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Things We Like: “Head,” “Infinite Jest” and Princess Leonilla

1 May 2010 Things We Like 9,420 views 2 CommentsPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

Elliott Bay Book Company’s Suggested Reading: “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace

If I may, I would like to recommend a book that was in its day a national bestseller. It runs a dense 1,079 pages. A thousand-plus page bestseller whose plot relies heavily on tennis, pharmacology, hard mathematics, obscure film history, and Alcoholics Anonymous. Have I mentioned the copious footnotes? Or that it is a novel, even?

It is just that it always feels a little unnecessary to recommend a book that at some point or another everyone was reading. “Infinite Jest” is the book that put Wallace on the cultural map; it is the book that is always appended to his name following “author of.” It is one of those big important books that gets bought and placed on the shelf; it is something that you can intend to get to for years and it is something that’s so easy to put off.

But have you read it? I wouldn’t have if “Infinite Jest” had not been so aggressively shoved in my face. But then I do remember, when I was reading it, how incessantly I would talk about it. I had to catch myself for weeks jumping into conversations with “that reminds me of a book I’m reading.” It would happen over and over again, and when I started to get embarrassed about it I realized that the urge to talk about this book did not come from some kind of pretentious pride that I was reading it, but that because the book is so thoroughly about everything.

So I’ll say something further about a difficult, heavy thousand-page bestseller: It is so much better the second time around. The second time you read “Infinite Jest,” you don’t have to spend so much time trying to figure out what is going on — so you can really appreciate the details, the layers, and the multiple folds of the plot. I was able to figure out why every published edition of the novel has the cloudy sky motif on the cover. On the second time through, you can really slow down and appreciate the quality of the writing, how Wallace’s narrator talks to you with a casual and amiable omnipotence as he walks you through the damaged psyches of a deliriously altered world. – Christopher Sabatini

Scarecrow Video’s Pick of the Week: “Head” (1968), directed by Bob Rafelson

The Monkees took the money they made from their TV show and did “Head” as a big “f— you” to their critics and the general public. I was never much of a fan of the band until I saw this wild, psychedelic, and damned funny movie. Within an unstructured and surreal plot, the band attacks conformity, the Vietnam War, commercialism (in one scene a Coke machine is blown up), apathy, the “Man,” and many other targets. Most of the film’s wild cast of guest stars (everyone from Frank Zappa to Victor Mature) put in brief cameos and tell the band how much they suck.

The songs are pretty good and the movie takes a very counter-culture approach to its story (co-written by none other than Jack Nicholson, who makes a brief appearance complaining about how his script is being mangled). With a title like “Head,” an anti-establishment message, and some shocking war footage it’s hard to believe this movie was rated G, but it’s not surprising that it bombed during its initial theatrical release. – Spenser Hoyt

Portrait of Leonilla, Princess of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn

In 1843, German painter Franz Xaver Winterhalter created the above portrait of Russian-born Princess Leonilla. It’s a different kind of portrait for a princess; it is a bold, exotic and flirtatious representation, one that is less reflective of Leonilla’s royal birth than of her high standing in Parisian society. When I first met Leonilla at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles in autumn of 2000, I was instantly smitten and neglected the rest of my party for nearly a half-hour while I stared into the painting as raptly as I admire an ocean sunset. I actually get bashful when I stand near this painting. Gosh, yer awful purty, ma’am. So much of my creative work over the last ten years — fiction, photographs — has been touched by this relatively obscure painting that I must declare Princess Leonilla my ultimate celebrity crush. – Geoff Carter


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  1. Good selections today. That painting will never make the art history hit parade, but I can see why you like it. The 19th century has many such guilty pleasures, relegated to the basements after the hegemony of modernism. I bet Getty picked this one out himself.

  2. I am no relation to Mark Morey, but thought I should write something just so our comments could rest side by side. For me, today’s brush with royalty was the thrift-store purchase of a set of six miniatures of (mostly) classic Guerlain fragrances which included “Eau de Cologne Imperiale,” created in 1853 (by Pierre-Francois-Pascal Guerlain, founder of the House of Guerlain) for the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III. One of the oldest continuously produced eaux de Colognes on the market, it’s a bright, straightforward and fleeting lime scent that puts me in mind of a gin and tonic on a hot summer’s day…a day very unlike today.

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