some summer recommendations

by sophie

Fiction: In a letter to his two eldest sons, Henry James Sr. wrote that “the natural inheritance of any one who is capable of spiritual life is an unsubdued forest where the wolf howls and the obscene bird of night chatters.” It is from this quote that Jose Donoso lifted the title for his stammering, labyrinthian novel The Obscene Bird of Night, which I am currently reading & recommend. A very disturbing read, but provocative & of worth if only as a study in unreliable/multiple narratives in a single voice.

Poetry: While reading Yusef Komunyakaa’s Neon Vernacular, I thought immediately of Michael Ondaantje’s Coming Through Slaughter,which if you have never read, you should buy, immediately. Ondaatje & Komunyakaa both possess an innate sense of musicality, & although their subject matter may not always hold conversation, their rhythms will. Some readers inexperienced with Ondaatje, will find thwarted their expectations regarding “normal” forms of fiction. However, if these imaginary readers are poets, then perhaps they’ll be as delighted as I. Komunyakaa, although I’ve read his work before, continues to surprise & teach me; this time around, I find him to be a much more surreal author than before, particularly in poems such as “Looking a Mad Dog Dead In the Eye.”

Music: I have been obsessed with Johnny Cash records & with nearly obscure 1960’s girl groups & personalities like Evie Sands

Film: The other night I saw Youth Without Youth, a film by Francis Ford Coppola based on a novella by Mircea Eliade the late University of Chicago professor, philosopher & historian. Eliade’s theories have been useful & illuminating to me in the past, but I’ve never read one of his novels, much less seen a movie based on one of his novels. The film was gorgeous – just enough magic & heartache – &, in my opinion, a damn interesting story, even for a slightly heavy lean on metaphysics. But hey, you gotta give Coppola some credit: it’s hard to film metaphysics.

Visual Art: Despite getting slammed by notable voices such as The New York Times, the 55th Carnegie International exhibition is really quite wonderful. Works by artists such as Cao Fei and Friedrich Kunath give the show an element of necessary whimsy… actually, the prevalence of whimsical gestures at the exhibition overall struck an almost political chord regarding things like routine, rules, regulations & procedures. A worthwhile show which will be up until November. I think I’ll go again.

Movement: Swimming.
Food: Watermelon.
Sleeping: Not so much.

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