It’s almost July, which means it’s time for our critically-acclaimed summer reading list, a list of books that, quite simply, we critics acclaim. Last summer, we gave you a list of novels artists love, just in time for your beach reading. This time around, we’ve provided our own mix, ranging from fiction on chatrooms and psychosis, and histories on New York and Elizabethan London. Don’t turn that dial.
Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation
“So scared. So scared. So scared. So scared. So scared. So scared. So scared. So scared.”
There’s a page more of those so scareds in Jenny Offill’s book Dept. of Speculation. It’s the day before the protagonist finds out that her husband has been cheating on her, but she knows already. Something is off. From that point on, it’s as though her suffering forces her to leave her own body. She refers to herself only as “the wife.”
Ann Fensterstock, Art on the Block: Tracking the New York Art World from SoHo to the Bowery, Bushwick and Beyond
A full history of the founding and migration of art galleries across the city. Fensterstock describes a web of contributing factors for these moves; real estate, politics, the economy, community, and even the size and format of the art. All this could be dry, but it’s infinitely readable, perhaps because there’s so much substance to the book. I couldn’t put it down.
For fun: Klaus.net’s e-book series
I’ve only read one of Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery’s e-book commissions, Body by Body’s TG-30. I read that in one sitting, and since have been dying to pick up a few others: Daniel Williams’s Names, a book of short stories about suburban lives; Isaac Richard Pool’s Alien She, an ethereal scrapbook of collage about “phantom femininity”; and Deanna Havas’s Template Jams, what looks to be characters described through social media templates.
But Ann Hirsch’s Twelve tops the list. Hirsch tells the story of starting a romantic online relationship, with someone twice her age, as a twelve-year-old. It unfolds through an AOL chatroom interface, which she developed with app designer James LaMarre. If this is anything like Hirsch’s similar videos, it will suck you in. iTunes removed the book for explicit content, so you gotta buy it on the limited-edition iPad mini. 🙁
For politics: Tom Angotti’s New York for Sale: Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate (Urban and Industrial Environments)
The former associate planner for the New York Department of City Planning, Tom Angotti, dispels lots of myths surrounding the New York City housing crisis. It makes Bill de Blasio’s plan look like a disaster. If you’re interested in possible solutions to gentrification, this is a must-read.
I tend to read a couple of books at a time. Art stuff’s for the train; lighter fare’s for before I turn off my night light. Nearly all of them I read on my phone; who wants to lug around a bag of books and a laptop? Anyway, here’re some of the books on my Kindle right now:
Why you should read this book? If only to hammer home the point that Elizabethans were not like us. I’m a big fan of history books that end up dispelling those types of cultural myths; that’s why we still read Shakespeare in school. Anyway, I like Picard’s book, though I know it’s not for everyone. It’s light on humor, but heavy on info. At times, it reads like an encyclopedia. But it does let you know in heavy detail how Londoners in the 16th and 17th centuries got on with their lives. Did you ever want to know how they took out their trash? Check. What type of names orphans were given? Check. How immigrants were treated? Check.
For a less accurate version of the Elizabethan world, there’s always Neil Gaiman’s Marvel 1602. Also fantastic, imo.
Lane Relyea, Your Everyday Art World
I started reading Relyea’s book because 1) I think he’s one of the more clear-spoken art historians around and 2) because I heard that he talks about apartment galleries. (I used to run one.) What YEAW is really about is “networked connectivity and DIY agency,” focusing on the art-world middle. And if you didn’t already know, the “middle” isn’t the most popular topic for art historians; that in itself makes this a special type of book. Now, there are some parts that drag on, like when Relyea discusses liberal, slacker mini-revolutions in early-90s Minneapolis. But when the gems do appear, I’m glad I’ve kept the book close at hand.
Lucy R. Lippard used to be one of the biggest names in New York art criticism. Then she moved to New Mexico; her current interests reflect that move. So with Undermining, Lippard writes about political problems facing those living in the Southwest today. Occasionally, there’s art examples thrown in. And the most not-artsy inclusion of all: Her book begins with a quote from the Wu-Tang Clan!
Out of all the books I’m reading right now, this one’s the hardest to get through. For the most part, the book is a series of somewhat connected vignettes. Thankfully, Lippard herself gives a warning about the style: “My methodology is simple and experiential: one thing leads to another, as in life.” Yep, not everyone’s going to enjoy reading that.