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Books. Spalding Gray, Haruki Murakami, More

Also: Colson Whitehead, essential film criticism and more.

The Texas Book Festival, a slide show from Matt Zoller Seitz and the imminent release of Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 in the US make this weekend possibly a more interesting one for readers than for moviegoers. The most urgent bit of news at the moment is this afternoon's appearance at the festival by Nell Casey, the editor of the newly published The Journals of Spalding Gray. As part of the Austin Chronicle's festival package, Josh Rosenblatt gets a few words with Casey, who tells him, "I estimate there were about 5000 pages. Though when I started to get into it, there were themes that emerged about his life that were very clear, that were in some ways covered in his monologues but were much more deeply explored in the journals: his mother's suicide, his childhood wounds, his neuroticism, his depression, his fear of giving away his life. And as those themes emerged, they gave me a road map for what had to be represented in the journal."

In Bookforum, Daphne Merkin calls the Journals "a document of wrenching and exhilarating honesty, shot through with self-hatred but also with unremitting humor and several shades of irony. Once you start reading, the book draws you in with its dire, lunatic brand of introspection, almost as though you were listening to an emergency phone call from a close friend who can't, or won't, hang up until he's done detailing all the reasons why he's a fraud and why his life sucks and why it's high time he put an end to it." On the other hand, the New York Times' Dwight Garner calls it "a beautiful book: handsome, well made, exceedingly well edited. What it doesn't happen to be is a good book. In his journals Gray is the one thing he never allowed himself to be onstage: uninteresting."

Also in the Chronicle, Audra Schroeder on Colson Whitehead's Zone One: "He's got quite a knack for describing the ballet of the undead in gory, graceful spurts; interesting given his past books' more classic themes, and convenient given the new zombie movement. However, Whitehead outruns the mob by making Zone One a very personal vision of post-something city-dwelling hell. He pulls the same satirical thread as Don DeLillo does in White Noise, that subtle way of switching out masks of terror and humor, as when describing a disco ball from a roller rink, which Zone One soldiers encounter at empty intersections, a tumbleweed in the pop culture wasteland. Anxiety seeps out of every paragraph." She also gets a few moments with Whitehead: "The movies I watched and rewound on the Betamax were John Carpenter, Alien, The Return of the Living Dead. There's humor in those films, and they were counterculture folks making their art in an anti-authoritarian way, using humor to describe social structure or social collapse."

Matt Zoller Seitz introduces that slide show, "Film criticism 101: The essential library": "This is not a list of the greatest books of film criticism, or film history, or film culture, or anything of the sort. It is simply my personal 'short stack' — a list of the 14 film books — listed on 13 slides, with one strategic pairing — that I have read or thought about more often than any others." And yes, he's got both Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael in there. And Manny Farber and James Agee. Chances are, though, you'll find at least one surprise. For me, it's Joe Adamson's Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo, which I'm now looking forward to tracking down and reading.

Sam Anderson's profile of Murakami in this weekend's New York Times Magazine is one of the most widely retweeted articles I've seen in some time now, while the video of Chip Kidd discussing his design for the American edition (out on Tuesday) has popped up on more than a few tumblrs. At the Literary Saloon, Michael Orthofer has collected links to 55 reviews of 1Q84 so far, so it's hard to know where to begin. Perhaps with one that's appeared just today, David L Ulin's in the Los Angeles Times: "Make no mistake — this is a major development in Murakami's writing; while I've generally enjoyed his books, only a few transcend a trademark mix of contemporary rootlessness, pop culture riffing and what I've come to think of as magical realism lite. Novels such as A Wild Sheep Chase (1989) or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1997) come off as 2½ dimensional, as if they don't quite have a fully nuanced sense of life. With 1Q84, however, Murakami evokes a fully articulated vision of a not-quite-nightmare world, in which reality goes its own way and we have no choice but to adapt."

Last weekend, by the way, Ulin met Art Spiegelman and noted that Maus, "the saga of his father Vladek's experiences during the Holocaust and of Spiegelman's efforts to get to know that father…, was originally published in two parts, the first in 1986 and the second in 1991; it won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992, the first comic to be so honored. Still, for the last two decades, Spiegelman has kept doubling back, reconsidering the project, drawing its mouse-like protagonist into nearly everything." Now MetaMaus is "a lavish deconstruction of his magnum opus, positioned as a 25th-anniversary commemoration, although that's just a convenient peg. More apropos is his sense of reckoning with the legacy of Maus. 'For the most part,' Spiegelman says, 'I've been trying to outrun it, and it hasn't worked very well. So this seemed like: OK, if you can't outrun it, just stare the damned beast down.'" The book includes Hillary Chute's interview with Spiegelman and the New York Review of Books has posted two excerpts from that interview: 1 and 2.

I've already posted a bit on Susan Orlean's Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend and now, in a review on the cover of this week's NYT Book Review, Jennifer Schuessler writes that "she may persuade even the most hardened skeptic that Rin Tin Tin belongs on Mount Rushmore with George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt, or at least somewhere nearby with John Wayne and Seabiscuit."

One last book note for now. Read Elaine Showalter's review in the Washington Post of Mary Gabriel's Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution and tell me there isn't a hell of a screenplay lurking in those 768 pages.

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