John Powers on Shirley Clarke’s seminal 1967 film Portrait of Jason that has been recently restored and re-released:
Clarke knew she had a mesmerizing subject in Jason, whose stories are punctuated by a laugh whose mercurial meaning — from delight to pain to impacted fury — could keep a psychology class busy for a semester. Still, she and her colleagues keep goading him to give more, to bare himself more deeply, until he eventually breaks down, offering us the naked truth of his soul — if, that is, you believe we all have a single, secret, unified self hidden by myriad social masks. But is the drunken, weeping Jason really a more authentic Jason than the laughing storyteller?
“He looked so—what was it that gave him his irresistible charm? He looked so accessible. That was it. A great simple truth struck me with surprise: charm is availability.”
—Elaine Dundy, The Old Man and Me
“But what the hell, I told myself, it wasn’t as if I were one of them or even competing with them, for heaven’s sake, I was merely a disinterested spectator at the Banquet of Life. The scientist dropping into the zoo at feeding time. That is what I told myself.”
― Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado
“These are books that — like Girls – explore what it is like to be young and hungry — hungry for love and hungry for sex, but most of all, hungry for recognition and hungry for adulthood. Ultimately, the girls in these books, like the girls of Girls, are hungry to become the women they will one day be.”
- Ten Books to Read Now That HBO’s Girls Is Back by Claire Miye Stanford
The Dud Avocado made the list: “Of all the girls on this list, Gorce seems most like the proto-Girl — a girl who is self-avowedly ‘hellbent on living,’ getting herself into (and out of) escapade after escapade during her time in France. Many of Gorce’s misadventures involve a heavy dose of slapstick, starting on page one with our introduction to our heroine, who is sitting at a Parisian bar having a morning cocktail, wearing an evening dress because all her other clothes are at the cleaners.”
Lena Dunham likes our books! (Or at least one of them). Vogue ran an article called “Required Reading” where they asked celebrities to pick three things to read this summer and Lena Dunham, creator of the HBO show Girls, chose Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado. They got the wrong the cover (or at least, that’s not ours on the bottom left), but we’ll forgive both Vogue and Dunham and bask in the glory of glamour and fame.
Last night at Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, Rosecrans Baldwin discussed his memoir, Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down, the story of his time spent living in the French city. He spoke of the comparisons between the two peoples and what a place is like once you’ve settled in and gotten to know a few locals.
While in Paris, Rosecrans, a self-described Francophile, couldn’t get enough and proceeded to read a bunch of books about his new home. Here are four books Rosecrans recommends:
The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy
“It’s a wonderful, screwy take on 1950s Paris. The narrator’s voice just rampages.”
You can listen to Rosecrans talk about this novel on NPR.
The Bathroom by Jean-Philippe Toussaint
“A novel in which nothing happens, and what does happen takes place in a Parisian bathroom for the most part. And yet: gripping, revealing, entertaining, and all in very few pages.”
The Friend of Madame Maigret by Georges Simenon
“It’s hard to pick one Simenon—I love so many. This one’s set in the Marais, where I used to live, so it’s a sentimental selection.”
Paris Stories by Mavis Gallant
“These are set around Europe in addition to Paris, so it’s a continental treat. Gallant has won all sorts of awards and she’s still underrated, I think. Effortlessly moving.”
You can listen to Rosecrans discuss Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down with WNYC’s Leonard Lopate as well as with Brad Listi on the Other People podcast. You might also want to read an excerpt at Salon. Rosecrans is also on Twitter at @rosecrans.
In keeping with this wanderlusting, here are our suggestions for books with a great sense of place:
The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal
Edmund de Waal is a world-famous ceramicist. Having spent thirty years making beautiful pots—which are then sold, collected, and handed on—he has a particular sense of the secret lives of objects. When he inherited a collection of 264 tiny Japanese wood and ivory carvings, called netsuke, he wanted to know who had touched and held them, and how the collection had managed to survive.
And so begins this extraordinarily moving memoir and detective story as de Waal discovers both the story of the netsuke and of his family, the Ephrussis, over five generations. A nineteenth-century banking dynasty in Paris and Vienna, the Ephrussis were as rich and respected as the Rothchilds. Yet by the end of the World War II, when the netsuke were hidden from the Nazis in Vienna, this collection of very small carvings was all that remained of their vast empire.
Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz
Two centuries after James Cook’s epic voyages of discovery, Tony Horwitz takes readers on a wild ride across hemispheres and centuries to explore the Captain’s embattled legacy in today’s Pacific.
Recounting Cook’s voyages and exotic scenes — tropical orgies, taboo rituals, cannibal feasts, human sacrifice — Horwitz relives Cook’s adventures by following in the captain’s wake to places such as Tahiti, Savage Island, and the Great Barrier Reef to discover Cook’s embattled legacy in the present day.
Peter Robb’s A Death in Brazil: A Book of Omissions
Deliciously sensuous and fascinating, Robb renders in vivid detail the intoxicating pleasures of Brazil’s food, music, literature, and landscape as he travels not only cross country but also back in time—from the days of slavery to modern day political intrigue and murder.
Now in paperback for the first time at the end of this month, Land’s End: A Walk in Provincetown by Michael Cunningham
“Cunningham rambles through Provincetown, gracefully exploring the unusual geography, contrasting seasons, long history, and rich stew of gay and straight, Yankee and Portuguese, old-timer and ‘washashore’ that flavors Cape Cod’s outermost town… . Chock-full of luminous descriptions … . He’s hip to its studied theatricality, ever-encroaching gentrification and physical fragility, and he can joke about its foibles and mourn its losses with equal aplomb.” —Chicago Tribune
Dancer, bride, runaway wife, radical filmmaker and pioneer — Shirley Clarke is one of the great undertold stories of American independent cinema. A woman working in a predominantly male world, a white director who turned her camera on black subjects, she was a Park Avenue rich girl who willed herself to become a dancer and a filmmaker, ran away to bohemia, hung out with the Beats and held to her own vision in triumph and defeat. She helped inspire a new film movement and made urgently vibrant work that blurs fiction and nonfiction, only to be marginalized, written out of histories and dismissed as a dilettante. She died in 1997 at 77 and is long overdue for a reappraisal.
Milestone Films will be releasing restored documentaries by Clarke over the course of the next few years. But before that, and opening on May 4, 2012, is Clarke’s first movie, The Connection (1962).
The Connection is a fictional film, based on a play, about a director attempting and largely failing to make a documentary about about junkies and jazz musicians.
The ensuing movie looks like a compilation of outtakes: The director regularly enters the frame; every so often, the fluid camerawork spins out into sudden swish pans, and the film runs into black leader.
The film has been out of distribution since the 1980s. But if this trailer is anything to go by, the restored print looks pristine, and the music, performed by Jackie McLean, sounds crystalline.
— Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado (via itsfromabook)
Rosencrans Baldwin, author of Paris I Love You But You Are Bringing Me Down and co-founder of The Morning News, was on NPR’s All Things Considered’s “You Must Read This” segment and raved about Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado. “When people asked how much of the book was biographical, Dundy responded, ‘All the impulsive, outrageous things the heroine does, I did; all the sensible things, I made up.’”
“What’s the matter?” he asked me one night after the theater.
“Yes there is.”
“I want to go to the Ritz,” I said, already uneasy at the suggestion.
There was panic in his voice. “Why? What do you want to do that for?”
“Because I feel the need to sin. Quelle façon de parler.”
“Oh God.” How to explain? “I don’t mean it like that. I mean … oh … Luxe … satins and silks … leopardskins and peacocks’ tongues. Silk—that’s what I want rubbing against me. I feel so woolen all the time.”
A pause for the struggle with his soul, and then reluctantly “O.K., I’ll take you there—”
“No,” I sad sadly. “No, it’s no good. It wouldn’t be any fun. You couldn’t afford it. I only like spending rich people’s money.”
We went on eating in silence.
Dundy’s sentences are rhythmically subtle and easily devoured. It is not a bad thing to be reminded that your postcollege years can be infinitely ill-considered without doing too much damage.
The New Yorker’s music critic Sasha Frere-Jones, in The Paris Review’s blog, talks about the books that focus “purely on that new onset of confusion immediately after leaving the comforts of academia” in After College: Getting Undepressed.
Our West Coast Spy Network has sent us a couple photographs of a very special shelf in a very special bookstore*:
Dog Eared BooksAlley Cat Books in the Mission District of San Francisco. How special is this place? In the shop’s own words, “at Dog Eared you’ll find anarchist magazines next to Vanity Fair, Nina Simone cds next to Joy Division and Michelle Tea poetry next to Chaucer.” So without further ado, some shots of theNYRB Classics shelf. As the sign says,
“Life is too short to spend without ★NYRB★”
It looks like the store may not have enough copies of Stoner in stock on that lower shelf to last through the holidays. You know that we have plenty of copies in the warehouse, right? What’s stopping you from ordering more?!
The store also appears to have an NYRB book group called NYRB Salon. It next meets on December 4th, when the book up for discussion is Elaine Dundy’s Dud Avocado. UPDATE: also under discussion is Handke’s Sorrow Beyond Dreams.
*Sentence written under the influence of Something for Christmas.
— The Dud Avocado (via gimme-kisses)