books through its shortlist and winners. This year, Edwin P. Jones won for The Known World, which I haven't read yet, but I'll put it on my list. Past winners include My Name is Red by Pamuk, No Great Mischief by MacLeod, and Atomised by Houllebeq (I read Elementary Particles).

Monday, June 13, 2005

Coming soon!

Some of my favorite writers have new novels coming out this summer. It's already been a great year for fiction with Ian McEwan's Saturday released in March. I first discovered John Crowley when I read The Translator, a beautiful, layered novel set in the 60's at a midwestern college. I then found out that he had previously written in the speculative/fantasy genre, though he is much more than a genre writer. I'm not sure he can be pinned down very neatly. I then went back a bit and read Little, Big--a sprawling, otherworldly story, sort of an apocalyptic fairytale. I would say his novels defy genre, but his soaring imagination is matched by his writing prowess. In any case, I am very much looking forward to Lord Byon's Novel: The Evening Land, to be published June 14. For more on Crowley, browse the Web site.

In July, Cormac McCarthy is back with a new novel, No Country for Old Men.