From Word Books: Palimpsest is a magical city, but you can only get there by sleeping with someone who's already been—and each visitor winds up in a dFrom Word Books: Palimpsest is a magical city, but you can only get there by sleeping with someone who's already been—and each visitor winds up in a different place, depending on the map-shaped tattoo that appears on her skin. Dreamy, eerie and bittersweet, Palimpsest is like a year's worth of dreams shaped into one magical novel.
This was kind of a tough book for me to read. The thing is, Williamsburg is my neighborhood too. I live about four blocks from where Anasi spent the mThis was kind of a tough book for me to read. The thing is, Williamsburg is my neighborhood too. I live about four blocks from where Anasi spent the majority of his time here, and I did and do hang out in and around many of the places paeaned in this book. No, I never went to Kokies (the notorious cocaine bar profiled in Vice) or Verb (one of the first cafés in the new Williamsburg) or Gargoyle (a crazy performance space where the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus used to entertain). But I was going to Galapagos back in 1999 (before it grew up and moved to Dumbo); in 2002 I hopped a razor-wire fence and tiptoed along broken stones to see the 4th of July fireworks from the abandoned shore, and I watched "Double Dirty Dancing" (the Bollywood version & the original played at the same time on facing screens) in the back room of Monkeytown when they still sold pot brownies behind the bar.
Not to mention, I do the archival art project Brooklyn Spaces, where I aim to make a record of as much of Brooklyn's creative class as I can before we're all forced out to Bensonhurst or Far Rockaway or Kentucky. Anasi befriends and interviews junkies, prostitutes, performers, bar owners, photographers, and videographers. I do the same with circus performers, soapmakers, fire spinners, party throwers, curators, musicians, gallerists, and on and on. So although Anasi beat me here by a half-dozen years, this is also my story, and the story of all my friends.
Here's an anecdote, which, though it may seem pretty clichéd, is 100% true and 500% illustrative of the crux of living in Williamsburg right now. Last fall I wrote about some of the artists and denizens of Monster Island, an art collective and performance venue that was one of the few remaining holdouts from the raucous early days of Williamsburg, and which was slated to be demolished shortly thereafter. (Despite all the artists having been evicted, the graffiti-encrusted building is still standing, nearly two years later.) About a week after I interviewed those guys, I was wandering in South Williamsburg, scanning the all-new condo-clustered neighborhood horizon and thinking how I've lived here long enough that these changes are real and personal to me, that this isn't like hearing about the bad old days of Times Square or the punk renaissance in Alphabet City or SoHo's bohemian paradise, all of which happened long before I stumbled, bright-eyed and awe-filled, into New York City. Now I'm old enough to have actually watched the Williamsburg era come and go, and I was self-pityingly wondering why, why, why, whom all these skillion-dollar glass palaces and staggeringly overpriced clothing boutiques are even for, when around a corner came toddling these two over-the-top, impeccably dressed and coiffed Eurotrash ladies, the sort of women who are so fancied up they look like drag queens, with the tipped nails and the ironed frosted hair and the teeny skirts and the platform stilettos. They were just laden with shopping bags and clinging to each other for balance, and one of them asked me, in a heavily accented whine, "Can you tell us which is the way to Williamsburg?"
Friends, I nearly wept.
I did not direct them to walk directly off the newly burnished South 3rd pier into the East River, but my finger was definitely shaking as I pointed them north toward Bedford Ave.
So anyway, The Last Bohemia. Anasi does fine, he does well, it's a nice book. For someone who's never lived here or thought about what Williamsburg really is beneath the hipster chichés, this might be pretty hard to care about too much. But for me it's not enough. The book touches just the tiniest corner of life here and now, or there and then, and because, as I said, this is my story too, Anasi's feels woefully incomplete. It's a series of anecdotes and personalities woven more or less well into a cogent narrative, but there is so much more, so much left to be plumbed and exposed and honored before it's too late, before it's all lost to history and buried by this absurdly shifty neighborhood which, everyone knows, has already become a parody of itself.
Look, I love it here. Most of the time I think I'd be happy to live here the rest of my life. But, as Anasi says of his decision to defect to California after fifteen years here, it becomes easy to leave Williamsburg when you realize that the Williamsburg you're clinging to left you long ago.
before reading: Here is an excerpt from Brooklyn Mag to whet your appetite. I didn't make it to Williamsburg until 2002. Is it possible to be nostalgic for something that was never yours?...more
From the WORD Recommends list: Told in alternating chapters of comics and prose, this is a summer tale of sisters and social life, of growing up, of fFrom the WORD Recommends list: Told in alternating chapters of comics and prose, this is a summer tale of sisters and social life, of growing up, of fitting in, or not, of boys, of jealousy, and a story that we sense, early on, will have tragic results. In the comics chapters (with Nate Powell's stunning artwork), the characters are Medusa, a mermaid, a centaur, and a minotaur who are returning to school in the fall. As the stories progress, it becomes more and more apparent that the mythological metaphors are pretty perfect and that the stories are, of course, linked. Grief and loss turn people to stone, and the minotaur is elusive in his labyrinth of emotion.
I'm not totally sure this sounds like my kind of book, but holy crap, check out this crazy story. The book was given a pretty damning review in the TiI'm not totally sure this sounds like my kind of book, but holy crap, check out this crazy story. The book was given a pretty damning review in the Times, but it became immediately apparent that the critic had misread an early scene, and therefore wrongly interpreted the entire plot. Another person from the Times then reached out to the author to verify this mistake—via a fake email address set up for one of the book's characters. They all—the Times person, the author, and the character—worked together to craft the best possible correction / redaction to the erroneous review. And Patrick winds up writing the preposterously gracious and reasonable article in Slate that I linked above. Super super crazy....more
I guess I forgot to tell you guys about this one when I proofed it, sorry. It's kind of a slower burn than his previous books; it felt a little draggyI guess I forgot to tell you guys about this one when I proofed it, sorry. It's kind of a slower burn than his previous books; it felt a little draggy at the beginning, but all of a sudden I was so immersed in it and it just tears through from there on. Unsurprisingly, being John Brandon, it's really super sad, but it's a bit more plangent than the previous ones, and less cruelly fucked up.
Also, jeepers, look how pretty that cover is! Oh, McSwy's, you can do no wrong....more
ZOMG a new Thursday Next book!! And I was lucky enough to score a proof at a teeny secondhand bookshop upstate!!!
I will tell you this right now: I jusZOMG a new Thursday Next book!! And I was lucky enough to score a proof at a teeny secondhand bookshop upstate!!!
I will tell you this right now: I just got back from a 10-day vacation. I have gallons of emails to answer, scads of laundry to do, and an entire apartment to clean before I go back to work tomorrow, yet I am still going to spend at least a half hour finishing this book with a cup of coffee before I do any of it.
And I did! And it was soooo worth it, even though, exactly a week later, I am still limping my way through the last of those goddamn emails. I did return to work wearing clean undies, though; what do you think I am, an animal?
As far as this book itself, well, if you're already on the Fforde bandwagon, I needn't tell you anything more than that yes, he's on his game, this book is delightfully fun and just what you expect from a Thursday Next book. It's full of intrigue and action and silliness, clever literary references and groanful puns, playful satire and goofy paradoxes.
(To elaborate just a hair on that last one, one of the central plot strands is that time-travel has just been suspended. See, no one had ever figured out exactly how to travel through time; they'd just gone ahead and done it, assuming that eventually it would be invented. But then someone traveled forward all the way to the apocalypse and found out that no one actually had ever gotten around to figuring it out, and thus it all the time-travel engines had to be immediately decommissioned.)
If that was utterly bewildering (and yet tantalizing), then you are obviously not yet on Team Jasper, and you don't know what you're missing. I beseech you to immediately plan a beach vacation and procure at least volumes 1–3 of the Thursday Next series to read prone on a chaise lounge while working doggedly on your sunburn. I mean, the "smart-person beach read" genre was pretty much invented for Fforde, right?...more
I had lunch with some of the editors from Alloy last week (like you do), and one of them gave me this. You know how much I love a free book, and thisI had lunch with some of the editors from Alloy last week (like you do), and one of them gave me this. You know how much I love a free book, and this one has the added advantage of being really really beautifully designed, with a fancy cover and interior design and all that, and given the seriousness of the books I've been reading lately (I'm looking at you, super-self-indulgent Zippermouth and super-intensely-meta Are You My Mother?), I kind of needed just this kind of candy book. It's too hot to read something dense, you know? Pale King is waiting there on my shelf, giving me the stink-eye, but it'll just have to wait a little longer.
So anyway, this was pretty much just what I expected -- easy, fast, superficial, predictable. There were a few gaping plot holes, a few go-to phrases repeated ad nauseum (can we call a moratorium forever on "something flashed deep in his eyes" and (view spoiler)[crazy-relative-in-the-attic plotlines (hide spoiler)], please?), but whatever. The thing about candy books is they're like candy: yummy and exciting and if you read too many of them you'll get a tummy ache, which you will totally deserve. But if you just read one just when you need it, it is undeniably fun and compelling. So nice job all around, Gabriella and Alloy. If I get the sequel for free I will read the shit out of that too.["br"]>["br"]>...more
Says Drew: Incredible. Infinite Jest's furious attention to detail, The Recognitions's interminable yet fascinating (pseudo)intellectual dialogues, anSays Drew: Incredible. Infinite Jest's furious attention to detail, The Recognitions's interminable yet fascinating (pseudo)intellectual dialogues, and Crime and Punishment's psychological acuity all brought together in service of a plot that seems at first to mirror the incremental moral decay of The Heart of the Matter.
If a book is raved about in Flavorpill and excerpted in Vice (the excerpt was fucking rad, and accompanied by illos of animals with flaming hair), I aIf a book is raved about in Flavorpill and excerpted in Vice (the excerpt was fucking rad, and accompanied by illos of animals with flaming hair), I am basically 100% going to read it. Sorry to be so malleable, but what can I say? We are all nothing more than a confluence of our influences....more
You know I'm a CoverSpy, right? It's super fantastic; it gives me full license to be a total weirdo subway-leerer, breathing over people's shoulders aYou know I'm a CoverSpy, right? It's super fantastic; it gives me full license to be a total weirdo subway-leerer, breathing over people's shoulders as I squint to try to read the running heads on their open books, or sidling up uncomfortably close with my head at a broken angle to get low enough to see the cover. (Don't get me started on books without running heads, or, heaven forfend, Kindles.) Anyway, so CoverSpy is rad, and also rad (if you are a booknerd, and if you aren't a booknerd, why are you on this site?) is Better Book Titles, with its spectacularly spot-on retitlings of all the books you hate and even some of the books you love.
ANYWAY. The point is that Dan Wilbur, the man behind BBT, has announced on CoverSpy that he has this crazy new book coming out, and it is going to ROCK. Listen to this fantastic little promo he's doing:
You will be able to buy it anywhere you find books (for tips on where that is, buy the book!), but I also want to let you know you can buy the book from me personally at the store where I am currently a bookseller: Community Bookstore in Park Slope (143 7th Ave, Brooklyn, NY). Not only will I sign every book bought from Community Bookstore, but I will also redesign (by hand!) a better book jacket for my own book! And that title can be whatever you want, such as “Super Sad True Bookstore Jokes” or, if you’re a dick, “Dan Wilbur Got Fat Since High School, So I Bought This Book Because I Felt Bad for Him.”
Yes! I love that! I can't wait for this book to be out!!...more
I finished this book on a frigid Sunday afternoon, lying lazily on my too-deep couch, covered in a ridiculously soft blanket, with my boyfriend cackliI finished this book on a frigid Sunday afternoon, lying lazily on my too-deep couch, covered in a ridiculously soft blanket, with my boyfriend cackling in the other room while watching "news fails" on YouTube and my little dog curled up by my side, lending me his warmth.
I have had such an easy life, it is sometimes difficult to fathom.
Jeanette Winterson has not had an easy life. Or anyway she had an almost impossibly surreal / awful childhood (adopted by a frighteningly inconsistent and extremely religious mother, who regularly locked her in the coal shed overnight), an adolescence during which she lived in her car (after mom kicked her out for being a lesbian), and a young adulthood wherein she took her impoverished, working-class self all the way to and through Oxford, despite staggering sexism, homophobia, and snobbery (they told her she was their "working-class experiment," and her best friend was their "black experiment"). She has spent her life overcoming—overcoming abandonment and adoption, overcoming a lack of love, overcoming poverty, overcoming provincialism, overcoming heteronormativity, overcoming the judgments of the entire world.
And yet this memoir, which I expected to be agonizing, is instead matter-of-fact, witty, piercing, and generally triumphant. Jeanette is not a dweller or a wallower, at least not anymore; she is frank about the difficulties she has gone through, relating even rather harrowing anecdotes with grace and compassion. Hers is a journey, always, toward understanding: trying to figure out those around her, saving herself through literature, learning how to love by piecing it together day by day.
The book is in two parts. The first, from birth (more or less) to college, has a narrative tone that is at a slight remove from the story. Jeanette is, of course, a writer, with a writer's sense of pacing, of plot arc, of what to reveal and when to reveal it, of the flourishes necessary to a tale well told. She relates most of the anecdotes from her childhood smoothly—after all, she's spent her whole career polishing and retelling them. This part of the story is moving but a bit pat; it is clever and rather self-aware, although it is certainly devastating and illuminating in turns.
But then—after a two-page "interlude" that encompasses about twenty-five years—the second half of the book is practically in the present, starting maybe five years ago, and it encompasses Jeanette's search for her birth mother. And suddenly the narrative becomes ragged, jagged, raw. This is the story Jeanette is still living, and it has not been rehearsed; it has barely even got done being lived.
She navigates the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of the British legal system with a somewhat crazed frenzy, and with the help of kind souls along the way. She opens up her brain and her body and lets us look right in, into her hysterical fears, her calcified anger, the wailing hopefulness she has spent her whole life tamping down into frustration. I can't even describe it; it's devastating, enraging, anxiety-ridden, and so so intense.
And even still, clever! Her writing style throughout is very British and dry, no-nonsense-y and simple but shot through with literary allusions, with whole quoted poems and passages. And funny, I can't stress that enough, because it was the last thing I was expecting. I'm tempted to start quoting lines, but I'd wind up transcribing pages and pages, and I haven't got the time.
But listen: this book is really brilliant. I am now going to sink right back into my too-deep couch, grab the cuddly dog, and start rereading Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. And after that I'm going to Netflix the BBC movie of it, and then I'm going to comb my shelves and my friends' shelves for all her other books, which I've either never read or haven't read in years.
Here's a review from Word Bookstore that made me want to read this book so bad:
Dan Josefson's debut novel is subtle, hilarious, heart-wrenching, cute,Here's a review from Word Bookstore that made me want to read this book so bad:
Dan Josefson's debut novel is subtle, hilarious, heart-wrenching, cute, dark, and intelligent. That's Not a Feeling is like Ben Stiller and Co. in the film Heavyweights...if that film took place in a coed school for "troubled teens"...and had been directed by Wes Anderson...and was a novel, not a movie.
That was back in 2012 when the book came out, and of course I got real excited and then promptly forgot all about. Then a few weeks ago one of my smarty bookfriends gave this book a briskly glowing review here on GR, and then did the amazing thing of actually putting the actual book into my actual hands. And even though I had asked her to borrow it only a few days earlier, when she gave it to me I said, "What's this again?" And she said "Duh, you moron, just read it."
And so I did.
This is a pretty sneaky book because it's written with a fairly light touch. It's this sort of black-comic thing about fucked up teens in a strange alternative school that has its own particular vocabulary and bizarre systems. The whole place is ruled by a benevolent but sporadically screamy headmaster who is as wont to ramble passionately about ancient philosophy as to curse out a student for not paying attention. Teachers make up class names like "Books Spencer Can Reach From the Couch" and "Cooking With Butter," which is a philosophy class, of course. Kids are always doing "reciprocity detail," where they dig holes in the garden or muck out sewage pipes to "give back" to the school for keeping them there, or then they're getting their various things "popped," meaning they lose privileges to that thing, whether it's pants or furniture or even their name. But the kids are like indomitably well spirited, for the most part, either taking the process seriously or else making a convincing act like they do, until all of a sudden someone is beating his roommate bloody with a curtain rod, or faking seizures so convincingly that she actually passes out, or locking himself in a closet with an ax, or stealing a razor to cut herself alone in her room late at night.
So it's a pretty intense book that masquerades as something way less intense, I guess. The Wes Anderson comparison is apt, because on the surface it reads sort of blasé and calmly kooky, but then it has this really super dark undercurrent. It gets pretty fucking brutal, in fact, which I should have seen coming but completely didn't.
I did feel like there was a fair amount of unresolved stuff when it ended, and it's told in a strange style that's more or less first-person omniscient, which gets confusing and a little awkward when the narrator describes a scene in great detail that he then walks into. But despite that, it was so absorbing and strange, and I really liked it quite a lot....more
Yay for Karen for scoring me an ARC!! This was super good & fun. Great multi-layered plot that totally kept me guessing and page-turning, great fuYay for Karen for scoring me an ARC!! This was super good & fun. Great multi-layered plot that totally kept me guessing and page-turning, great fun cast of characters. It's a neat "old meets new" plot, with an ancient secret society on one side and a cadre of super-modern computer whizzes on the other—or, well, they're all on the same side, more or less, but everyone is given their due. Plus it's all about books and bookstores and writing books and reading books and even printing books, but isn't all didactic and condescending about it all. Great fun....more
I can't even begin to list all the interviews and articles and accolades Jami is getting for this book, which is so so so so great. I am sort of frienI can't even begin to list all the interviews and articles and accolades Jami is getting for this book, which is so so so so great. I am sort of friends with her, by which I mean we're friends on Facebook and have chatted at publishing events, and she's always been really nice. But we know each other only glancingly, so while I was predisposed to enjoy this book, you can still take it at face value when I tell you that it was holy motherfucking incredibly good.
It even made me cry at one point (on the subway of course, during morning rush hour when it was so packed I couldn't even raise my hand to wipe my eyes), and it wasn't even during a sad part, it was this scene of triumphant joy, one of those small triumphs that in retrospect will seem trivial but at the time feels like the most important thing in the goddamn world.
The reason it was possible for me to have an emotional reaction to a scenes like this—in fact, it was impossible for me not to—is because Jami totally fucking nails it, she gets these characters so well crafted and so vivid that they actually exist for you, in your brain, off the page. You know the things they're doing outside of the story because they're full people; you don't have to be told each detail that moves the story along, and when there's a jump in time, it's totally natural to fill in what happened in the meantime.
It reminds me of A Visit From the Goon Squad, kind of, except more intimate, less sweeping. There are back-and-forth temporal jumps, but by five years, or ten, instead of Jennifer Egan's fifty. And The Midds follows just one family, three generations, sometimes relating the same incident from Grandma's point of view that we already saw through Aunt's eyes, which serves to tighten the intimacy we feel with these characters, this family, these very very real people. She also does the narrative in slightly different ways chapter by chapter, also like Goon Squad except not as vastly different, and but where in Goon Squad the pivotal chapter was that gimmicky PowerPoint thing, here it's told in third-person-plural. It's the same chapter that made me cry, in many ways the climax of the plot, and it concerns a b'nai mitzvah, this big-deal event where the whole fucked-up family and their whole wide social circle is all together in one place, and it's narrated, like i said, in plural, from the point of view of several couples, the older generation, the lifelong friends of Grandma & Grandpa, and it just opens the story out and out and out, the "we" getting all sentimental about the twin teenagers, full of gossip about the teens' parents, aching with knowing too much about their friends and their friends' children and grandchildren, able to be catty and sappy and self-righteous and self-doubting, with hurting feet and too much wine and so many years of friendship, simultaneously taking the long view and the very very narrow one... I don't know, I guess this won't make so much sense to people who haven't read the book, but believe me, it's an amazing effect.
Let me try to be a little more general. The Midds is like Skippy Dies but much narrower, it's like The Believers but much more unique, it's like On Beauty except not awful. The downfall of those last two books was that, in the end, none of the characters were actually likable, whereas in The Midds they really all are, even the adulterer, even the OCD mom, even the snotty teen, even Edie Middlestein, the crazy matriarch who is doggedly trying to eat herself to death.
This is a tight, standard, modernist story of a family, their ins and outs, their foibles and triumphs, a selection of anecdotes and incidents that, stacked together, make up lives. It's straightforward, riddled with sharp smart turns of phrase. It's solid, serious, full of hope and heartbreak and the complicated ways we fuck each other up in the name of love. It's also about food and its ability to comfort, to mask, to consume, to destroy. It's breathtaking lots of times, and when I realized what was going to happen at the end I got really mad and went two days refusing to read the last dozen pages, but then I did, because you have to, because Jami is right to do it, even though it's devastating. And it's devastating because the rest is so goddamn good.
Win all the awards, Jami. And then write another one, and another one, and another one. ...more
Read a pretty glowing review of this book in The L Magazine and two days later found it on the $1 rack at Book Thug Nation. Also it turns out that ChlRead a pretty glowing review of this book in The L Magazine and two days later found it on the $1 rack at Book Thug Nation. Also it turns out that Chloe and I have a bunch of friends (not to mention a former employer) in common, so when I get around to reviewing this I will be on my best behavior.
I don't know, I feel weird reviewing this since I know the author will probably read it (hi, Chloe). The fairest thing I can say is that it felt very young to me, which it is. There's something to be said, of course, for being enamored with oneself—that is clearly a prerequisite for being a memoirist. But IMO it will take a bit more living and perspective-gaining for Chloe's writing style and sense of what's important to mature. Also I think the book (and probably this press altogether) could have used a firmer editor. ...more
Lovely article about this book over at Treehugger. "In the middle of the ocean, all alone save for visiting sea birds and a giant squid, wanders the GLovely article about this book over at Treehugger. "In the middle of the ocean, all alone save for visiting sea birds and a giant squid, wanders the Great Pacific Garbage Patch -- the sad monster protagonist of this charming yet profound graphic novel."
Plus: "The book will debut Archaia’s fabulous new printing initiative in conjunction with Global PSD. Through the efforts of American Forests and the Global ReLeaf Program, for each tree that is cut down for the printing of I’m Not a Plastic Bag, two trees will be planted."...more
post-read: Ooh boy, Steve Erickson is so superb. This was really different than I expected (read: really different from Zeroville); it was hyper-realpost-read: Ooh boy, Steve Erickson is so superb. This was really different than I expected (read: really different from Zeroville); it was hyper-realistic, not at all stylized, with really normal, messy characters grappling with kind of huge issues—race, adoption, debt, historical precedent, what it means to be American, stuff like that. But then it was also somehow in pieces and a little bit twistily meta—our main character is also a writer, who is kind of writing a story that has things that kind of also happen in this story, but to different characters, kind of; it's hard to explain. But it's very twisty, and very subtle, cycling and cycling back on itself in a weirdly brilliant and kind of harrowing way.
The one thing he did do which was just like I remembered from Zeroville was have characters who were real people from history or pop culture, but never actually say who they were, just drop a lot of clues like dates and hair color and sometimes quotes. I guess this is cool, but as someone who was raised by hippies with no TV, I am almost wholly without pop-culture knowledge, so it's just frustrating to know that I really ought to know who these people are but I just don't. I guess Wikipedia could have told me if I tried hard enough, but I never did.
Anyway, I loved this. About 4/5 of the way in, it occurred to me that it was well within Erickson's power to very seriously fuck up all of the characters—and, by extension, me—which would have made me extremely upset. It's not much of a spoiler to say that he didn't, not really, for which I am terribly grateful; grateful enough to read another of his books as soon as I can.
pre-read: Europa was kind enough to have a pre-BEA breakfast last week, kind enough to invite me because I've done a fair bit of proofreading for them, and kind enough to send me off with this, among several other very awesome books.
I love this already because 1) It was free, 2) I loveloveloveloved Zeroville, although oddly I haven't made any attempt to read more Erickson since, and 3) The title is (I assume) from Van Morrison, whom I also adore, and so I've decided that while I read this I'll listen to Van Morrison the whole time, which is lovely.
I will tell you this, though: I really wish Europa had asked me to proofread this one, because it's kind of a mess....more
Yet another book I scored for free curbside. Will it be devastatingly, harrowingly lovely, like Winter's Bone? Or will it be boring and disappointingYet another book I scored for free curbside. Will it be devastatingly, harrowingly lovely, like Winter's Bone? Or will it be boring and disappointing like On Beauty? My vote is on the latter, but then, I'm known to be a cynic and an elitist. ...more