Stay up to date on D.C. with our free newsletters
in which the author discusses five books he’d read, if time permitted.
1. The Weekend: A Novel, by Bernhard Schlink, translated by Shaun Whiteside.
This severe German novel was written by the same German dude who wrote the equally severe German novel The Reader (which I didn’t read, though I saw the movie version starring Kate Winslet and Ray Fiennes. Shit, I didn’t mean “Ray Fiennes,” I meant “Ralph Fiennes,” though “Ralph” is pronounced “Ray,” which I’ll never understand. If your name is “Ralph,” there’s no shame in it. A lot of cool people are named Ralph: 1) “Ralph Mouth” from “Happy Days”; 2) “Ralph” from the Muppets, though I guess his name is technically “Rolph”; and 3)…well, all right, I can’t think of a third cool “Ralph,” but I’m sure there’s another cool “Ralph” out there, though that hypothetical third Ralph might not be a severe German).
2. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary, by Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Edited by Steve Weisman.
I have a theory that interesting (to me) literary giants like Jack Kerouac and Sylvia Plath wrote boring letters, but less interesting (to me) politicos like John Adams and Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote fascinating, eloquent, lively letters that are a tribute to the now-dead art of letter-writing. Another way to say this: “The more interesting (to me) a person is, the more tedious (to me) their letters are.” Which begs the question: Who writes more interesting letters—-my probate attorney, my tax attorney, my realtor, my broker, or my mechanic?
3. Andy Warhol: Making Money, by Andy Warhol. Preface by Berkeley Reinhold. Contributors: Vincent Fremont and Deborah Harry.
Not many people have heard of the obscure artist Andy Warhol or the unknown singer Deborah Harry. That’s what makes books like this invaluable—-the thrill of discovering something new.
4. Room, by Emma Donoghue.
I think this book is about a kid that grows up in one room which he never leaves, kind of like the Iranian girls chained to their bed (I think) in that obscure Iranian movie The Apple that I saw by myself one day in a now-defunct small artsy movie theater. And, come to think of it, when I returned home after watching The Apple—-that is, a depressing, subtitled Iranian movie which I saw in a virtually abandoned movie theater alone (and, when I saw “alone,” I don’t mean just “by myself,” but also “I was the only one in the theater”)—-a cute, smart, mean girl I’d been seeing dumped me. God, that was a really shitty day, that day I saw the depressing, subtitled Iranian movie The Apple by myself in an abandoned, now-defunct movie theater.
5. In Praise of Copying, by Marcus Boon.
This book is devoted to a deceptively simple but original argument: that copying is an essential part of being human, that the ability to copy is worthy of celebration, and that, without recognizing how integral copying is to being human, we cannot understand ourselves or the world we live in.
In spite of the laws, stigmas, and anxieties attached to it, the word “copying” permeates contemporary culture, shaping discourse on issues from hip hop to digitization to gender reassignment, and is particularly crucial in legal debates concerning intellectual property and copyright. Yet as a philosophical concept, copying remains poorly understood. Working comparatively across cultures and times, Marcus Boon undertakes an examination of what this word means—historically, culturally, philosophically—and why it fills us with fear and fascination. He argues that the dominant legal-political structures that define copying today obscure much broader processes of imitation that have constituted human communities for ages and continue to shape various subcultures today. Drawing on contemporary art, music and film, the history of aesthetics, critical theory, and Buddhist philosophy and practice, “In Praise of Copying” seeks to show how and why copying works, what the sources of its power are, and the political stakes of renegotiating the way we value copying in the age of globalization.