All the Sad Young Literary Men
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All the Sad Young Literary Men

2.91 of 5 stars 2.91  ·  rating details  ·  1,110 ratings  ·  242 reviews
A charming yet scathing portrait of young adulthood at the opening of the twenty-first century, All the Sad Young Literary Men charts the lives of Sam, Mark, and Keith, as they overthink their college years, underthink their love lives, and struggle through the encouragement of the women who love and despise them to find a semblance of maturity, responsibility, and even li...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published April 2nd 2009 by Vintage (first published 2008)
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Greg
I wanted to like this book more. Based on the five star system, I have to give it a three. In reality it's a weak three and a half stars, maybe a three point four stars.

The book is about a three (I think, I was thinking of this book about an hour after finishing it, and I was trying to think how many different main characters are there, and I had a hard time thinking if there were three or four, I'm pretty sure it's three though) sad young men. I don't know if I'd call him literary men, but as...more
Emily
Ha ha ha ha ha. No.

Where to even begin? Sure, there were some funny lines, particularly in the "His Google" chapter, but for the most part this book is terribly flawed. Since Gessen isn't above using charts and bulleted lists in his book, I won't refrain from using them here.

This book:

1. has a complicated relationship with irony. Late in the book, the narrator describes one character's inability to understand what another character is saying. "His English was good but it was not good enough to...more
Yulia
I was actually very embarrassed asking where I could find this book in my local Borders, because I'd forgotten the name of the author (which sounds strangely like "keep guessing") and because I find the name of the book, despite its being a Fitzgerald allusion, rather regrettable. So when Frank started reading it to me, we were both surprised and confused to find we actually liked the writing and found Gessen much more talented than his n+1 co-editor Benjamin Kunkel, who'd previously been over-h...more
alli
Nov 28, 2008 alli rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one, ever
Gessen clearly illustrates everything wrong with his generation of writers: an awkward desire to be vicious, but without the skill or introspection to do any real damage. It's like saying "You're an unmotivated loser for living in your parents basement. I'll be by Friday for dinner. Your mom knows I'm vegan, right?"

Also, all the lady characters are underdeveloped and horribly irritating.
Rifftrafft
as somebody who didn't get any work whatsoever until i changed my email address from post.harvard.edu to gmail.com, who can vouch for the knot of humility and vanity and realness and self-mythology and narrow-minded outsider resentment and self-loathing one can find himself in upon graduation--ultra records wouldn't even hire me, ultra fucking records!--i am riding hard for this book. one of the best articulations of this very real problem i know i went through at school, and which i know others...more
Dan
This book violates pretty much every principle you learned in writing school; it's about hypereducated twentysomethings who don't seem to have jobs or fixed locations, and who primarily engage in speculation about what might have happened between them and their ex-girlfriends. That's not what fiction is about. As we all know, fiction is about characters with cleanly-defined wants pursuing unified actions, just like we all have/do in real life. Fiction is also never about the kind of people who w...more
Nathan Rostron
The biggest disappointment about this book is not the obvious fact that Gessen could just barely fictionalize three different aspects of himself (obsessive Jew, obsessive Russophile, obsessive politically minded do-gooder smart person) and pass them off as distinct characters, but rather that the novel--about extremely ambitious yet frustrated and self-defeating people--is itself so unambitious. At about 250 pages and with a weird skinny trim size, it's well written but not daring or adventurous...more
Lee
This book -- expectations for this book weren't so high thanks to so many low-star reviews on here. But, hey, it exceeded expectations. This book -- it's not a novel or a collection of linked stories. It's autofiction in which a consistent authorial presence presents itself in three barely characterized characters, each with more similiarities than differences, each with girlfriends differentiated mostly by their names (this surely intentional undercharacterization interestingly blurs the edges...more
oriana
So since I am a (still) recovering Gawker addict, I had to wait a while to read this. I guess there's supposed to be some kind of unspoken feud between n + 1 and McSweeney's, and since McSweeney's is one of my favorites, I had to let my knee-jerk hate-inclination subside, in order to give this book a fair chance. In fact, I wound up coming full circle, and was really looking forward to finally reading this, assuming it was going to be really smart and good.

Well. It was neither as bad as I'd fea...more
Kristopher Jansma
Another summer reading recommendation from my boss, he billed this one as "literary candy," a description that I whole-heartedly repeat to you all. The strangely-titled book (reference to Fitzgerald, yet again!) follows a group of Harvard students who are swiftly cast out into the real world full of ideas and passion and nonsensical senses of self worth. Gessen does a good job of making these guys lovable, even as you realize that you'd probably hate any one of them if you overheard them bloviat...more
Josh Friedlander
A novel pretty much designed for me: all of the characters (who are in fact one; thinly disguised autobiographical iterations whom I still had difficulty telling apart by the book's end) are solipsistic, awkward, obsessively bookish young white males who intersperse dating failures and study of obscure history/economics/politics with angst about their direction in life. And in that respect it works. I get a kick out of vicariously living my ideated Brooklyn lifestyle of lit parties, cheap theatr...more
Stephen
This is not a bad book. I thought it offered a fairly convincing depiction of what I observe around me most days here in the subways, parks, and especially cafés of Brooklyn, USA. But that's the problem: I would never imagine writing a novel of potential mild interest to so few. The audience that might actually find this book a good, even compelling read, may perhaps only be found in a few forward-thinking but sleepy literary outposts like Trondheim or Aarhus (and I may well be doing these Nordi...more
Yennie
Check out the review at the Hipster Book Club.

Basically, it started out making me wanting to hurt the characters and the author for being such snobby little whiners, but by the end...well, I still thought they were snots, but I felt like I understood them better and was more forgiving.
Ellie
All the Sad Young Literary Men by Keith Gessen made a big splash when it came out a few years ago. I remember that. I also remember lots of complaints about it being too self-consciously self-conscious. Also self-indulgent. In that odd sense of ruminating on one's suffering that is caused (mostly) by oneself. One's drinking, not committing enough to relationships.

I think all of the above is true. Nonetheless, I really, really enjoyed this book. I found it funny and kind of true and, did I say, f...more
Persephone Abbott
I started this book just when a cold was starting in on me. I thought (as I was feeling already a little bit muddled) I needed an "easy book" to read. I was entertained by the first chapter, and then it seemed as I got better, the book caught the cold that was going around. To inspire my nursing skills I read some of GR's reviews of this book, and one person said, wait until you get to page 150 when it gets better and so in spite of the fact that I really really wanted really really to stop read...more
Jennifer
This book is one of my favourites. It captures the swirling, nonsensical decision making process of people in their mid-twenties, struggling with the choices that they are being forced to make about growing up, doing the right thing, and being good partners. It is about identity and growth. It is about failure and guilt. It is about looking inside yourself and realizing that you aren't the person you expected to be.

The women in this book struck me as well. None of them are major characters but...more
Megan
This book was beyond terrible. I'm truly sorry I bought it, and if I could get my money back in some way, I would. It's incredibly pretentious, but not even in a way where I have to at least grudgingly admit that it's well-written, or funny, or intelligent, or insightful... because this book is none of those things. So on top of NOT being the least bit smart or funny or insightful it's painfully pretentious. It's also banal and flat-out boring. The characters in this book are the same annoying g...more
Corey
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the intellectual Jonathan Tropper. His debut novel is authored by the scholar's scholar, the Harvard grad's Harvard grad. And while these characters are neither relateable to most people nor very likeable, Gessen does manage to entertain. Truthfully, this book did not deserve four stars. This book was a solid 3.6, maybe even a weak 3.7, but Goodreads does not allow for decimal points, and so I rounded up.

It's an entertaining novel that Gessen has written, a...more
Julie Ehlers
Feb 12, 2011 Julie Ehlers rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one
Ugh. I got about 50 pages into this book and realized I didn't care about any of the characters at all. In fact, I found them all totally insufferable. If it had been an ordinary day, I would've pretty much abandoned the book right then. But I was on jury duty, sitting in an uncomfortable chair in City Hall, with no clear end to the day and no other books with me. So I kept on. Eventually, at about the 150 page mark, I began to care about the characters a little. After jury duty ended, I decided...more
Margaret
Jul 24, 2008 Margaret rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: sad young literary men?
I just read Gessen's book and would like to review it with
reasons why my friend Kyle Beachy's debut fiction The Slide:A Novel about pre-9-11 confused college grads is better than Keith Gessen's

1. More colors in the cover.

Anyone can do black and white. Having recently ordered all my books in color order, I have to say there are way too many black and white books. Plus instead of a creepy literary Atlas, we have a flying van.

2. The Slide is a far superior title.

That seems obvious

3. St. Louis is...more
Mike
Someone I follow on Twitter posted a link to someone else’s blog where the author was providing book recommendations for anyone and everyone who commented based on the last five books each person had read. It was an incredible performance—over one hundred people commented, and each recommendation provided was unique and something the guy had read. Intrigued and impressed, I posted my last five and received Keith Gessen’s All the Sad Young Literary Men as a recommendation.

It’s pretty good. There...more
Doug
Gessen was supposed to be the next big lit star, but the portion of the lit world he was aiming at was nursing the hangover they'd developed with Dave Eggers. Speaking of Eggers, I find some of the slack writing found in Eggers' You Shall Know Our Velocity in the "Sam" portion of ATSYLM that is set in Israel. Certainly if he'd written something that became as trendy as Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius his name would be on everyone's tongue. But this book didn't have the power to...more
Abby
Oct 01, 2008 Abby rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nerdz
Recommended to Abby by: The Library Shelf.
When I went to the library to rent All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, it wasn't there, and I had to get on the wait list, so I picked All the Sad Young Literary Men up off the "new fiction" shelf because:
a) The title began with the same word.
b) Gawker hates Keith Gessen.
c) I knew some sad young literary men in my days as a sad young literary lady. I guess I still know some now, but they aren't so pathetic, these ones.
d) My brother went to Harvard and was miserable. I had a feeling that the ta...more
Emily
I have to say, at first this book was entirely confusing to me. Actually, I'm still not even sure how many main characters there were, and what exactly their ties to each other were. The one thing that remains consistent is that they are all very smart, and almost overly educated twenty somethings. Products of Harvard and other Ivy leagues, there lives seem to revolve around obscure authors and incidents of Jewish/Israeli history which they seem to be the only experts in. To me, aside from their...more
Grace
I bought this book because I wanted to read some contemporary fiction, rather than the classics I usually pick up. It had a good cover. And it didn't have "a moment that would change their lives forever", as just about every contemporary novel seems to have, and which I think is a ridiculous idea.

I didn't expect to like it very much. But I did. I liked it a LOT.

All the Sad Young Literary Men really captured a sort of lifestyle. It started in a promising way, as the lives of the characters' did,...more
Sarah
I just finished. And sure, I'm still crushing on Keith Gessen pretty hard (this review is for all of you who have suffered through my ecstatic fawning over him these last few days...), but I'm also feeling ambivalent about the book itself.

It seems like a prolonged attempt at reconciling citizenship with sexuality, as though the two things were distinct, and as though each one could justify the ugliness and infelicities of the other. Maybe this picture of that struggle is true (i.e., to life). I...more
Patrick
There is a lot I can understand one complaining about in this book: the multiple narrators can at times make the book unnecessarily cluttered, the politics could be considered simplistic, etc. However, what makes this book most notable to me is that it is the first I have ever read that accurately portrays how ingrained the internet now is in society. As a result, it accurately portrays, to me, modern culture in a way that no other book I have read does. I would guess that this is a result large...more
Andrew
I first encountered this book through a review in Slate, and it was of relatively little interest. Cut forward to a long, dismal drive from my sister's high school graduation back to my college. It was Saturday night, the girl I'd been seeing wasn't picking up her phone, and I was staring down the Iowa blacktop listening to a long, unhappy reading from this very book on NPR. I decided to buy a 40.

And remarkably, that's how I felt whenever I read this. It was affecting, but I can say it's only af...more
Bill
I really enjoyed this book, Gessen's first. It definitely wasn't perfect, despite my 5 star rating, but overall I thought that it was excellent. It is a great portrayal of your 20s as an upper middle class male intellectual (note that since I more or less belong to that class this book may have resounded with me more than others, fair warning.) The writing was mostly great, with some truly standout lines.

The story itself follows 3 main characters through college and post-college lives, mostly f...more
Meghan C.
I'll admit up front that I think what Gessen has written is a niche book, and I am certainly not in that niche. I mean, the title says it all. I'm neither sad, nor a man, and not so young and erudite either. While I do think the best fiction has a way of making what seem like niche concerns feel universal, I'll admit that not every book is for every reader.

That being said, this book was dullsville. About 70 pages in I was already writing this review in my head, eulogizing a story I was still liv...more
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Keith Gessen (b. 1975) is editor-in-chief of n+1, a twice-yearly magazine of literature, politics, and culture based in New York City. He graduated from Harvard College and earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Syracuse University in 2004.

Gessen, who was born in Russia, has written about Russia for The Atlantic and the New York Review of Books. In 2005, Dalkey Archive Press published Gessen's tr...more
More about Keith Gessen...
Vanity Fair's How a Book is Born: The Making of The Art of Fielding Diary of a Very Bad Year: Confessions of an Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager P.S.1 Symposium: A Practical Avant-Garde (Research Branch Pamphlet No.1) City by City: How Americans Actually Live There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby

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