Mark Kingwell's new book Fail Better: Why Baseball Matters sits invitingly on bookstore shelves at the same time the struggling Toronto Blue Jays are failing better than any team in the league. Fans are in distress, but why? Kingwell, a University of Toronto philosophy professor and Harper's Magazine contributing editor, gives answers on a game that is frustrating at the best of times (and these are not those). But if the Jays are striking out, other things are connecting for Kingwell, whose tastes run from vintage crime reads to incredibly life-like paintings to dreamy Brit-rock reunifications.
What he's reading: "The existential crime novels of Jean-Patrick Manchette (1942-1995) are unlike anything else you will encounter in the expansive thriller genre. The political activist, jazz musician, and some-time screenwriter depicts post-1968 France as a terrain of banality and bourgeois consumerism broken open by surprising episodes of violence. Against a background of West Coast jazz, film references, and brand names, Manchette's characters in The Prone Gunman and Three to Kill (both published in wry English translation by City Lights Books) try, and fail, to understand their place in the social relations of production – including murder."
What's he's seeing: "Painter and photographer Charles Bierk has an impeccable artistic pedigree: his father was the astonishing landscape and appropriation artist David Bierk, and a handful of his siblings have thriving practices in different styles. Bierk's main subject is the human face, often of his friends and family, rendered in meticulous and wonderful large-scale black-and-white ultra-realist paintings. His latest solo show, at the Nicholas Metivier Gallery (451 King Street West, until April 29), is As You Are, We Are."
What he's listening to: "I missed the English band Slowdive, often denigrated as 'shoegaze,' when they released three mesmerizing albums in the 1990s. Disbanded in 1995, they reformed in 2014, and so far this year have released two singles from a new self-titled album. The first, Star Roving, is as good as anything they've done. (I'm not so sure about the second, a sweet-pop effort called Sugar for the Pill.) The full album arrives May 5 from Dead Oceans, and will likely provide the soundtrack of my coming summer nights."