This is one of the most intense books I have ever read. But it's almost like it isn't trying to be intense; it's written in these short little snips—aThis is one of the most intense books I have ever read. But it's almost like it isn't trying to be intense; it's written in these short little snips—a quote here, a paragraph there, a page and a half next—flowing from subject to subject, at a constant remove, an increasing-then-releasing philosophical distance, twisting in and around on itself (what a perfect cover design, BTW), yanking you into and out of its intensity so many times that it leaves you breathless.
This is Nick Flynn's memoir of co-producing a movie based on his previous memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. So it's a memoir of a memoir of a memoir. Which, I don't really think that's ever been done before, has it?
And the original memoir—to give the briefest, most reductive summary—is about Nick's time, after his mother's suicide, of becoming an alcoholic and drug addict, of living alone on a boat, of working in a homeless shelter for years until the day that his father, whom he hasn't seen in like a decade, wanders in in search of a room. It then proceeds to catalogue several years in the lives of Nick and his father (delusions of grandeur, a frightening mess, often psychotic and abusive and always unstable). Dad getting kicked out of the shelter (again) for being psychotic and abusive and unstable, Nick finding Dad sleeping on the street in the snow, Nick finding Dad a apartment, Dad crumbling and crazying further, Nick stumbling through his own erratic love life and consuming addictions, on and on and on.
Here is the question that this book asks, that the writing of this book and the living of its story forced the writer through: What would it be like to watch a movie being made of your life?
For most of us: disassociating and megalomaniac probably, in turns.
But what would it be like to watch a movie being made, say, of your mother's suicide and your dubious self-distancing from your father's dissolution? What if you had to not just watch Julianne Moore read your mother's suicide note and then shoot herself in the chest, but then give her notes on the tone of her voice, the quaver in the hand with which she holds the pen, the gun? What if you had to listen to the cruelest, most damning things your father ever screamed at you spew forth from the mouth of Robert De Niro, after bringing him to visit the shelter you once were complicit in kicking your father out of? What if you had to tell the props mistress what the pipe you used to smoke crack out of looked like, to hold its replica in your hand, after years of being clean and sober? How could you live through reliving the rawest, most harrowing moments of your life, your deepest sorrows actualized before you, take after take after take?
Does that give you some small idea about the intensity of this book?
And that's not all, not by a long long way. The book is also a thematic triptych, with the two other prongs being 1) an endlessly unspooling meditation on psychological and physical trauma and the recovery from same, with quotes and asides from literature, from history, from philosophy, and 2) the history of a glass-blowing family whose life's work was to make, out of glass, all the flowers in the (then-)known world—many of which are still on display in a museum in Boston where Nick's mom used to bring him as a child.
Around and around and around.
I only just closed the book minutes ago, so forgive me if I'm still reeling, still catching my breath, still parsing my overflowed emotions. I haven't yet gone back to reread all the gorgeous sentences I underlined, all the brain-twisting paragraphs I circled for return and reflection, all the heart-rending pages I dog-eared to quote from while trying to explain what a fiercely horrifying and spectacularly affecting book this is. I don't think I can go back in just yet. I will soon, I suppose, once the shimmer has worn off—but for now I'm going to go ride my bike around in the dark and try to process....more
Amy has such an unusual sense of pacing and flow. Her meditations meander in short chopped bits, taking strange and fascinating turns and loops and puAmy has such an unusual sense of pacing and flow. Her meditations meander in short chopped bits, taking strange and fascinating turns and loops and pulling you headlong through the pages.
I copyedited these two short books for McSweeney's and then another book Amy is (I believe) self-publishing, one after the other after the other, so the themes and topics between the three are blurred. But she wanders through everything from learning to ride a motorcycle to taking a class on tightrope walking, from the differences between Japanese and American playgrounds to details of a childhood sexual assailant. She also discourses on parenthood and stillness and being in a place and travel and fear and time and its vagaries and oh, so many other things.
I just read the McSwy's blurb on this book, and they're right: this stuff is half clear-eyed memoiring and half philosophical riffing, and it definitely makes the world strange again. Really wonderful....more
Here's a text conversation I had with my friend Megan:
M: Have you read Treasure Island!!! by Sarah Levine? O: No! What is it? M: Um, a book. You may likHere's a text conversation I had with my friend Megan:
M: Have you read Treasure Island!!! by Sarah Levine? O: No! What is it? M: Um, a book. You may like it. O: Ha, okay.
[Megan brings me the book, which I dutifully add to my terrifyingly high, teetering to-read stack. A month passes. I read this and that and the other, and then I pick this up.]
O: Holy fuck, why didn't you tell me this book was endorsed by both Adam Levin and Aimee Bender?????? M: Um, because I don't know who they are. O: AAAAAHHHH they're like two of my most favorite authors ever I am starting this book right the fuck now. Also I will loan you The Girl in the Flammable Skirt right away.
[And I did.]
So this book is pretty fun. It's kind of zany, kind of silly, kind of light. It's about a girl who becomes obsessed with (duh) Treasure Island and reevaluates her entire life based on its principles—which she distills to "boldness," "resolution," "independence," and "horn-blowing," so that should give you an idea of the book's flippant, somewhat sarcastic tone.
It's a great idea, and it's pretty fun to read, with sometimes really shocking moments of fantastic language or great musings. But the big problem is that the main character is just a HUGE dick. She's a dick to her boyfriend, she's a dick to her boss, she's a massive dick to her sister and her parents and her best friend. She's mind-blowingly self-centered and narcissistic and conniving and cruel.
I guess you could call this success on the part of the author, because she created an awful character and then made her awfulness extremely consistent and more or less believable. But it's a fail for the reader (assuming that reader is me) because I kind of hate people who are dicks, so it was kind of hard to get excited about going on a journey with this absurdly dick-ish character.
So I dunno. A+ for effort, and I'm not sorry I read it or anything, but I can't really say I loved it....more
I read Nicholas Christopher's Veronica several years ago, and I remember it being dizzying and dazzling—and ultimately a bit unfulfilling. And so withI read Nicholas Christopher's Veronica several years ago, and I remember it being dizzying and dazzling—and ultimately a bit unfulfilling. And so with this one. It was engaging, with two interwoven plotlines moving toward each other, and it did have interesting characters, dialogue, etc., but ultimately it was kind of unsatisfying.
Here's a quick synopsis that isn't spoilery: The first plot is in the past—it's the sort of untold history of the man who influenced all modern jazz, I guess. I have no idea if that guy is real or not; certainly there are a lot of real people discussed in his story, but I was too lazy to Wikipedia it. The second story is modern: a woman whose husband just left her for his secretary, and whose mother just passed away, goes on a semi-manic road trip with her daughter to deliver a talk at an anesthesiologist conference.
I had two main problems with the book. First, it's incredibly difficult to write convincingly or satisfyingly about music. No matter how eloquently you describe a song I've never heard, chances aren't good I'll be able to hear it in my head, or even have a clue what it vaguely sounds like. And second, the jazz plot dra-a-a-a-a-agged. I'm not a dutiful student of history, and it's clear that Christopher really nerds out on this stuff, but the barrage of names and places and very short descriptions of each just never sunk into my brain, so that when this or that person or club recurred, many chapters later, I was lost as to its significance. I think he just tried to cram in more than the book could bear—or at least more than I could bear. If you're more of a lover of music history than I, perhaps you'd think differently.
Anyway, at the very end the book really redeemed itself for me, tying everything up quite well, in an unpredictably and not at all corny way. So that was great.
I wish it came with a CD (or MP3 download key or something) of the music, though....more
Felt like it was time for some nonfiction, something I could sink my teeth into a little. Plus I am such a sucker for old-timey NYC. Oh and what a perFelt like it was time for some nonfiction, something I could sink my teeth into a little. Plus I am such a sucker for old-timey NYC. Oh and what a perfect Valentine's Day read, right?
Well... I don't know, this is lively and full of detail and very personable, but I just couldn't get into it. I'm sure I'll pick it up again one of these days, but moving on for now....more
Well this was just riveting. A lush, pell-mell rush of a book filled with exquisite language that just tugs and tugs you forth. The kind of book you iWell this was just riveting. A lush, pell-mell rush of a book filled with exquisite language that just tugs and tugs you forth. The kind of book you invent excuses to read—just one more cigarette, just twenty more minutes abed before turning off the light, taking the local train instead of the express for more uninterrupted reading time. I almost want to read it again right away, just to fill in all the gaps more clearly.
I admit I am very surprised to have been so captivated and enamored. I read The Effects of Living Backwards a year or so ago, and was defeated by its twists and feints and overwrittenness. I found Heidi ultimately too smart for her own good, the book too ambitious, or perhaps myself too casual of a reader to really catch all the subtleties and put all the pieces together.
And yet. Heidi is the editor of The Believer, and I got this book in a proof for $2, and I am largely happy to trust my reading choices to the whims of fate—what I find on the street, what I score for cheap at a used book shop. And so here we are.
The Vanishers is in some ways a scaled-back version of Living Backwards. It is definitely twisty, constantly circling back on itself, and filled with quick reveals that you miss if you're an uncareful reader (which I am). But it's much more manageable, with a smallish cast of sharply memorable characters, and the pacing is more or less perfect—just enough time spent on atmospherics vs dialogue vs philosophizing vs plot.
It's hard to talk more clearly about it without spoilering, but this is a story about psychics (the academic kind, not the cliché kind who read palms on a street corner for five bucks). It's a story about dead mothers and toxic friends and feminism and suicide and porn art films. It takes place in many places: calm rural New England, fast frantic NYC, recovery sanitarium spas in Sweeden. It's about astral projections and psychic wolves, but also about clawed necklaces and sinkholes and paparazzi and betrayals and menacing Barcelona chairs. It's filled with gaspably perfect descriptions tossed off with a casualness that's difficult to believe. It's just absolutely stunning....more
From a review by Word Bookstore: Smith's masterful fiction is not widely known in the U.S., but it should be. Her latest is a nonfiction rumination onFrom a review by Word Bookstore: Smith's masterful fiction is not widely known in the U.S., but it should be. Her latest is a nonfiction rumination on the power and importance of art and storytelling. Creative nonfiction at its finest, this one reminds me of one of my other favorite British literary stylists, Jeanette Winterson. ...more
I had pretty much dismissed this guy as a doofus after the idiotic Go the Fuck to Sleep took off like goddamn wildfire. But OMG how good does this booI had pretty much dismissed this guy as a doofus after the idiotic Go the Fuck to Sleep took off like goddamn wildfire. But OMG how good does this book sound?? Plus check out this terrific & heartbreaking piece he wrote for the Awl about New York's "War on Graffiti" (which, duh, equals a war on brown people and poor people and the desperate fight for the control of public space). And this one for Salon, hilariously skewering the publishing industry and mocking himself on his author tour? Sold sold sold. Gimme this book now....more
For someone who screams and screams about always thinking for yourself, I can be surprisingly sheeplike when it comes to certain influences. I mean, wFor someone who screams and screams about always thinking for yourself, I can be surprisingly sheeplike when it comes to certain influences. I mean, where's the line between fervent, frenzied devotion and brainless following? Who cares. The point is, if a recommendation comes from, say, Flavorpill, or McSweeney's, or Vice, or Gawker, chances are I'm all ears. And an extension of Gawker is Emily Books, led of course by Emily Gould (whom I have elsewhere professed my undying love for).
ANYWAY. The January rec from Emily Books is this little beauty, and here's what they say about it:
The Correspondence Artist is an instructive and dizzyingly smart book about love, sex, fame, and email. Vivian, a writer and single mother living in New York, finds herself involved with an internationally mega-famous artist. As the affair progresses, she begins to narrate the story of their not-quite-love by quoting her correspondence. But who is the recipient of Vivian's affection and her emails? It depends on which version of her story you prefer. She describes her lover, variously, as a Nobel Prize-winning Israeli novelist named Tzipi, a Vietnamese enfant terrible video artist named Binh, a Basque separatist activist named Santuxto, and a Malian rock star named Djeli. This kaleidoscopic approach allows Vivian to maintain an ironic remove from her seduction, her disappointments and triumphs, and even her heartbreak. But the overlapping layers of fiction also work to create a multi-dimensional portrait of a relationship that's even more vivid due to being partially obscured.
I never really thought to read Elizabeth Wurtzel, I don't know why. But then today something prompted me to click on this piece she wrote for New YorkI never really thought to read Elizabeth Wurtzel, I don't know why. But then today something prompted me to click on this piece she wrote for New York Magazine, and it was sad, and lovely, and marvelous, and I only thought I'd maybe skim it but I read every word, wonderingly, and I can't wait can't wait to read her now.
Which book is the best? Is this one good? It has the highest average star rating, but we all know that means nothing....more
Tuck tells me this is a much better antidote to Wild. Tee seems to've had pretty much a religious experience reading it. I am fairly trembling with anTuck tells me this is a much better antidote to Wild. Tee seems to've had pretty much a religious experience reading it. I am fairly trembling with anticipation....more
In case anyone is wondering: I picked this book up for a re-read because of one throwaway line in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal. I haven't reIn case anyone is wondering: I picked this book up for a re-read because of one throwaway line in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal. I haven't read this since high school, but I remember loving it almost giddily as a tween.
Since it's a big monster of a book, I took a steak knife to it, as I often do, and cut it in half so I could carry it about and read it on the subway without breaking my back. Here's the new cover I put on my DIY'd "vol 2," from Vice magazine. I find it creepy & rather fitting:
Anyway, I have been reading this for days and days and days and days and days—exactly a month, it turns out (thanks for keeping track, Goodreads!), which is about four times longer than it takes me to read most books. I'm not at all sorry to have spent so long with it, as this book encompasses multitudes, and was just consistently enthralling the whole time. I remembered it only sketchily from high school, mostly only the first book, much of which is retold in the Disney movie The Sword in the Stone: Arthur as a boy being turned into a fish and a bird, scampering about learning lessons from comical genius klutz Merlin, who is always knitting his beard into his scarf.
All that is, of course, still there, still fun and silly and charming and delightful. But, like all good epics do, what starts as a somewhat childish fantasy story grows up as its characters do, maturing in deed and thought and even language, so that by the end it is more philosophy than slapstick, more high art and the endless search for meaning than antics and adventures. The difference between right and wrong, the search for God, love and its lapses and failures, why men fight wars, how the sins of the father are visited tenfold on the son, the impossibility of absolute justice, the very meaning of life—all these are dissected, mulled over, worked around and through over these 700 pages. Additionally, throughout, there are the most fascinating digressions: on falconry, on the food and fashion of the day, on the political landscape of the British Isles through history, on many different sorts of weapons and their uses, on all the various accessories that make up a knight's attire, on needlepoint and castle architecture and the effects of weather patterns on different birds.
And of course, over it all runs the arching taut string of the foregone conclusion: everyone knows that this story is ultimately a tragedy, that no matter how carefree young Arthur frolics as a servant-turned-fish, he will still pull the sword from the stone to be revealed as King of England, he will still marry the beautiful Guenever who will have a decades-long affair with his best friend Lancelot, he will still be seduced by his half-sister to sire the bastard who will wind up being the agent of not just Arthur's own demise, but the disintegration of the entire Round Table and all those lofty goals of chivalry and valor.
So even at its sweetest, this is a bitter tale, a beautiful awful devastation, an incredible encapsulation of human failure despite all the most noble of intentions. It's wonderful and terrible and crushing and glorious.
What a spectacular world to spend a month thrashing about in....more
I don't like David Sedaris. And I distrust "funny" books the same way I distrust sitcoms with laugh-tracks, because it's condescending and discouragesI don't like David Sedaris. And I distrust "funny" books the same way I distrust sitcoms with laugh-tracks, because it's condescending and discourages thinking for yourself. I will not be coaxed into mindlessly laughing because there is a recorded track of a bunch of people (computers? robots?) mindlessly laughing. Good grief.
So why did I buy this book? Well, because the Strand sells proofs for $2. I found this one, which I'd never heard of, thought it had a cool title, and then saw that the front cover had been sort of vandalized: under the subtitle—(A Mostly True Memoir)—someone has pencilled in:
About love Murder by Robert Verger
and then the actual author's name is scribbled out. I thought that was absurd and hilariously great and totally worth $2.
As for the book itself? Well, it turns out, as usual, that I was too knee-jerk-ily judgy: Jenny Lawson is fucking funny. Seriously funny. Like no-laugh-track-needed-goddammit funny.
This is a terrific rundown of a crazy life—her dad is a taxidermist, her husband sort of voodooed her into marrying him, they live in rural rural rural Texas. But there's a lot of "normal," too—she works in HR, she is often lonely, she struggles with depression and weird pains, she is a misanthropist mostly and socially awkward to a spectacular degree, she is a mother who is terrified of being a mother.
And but then there are also episodes like her dog turning into a zombie, the time she went to her husband's company party with no underwear on (a fact which did not escape public notice), a hunt for a hidden burial ground in her neighborhood, childhood anecdotes of her father surprising her with a hand-puppet made from a dead squirrel, wild geese following her to school, and having to artificially inseminate a cow, as well as a million preposterously hilarious conversations between her & her husband, who make up the most lunatic and outrageously perfect pair.
This is actually the only time I have ever been sad to be reading a proof, because it seems the actual book is full of photographs of most of the above, whereas in the proof there are only image callouts in brackets. I had to google her to find out what she even looked like, which was when I (finally) learned that Jenny isn't some random discovery I made—she is a massively famous blogger, and most of the rest of the world already knows how hilarious and great she is.
Which brings me to my final point. I was sort of planning to do a snarky editorial analysis of this book, as I often do. I was going to mention that the editing could have been a lot better, that she wavers in tone from super-casual to trying-too-hard-to-be-kind-of-formal, that there are many cases of the particular kind of repetitiveness that comes from lining up a bunch of short pieces that were originally written far apart from one another in both space and time. But then I read that this book is already on the New York Times bestseller list, and Jenny is already hugely popular among a certain set, and anyway like I said, this book is really really funny and fun and totally enjoyable.
So maybe what the fuck do I know? Maybe I should take my editorial snobbery and just shove it up my own ass, because this book is great and people will love it and who cares if I think it could have been better. Who am I, anyway? I don't even know.
Is this me giving up on literature? Or just finally accepting things as they clearly are and learning to stop bitching already and live with it?
I didn't mean to get so woefully existential there. All I meant is: Jenny is super and you should stop reading this review and start reading this book....more
Whoa, this sounds cool. Rec'd thus by the fabulous Word bookstore in Greenpoint:
For fans of Miranda July's particular style of fascination and inquirWhoa, this sounds cool. Rec'd thus by the fabulous Word bookstore in Greenpoint:
For fans of Miranda July's particular style of fascination and inquiry, this book details Sophie Calle's unique project: she found an address book in Paris and copied all of the contacts before returning it. She then set out to get to know the owner through the lens of his acquaintances and loved ones....more
Well, I wanted something more substantial than the abysmal Penelope, and this is certainly that. I may be creeping through this for many weeks, ratherWell, I wanted something more substantial than the abysmal Penelope, and this is certainly that. I may be creeping through this for many weeks, rather than reading it straight through with nothing else in between. It's really fascinating, but a leetle bit dry....more
I made it through 80 pages—80 pages of aimless meandering, of uninteresting descriptions, of the worst, most stGet this book the fuck out of my life.
I made it through 80 pages—80 pages of aimless meandering, of uninteresting descriptions, of the worst, most stilted dialogue (she doesn't use any goddamn contractions in her dialogue!), 80 pages of wondering if the main character is autistic or just completely unrealistically obtuse, of waiting for something—ANYTHING—to happen.
And then I got to this:
"Isn't that kind of like Marathon Man or something?" She started laughing her silent laugh. Penelope waited until she finished. Then she said, "But I just do not like literary magazines."
Why is that so bad? Because they are talking on the phone.
Therefore: How did Penelope know that she was silently laughing? How did she know when the silent laugh was finished??
She didn't. She couldn't.
This is beyond sloppy writing, this is just not giving a flying fuck about how sloppy your writing is. Did this book even have an editor, or a copyeditor, or a proofreader? Did Ms. Harrington not even have a close-reading friend or even her goddamn mother to run this by before publication??
I'm embarrassed for Vintage. I'm embarrassed for Rebecca Harrington. I'm embarrassed that I wasted 80 pages of my reading life on this shitty fucking book....more
Fans of Bullington’s gruesome romp The Enterprise of Death will be excited to hear of his newest novel. In a Holland recast as a watery wonderland after a flood, the hanging-happy Sander and his partner Jan will get up to loads of trouble, their exploits rendered in Bullington’s trademark wit, bonkers black humor, and mischievous imagination....more
A collector to her bones, Stephanie LaCava’s first book is a series of wistfully illustrated essays that lead us through her youth growing up in a foreign land, dropping precious objects like breadcrumbs. “I was obsessed with cabinets of curiosities, historical efforts to catalog and control nature’s oddities,” she writes. By the end of this strange and lovely little journey, you will be too....more
This is on Slate's "Underrated Books of 2012." Say they: It's sort of a high-concept deal: Basically, he wrote it in 24 hours while sitting in a roomThis is on Slate's "Underrated Books of 2012." Say they: It's sort of a high-concept deal: Basically, he wrote it in 24 hours while sitting in a room in Cabinet magazine's office, without any prepared notes or text. It's full of ad hoc meditations about writing spaces and the fetishization of the writing process. Though pretty clearly influenced by Georges Perec and Roland Barthes, it's really its own thing—very funny and sort of incidentally profound....more