Closing the Curtains

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by Hua Hsu



As Ta-Nehisi recalled in his Monday introduction, he and I first met over pizza and beers a seeming eternity ago. I remember the table seeming especially long, and conversations splintered off and re-clustered around those with the newest mixtapes (Lox-related, if I'm remembering correctly) on their (then-novel) iPods. Strangers sharing earbuds, the white cord between them resembling a "Y." It was strange to assign a human presence to a byline, and it changed how I read certain people's work, as did the friendships which evolved from that night and many others. I just wanted to thank Ta-Nehisi for the opportunity to cameo over here. It's been a pleasure and an honor, and I'm humbled by the insights and suggestions of the commentariat as well as the brilliant posts that Brendan, a writer I've long admired, and Cynic, to whom I am now a staunch devotee, have contributed. I occasionally feel curmudgeonly about the Internet and its effects, but this page expresses such a wonderful possibility of "community," an updated version of pizza, beers and mixtapes, if you will. I'll be returning to my normal post next week, if you would care to follow me.

Over the week, there have been a few opportunities for us to weigh in on our favorites, and my reading list has grown considerably after checking out Cynic's post on literary non-fiction. I just thought I'd add a few suggestions. (Along with a link to this article on "slow reading," which I must confess I have only skimmed...)

Literary non-fiction is a difficult art to master, and, for me, there's no better evocation of that books like Janet Malcolm's The Journalist and the Murderer, Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night, most of Joan Didion. Malcolm's book, essentially a psychological portrait of the modern journalist, chilled me to the bone; it made me never want to write again, for fear of lawsuit and/or immorality. Mailer's book requires a bit of patience and tolerance, but it approaches Malcom's qundary—that, as a writer, one constantly imposes narrative, cause-and-effect, etc upon an array of facts—with real gusto. As in, Mailer makes furious love to this contradiction, fictionalizing history and historizing his fictions. Didion's distinct flatness and gorgeously economic prose always lures me in, forces me to dig through the work and study whatever parts she's left moving. I'd also add Luc Sante's Factory of Facts (one of my favorite writers), the works of W.G. Sebald...I'll add more in the comments down below when they come to me. 

For some reason, Los Angeles also inspires non-fiction writers to imagine new approaches. I'm teaching a class on "space" next year and it was hard to choose between Mike Davis' City of Quartz, DJ Waldie's Holy Land and Reyner Banham's Los Angeles. And I'm very much looking forward to reading Amitava Kumar's forthcoming account of the war on terror, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb. (Full disclosure: in a bout of drunken narcissism, I may have, in the past (and always jokingly) asked Amitava for the naming rights to his second born.) Perhaps this would be a good place to bury a plug for A New Literary History of America, a book I worked on and recommend nonetheless.

I read a lot of criticism, academic books, books on popular culture, etc, and Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism and Joshua Clover's 1989 are two of my recent favorites. There's such an admirably stern commitment to politics and ideas in both, even as they delight in descriptions of Jason Bourne, nanny-cam reality television or A Guy Called Gerald. There is no better discussion of the meanings and construction of taste in our age than Carl Wilson's book on Celine Dion. And for those who don't understand the fascination I and some of my World Cup blog contributors hold for the Dutch, check out David Winner's Brilliant Orange, one of the best "it's about X, but it's about so much more..." books I've read in a while. (In this case, let x=Dutch soccer and "so much more"=architecture, painting, social norms, economy, etc.)

This reminds me—I need to get back to writing my own. In the meantime, would love to hear any more suggestions down below...

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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