music, technology & life in pasadena, california

The Stack

I’ve been reading and thinking about a lot of things lately, trying to put ideas together for new essays and finish ones already started both on paper (okay, on the screen) and in my mind. There’s just so much on my mindplate and they’re all making relentless attempts to be heard. The quote from Ray Bradbury that I titled Preface was designed as an introduction to a larger piece that I’m working on. This week a few more ideas were unsurfaced as I read David Lipsky’s account of traveling with David Foster Wallace on a book tour, which in turn led me back to Jonathan Franzen’s much talked about essay for Harper’s about the decline of reading and the novel itself. The recent news that Amazon sold more eBooks than hardcovers also begged to be added to the mix, analyzed, talked about and judged.

So while the last tracks for that particular tune are being recorded and awaiting final mixdown (what a metaphor!), I wanted to share my summer reading list (what a segue!). I don’t know how you feel about it but I love to see what others are reading. Sneaking peeks at coffee shops or anywhere around town, it’s good to see people with a book. At least here in Pasadena the difference is noticeable compared to the omnipresent three-ring tome with brass binding posts hymnal from the Church of Our Lady of the Perpetual Screenplay that is so widely venerated in my previous hangtown of Studio City/Sherman Oaks/The Valley.

My list is always an eclectic fuel mixture that is heavy on nonfiction, but something tells me that fiction is in my future. Make that a lot of fiction. But for the time being let’s get started and see what’s on my bedside table, affectionately heretofore referred to as The Stack*.

I mentioned David Lipsky’s book, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, a tour-de-force of a 1996 interview lasting one week as Lipsky traveled with Wallace on the Infinite Jest tour, the 1,000+ page novel that heralded Wallace as the new voice in American fiction. Wallace is at once brilliant, insecure, brilliant, hilarious, paranoid, competitive, brilliant and disturbed like the thousand delicate nerve endings he keeps referring to. I’ve never read Infinite Jest but I plan to someday soon. A book like that takes a serious commitment from a reader and that’s one of the many discussions that take place throughout the course of the book, including how fame and expectations affect a writer’s ability to produce good work. Originally planned to be contemporaneously published in Rolling Stone, the piece never ran and is now presented in its nearly unedited entirety, including David’s asides to his dogs. There are a lot of gems here and some terrific insight from Wallace as well as a look inside the head of a brilliant guy who tragically ended his life in 2008.

Edgar Degas by Bernd Growe is one of those beautifully produced little books published by Taschen that sell for $10. The printing and reproductions are wonderfully rich, if small, and are among the finest small guides to artists available. The ballet oils and pastels are here as well as several view-from-the-orchestra-pit paintings. Is there anything more exquisite than Degas? Recently, I spent an afternoon at the Norton Simon Museum here in Pasadena among their healthy collection of Degas works…transportation and transformation all within a few short hours.

Jonathan Franzen’s novel, The Corrections, a National Book Award winner from 2001 sits patiently at page 126 awaiting my reengagement. I’m very rarely drawn so heavily into fiction, but this one has its talons in me and won’t let go. Only life itself has pulled me away for a few weeks. Franzen’s essays for The New Yorker and other magazines are unmatched in subject and style, as witnessed by his latest New Yorker piece on the slaughter of songbirds in Europe. His collection, How To Be Alone, is in reread rotation here as well.

The catalog for the Frederick H. Evans show at The Getty is anxious to be cracked open. Evans was a pioneer in platinum printing with large format cameras and the show was comprehensive in its scope. If you read my previous piece, need I say more?

George Seurat – The Drawings is another art book that takes my breath away. How does one scribble with crayon on paper with almost no line and conjure up a whole world of light and shadow, fooling our mind into seeing detail where there is none, doing it so intimately and effortlessly as to appear casual yet bring us to tears as it reverberates in our souls?

Reporting At Wit’s End – Tales from The New Yorker by St. Clair McKelway is an anthology of his work for the magazine from the 1930s to the 1960s. He wrote about crime and criminals, scammers, counterfeiters and the fringes of “normal” society, a New York of another time. I’ve only read the introduction by Adam Gopnik so far, but it already has me hungry for the eighteen pieces inside.

There’s a bunch of other stuff on The Stack as well, books on printmaking and related techniques like chine colle, one on antique packaging, a new book from Gerald Klickstein on practicing, performance and wellness, another of interviews with singers and conductors working in opera today (Pierre Boulez hates orchestra subs! Who knew?). A week or two ago there was Umberto Eco’s The Infinity of Lists and a book on Baroque painting in Bologna.

My wife has always said that I’m the gatekeeper of useless information, but that’s what happens when you’re bitten by the reading bug, a lifetime of reading and referrals that begat this which begat that and spiral onward. If only I could wean myself from FaceBook and do some real work. But that’s a subject for another day.

* I stole this name from another blogger but can’t find the reference anymore, so I have appropriated its use for descriptive purposes all in the spirit of full disclosure.

August 20, 2010 | Link to this entry


Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

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