To assemble a puzzle, you first have to find its borders. Here’s Laura van den Berg on finding just the right order for The Isle of Youth, her collection of short stories.
Two parties in two weeks? That’s right! FSG Originals can’t stop, won’t stop.
On Thursday, November 21, we’ll be back at Studio X with Dead Pig Collector author Warren Ellis, Gizmodo’s Geoff Manaugh, and Vulture’s John Sellers for “An evening of hit men, burglars, secret agents, and thieves.” The event is free and we’ll have an open bar; all you need to do is RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For their 300th issue, The ShortList challenged their favorite writers to create an original piece of crime fiction that would clock in at exactly 300 words—no more, no less. Crimes in Southern Indiana and Donnybrook author Frank Bill was game, of course, but there are also some great shorts from George Pelecanos, Will Self, Daniel Woodrell, and a bunch of others.
Steve Gunn, who plays with Kurt Vile and has recently started releasing his own much-lauded solo, duo, and ensemble records, is joining us on Wednesday night for the next Originals Series event with Flavorpill, GQ, and The Isle of Youth author Laura van den Berg, hosted by Sloane Crosley.
As Fader says, “In the John Fahey-inspired, post-Jack Rose world of American-primitive-folk-meets-blues-meets-raga-meets-noise music, Gunn is quite simply the best, and he has a way of capping off an entire song’s worth of anecdotal finger-picking with the last-minute, bone-chilling, entry of his voice, hinting at a rare talent for songwriting without overstating it.”
He’s also seen praise from Pitchfork, The Village Voice, Yo La Tengo’s James McNew for The Talkhouse, and Spin magazine’s Chris Martins, who says, “Like his buddy and bandmate Kurt Vile, Brooklyn singer-guitarist Steve Gunn seems beamed from a different time. He plays a worldly form of ancient blues. He sings with a little bit of vintage Mick Jagger on his tongue. He unravels stories with a level of patience and detail often lacking in contemporary music.”
This event was the latest in our Originals Series, a semi-regular pairing of an author and a musician for a night of drinks, music, and conversation hosted by David Rees at Studio-X in downtown Manhattan. You can watch videos from previous events—and find out when the next one’s coming up—on the Originals Series Events page. And make sure to join us at the next event on Wednesday, November 13th featuring Laura van den Berg (The Isle of Youth), Steve Gunn (of Kurt Vile and the Violators), and guest host Sloane Crosley. RSVP here!
This was a night of happy coincidences: Turns out Cassie Ramone and I both drive Honda sedans! And Robin Sloan uses twitter, as do I. On the other hand, Cassie believes in astrology, which I do not. And Robin believes in TED talks, which I hold in even lower esteem than astrology. (Although, to be fair, they both seem to recognize that the worth of these cultural phenomena lies more in their entertainment value than their predictive / prescriptive utility.)
I’d actually be interested to see how many people believe in BOTH astrology and TED talks. Whoever they are, I bet they live in the southwest and have really nice jewelry. And I bet they know a ton about wine. I have friends who go to TED talks and give TED talks and the whole thing freaks me out. Am I jealous because I’ve never given a TED talk? Maybe that’s part of it. On the other hand, being around successful people with lots of money is one of my least favorite things, because I always wind up feeling insecure and emasculated—so even if I was invited to give a TED talk, I imagine the whole thing would be an extended nightmare, because after my talk they’d be like, “Now we’ll take you to the reception,” and there’d be all these businesspeople and cultural innovators standing around eating gnocchi (one of the fanciest foods) and drinking cabernet franc (wine), and then I’d have to make chit-chat about investment portfolios, whatever the hell they are, and How to Clean African Water Using Instagram, and compare notes on electric cars, and then everyone would start chanting and they’d tie me to an altar and cut me open and eat all my guts right in front of me because I’m poor.
And the astrology convention would be even worse!
And that’s why the only events I go to are these FSG Originals readings, because they are well-lit and I feel safe.
The most interesting thing that happened at this event isn’t depicted in the video: Cassie administered a psychological test to Robin live onstage! She asked him to describe a room with a box in it, and then, as she added to this imaginary room’s inventory (there was a horse!) he had to describe each additional item. I can’t remember the specifics because psychological tests—even lighthearted ones—make me nervous about failing them, even when they’re not being administered to me. And being nervous compromises my short-term memory. I do remember that there was a horse in the room. Definitely. Because I was surprised about that. But I can’t remember what Robin’s imaginary horse looked like, or even what it was supposed to symbolize. The test was riveting—the best part came at the end, when Cassie was like: “Okay, here’s why I asked you those questions: The room symbolizes your house, the box symbolizes your creativity, the horse symbolizes your friends, the flowers symbolize your money,” or whatever it was. And Robin just had to sit there and take the analysis, whether he agreed with it or not! (My sense is he basically agreed with it.)
And do you know why I mention all this? Because a live, on-stage psychological test is kind of like a hybrid between astrology and a TED talk. Think about it: You’re interpreting a bunch of symbolic objects, which is like astrology (I think?). AND you’re doing it in front of an audience in under ten minutes, which is like a TED talk. And now I’m starting to think that all parlor games are a cross between astrology and TED talks, and I’m a big fan of parlor games (I have literally invented more than two parlor games), which means deep down, somewhere in my private heart, I’m probably a big fan of astrology and TED talks. Jeepers, I just can’t catch a break in this mixed-up world.
I give this event six out of six phantom horses.
What’s it like to eat sushi with David Foster Wallace? To have scones with Kazuo Ishiguro and get grilled by Louise Erdich? John Freeman knows all of these things, and now that he’s in the middle of his tour for How to Read a Novelist, we get to hear him talk about them with some of the very writers he’s profiled in his book. It’s a weird exercise—to turn the tables on the interviewer—and John’s written about the experience beautifully at The Paris Review Daily.
We hope you’ll join us for a very special Originals Series event celebrating the launch of Laura van den Berg’s The Isle of Youth next Wednesday, 11/13. The night will include a conversation between Laura and Steve Gunn (of Kurt Vile and the Violators), moderated by Sloane Crosley, followed by music from Mr. Gunn. As always, drinks will be provided.
Come for the drinks. Stay for the entertainment. Meet your new favorite writer.
Wednesday, November 13
180 Varick Street, Suite 1610
We are ridiculously excited to be publishing Catherine Lacey’s debut novel, Nobody Is Ever Missing, next summer. And we’re very happy to get a taste of Catherine’s gorgeous and haunting storytelling over at Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading. Thanks to The Atlas Review for picking Catherine’s story, “The Healing Center.” Read why the editor-in-chief picked it: “The Healing Center” by Catherine Lacey had a mystical effect on me when I read it for The Atlas Review’s first issue almost a year ago. Each new reading of this story is like entering a room full of brilliant lamps and baubles. Lacey is able to cleanly combine the banal with the epiphanic, leaving us with a detached sincerity. From this place of detachment, she pivots with ease between humor and pathos. The image of porridge cooked to soot on the stovetop, the unreconciled dialogue of heart as machine and metaphor, the “airplanes of soon” looming over relationships are moments so eidetic we might find in our own porridge eating and unreconciled dialogues a similar banality, a similar epiphany.”