On the year’s reading list thus far; a novel by Georges Perec; another book; and maybe even a movie (gasp).


Here’s the reading list for 2018 to date, with the novel by Perec finished only last evening. It was amazing; I’ll have more of a review if time permits, but thanks to J for the suggestion. This short documentary film at YouTube conveys the flavor of Perec’s novel:

What’s next is anyone’s guess; there’s a stack of books on the dresser and we’ll see which one jumps out at me. In the interim, I’m struck by how these categories summarize my interests.

Life: A User’s Manual, by Georges Perec
The Tin Drum, by Gunter Grass
Earthly Powers, by Anthony Burgess
Act of the Damned, by António Lobo Antunes

Biography & Autobiography
Not Dead Yet: The Autobiography, by Phil Collins (audio)
Grant, by Ron Chernow
Gabriele D’Annunzio – Poet, Seducer & Preacher of War, by Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Drink & Food
Great Beers of Belgium, by Michael Jackson
The Guinness Story, by Edward J. Bourke
Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine One Plate at a Time, by Adrian Miller
Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer, by Maureen Ogle

Travel & Geography
Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, by Patrick Leigh Fermor
The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution, by Yuri Slezkine
Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion, by Mike Levy

Next may be this book, if available.

Dreamers by Volker Weidermann review – Munich 1919, a moment of anarchy, by Caroline Moorehead (The Guardian)

A superb account of an episode when the writers took over and it seemed all could be different. Then people were rounded up and shot

On 7 November 1918, a critic and journalist called Kurt Eisner, with long grey hair, a wild beard and pince-nez, led a victory parade through the streets of Munich, calling for revolution. Crowds flocked, among them the many disbanded soldiers returning from the war. Eisner dreamed of a free and independent Bavaria, run by councils of writers and workers in which artists would elevate and educate the masses and there would never again be war. He would be prime minister. It could not, indeed did not, last. But for three chaotic weeks, ungoverned Munich was in perpetual carnival mood, with women sitting outside on their porches in the sunshine and prophets, “hypnotists, and those who had been hypnotised” preaching anarchy and happiness. Thomas Mann’s son Klaus, 13 at the time, saw himself as “an animal feeling the approach of an earthquake”.

In his extremely enjoyable Summer Before the Dark, published in 2016, Volker Weidermann took a moment, a group of people and a place – Ostend in 1936 with Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth – and used it to paint a portrait of Europe as it was drawn inexorably towards war. He uses the same highly effective method in Dreamers, putting together a picture of the chaotic aftermath of the first world war when it was just possible to believe that everything could be different. Once again, he builds his narrative around a cast of remarkable characters, some familiar, others known only to scholars of German history.

Three weeks after his march through Munich, Eisner’s dream unravelled. Opposition, much of it raucous and agitated, built up from both the right and the left. On his way to deliver his resignation speech to parliament, he was shot dead by an assassin who later explained that he acted to save the Fatherland from a Jew, a Bolshevik and a traitor. The weeks that followed were marked by street fights, recriminations and revenge killings, but they brought to the fore another dreamer – the pacifist, Marxist playwright and poet Ernst Toller.

It would be the perfect book for a week’s pre-Christmas in Munich, although on second thought, writers being rounded up and shot might not be the best metaphorical prelude to a municipal election cycle in 2019.

Speaking of artists, and given that I’ve viewed precisely two motion pictures during the entire year (The Death of Stalin and Fahrenheit 11/9), perhaps this one will come around for the typical week at Baxter Avenue:

‘At Eternity’s Gate’ Review: An Exquisite Portrayal of van Gogh at Work, by Manohla Dargis (New York Times)

Willem Dafoe plays Vincent van Gogh in Julian Schnabel’s movie, which is attentive to the hardships of the artist — and to art itself.

In “At Eternity’s Gate,” a vivid, intensely affecting portrait of Vincent van Gogh toward the end of his life, the artist walks and walks. Head bowed, he looks like a man on a mission, though at other times he seems more like a man at prayer. Often dressed in a blue shirt, he carries an easel, brushes and paint strapped to his back, trudging in light that changes from golden to wintry blue. One day in 1888, he puts his battered boots on the red tile floor of his room in Arles, France. He quickly begins creating a simple painting of them; the original now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The journey of those shoes from humble floor to museum wall tells a familiar story about van Gogh, whose painful life is part of a lucrative brand known as Vincent the Mad Genius. In “At Eternity’s Gate,” the director Julian Schnabel imagines a different Vincent. This Vincent — a magnificent Willem Dafoe — is not defined by that brand but by the art with which he at once communes with the world and transcends it. Schnabel is interested in this difficult, mercurial man and attentive to his hardships. Strikingly, though, his interest has a rare quality of tenderness to it, perhaps because, unlike most filmmakers who make movies about great artists, he is fundamentally preoccupied with art itself.

Three movies in a year?

That’s pushing it for me, but there’s never enough time to read.