In Noah Baumbach’s debut feature, Kicking and Screaming (1995), Eric Stoltz plays Chet, a professional student who tends bar at the local watering hole where all the would be and could be professional students gather. Chet is the resident philosopher and wisdom dispenser of the group, tossing off bon mots like “If Plato is a fine red wine, then Aristotle is a dry martini.” (Baumbach, a Vassar graduate, has built his career around writing lines like that, from The Squid and the Whale to this year’s Greenberg with Ben Stiller.) Chet's most memorable comment,which has stayed foremost in my mind these many years, was about reading. In a discussion about books—in particular a novel neither of the conversants has read yet are opining about at length—Chet says, “I don’t read books anymore. I read book reviews.”
At the tender age of 25, I actually already knew the inherent brilliance of this strategy, being a longtime reader of the Book Review in the Sunday Times. Reading the Book Review, I could dip my pinky toe into the world of 20 or 30 books a week, achieving at least a conversational familiarity with the works—what I’ve come to call cocktail party fluency. So while I have not read Jonathan Franzen’s latest great American novel, I know the plot line, the similarities and contrasts from his previous work, and why some female writers are up in arms about all the attention he’s been getting.
The fact of the matter is, while I did just download Freedom onto my Kindle, the number of books I find time to read a year seems to be in direct reverse proportion to my age. It trends like so: At 20, I read 40 books a year. This year, I'll turn 40, and I’ll be lucky if I read 20 books. By the time I’m 80, I’ll have stopped reading books entirely, cowed by the overwhleming digital clutter and merely scanning Twitter posts and Facebook updates, or whatever the digital variant of these devices will have evolved into.
Knowing this about myself, and looking wistfully at the pile of unread magazines on the bedside table at my house sitting next to the untouched books, I came to the conclusion that this month, I would offer some snapshots of articles for those lacking the time to read the entire magazine, but wishing for cocktail party fluency. Some talking points below, then, for when you're mingling and you want to appear informed about the November issue of Chronogram.
David Means is BFF with Jonathan Franzen.
Our books editor, Nina Shengold, describes the short story writer David Means's new collection, The Spot, as possessing “a magisterial bleakness, leavened by prose of surpassing beauty.” Means, who teaches at Vassar College, is a close friend of Jonathan Franzen, whom he met in the 1980s, and Means is noted on the Acknowledgments page of Freedom.
Success stories from post-Katrina New Orleans are emerging.
One Block is Dave Anderson’s photo document of the rebuilding of a single city block in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, the area hardest hit by the flooding caused by the breech of the levees. Anderson spent 18 months in the Crescent City, following the rehabilitation of the homes and psyches of residents of the Holy Cross neighborhood.
Nancy Graves also worked in encaustic.
The first female artist to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Nancy Graves spent the last five years of her life in Kingston. Best known for her brightly colored enameled bronze sculptures, Graves’s encaustic works are on display this month at R&F Handmade Paints in Kingston.
The publisher and cofounder of Chronogram, Jason Stern, has published a book.
Learning To Be Human (Codhill Press, 2010) is a collection of essays originally published in this magazine in Jason’s “Esteemed Reader” column. The pieces track not only the development of Chronogram over the 17 years Jason has been writing his column, but also the evolving consciousness of the man behind the magazine.
Between 40 and 60 percent of the food supplied to the Culinary Institute of America is locally sourced.
The school prides itself on working with area purveyors whenever possible, and this philosophy is instilled in the CIA’s graduates. A number of CIA-trained chefs have gone on to open restaurants in the region that focus on dishes built around local ingredients.
Facebook is art.
Jazz-Minh Moore has taken comments and status updates from her friend Uli’s Facebook page and included them as elements of her portrait, My Little Heile Welt.
Dr. Tom Little was from the Hudson Valley.
Dr. Tom Little, a Delmar-based ophthalmologist, spent the last three decades providing eye care to Afghans in need via the National Organization of Ophthalmic Rehabilitation Eye Care Program. In August, Dr. Tom was one of nine medical team members killed by Taliban gunmen in remote Afghanistan.
How a burning hunk of rock garnered a million-dollar investment.
In order to fund their project connecting the Delaware and Hudson rivers via a canal, the Wurts brothers lit a piece of anthracite coal in front of a group of amazed financiers in a Wall Street coffeehouse in 1825.
Dogs may have influenced the evolution of humans as much as humans shaped how dogs evolved from wolves.
Steven Kotler, author of A Small Furry Prayer: Dog Rescue and the Meaning of Life, makes a convincing case that humans learned how to hunt and live in large groups from wolves.
Do you remember the name Matthew Shepard?
This month, the Mohonk Mountain Stage Reader’s Theater Company presents “The Laramie Project: An Epilogue (Ten Years Later),” based on the return of Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project to Wyoming, 10 years after the brutal killing of gay teen Matthew Shepard. Director Christine Crawfis admits that not all of the cast knew who Shepard was when initial casting began.
John Zorn doesn’t do interviews.
At least that’s what he told us.