Arts Desk

Five Books I’d Read

in which the author discusses five books he'd read, if time permitted.


1. Hal Ashby: Interviews, edited by Nick Dawson.
Hal Ashby was one of those legendary, long-haired, aviator-sunglassed, '70s-ish directors (see: Harold and Maude, Shampoo, Being There) who did drugs and wore flared pants and generally represented the "golden age of American cinema," though most of the movies he made are almost 40 years old. Actually, I'm pretty tired of everyone talking about the "golden age of American cinema" that blossomed and matured and generally made life glorious before I was born. Weren't there any "golden ages" after 1977 or so? What about the "golden age of grunge" or the "golden age of electroclash?" What, nobody can look back on the Carter administration and smile once in a goddamn while?

2. The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, by James Baldwin, introduction by Randall Kenan.

James Baldwin, writing in 1959:

I suppose that it has always been difficult to be a writer. Writers tell us so; and so does the history of any given time or place and what one knows of the world's indifference. But I doubt that there could ever have been a time which demanded more of the writer than do these present days. The world has shrunk to the size of several ignorant armies; each of them vociferously demanding allegiance and many of them brutally imposing it. Nor is it easy for me, when I try to examine the world in which I live, to distinguish the right side from the wrong side.

I'd point out the prescience (Is this a world? I think so...) of Baldwin's comments and their continuing relevance in the days of FOX, MSNBC, gay marriage debates, mosque controversies, 14th amendment controversies, and attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade, but I'd rather address the obvious: Baldwin coulda had a V8.

3. Aurorarama, by Jean-Christophe Valtat.
I'm not sure what this book is about, but it's by a French dude, and seems to have a lot of cool pictures (or at least a cool cover), and someone wrote about it in the Paris Review (or, at least, interviewed the author in the Paris Review). So why not take it for a spin? It's got to be better than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, or at least have fewer rape scenes (unless, of course, it has more).

4. Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History, by Yunte Huang.
It's always a PC-scream when white A-list actors of yore get props for yellowface portrays of buck-toothed Asians (see: Marlon Brando in Teahouse of the August Moon, Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's, Peter Sellers in Murder By Death). Then again, are any of these Asian stereotypes worse than whatever genius screenwriter decided to let sissypants Tom Cruise survive Ken Watanabe and become the last samurai of The Last Samurai? In real life, everyone knows that Watanabe would get all harikiri on Cruise's scientological (Is this a word? I think so...) ass.

5. Kate Bush: Under the Ivy, by Graeme Thompson.
Did you ever get "My Name is Luca" stuck in your head? Wait...Kate Bush didn't write "My Name is Luca?" Oh yeah! Right! That was Suzanne Vega. Another sexist blog post that makes it seem that I can't differentiate between 1990s brunette chick songwriters.

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