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The Disappointment Artist

3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  1,456 ratings  ·  133 reviews
In a volume he describes as "a series of covert and not-so-covert autobiographical pieces," Jonathan Lethem explores the nature of cultural obsession, from western films and comic books to the music of Pink Floyd and the New York City subway. Along the way, he shows how each of these "voyages out from himself" has led him to the source of his beginnings as a writer. The Di...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published March 14th 2006 by Vintage (first published 2005)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,639)
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Rob
I rate this book five stars because it's the only sustained, accurate description I've ever read of the kind of engagement I've been having with art and artists for as long as I can remember. It gave me that special kind of surprise: I'm just used to the idea that no one ever talks about this, and yet here is someone talking about it, unashamedly, at length!

The types of engagement with art that I see most frequently fall into two very distinct bins: the engagement of Fans and the engagement of C...more
Caris
A while back, I wrote a review of a book called Mortified. That work was a collection of letters and essays written by teenagers and submitted for publication by the adult versions of those same teenagers. While sometimes enlightening, the core goal of this project (as the book was more of an afterthought inspired by stage readings) was for adults to have the chance to air their embarrassments publicly. They were making fun of themselves.

I immediately took offense to that book. There was a disti...more
Jan
Jul 30, 2007 Jan rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: men in their 40s who have comic book collections
Shelves: 2007reads
boys will be boys will be boys. you know how they love their marvel comics and their westerns and their star wars and their philip k dick. could a gal have written this collection? i think not, mon frere. i love cassavetes as much as the next lady writer, but the intensely myopic style here kind of made me feel like i was the kleenex mopping up after a lengthy, loving, extra-spoogey wank session. the thing is, i'm confused by my reaction, since his writing is wonderful, and i usually love the fe...more
Farren
Lethem's aesthetic interests are so far outside of my own realm of taste/knowledge that it was hard to respond to the essays, which leaned heavily on Cassevetes and Kubrick and Philip K. Dick, in any kind of objective way. So, what do we know about Jonathan Lethem at the end of this book, if we don't care that he watched Star Wars 21 times the summer it opened: we know that Lethem rebelled against his hippie commune-dwelling parents by becoming insular, obsessive, fanatical and extra-nerdy about...more
M. Sarki
A really marvelous book of essays titled, THE DISAPPOINTMENT ARTIST, by Jonathan Lethem discovered me by way of my usual antic behavior which consists of this eternally obsessive need for always having in my possession something fresh, something new, and something more than chewable. In my usual literary and musical compulsive meanderings I came across online a Patti Smith video interview conducted by Lethem at I believe Cooper Union commissioned while they were both recently students at Pratt a...more
Amy
People like to shit on this book for being self-congratulatory and indulgent..however, since these essays effectively work as a memoir, and I think we all like to talk about ourselves sometimes..I really didn't have a problem with it. In fact I found most of it quite enjoyable.

Lethem has essentially compiled essays detailing his obsessions ranging from adolescence to present day (he's a little older than 40 now). You have an essay on "The Searchers" (John Wayne western), watching Star Wars 21 ti...more
Arthur
I felt guilty reading this collection of essays because for the most part they are about exactly the things I want to read about, and those things are pretty nerdy (Jack Kirby, Philip K. Dick, Robert Fripp).

I think generally people are attracted to authors who either think in a way that is opposite to the way they themselves think, and therefore it is thrilling to read something so alien, or authors who think exactly like they think, and so it is thrilling to read something that corroborates yo...more
Morgan
Slogging through this incredibly short book made me wonder if perhaps my problem with Motherless Brooklyn is not that I always tried to read it at a time when my life was too easily disrupted. Maybe I just don't like Lethem's writing when he's not writing fiction. Generally when I read a good piece of creative nonfiction, it can make me interested in a subject I was actively disinterested in, not to mention those I'd never known about or considered. The essays in The Disappointment Artist manage...more
Spencer Morris
It's funny how I feel about Lethem after reading this book. Some of the chapters are really interesting, and others are about subjects, movies, and bands that had come and gone by the time I was old enough to view them as part of the history of popular culture, not something of direct concern.

But there's this funny thing about Lethem's books.

In The Fortress of Solitude, toward the conclusion of the story the protagonist watches an artistic film created by his father featuring the unbelievable te...more
Christopher Roth
$22.95 for 149 pages, and LOTS of white space. Luckily, I got my copy for free. I'm a Jonathan Lethem completist and utter fan, so maybe not everyone will take to this as I did. Most essays here are a mix of criticism and autobiography, such as a long essay about The Searchers built around his different attitudes toward it during different times in his life. Likewise with Philip K. Dick, Jack Kirby, Bob Dylan, and other figures who Lethem aficionados will know have talismanic significance for hi...more
Richard
Lethem comes off as an effete who loves to talk about his unconventional parents who raised him in a communal environment in what was then-less-hip Brooklyn, his love of Sci Fi, French noir, and his prodigious intellect. This was the first and likely last thing I'll be reading by Lethem unless it's short and I'm desperate.
Sage Bartow
I have loved everything I've read by Jonathan Lethem. I love him even more after reading "The Disappointment Artist". I don't think that Lethem is the greatest writer of all time, but I relate to his work more than I relate to any other writer.
Dottie
It was dull as dirt. I felt like I was on a very boring blind date listening to some guy who thinks the minutae of his life is interesting. The problem is that Mr Lethem couldn't see my eyes glaze over.
Andrew
I love this book. For some, I suspect that the way Lethem obsesses over every book/movie/song/artist that has influenced him may grate, but I totally get what it's like to identify with art to the point of obsession, so I loved it. Plus, this is Lethem we're talking about. Whether he's writing fiction or nonfiction, he wears his cultural and artistic influences on his sleeve.

Being a collection, it has its low points and high points.

High points: the essays about The Searchers, Star Wars, the comi...more
Brendan
First things first: This book made me feel like an asshole for not having already read The Fortress of Solitude. Like, a big asshole.

Originally, Lethem expected to be a painter. He instead became a writer. And while he's respected as a great one, it feels like part of the intentions behind this work is to apologize for the painter he's not. If he were a painter, his influences would be self-evident. They could be mulled over only through the act of observation. Instead, he's a writer, so the exp...more
Belarius
Jan 26, 2008 Belarius rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Knowingly Imperfect People
Allow me to summarize the many essays of his book for you:

"Hello, my name is Jonathan, and I'm odd and kind of an asshole. Let me assure you, however, that my unfortunate behavior stems from this obsession I have, which I think you'll understand if I explain it to you in detail..."

Jonathan Lethem belongs to that class of authors who can squeeze truly excellent prose from the furnace of neurosis, and he has never been as honestly neurotic as in The Disappointment Artist, a collection of non-ficti...more
Dan
Late in "The Disappointment Artist," Lethem cops to what's already become apparent to the reader -- that the work he set out to create is less a true, dyed in the wool, man-of-letters collection of essays than it is a piecemeal memoir.

By dissecting the touchstones that comprise the elements of his style -- both the pop-cultural ("The Searchers" and John Cassavettes, Marvel Comics and Phillip K. Dick, the Talking Heads) and the personal (his at-times difficult relationship with his painter father...more
Charles Cox
Lethem's "The Disappointment Artist" does something I've never seen in any work laden with such heavy artistic promises in its front flap.

It is a personal espousal of belief in liking what you like, for the reasons you like it, and suffering damn-all to share that liking with others.

From the very beginning when Lethem defends his own review of The Searchers (not hard, perhaps - IMDB.com gives it an 8/10), to his introduction to and defense of Pink Floyd, and finally - well, it gets a little hazy...more
Eana
From my journal:
"I finished The Disappointment Artist (Jonathan Lethem) this morning. I was so impressed by it. There is so much there that makes me feel gratified, somehow. I guess the ones about Philip K. Dick and Cassavetes were my least favorite, though both nonetheless filled with insight, just least personally affecting. I guess I really liked the first one on The Searchers, the second one of The Disappointment Artist, the one of the Lives of the Bohemians and the one on comic books in the...more
Andrew
the best essay in here is the title one, but not b/c of lethem's take on dahlberg. instead, it's just getting to know dahlberg at all. he was a highly critical writer/ teacher who judged all writing by the best. lethem seems to have a problem with that measuring stick. why not measure contemporary or recent or student writers by the best in history? what else should they be judged by? the contemporary slosh that publishing houses exude? they barely even print books anymore. Who cares if contempo...more
Leslie
I'd read two novels from Jonathan Lethem - Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn - and thought I'd try this collection of essays. It really clued me in to the origin of this streak of frenzied, compulsive pop-culture dissection blaring in and out of Fortress of Solitude like a second radio station on a too-nearby frequency. That super-critic personality, needing to analyze and opinionate and identify with as many pieces of art as possible in each breath seems to comprise a large part o...more
Danica
I read this because I had this funny feeling about onathan Lethem and wasn't sure if I should give him any of my time, so I thought essays would be much more harmless than a novel. Maybe 3 pieces in was where I decided he was much more than a self-congratulatory guy who likes obscure movies and music, but rather found a way to transform his experiences into something universal and poignant. It was quick and easy to read, but not at all dumbed-down or overly intellectual. Also had a realization l...more
Marginalia2
I like the way ideas flow through the essays—which really make up a different type of memoir. My favorite piece is 'Speak, Hoyt-Schermerhorn'. This is a widely ranging essay about a subway station, but of course it is about Lethem's relationship to that particular place. The reader finds out about 'loopers' and the conductor whose wife travels with him for a number of stations, departs, only to be replaced by the conductor's lover at the next station.

Lethem takes us on an hour ride from this nei...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Praise for Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude, for what the Baltimore Sun deems "a hybrid tour de force." Not only does Lethem display a broad range of cultural and intellectual knowledge; according to the critics he's mastered the art of memoir as well. The book is as heartfelt and self-effacing as it is esoteric. The one negative review seems more of a personal attack on Lethem than a reasoned slice of criticism (Jennifer Autrey writes in the Fort Worth Star-Tel

...more
Carrie Lorig
yawn. this is fine. it's well written but the glean of artifice feels pretty apparent in a way that makes a lot of the book ring a little insincere. (i know that is not lethem's intention, and i very much wanted to love this.) "I tried to engage my cop in sophistry: How could I be ticketed for a crime that had been prevented? Shouldn't he let me through to ride the train if I were paying the price for my misdeed?" i didn't feel like i got to know anyone. not him, not his friends. people move in...more
Ann
Jonathan Lethem's challenge growing up was to distinguish himself from his counter-culture, artistic parents. To his credit, he did not become a young Republican; instead, he devoted himself to cult writers, comics and movies. In these essays, he sorts out who he was in those earnest and often heart-breaking years while profiling the underground artists who intrigued him. Funniest scene: his outrage when fellow Bennington College students could not appreciate the John Ford film, "The Searchers,"...more
Karl Steel
Aug 14, 2007 Karl Steel rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: boys
Although I haven't read more than a paragraph of Chuck Klosterman, I'm reminded. If you're into 70s art rock, PKDick, Magritte, Godard, Kubrick, and well, finish the list yourself, this should be a treat. I'm into those things too, but what boy isn't? But this boy likes to learn something when he reads.

Then there's the 'densely allusive' quality of the essays. Er. Watch for the echo from Finnegans Wake, congratulate yourself for catching it, berate yourself for your self-congratulation given the...more
Elliot
This is basically a self-examination through the lens of boyhood obsessions. Although one would think this collection fairly limited in appeal because so much of the arcana of Lethem's youth is just that--arcane (obscure comics, star wars, the searchers, authors obscure and semi-obscure-- Edward Dahlberg and Philip K Dick)--I do think there is actually a broader appeal as Lethem is fairly adept at wringing meaning and some sort of larger poignancy from subjects which, at face value, would seem t...more
Mark
I'd never read any Jonathan Lethem but had heard great things about him. Now I see why. This was a great way to test the waters and I'm now looking forward to reading his longer work. Clearly the man is really really smart but in an entertaining and almost self-effacing way. He seems like someone you'd be happy to get into a lively arguement about an obsure movie with. He melds a number of different genres -- memoir, essay, lit and film crit -- into one here and pulls them all off by doing them...more
D.J.
Jonathan Lethem's collection of essays mixes reviews with personal anecdotes to create something of a biography. I also grew up on Marvel comics like he did, as well as "Star Wars," and though I don't share all, or many more of his specific interests/obsessions ("The Searchers," Brian Eno, Phillip K. Dick), I get where he's coming from in loving popular culture and immersing oneself in it sometimes as a way to avoid the "real" world and life's problems.

There are genuine touching stories as well...more
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Jonathan Allen Lethem (born February 19, 1964) is an American novelist, essayist and short story writer.

His first novel, Gun, with Occasional Music, a genre work that mixed elements of science fiction and detective fiction, was published in 1994. It was followed by three more science fiction novels. In 1999, Lethem published Motherless Brooklyn, a National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel t...more
More about Jonathan Lethem...
Motherless Brooklyn The Fortress of Solitude Gun, With Occasional Music Chronic City As She Climbed across the Table

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“Every room I've lived in since I was given my own room at eleven was lined with, and usually overfull of, books. My employment in bookstores was always continuous with my private hours: shelving and alphabetizing, building shelves, and browsing-- in my collection and others-- in order to understand a small amount about the widest possible number of books. Such numbers of books are constantly acquired that constant culling is necessary; if I slouch in this discipline, the books erupt. I've also bricked myself in with music--vinyl records, then compact discs. My homes have been improbably information-dense, like capsules for survival of a nuclear war, or models of the interior of my own skull. That comparison--room as brain-- is one I've often reached for in describing the rooms of others, but it began with the suspicion that I'd externalized my own brain, for anyone who cared to look.” 20 likes
“May one plead, Your Honor, postmodernism as an involuntary condition?” 3 likes
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