Pretty busy week last week, so there’s not a whole lot to recommend, but I want to do this every week, so here goes:
Sun by Cat Power: I wasn’t a huge fan of her Jukebox albums, but I loved The Greatest, and this is a return to form, as far as I can tell. She reportedly did the whole album solo and played all the instruments as well.
I know she’s had some personal problems, but I feel annoyed that every time she releases an album, the critical reviews always seem to regard it as some personal triumph, as if she’s some helpless, terminally damaged freak who can only get it together every three or four years to put out an album. I hope it’s annoying to her too.
Tempest by Bob Dylan: Holy shit. A couple of months ago a writer for The Guardian called out Bruce Springsteen as an artist in decline, as someone who serves less as a vital, contributing presence than as a revered albeit toothless demigod. The article pissed me off, but I couldn’t argue. Springsteen has put out one great album over the past decade-and-a-half; however, the songs that make up that one album are spread over five okay ones. I thought, at the time, that Bob Dylan would be next in line for the same treatment. His last very good album was Love and Theft, his last great one was Time Out of Mind. His last album was shit. My hopes were not high. I was ready to scream out that the emperor was, at last, buck-ass naked. Then he dropped The Tempest, his best album since Love and Theft and maybe since Time Out of Mind.
Is he still vital? I don’t know. Is this a profound and moving album that I will listen to for the foreseeable future? Oh yes.
New TV is beginning soon, but nothing really to report otherwise. Doctor Who is always worth checking out on BBC America…
Actually, check that—it’s the last season of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain on The Travel channel (!), and I initially hesitated to mention this only because at this point, you’ve probably seen an episode (or thirty) and have already made your mind up about the show itself and Bourdain in particular.
As far as I’m concerned, I’ve been a fan since his book Kitchen Confidential in the late 1990’s, the show is terrific and he basically has my dream job. If you’re still on the fence, try to find the episode where he goes to the Ozarks, eats squirrel and raccoon, arms wrestles (and loses to) a sixty-five-year-old woman, almost kills critically acclaimed author Daniel Woodrell, and sheepishly explains the best way to prepare duck breast to two burly mallard hunters in Dickies and hooded sweatshirts. Great stuff.
Certified Copy: Abbas Kiorastami is an Iranian filmmaker whose films are typically love-it-or-hate-it. I really liked this film, but I’m reticent about recommending it in that it’s still difficult and even boring for stretches.
It concerns a couple who may or may not be in love, who may or may not have just met. It reminds me of some early films of Antonioni in its execution and disregard for whether you, as a viewer, are entertained. I typically admire that kind of artistic attitude, though at times his insistence on long stretches of nothing can solidify into a kind of pretentious tic.
The Five Year Engagement: Overlong, and not as funny as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but it has Emily Blunt, which should, at this point, be enough for anyone with two eyes and a heart.
Longform.org is a digest of outstanding, longer magazine and newspaper pieces. This past week, I read an excellent GQ article by Devin Friedman about Rick Ross, a Believer interview with Jonathan Gold (whose food reviews are worth checking out on their own), and a New Yorker article about the new film Cloud Atlas by Alexander Hemon. Until this point, I relied on Arts and Letters Daily for this kind of thing, so it’s nice to have another option.
I’m plodding through a collection of stories by the canonical Indian author R.K. Narayan (The Grandmother’s Tale). Every time I feel like chucking it, something in the book charms me and I keep going. Narayan is considered by many to be a master of the form, and it shows, mostly, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that just as often as I’m interested in the stories, I’m distracted or annoyed by how precious his prose can be.
Enemies, A Love Story by I.B. Singer: Now here’s a short novel, by a famous, Nobel winning author, that won’t put you to sleep. It concerns a Holocaust survivor, relocated to Coney Island and married to the gentile, Polish woman who kept him safe for three years in her barn during the war. In addition, he’s conducting an affair with a Jewish woman who survived Auschwitz. The his wife, long thought dead, shows up in New York. Complicated, funny, thought-provoking, and nasty. We often read accounts of the Holocaust, but I rarely, if ever considered the complications that occurred afterwards. How do you live a moral, sustained life after surviving such an atrocity? When does life become worth living again? And how does one re-establish human connections when everything and everyone you depended on is taken away from you? Finally, this profoundly cynical question: if you are a rat-bastard to those you love, in what way are your sins forgiven and forgotten if you also happen to be victimized by the most horrifying atrocity ever conceived? Does it make you a better person? Can it excuse you? In an explanatory note at the beginning of the book, Singer writes “I never had the pleasure of being a guest in one of Hitler’s camps…” A bark of laughter into the void if there ever was one.