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
As with The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, I wish I wish I wish I'd read this book before I read The Goldfinch. SeriouslThis is all Donna Tartt's fault.
As with The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, I wish I wish I wish I'd read this book before I read The Goldfinch. Seriously you guys, that fucking book is so good that it makes everything else seem like bullshit.
I mean, I was excited about this book for a long time! Emma Straub is kind of a big deal in the Brooklyn lit scene. She is universally known for being really nice and also very talented, and I don't recall hearing anything bad about this book at all. I definitely don't want to be the first to rag on the nicest member of the Bk litterati, so I won't.
Because look, this was an enjoyable book. It was a good story, well told; the characters were believable, the pacing was careful, the language was engaging, the plot was realistic and believable (so much so, in fact, that at times it felt a bit cliché). All just fine!
The book covers about forty years in the life of the titular Laura, a small-town girl who goes to Hollywood to be a big star in the '40s. She's pregnant by 17, wins an Academy Award by like 25, is a widow addicted to painkillers by her 40s, and is on Broadway in her 60s. She reinvents herself again and again, discovering new depths of strength within herself time after time, even when she's completely certain all her reserves have been exhausted.
So yeah, all fine. But like if books were bread, this one would be a sturdy, well-made biscuit, full of fine-ground organic flour -- a good solid effort, one that keeps you nourished and is far better than the myriad gross Wonder Bread loaves full of chemicals.
And that would be so great! Except that a few weeks ago you ate the goddamn Goldfinch, which was this deeply complex multi-layered marble bread, with eleventy billion different spices and flourishes, which has just raised the goddamn bread bar forever, and all the things you used to think were top of the line are now merely fine efforts.
From Flavorpill: Julian Tepper’s writing is youthful, evocative, and unassuming. There is something deeply American in its DNA: a nostalgia, a grace,From Flavorpill: Julian Tepper’s writing is youthful, evocative, and unassuming. There is something deeply American in its DNA: a nostalgia, a grace, a simplicity…and yet, an ambition. Reading his debut novel, I thought often of F. Scott Fitzgerald, which sounds absurdly overblown, but I’m actually serious....more
So I've been doing a crazy amount biking lately, which may I please just say is the best goddamn thing ever. I've gotten a little obsessive about it;So I've been doing a crazy amount biking lately, which may I please just say is the best goddamn thing ever. I've gotten a little obsessive about it; like zero to biking everywhere, every day, all the time, inventing faraway errands to run just so I can bike to them, or only making plans in other neighborhoods because biking around Williamsburg isn't good enough, or just getting on the bike at midnight and zipping around because I can. I didn't bike in the hurricane (this guy did, though), but I have developed a little fiveish-mile loop that I do when I just gotta goooo and have nowhere particular to be.
That loop, in case you care about Brooklyn geography, goes from East Williamsburg to Greenpoint, then along the coast of Brooklyn down through Williamsburg, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and around into Dumbo, ending at Brooklyn Bridge Park, which happens to be the most beautiful spot in Brooklyn, and therefore the most beautiful spot in the world, right in between two huge bridges, the East River in front of you reflecting the whole sick slick glittering city, Dumbo and its upscale lofts at your back. It's so gorgeous, in fact, that you can't sit in the park for five minutes without a wedding party traipsing by like a bevy of tricked-out birds, fluffing their plumage as their harried photographer, laden with props, stumbles along behind.
ANYWAY. The middle of this ride, as I said, is the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a massive sprawling little secret port town that is mostly locked up to the public because it's being used for important things like making warships and unloading massive shipments of cargo and who even knows what all else. Much of it is wild and abandoned and overgrown, but I think parts of it have been continually active since white people came here and started fucking shit up—or probably long before that, I guess, but the visitor's museum doesn't trace the Yard's history back before the Revolutionary War. There's all sorts of industry that needs to be by the water, obvs, and the Navy Yard is home to some iconic Old Brooklyn factories still.
Like the Sweet and Low plant. (You never thought any this was going to be relevant to the book, did you?)
Sweet and Low was invented in Brooklyn three generations ago, and is still made & packaged & shipped in the same factory in the Navy Yard that it's been in for decades. The building has the Sweet and Low logo painted three stories high on its side, and after biking past it a few hundred times, I finally registered both that that's what it was and also that I had this book sitting on my shelf from god knows when I ever thought to pick it up.
It's a pretty fascinating story—components include Old Brooklyn immigrant grit, the mafia, embezzlement, tax fraud, family drama worthy of the most melodramatic soap opera (including a shut-in cripple who ties her drug-addled octogenarian mother to a chair), a contested will, disinheritance, and probably more that I forgot. It's a long book.
Our narrator is the grandson of the inventor of Sweet and Low, whose mother was the one disinherited. (On the back of the book it says, "To be disinherited is to be set free.") So he's got pretty unique access to a pretty complex tale. He did a lot of work to try to tell all sides of the story, but some of it becomes a little transparently trying-too-hard. I mean, you can tell exactly who he thinks is right (his poor disinherited mother) and who he thinks is evil or insane (just about everyone else). And he clearly expects you to agree with him, but instead of ever coming out and saying it, he presents all the evidence piece by piece by piece, detail after incriminating detail, with a sweeping show of bravado, as if to say, "How could you possibly not come to the same conclusions I have?" He attempts to disguise his very strong bias by working really hard to appear unbiased, but it never works. It's always totally obvious what he's leading you to.
That said, I can't say that I'd have done anything different. He's the one writing the story, after all, the one screwed out of his share of a multi-million-dollar family business, so no one could expect him to actually be impartial. And he does a very good job of interspersing the crazy family drama with a lot of history and cultural context. He goes down a bunch of different rabbit holes, from the chemical makeup of artificial sweetener to the ins & outs of fraud litigation, from the slave trade vis-á-vis sugar to the intricacies of industrial packing machines.
It's a very very full book, written by a veteran journalist with a keen eye for pacing and detail, who also has a great sense of how to structure a pretty complex saga. I liked it a whole lot....more
God, why do I have to work? Why can't I just sit around and read all day so I can get to all the books in the world??
From Flavorpill, whom I sometimesGod, why do I have to work? Why can't I just sit around and read all day so I can get to all the books in the world??
From Flavorpill, whom I sometimes feel is my very own personal taste arbiter:
The transgressive underground writers’ coalition / performance art roadshow / multi-media collective / all-around gang of awesome known as Sister Spit teamed up with City Lights this year to create a new imprint focused on publishing queer and feminist writers, starting with this new anthology, which is filled with hilarious, provocative, and counterculture art, fiction, poetry and everything in between. It’s what the cool girls are reading.
I am a cool girl! I want to be reading this now!!...more
Our narrator gets on a ferry, disembarks in the afterlife, and encounters her dead mother and a younger version of heKick-ass review from Word Books:
Our narrator gets on a ferry, disembarks in the afterlife, and encounters her dead mother and a younger version of herself in this otherworldly, dreamlike novella. If you've lost someone (to death, to time, to inevitable growth), and then dreamt of them and felt elated to see them in that dream -- so happy that it alerts you to the reality that it's a dream, and it awakens you, and you feel the loss all over again, but also the way you carry them with you -- then you should read this book....more
Wow. Beautiful and spooky and beautiful and bleak and sad.
This, like so many books I read these days, was found on the curb; I knew when I saw it thaWow. Beautiful and spooky and beautiful and bleak and sad.
This, like so many books I read these days, was found on the curb; I knew when I saw it that I'd hear of it somewhere, but I'm unsure where. Good grief, I am so lucky to live somewhere where amazing books practically grow out of cracks in the sidewalk.
This is a pretty incredibly, and incredibly immersive, story of a girl and the two brothers she lives next door to and has loved and been loved by for her entire life. It's a story of dissolution, of people giving themselves up into each other, destroying and rebuilding each other, falling apart and apart and apart. It's about art as a release from and destruction of the mind. It's about the fucked up power of love and the fucked up power of sex and the families we make and the ways that making those families both ruin us and keep us whole.
I came home from a lovely late dinner and was heading to the computer because there are so many things I have to do before I go back to work on WednesI came home from a lovely late dinner and was heading to the computer because there are so many things I have to do before I go back to work on Wednesday. But I thought first I'd make a quick cup of tea to shore me up, and while the water was boiling I figured I'd just read for a sec—and before I knew it I was on the couch under a comforter eating an entire bag of kettle corn and an hour had passed and I was turning the final pages of this delightful little gem.
About the book: It's a blackish little comedy of manners. It's kind of caper-y, and the plot gets maybe a little too absurd at times, but whatever. Some things to be found herein: outsider art, teen delinquents, tween geniuses, Seattle techie culture, architecture, interventions, Antarctica, gospel, mudslides, misanthropy, and a dog named Ice Cream. How can you not already be laughing?
Another important thing to know is that this is an epistolary novel, that thing where it's all written in letters—in this case emails, doctors' reports, faxes, post-it notes, etc.—although it's an epistolary novel like a rock opera is an opera, in that there are plenty of crucial passages written as standard narration, giving the reader some necessary background and embellishments that would be tough to glean through letters alone. But this is a really brilliant tactical style, because it allows not just, like, one unreliable narrator, but instead a dozen semi-reliable narrators, each of whom is speaking from his or her own legitimate point of view, one which isn't exactly wrong, but is often not the whole story.
Says Maria Semple herself, in that weird backmatter stuff that's like a guide for reading groups or whatever: "Epistolary novels, when done right, can be an explosion of fun." And it is! An explosion! Of fun! You just know Maria had such a marvelous time putting it all together. And even more impressive: I didn't know a thing about the style gimmick going in. When Night Film came out, all anyone could talk about was how it had websites and other modern trickeries woven in, but I heard no one gushing about how this one had a transcription of a TED Talk. Which is pretty impressive, and speaks to how classily it was done, I think.
Anyway, it rules. Hurry up and read it, okay?...more