The MR Review of Books: Edith and Tiffany E-Mail About the Best Stuff to Read Right Now

Welcome to the Man Repeller Review of Books, where we burrow into the virtual reading nook of our website and talk books. The format is bound to shapeshift, while the objective remains the same: to broaden the horizons of our reading queues and to consider books we might not have heard of otherwise by sharing both our recommendations and modes of discovery.

On Wed, Mar 18, 6:18 PM, Edith wrote:

Hi Tif! Welcome to the Man Repeller Review of Books, e-correspondence edition. We’re both working from home, probably about 40 blocks away from each other, but it feels like we’re worlds apart. We just FaceTimed quickly to talk about a story going up on Friday, but otherwise, how are you doing?

I’m surrounded by precarious stacks of books here (I have two under my laptop right now so that I’m not crunching my neck over my screen—they are Always Home by Fanny Singer (the daughter of chef Alice Waters), which is brand new, and Hippie Modernism, a thick museum catalogue that’s giving this stack some height). Anyway, I haven’t been reading as much as I would’ve imagined so far, even though I’m craving some time offline. I’m in the middle of Sheila Heti’s Motherhood—page 132 to be exact—which I’ve found to be a really accessible book for this moment, when my brain feels super scattered otherwise. More on that later… kind of want to get further along in the book before I tell you what I think/what’s resonated with me. I should probably start underlining stuff.

I’m feeling worried about bookstores—the ones I love in New York, like McNally Jackson, Books Are Magic, Shakespeare and Co., Three Lives & Company, Argosy, The Strand. I’m also worried about authors and publishers who had to cancel their book tours—one cancellation I heard of in particular was Emily Nemens’s The Cactus League… it’s a novel about baseball, and Nemens is the newish editor of The Paris Review.

I thought of a mutually advantageous strategy today, which is that I have a few books I’ve been wanting to send to my family members as gifts (my mom’s birthday is coming up, and there was something that seemed up my brother’s alley that I saw at Green Apple Books in San Francisco and made a mental note of a while back). It’s kind of a win-win-win: I get ahead on buying gifts for special occasions, the bookstores make a sale, my mom and brother have something fun and new to occupy them during social distancing. (Wish I could include the names of the books in invisible ink here, like on iMessages, so that I could tell you what they are without spoiling the gifts. Sigh.)

I did buy a book this morning, off of eBay because I was having trouble finding it anywhere else—it’s Andrew Kuo’s What Me Worry. We were just talking about him. I hope it ships here before the weekend.

In all honesty, this e-mail was just another daunting item on my to-do list today, but writing it actually made me feel so much better.

What are you reading? What kind of stuff does Ulrik like to read? What are you doing to unwind when you sign off for the night?


On Thu, Mar 19, 3:42 PM, Tiffany wrote:

Hello Edith, my uptown friend!

It was so good to see you on FaceTime earlier, those and Google Hangouts have been the most social parts of my day since we’ve been WFH. Like you, I haven’t been reading as much as I’d hoped.

Haley summed it up well in her Instagram post this morning. I really identified with feeling “stressed out by all the content encouraging you to treat self-quarantine like some kind of creative/wellness retreat.” I’d pictured cleaning out my closet and cookie baking. Instead, I’ve flip-flopped from feeling anxious to guilty to trying not to kill Ulrik as we attempt to take conference calls from a tiny studio apartment at the same time.

Back to the books. I’ve been wanting to read the Sheila Heti book you mentioned, and I’m happy you reminded me about it. I just downloaded the audiobook so I can listen to it on the early morning walks I’ve been taking every day before it gets too busy outside. I’ve been using the Strava app to log my walks so they feel more like sports! It feels good to get outside, even in the rain. I’ve been taking a lot of iPhone photos on these excursions. After a few days inside, I’m already feeling deprived of new visual inputs and inspirations (outside of what can come from a screen). I’m missing my bike commute to work and looking at all the New Yorkers walking around the city every day. I’ll order that Andrew Kuo book too—I’ve been meaning to get it for a while, and we can start a two-woman book club and trade notes once my copy arrives. I could use something both funny and visually appealing more than ever right now.

Ulrik reads way more than I do, so I often inherit books after he’s finished reading them. One such book is Ling Ma’s Severance, which I was looking forward to reading, but now feels too close to home, so it will stay on my bedside table for a while. Mostly I like reading autobiographies of other women, so please let me know if you have good recommendations in this realm. I loved Art Sex Music by the artist Cosey Fanni Tutti, which was on my mind after Genesis P-Orridge passed away recently. The idea of a group of artists being branded “wreckers of civilization” by the House of Commons in the 1970s brings a smile to my face because it seems so quaint now.

I’m currently waiting for a haul of puzzles and board games to arrive that I just ordered: Jenga, Pictionary, and this 1000-piece mushroom puzzle. Hopefully, these more wholesome activities can replace binge-watching Love Is Blind in the evenings. Are there some good board games I don’t know about? There must be! Send ideas if you have any.


On Mar 19, 2020, 6:36 PM, Edith wrote:

Hey hi hello as we used to say in the old country,

A fun thing that people might not know is that you were my first real boss in my first full-time job out of college. Remember when you interviewed me?!?! So it stands that everything I do well in the workplace, I learned from you. Which reminds me: I have a photo book on my dresser right now. It’s called Sonomama Sonomama by Taishi Hirokawa, and you gave it to me for my birthday during our first professional relationship. It’s a giiiiant photo book, like 12 by 16 inches—you could eat breakfast in bed off of it. I’m going to look at that this weekend… the photos are basically big enough that it feels like watching a movie without having to look at another screen.

I know that the “make the most out of it”/productivity pressure is on a lot of my friends’ minds right now…. having very little rhythm to your day, and then having no idea how long this will last, is one of the many reasons why that mindset feels like pushing a boulder up a hill.

Scattergories is my favorite board game, highly recommend, but take the suggestion with a grain of salt because no one will ever play with me. I learned Texas Hold ‘Em over the holiday break but that requires a group—I wonder if people are playing poker over FaceTime?! And I must confess that I’ve always dreamed of making my own art history board game….

I haven’t read Severance yet either, though I’ve heard good things, despite it feeling maybe too topical right now. Thinking about if I’ve read any autobiographies by women lately… actually I think you’d particularly love Mumbai Scranton New York and Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin because she’s a visual person (and collaborates with her partner on projects a lot—he’s also an artist—she writes about their process a bit). Shopsin has such a distinct voice—it really feels like you can hear her speaking to you. The books are both pretty autobiographical, Mumbai a little bit more so than Arbitrary. You could test if you like one before fully committing by downloading a sample on Apple Books.

I’m starting to feel like I’ve really over-indexed on hyping these books up—I’m basically the publicist she did not ask for—but she also just made this incredible book of offline activities with her partner, too:

Have you read Bluets by Maggie Nelson? It is not an autobiography but it is autobiographical….

My Pocket app runneth over with stories I saved for later (I usually read a bunch on the beloved subway), though if I’m being honest, the backlog is actually more, like, three years of stories I want to catch up on. I’m saving Cat Cohen’s apartment tour on Apartment Therapy for when I need a break. (I’ve been trying to mete out my fun by instituting something like a quarantine Advent calendar, so last night I watched Cat’s Instagram Live show, which was the funniest thing I’ve seen in a while—although my phone ran out of battery at some point.)

Same with this story by Harling (published this week) that I haven’t read yet—saving it for when I need a palate cleanser. There’s also this now-ancient n+1 story that I want to reread this weekend to see how it holds up—I just spent forever looking for it, forgot the title, and finally found it. It’s called “Facebook Adè” by Ida Hattemer-Higgins. And this one by Joana Avillez, published by Lucky Peach in the days when it still had a web domain… it’s one of my favorite visual essays ever. I just remembered we did yoga with their team at our old job! They were so cool.

I wonder what the audiobook experience of Motherhood is like. Does Sheila Heti read it aloud? Probably not, but I’d imagine that’d be good, kind of melodic or soothing…. Last night, I read a passage in Motherhood that feels relevant, or at least adjacent, to flattening the curve and social distancing right now. It covers how interconnected people are on a daily basis:

“After all, it’s not only my life we’re talking about. It’s Miles’s life, and the life of the child, and everyone that child will ever meet, and not meet, and whoever might come from them, and whatever they might do in the world. Who is it for me to bring all this unfolding into being? Maybe it’s no more for me to decide, than it is for Miles to decide, or my father to decide, or my country to decide. I am in the world, and whatever I do affects other lives. Then it should all be pretty loose, my fantasies for my future, for they each involve everyone else. Why should I strenuously make something come true for me, when that fate will manifest in other lives as well?”

The people who have given this book flak say that the author seems too self-involved, I guess because she’s written an entire book weighing her decision to have or not have a child. But I think this passage also stands as the proof against that critique.

I’ve always been a little scared of biking in New York (probably stems from learning here as a kid and almost getting hit by a taxi in the process). I still haven’t ever CitiBiked—adding that to my list of things I want to do at some point in the future, along with going to Burrow Bakery in Brooklyn, going to this funny carousel by Battery Park, going to Four Freedoms Park (via the Roosevelt Island Tram, which I also haven’t done before).

Lightning round of questions for you:

Do you have a favorite photo or art book?
Have you bought anything in your apartment purely for its cover?
What was the last audiobook you listened to?
Is there anything you read a long time ago that you’re eager to re-read?
Do you still reference any indie magazines like the kinds we’d buy at Mulberry Iconic for work?


On Mar 19, 2020, 6:39 PM, Edith wrote:

Clearly I am lonely!!!

On Mar 19, 2020, 10:15 PM, Tiffany wrote:

Edith, this email feels like a hug but in word form.

I’m smiling as I think back to interviewing you on the phone. You were still at RISD and I remember thinking, “She’s the one!” I was right.

In our semi-isolation, we’re getting a little nostalgic!

Scattergories, wow! I had totally forgotten about that game. I have such fond memories of playing that with my family as a kid. I just ordered a deadstock one from eBay which has the original ’90s packaging.

I’m going to begin at the end, with your lightning round questions, and see how far I get.

Favorite photo or art book?
This question just prompted a long hunt around the house digging out all the oversized books that are at the bottom of the piles. Now I have three huge stacks on my desk.

I’d kind of forgotten about the Sonomama Sonomama book I gave to you, but it’s such a great book of portraits!

I have an old copy of Wim Wenders’s book of stills from the movie Paris, Texas. Every frame in that movie is like a painting.

The Art of Arranging Flowers by Shōzō Satō. I scored a first edition for $15 at the Strand Bookstore on Broadway. It’s pretty oversized and was printed and bound in Japan. The images are individual plates inserted into the book rather than photos printed directly on the page. All of the ikebana arrangements are beautiful and shot on fun colored backgrounds. It’s very 1960s and so joyful to flick through.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been buying Bráulio Amado‘s annual book, which is a recap of everything he worked on the year before. As well as being a prolific artist and designer, he runs a cool community space on 6th Street, where they host everything from Italian language classes to studio art classes. Speaking of art classes, Iggy Pop Life Class is fun. The book documents the life-drawing class Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller hosted at the Brooklyn Museum. Iggy was the model, with his incredible old, wiry body that has seen so much. The book is a mixture of the life-drawing and old pictures of Iggy from the ’70s.

Josef Albers in Mexico is a reliable resource—I return to it for inspiration if I ever need to pick colors or put together a color palette for something.

I’m eagerly awaiting ToiletMartin PaperParr by Martin Parr & Maurizio Cattelan, which comes out next month.

Have you bought anything in your apartment purely for its cover?

Double Negative by Micheal Heizer has a really beautiful cover. I’m a big fan, so it wasn’t just for the cover. But the cover sealed the deal.

What was the last audiobook you listened to?

Darling Days by iO Tillett Wright.

iO’s story is incredible. He grew up in the East Village around where I live now, so it’s nice to hear about New York back then, when the Bowery Hotel was a gas station that sold kebabs (I need to fact check this). I love when audiobooks are read by the authors, and iO has such a great voice. He does these loving impersonations of his mother and the people in his life. And to answer your question—yes, Sheila Heti does read the audiobook version of Motherhood. As you predicted, she has a very soothing voice.

If you’ve already read Darling Days, I recently binged on The Ballad of Billy Balls, the true crime podcast iO made about the death of his mother’s lover.

Is there anything you read a long time ago that you’re eager to re-read?

I’m in the midst of re-reading Douglas Crimp’s book of essays, On the Museum’s Ruins, which I read in part while writing my thesis at university (12+ years ago!). It’s really dense and slow-going (at least for me) but when I’m in the right mood, it feels good—I can feel my brain being exercised—which can be rare as an adult, when learning slows down. It was made in collaboration with the artist Louise Lawler (one of my favorite artists) and her photographs illustrate the book.

Do you still reference any indie magazines like the kinds we’d buy at Mulberry Iconic for work?

I loved researching all the niche sports magazines, especially the Japanese hiking magazines, with their detailed diagrams of how to pack the perfect hiking backpack. Now my magazine assortment is a little less esoteric. Deidre Dyer who runs No Man’s Land is doing a great job, and the design by Pentagram is always eye candy. I read Unconditional Magazine for personal pleasure—I think their casting and styling is always right on the money. There’s also this little indie title called Vogue Paris which is beautifully designed by Olhman and Concerti every month.

Okay, this email is long and it’s getting late, so I’m going to sign off for now.

Goodnight, Edith!

On Mar 20, 2020, 10:59 AM, Edith wrote:

I woke up this morning thinking it was Saturday (it’s Friday). I hadn’t set an alarm by accident, but my low-grade anxiety came to the rescue. Then I tried to recall the last snack I ate from the pantry yesterday and realized all the days are starting to blend together.

I FaceTimed with my two closest friends last night, and it made me unhappy to see them unhappy. It made me think especially about balance and moderation: We’re always feeling a little imbalanced, like if only we could do one thing a little better, our whole mode of being would be on-kilter, which is basically a mythology/a somewhat impossible aspiration because you can never really strike a perfect balance. Spending all of our time secluded and indoors makes it abundantly clear how much our happiness operates in direct correlation to moderation.

On the topic of Motherhood, I’ve also been thinking about how often we consider the “worst-case scenario” when making big decisions. I’m not an impulsive decision-maker by any means, but this really casts into relief how little I consider “the worst that could happen” when I weigh options. I’ve always thought having two kids might be good (God willing), and this experience confirms my notion that having more than two probably isn’t right for me, because knowing now that some kind of future quarantine is a possibility makes having more than two kids seem so, so challenging.

After I finish Motherhood, I’m planning to read this book I picked up from the library on one of the last days it was open: Sleeveless (Fashion, Image, Media, New York 2011–2019) by Natasha Stagg. “Composed of essays and stories commissioned by fashion, art, and culture magazines, Sleeveless is a scathing and sensitive report from New York in the 2010s.” Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener is also high on my list, although I think my copy was shipped to the office….

While this is not the Man Repeller Review of Television/the Moving Image… I feel like it’s worth noting that I’ve been stockpiling a bunch of shows over the year for a dull moment: pretty much all of Barry, Big Little Lies, and the most recent seasons of The Crown and Curb. All of Sex and the City after season one is uncharted territory, too. I’ve been meaning to see if this comedy special by Dan Soder is funny—he’s the cute guy on Billions (also wondering if Showtime will release the next season of Billions early). And I’m like an hour into the three-hour Ingmar Bergman movie Scenes From a Marriage on Criterion, and I watched the first 20 minutes of Jojo Rabbit a few weekends ago (would like to pick up where I left off), and there are two Peter Bogdanovich movies I haven’t seen before on Criterion right now (The Last Picture Show reigns supreme as my favorite movie ever). That’s how my immediate watch list is shaping up.

Also, I just noticed that Brigitte Lacombe took the photos for the Fanny Singer book I mentioned earlier—I’ve been eyeing this book of her portraiture for The New York Times for months, and if not now, then when, right?

Another thing: Someone recommended this podcast during my Instagram takeover this week.

I have a slew of other book-related podcasts bookmarked (like The Maris Review) but maybe if I save them for another time, we can run another one of these stories next week??

Hasta la pasta!

Might we suggest a few independent booksellers to browse online? Here are a few crowd favorites across cities—

In New York: McNally Jackson, Argosy Book Store, Books Are Magic, Bluestockings, Three Lives & Company, Greenlight, Book Culture, Center for Fiction, Word, and The Strand. In San Francisco: Green Apple Books. In Nashville: ParnassusIn Austin: Book People (with free shipping). In Ann Arbor: Literati (with $1 shipping!). In Telluride: Between the Covers. In Chapel Hill: Epilogue Books. In London: Second Shelf. In Seattle: Third Place Books (with free shipping). In Washington DC: Kramerbooks (which is even Postmating books!) and Politics and Prose (free shipping). In Boston: Brookline Booksmith

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