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Improve Your Taste With… Ben Greenman

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The New Yorker writer on Herman Melville, Eastbound & Down, and an actress he fears may be too young for him.

Ben Greenman

Ben Greenman is an editor at the New Yorker who's written several well-received books. But he's also a guy who records theme songs for the protagonists of his novels, releases sets of books that look like accordions, and maintains a website which invites visitors to write letters to fictional characters. Along that epistolary theme, his latest book, What He's Poised to Do, is a short-story collection in which many characters are letter writers. (One of the stories is set on the moon.) We chatted with Greenman about premature ejaculation, Herman Melville, and the reason he almost paid money to see Marmaduke

Julian Cope

Julian CopePeople like to dismiss Julian Cope as an eighties relic, or as an acid casualty, but they couldn't be more wrong than if they pointed at a horse and said, "Look, a turtle." He doesn't chart like he did then, but he remains a melodic genius. He's also an independent scholar who has published books on everything from Krautrock to Japanese rock to ancient monuments. Fascinating man, fascinating mind, and one of the few artists who really knows how to use comedy in the service of seriousness — check out the title of his 2008 anti-extremist anthem, "All The Blowing-Themselves-Up Motherfuckers (Will Realise The Minute They Die That They Were Suckers)."

Eastbound and DownEastbound & Down

Many cable comedies with nudity and profanity are boring because they are poorly written, acted without energy, and permanently predictable. Eastbound & Down is none of those things; it's an unruly mullet in a world of Caesar cuts. The show has a great cast (Danny McBride, but also Katy Mixon and Steve Little) and comic timing that's so brilliantly arrhythmic that it will make you ejaculate prematurely in the upstairs bedroom of the house your ex-girlfriend shares with her new fiancée.

Emma Stone

Emma StoneI always feel a little uneasy about saying that I like young actresses. I mean, am I allowed to say that? Also, who doesn't! But in this case, there's a backstory. Stone was in Judd Apatow's 2007 movie Superbad, which was not — I repeat, not — based on my 2001 book of the exact same name. I liked her in that. She seemed smart and sexy, a little start-and-stop, with a great voice. Then I missed some of her movies, and then I saw her in Zombieland, which I thought would be a guilty pleasure but was in fact a thoroughgoing pleasure. I like everyone in that movie: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Bill Murray, and especially Stone. She did a voice in Marmaduke, and for a second I considered seeing the movie.

The Confidence Man, By Herman Melville

The Confidence Man

Sometimes you want to read a book and understand it. But sometimes you want to fall into the rabbit hole of a book, and get your head turned from side to side, and feel your eyes drying up as you stare at sentences and try to absorb them. If you're in that frame of mind, reach for Herman Melville's 1857 novel, which tracks the adventures of the unnamed title character as he tricks his way through a group of steamboat passengers. The book was published (and set) on April Fools' Day; contains hundreds of shockingly insightful passages about morality, spirituality, literature, and economics; and was the last novel Melville wrote before turning to religious poetry.

Paco Pomet

Paco Pomet

Paco Pomet is a Spanish artist whose paintings are based on archival photographs. Pomet inserts pop-culture references, stretches and distorts, and plays with scale until the images are part of a parallel universe that is both disturbing and witty. I like the bleaker scenes, like one that shows a massacre in which all the victims are Ernie puppets.