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Kill All Your Darlings: Pieces 1990-2005 Paperback – September 18, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
New York City is fated always to remain my home, writes Sante, who became permanently linked with the city through the underground history he recounted in Low Life, and the lead-off essay in this collection revisits the frame of mind he was in when he conceived that book in the Lower East Side of the early 1980s. The best essays that follow maintain that strong personal connection, such as an eyewitness account of a riot in Tompkins Square Park or the time he lived in the same apartment building as Allen Ginsberg (who suffered me, if not especially gladly). The book and music reviews that make up the bulk of the remaining material are usually insightful and occasionally contain striking imagery: he describes, for example, how the punk-country band the Mekons built an imaginary America out of pocket lint. But collecting disparate pieces in a single volume is a risky proposition, and sometimes an awkward skip, as in a chapter on two books by photographer Michael Lesy, temporarily exposes the anthology's patchwork nature. It's worth working through those rough patches, however, to soak up Sante's various observations on the long legacy of outsider culture, from Rimbaud through Buddy Bolden to Bob Dylan. (Aug. 20)
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Creative social critic Sante has electrifying things to say about intriguing subjects, ranging from New Year's to Walker Evans, but it is his feint-and-jab prose that makes him noteworthy. At once tough in his thinking, empathic in his analysis, and liberated in expression, Sante selects barbed details, tunes in to danger and suspense, and dispenses wry humor and sure insight. In a memoirist mode, he chronicles a precollege stint in a small and brutal plastic factory in New Jersey, and writes evocatively about living in New York during its decline in the 1970s and 1980s and under Giuliani. His passion for music inspires a fresh look at the blues, a sharp assessment of Bob Dylan, and a caustic takedown of the Woodstock myth. Revisiting Victor Hugo and Rene Magritte yields unexpected results, as does an inquiry into the many meanings of dope. And then there's his tribute to the lost pleasures of cigarettes, in which he concludes, "We may all have stopped smoking, but we continue to burn." Sante is certainly on fire. Seaman, Donna
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The essays in this collection include pieces on art, photography, poetry and music, and some more idiosyncratic meditations -- on cigarettes, on factory work, on 'hipness', on the harm done to New York City by Rudy Giuliani, on the particular madness that characterizes New Year celebrations. Sante's Belgian origins are reflected in essays about Magritte and Tintin, respectively. Other pieces deal with Victor Hugo, the photography of Walker Evans and of Robert Mapplethorpe. There is a moving tribute to Allen Ginsberg, who lived in the same NY apartment building as Sante for over ten years.
Though I had no great prior interest in the musical evolution of Bob Dylan or the origin of the blues, Sante's writing is so seductive that I read both pieces, and was riveted throughout. He's just that good. This is an awe-inspiring collection.
My favorite essay was hands-down the one about cigarettes. Though Tintin was pretty fun as well.
Inasmuch as I had read and valued highly two of Sante's previous books ("Low Life" and "The Factory of Facts"), I bought this book with high expectations simply because it was by Luc Sante. But reading 25 disparate pieces, with no real unifying threads or themes, was not quite as smooth sailing as I had anticipated. I could only read two or three at a time, over several weeks. And, unfortunately, the least interesting pieces (at least to me) were the ones on New York City at the beginning of the book. But the intrinsic interest picked up after the first 110 pages, with the high points, to my mind, being the pieces on Bob Dylan, Buddy Bolden, the origin/invention of the blues, Hegre and the Tintin books, Walker Evans, two of Michael Lesy's books of American photographs, and Robert Mapplethorpe.
Sante is a keen observer and often insightful commentator regarding popular and "middlebrow" culture as well as the underbelly and detritus of American life. He writes well and with a distinctive voice. (An example: "All kinds of thoroughly debunked specimens -- the noble cowboy, the contented housewife, the edenic small-town past -- continue to stagger along in the collective imagination because of their proven effectiveness as topical analgesics for reality-based headaches.") This collection illustrates that almost any of his pieces are worth reading, although it will be the rare reader indeed who truly is interested in everything that Sante writes about. All the same, these pieces probably are best read as they were published -- one at a time.
Kudos to the publisher for a sturdy yet reader-friendly binding and a very readable lay-out. By the way, if you are wondering about the title, the only explanation Sante provides is that "Kill all your darlings" was "writerly advice attributed to William Faulkner."