Happy Readings #20


On the cover and throughout the new issue of The Happy Reader is a radiant shade of yellow, as befits the magazine’s return to its usual schedule. Most biannual magazines publish according to a spring/autumn rhythm, which makes perfect sense when partly concerned with the world of fashion. But a bookish magazine like The Happy Reader is naturally synchronised with the great reading seasons, those being summer and winter. We very much hope you’ll enjoy this new and sunny instalment.



Our cover star Moses Sumney travelled to a cathedral in Harlem on Saturday, to play his first live show since the pandemic began. He’s also just been shortlisted in the AIM Independent Music Awards. A former poetry student whose first album sourced ideas from Plato’s Symposium, Moses’ reading life, laid out in lavish detail in the first half of the issue, does not disappoint. Interviewer Jia Tolentino (a star in her own right, of course) is a big fan. In what’s perhaps the strongest endorsement of his music imaginable she says: ‘I was literally listening to your album when I birthed my baby.’



Moses is photographed by Kennedi Carter, a fellow North Carolinian who made headlines in December as the youngest ever photographer to take the cover portrait (of singer Beyoncé) for Vogue. Carter’s practice highlights the aesthetics and sociopolitical aspects of Black life, such as this beautiful recent series on America’s Black cowboys



‘The writer neither judged nor condemned the longings of the human heart, he only wanted to understand,’ writes novelist Elif Shafak, introducing this issue’s Book of the Season, the Turkish classic Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali. Our correspondents on this book are located all across the world. Congratulations to Liz Johnson Artur, contributor of an artwork inspired by the novel, and this year’s winner of the Kering Women in Motion Award. The award will be presented to her at the Arles photography festival in France where her work is viewable until 26 September as part of the keynote exhibition, Masculinities.



The personal library of American actor Marlon Brando went to auction last Tuesday. More than 3,000 books belonging to the Godfather legend were sold off via a series of lots containing dozens or even hundreds of books in each, often with inscriptions from celebrity friends. The lot ‘Books on Psychology, Self-Help and Nutrition’ included The Layman’s Guide to Acupuncture and The Basic Writings of C. G. Jung. ‘Fiction and Contemporary Literature Books’ meanwhile contained annotated copies of volumes such as Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Brando also owned around fifty books about the island of Tahiti.



‘Today’s consumerist shopping is an obsessive activity,’ says philosopher Slavoj Žižek in Fantastic Man. ‘Obsessive in the sense of perverted and perverted in the sense of: when you buy a new object, you already know in advance that it’s not really what you need.’ Fair cop, guv! The Slovenian intellectual’s mixed feelings towards shopping have a notable exception. ‘I really enjoy shopping in good bookstores… I like the large table with all of the new books that are of interest to the bookseller. I don’t go there to buy what I want; I go there to look and be surprised.’ It’s a ridiculously satisfying interview. It can be read in the latest issue or indeed online here.



A recipe for medieval bread and a broader consideration of the culinary tendencies of Sigrid Undset, winner of the 1928 Nobel Prize in Literature.



Last month’s newsletter hauled up a hazy memory from 1981. ‘I was staying in Hampstead, right on the Heath, with some American friends of friends,’ writes John Angell, ‘and seeing that I was reading a Le Carré paperback they mentioned that the next-door neighbour, David Cornwell, was actually John le Carré. They urged me to go introduce myself, and I was in fact quite cordially received, given tea, and stayed for perhaps 45 minutes to chat.’ How often does that happen? Asked if he remembers what they talked about, John says it is sadly ‘lost in the folds of time and memory’ just like the paperback he asked Le Carré to sign.



Moses Sumney’s Happy Reader reading list can be found at our new page on Bookshop.org, alongside those from two past cover stars: former Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker and American art superhero Laurie Anderson.



Read me: the next issue of this newsletter will feature Pereira Maintains, the thrilling 1994 novel by Italian writer Antonio Tabbuchi. Please address all correspondence in response to the print magazine, this newsletter, or the books featured in either to the following address: [email protected].




Seb Emina

Editor-in-chief, The Happy Reader


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