Notes from the Field: Bestsellers and Cult Favourites

B7K_ZDPCcAAxE8CThe White Review (@thewhitereview) presents Chris Kraus and Zoe Pilger at the London Review Bookshop (@LRBbookshop)

“Enjoy DICK” a friend messaged after I told her I was heading to the London Review Bookshop for an event with novelist and art critic Chris Kraus. I was looking forward to seeing Zoe Pilger and The White Review; the novelist and the lit mag are two of my favourite discoveries in the past few years. But I hadn’t yet encountered Chris Kraus. I resist Google and let the mystery of my friend’s comment hang in their air.

Kraus was in town with a new critical edition of Torpor, a story of love, power and a European road trip which Kraus described in an interview as set at “the dawn of the New World Order, the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the last days of New York’s underground.” The conversation cycled around to her first novel, written in letters of devotion to Dick, a media theorist and sociologist. Kraus wrote, “it was more ridiculed than praised: ‘a book not so much written as secreted’ (Artforum); ‘a stream of fawning love letters so intrusive they amount to epistolary stalking’ (New York Magazine)”. At the event, Kraus said that though she was telling the reader how to read the book, line by line, readers seemed to insist on reading the book for its…secretions. Since its publication in the late 1990s, that has changed. The book, (here it comes) titled I Love Dick, has gone on to be a touchstone of confessional writing and explores the rare theme of the male muse, not just enjoyed but beloved by many. A podcast of the event is coming soon.

B7VUL1gIMAEA2CI.jpg-largeBen Lerner (reading) with Stuart Evers (@stuartevers) at Foyles (@foyles)

On 14 January, British novelist Stuart Evers took the stage with Ben Lerner to discuss his 10:04, a novel named for the moment that lightning strikes the clocktower in the film Back to the Future. The American poet and novelist’s second novel has been garnering rave reviews. The New Statesman called it “a neon Rubik’s Cube of a novel, designed for our economic age”. It’s not just, as Lerner put it, “another Brooklyn novel by a guy with glasses.” From the absurd (eating octopus for lunch that has been massaged to death) to the familiar question “Can men and women be friends?” taken to new territory (“…and start families?”), Lerner looks at this strange society we’ve created, laced with impending doom. Speaking to a packed house, Lerner warned us not to be nostaligic about the past. He wondered what his child will make of films where the primary forms of receiving information about the world were the newspaper and the telephone. Though we have new technologies, we should not forget that those, too, were just as potent carriers of information and meaning as the ones we have now. He called the novel a technology, as well: one that will evolve and endure. Speaking to a packed house, Lerner and Evers both answered the audience question, Which song are you listening to most now? Both men have small children and, respectively, are never hearing the end of Elmo songs and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”.

B6rNnwaCMAAsSuKLocal Transport presents My Dark Places with James Batley, Zoe Pilger and Ben Lerner at the Ace Hotel Shoreditch (@acehotel)

Local Transport’s theme this quarter was My Dark Places. (I co-curate this event with Michael Salu, a writer and creative director.) This cross-arts exploration of culture kicked off with “Kneel Through the Dark” a short film by James Batley. With its rumbling, eerie soundtrack and montage of occult, Aleister-Crowley-inspired imagery, it set the tone for the night. The second act was art critic and novelist Zoe Pilger, who presented the first chapter of her second novel, as yet untitled. In the first chapter, we meet her main character, a romance writer looking for the Nars blusher “Deep Throat”. As she read, she ran through a slideshow of images that illustrated the story, from make-up counters at various department stores along Oxford Street to pornographic images and a picture of a pig. The slideshow was just as funny and sharp as her treatment of themes of femininity, romance and masochism. Eat My Heart Out, her first novel, inspired Deborah Levy to says that Pilger “might be the heiress to Angela Carter”. The evening wrapped up with a reading and conversation with Ben Lerner, who we just found out had made the bestseller list. To a DJ set by Algiers, the full-house moved from literature to vibrations and off into the void of night… A podcast of Local Transport’s events is also forthcoming.


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