The New Yorker
April 8, 2011
Geoff Dyer, the author of “Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews,” tells us what’s on his nightstand.
Good timing! I’m reading a ton of stuff at the moment. I finished Manning Marable’s “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” just days before he died. It’s an incredibly detailed account of Malcolm’s life (and an investigation of his murder) and it is, of course, completely riveting. I guess it doesn’t have quite the breadth of the epic Taylor Branch trilogy of books on America in the King Years—“Parting the Waters,” etc.—but it is inevitably much more than a biography of one man (Marable’s nice phrase is “the social architecture of an individual’s life”). Marable is intensely and intimately sympathetic, but he brings out Malcolm’s failings and repeated foolishnesses—personal, ideological, and tactical—within the rapid and headlong advances he made in life. At almost every political opportunity that presented itself to him a better response was both called-for and historically available; and yet, at the same time, there was this great sense of forward movement, of being swept along by a history he was instrumental in creating. Throughout the book, you can hear ringing in your head that great observation of E. M. Cioran’s: that the further a man advances in life the less there is to convert to. Perhaps the struggle of Malcolm’s life was to advance beyond that initial conversion to the Nation of Islam. It also occurred to me, perhaps stupidly, that, all his charisma and oratorical power notwithstanding, perhaps the simple rhythmic tug of his name was important: Malcolm X trips off the tongue so much better than the names of later converts who had the misfortune to be called James 67X or something like that. The fact that he looked—and sounded—like Denzel Washington probably didn’t do him any harm either.
Also here are: a quaint-looking edition of Maynard Solomon’s biography of Beethoven, which I read about twenty years ago and remember being very good and which I am dipping into again. And Lewis Lockwood’s newish one, “Beethoven: the Music and the Life” which I’ve not started yet. The problem for me with books about “straight” music is that I have no knowledge of the technical terms (C Major, etc.), so what I most want from them—explanations of what’s going on in the music—is often what they end up lacking. (My fault, not the authors’.)
What else? A bunch of books by Brazilian photographers (including the great Thomas Farkas, who passed away a fortnight ago), one of those hefty collections of John Updike’s essays, “More Matter,” and a couple of books about tennis that I’m reviewing. Oh yes, and I always have one of Dean Young’s collections lying around—at this time it’s “Embryoyo.” These loony poems of his are a source of endless instruction, humor and philosophical entertainment (as I inadequately understand the term—or terms, I suppose).
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