What to Read on the Subway This Week: 4/23
This week, examine the sparse, quick-moving prose of a Pulitzer contender, question the issue of race in a hit new show, spark your creativity, and remember a modern feminist poet.
On Your Kindle
Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson
As the prestigious Pulitzer prizes were doled out this week, there was a conspicuous absence of a lauded work of fiction, despite the nominations of three pieces: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, The Pale King by David Foster Wallace, and this little gem by Denis Johnson.
Set in the Idaho panhandle at the turn of the century, this novella recounts the life story of Robert Grainier, an entirely ordinary, barely noticeable man, driven to quiet grief after the death of his wife and baby. The setting—whose bareness matches the prose—is so removed from the rest of American life that the story could almost have occurred in any time period; small clues (a reference to Elvis, a mention of World War I) ground a reader who might have otherwise drifted along a timeline of sameness. The writing is an interesting blend of American realism in all its blunt pragmatism and a vague supernaturalism—past horrors and superstitions learned from dreams and a Native American man twist and overlap throughout Grainier’s unremarkable, beautiful life.
On Your Smartphone
Where (My) Girls At?, by Jenna Wortham
The new HBO series Girls, produced by Judd Apatow and created by Lena Dunham, a 25-year old Indie-film prodigy, has already generated a maelstrom of attention from viewers and reviewers, who don’t yet seem quite sure if the show is the cutting-edge face of new feminism it claims to be or if it’s a slightly uncomfortable modern-day Sex and the City. This interesting perspective, offered by Jenna Wortham of the New York Times, questions why, if this raw show about “real” girls is so modern and fresh, does it not feature any black characters? If you’ve seen the show (or even if you haven’t), weigh in below: What do you make of the lack of characters of color?
On a Podcast
Ever wonder how the Swiffer, that miraculous blend of mop, broom, and paper towel, was created? In this podcast, which spans the length of a long-ish commute, Jonah Lehrer answers this question and more as he chats with Slate magazine’s June Thomas. Lehrer has an interesting take on creativity and what generates it: Often, it seems, it comes down to chance encounters. He offers tips for being more creative and, importantly, recommends against “powering through” a miserable project. Listen to this podcast and get your own creative juices flowing.
The Fact of a Doorframe, by Adrienne Rich
In memory of Adrienne Rich, the brilliant, often impenetrable, modern feminist poet who died on March 27, read through The Fact of a Doorframe, a collection of selected poems from 1950 to 2001. Rich’s poetry blends private and public: Her poems make grand, public gestures even as they inhabit a small, private space. Rich’s writing often addresses gendered questions, wondering aloud about a woman’s power and its source, about the drawbacks of femininity, about how a woman fits into a modern world. Some favorite poems from this collection include “Seven Skins,” “Power,” “The Fact of a Doorframe,” and “Twenty-One Love Poems.”
Photo courtesy of Francisco Osorio.
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