A Few Recommendations...
I'm on a brief hiatus this week, so I thought I'd share a few things I've read, watched, and listened to in recent weeks that you might want to check out.
The golden glow that stretches shadows through autumn afternoons and into earlier nights has settled on us in my corner of the world. With the change into this season comes wool jumpers, thick socks, long walks scored by the crumple of leaves underfoot; also, diminishing energy, the desire to curl up and nap rather than work, and — though ameliorated to a degree by medication and SAD lamps — seasonal depression.
I’ve lived through enough autumns now to know that unless I build a wide moat of quiet time around my work, burnout will hit me before the madness and stress of the Christmas period descends. That’s why I’m taking a week out — for my health, and so I will be better able to bring you the quality of work you deserve to read.
So, in lieu of an essay or review, this week I thought I’d bring to your attention the best of what I’ve been reading and listening to over the last few weeks. I’ll be back next week, and October will bring you a review of Claire Keegan’s new book, a retrospective look at “The Virgin Suicides”, and more. In the meantime, take care of yourselves.
Our Brands Are Crisis, Scott Tobias writing for The Reveal
The first two pieces on my list come from the ever-perceptive Substack, The Reveal, which has become my go-to for film criticism online. For a sense of what they do so well, I recommend this fascinating article on the role of brands in contemporary filmmaking. It starts with this attention-grabber: “Everyone involved in the making of Flamin’ Hot knew it was bullshit.”
The article then goes on to remind us of what should be always obvious, yet is often forgotten— thanks, I believe, to a mix of family-friendly postmodernism and the insidious encroachment of companies on our intimate lives: that our interests and those of global corporations don’t necessarily align. Here, Tobias brings this subtext to the surface:
It should go without saying that, in the words of Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, “these people are not your friends.” And yet we’ve become oddly accustomed to the movies treating them as such.
The Streaming Era’s Classic Animation Problem (and Why It Looks Like Only Disney Is Trying to Solve It), Keith Phipps writing for The Reveal
“Technology has the potential to put swathes of golden age cartoons at our fingertips,” the subtitle to this wonderful piece says, before asking, “So why is it mostly disappearing instead?” This is a question I had not thought to ask (credit to the article, then, for inspiring my curiosity), and whose answer I could never have articulated as well as Keith Phipps does here.
What I am saying is: read this if you grew up with Looney Tunes, or if you care about the preservation of cinema history, or if you haven’t yet caught on to why many of us still insist on owning physical media. Also read it for gems like this:
That some of this material can be found on YouTube is a blessing, but it’s also the streaming equivalent of ceding preservation duties to the guy at the comic book convention selling bootleg DVDs alongside The Star Wars Holiday Special and the three-hour version of Spinal Tap.
What Do The LOONEY TUNES Mean In 2023? Patrick H Willems on Youtube
This one is an addendum to the last recommendation, a video-essay deep-dive into what made (and could make again) the Looney Tunes so special. It overlaps with the concerns of Keith Phipps’ essay, and gives a more macroscopic view of the animated landscape that many of us grew up with.
George Saunders Discusses Claire Keegan, on The New Yorker Fiction podcast
Claire Keegan has once again gifted us with an ever-flowering story, this one called So Late in the Day. I will be reviewing it in next week’s edition of Art Of Conversation. In the meantime, you can listen to Claire Keegan read the story herself, followed by an insightful discussion of the story between the novelist George Saunders and The New Yorker’s fiction editor, Deborah Treisman. There’s an interesting moment where Saunders describes the tension between Keegan’s use of a word which is perfect for the story and irreplaceable, but which Saunders couldn’t bring himself to say out loud.
The Woke Burnout Is Real — and Politics Is Catching Up, on the Matter of Opinion podcast
This podcast is consistently fascinating, even if there are times when I wish Ross Douthat would push his progressive colleagues a little harder. I’d just like a little of that light-generating heat. That aside, here is an episode that, while discussing how burned out we all are by the latest culture wars, shows there are still interesting and important things to say on the topic.
More to the point, the team of New York Times opinion writers who form this show demonstrate that there are truly constructive disagreements to be had about what is or isn’t “woke”, whether fears of it are well-founded or overblown, and whether it exists at all. Not to mention it opens with this wonderful piece of banter:
Lydia Polgreen: “Daddy, what did you do during the woke war?” Carlos Lozada: “I wrote sternly worded columns.”
The End of Nightwork, Aidan Cottrell-Boyce
Cottrell-Boyce’s first novel is a delightfully curious hybrid of various kinds of book — there are hints of weird fiction, Max Porter-esque poetic prose, kitchen sink drama, and fictional biography. The novel is told from the perspective of a man with a rare chronological disorder that causes him to age in leaps and bounds, skipping from childhood to his early twenties physiologically speaking, then staying that way for years until the next leap. He’s also writing the biography of a (fictional) 17th-century preacher named Bartholomew Playfere who predicted ecological cataclysm. This all takes place against a backdrop of marriage and parenthood that seem, at times, as rife with disaster as the calamity faced by the environment.
If all of this makes you expect a doorstopper novel overstuffed with ideas, fear not — it all coalesces into a mostly satisfying whole. There is some narrative stall in the middle section of the book, lost momentum that might have been regained had Cottrell-Boyce cut the very many, too many, dream sequences he insists on relating. In the third act, I also found myself wondering where things were going, if anywhere, and whether I cared by this point. But on closing the book, I found it remains a treat, and it promises interesting things to come from this writer.
It’s not the best book I’ve read this year, but it’s probably the most unique. I haven’t read anything quite like it since, so if you want to wander off the beaten path for an afternoon of reading, this might be the right diversion for you.
That’s all, folks!