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Contents May Have Shifted

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  1,553 ratings  ·  303 reviews
Stuck in a dead-end relationship, this fearless narrator leaves her metaphorical baggage behind and finds a comfort zone in the air, “feeling safest with one plane ticket in her hand and another in her underwear drawer.” She flies around the world, finding reasons to love life in dozens of far-flung places from Alaska to Bhutan. Along the way she weathers unplanned losses ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published February 6th 2012 by W. W. Norton Company (first published January 30th 2012)
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Average rating 3.56  · 
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 ·  1,553 ratings  ·  303 reviews

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Feb 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pacific-u-mfa
Reading Pam Houston gives me courage. I studied with her the second semester of my MFA and count her as a big influence. I will never be adventurous in the outdoors sense, the way she is. But I do aspire to her fearlessness in writing.

It’s not just the structure (144 short chapters, conceived as 144 reasons not to commit suicide). It’s not just the sleight of hand that makes the intimate-funny-smart voice of the narrator Pam sound just like but even better than the author’s own voice. It’s not j
Mar 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this book, but I couldn't. Normally I love things written in short, sweet snippets like this, and I was and am intrigued by the style. But in this book I felt as if there was no "there" there. I wanted to either be shown more about the interior underbelly of the narrator, and discover what this was all about for her and how the travels were affecting her, and/or I wanted more about the fabulous out-of-the-way places she has traveled. Instead I got neither. I felt like this was a ...more
Jun 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Students of tight, tautly-written prose
Recommended to Alan by: A random pickup
Maybe I'm just not as familiar as I should be with the type of mimetic fiction presented here—I'm perfectly prepared to believe that—but... I picked this book up on a whim (my wife had checked it out of the library for herself, and it was close to hand when nothing else was), and was immediately captivated by the page I'd opened to at random. That doesn't happen to me very often these days. I read another few pages, then realized that yes, I was going to start over at the beginning and read the ...more
May 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
Oh, Pam, how you've let me down. I've loved Pam Houston for years, after discovering her "Cowboys are My Weakness" story collection. Her newest "novel" is really anything but. It's a hodge-podge of travel/love/adventure vignettes, loosely tied together and blurry in their direction. Pam is a thrill seeker, traveling the globe with assorted misfits and spiritual soul searchers. Her bohemian charisma is attractive, and I admire her stamina dealing with difficult people, and stubborn men. Certain ' ...more
Oct 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
Pam Houston is a magnificent writer. Her prose is beautiful and her ability to surprise the reader with a turn of phrase or a pithy comment is extraordinary. Those gifts are on full display in her new book.

Contents May Have Shifted is composed of 144 short pieces. All but 12 of the pieces are labelled with places. Many are exotic or at least intriguing like Tibet, Istanbul, Mallorca. Others are the territory that Pam Houston, the fictional narrator, and Pam Houston the writer inhabit like Crede,
Jan 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Whenever I am asked what my favorite novel is, Written on the Body immediately springs to mind. Seconds later, I start arguing with myself - throwing The Virgin Suicides into the mix. And so I reply with both.

I believe that there is now a third book that will join that fight. I may have to rattle off three titles whenever I am asked what my favorite novel is.

I have long been a fan of Pam Houston, loved her syncopation and her straightforward stabs at the real meanings behind our gender differenc
Larry H
Feb 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Pam, the narrator of this absolutely fantastic book, can't seem to stay in one place. An author and writing instructor with little luck on the romantic front, the one thing she seems to have inherited from her dysfunctional parents is a sincere love of travel and a restlessness to explore.

Contents May Have Shifted follows Pam all over the world, from ranches and spas, to monasteries, religious shrines, hotels, and landmarks, in locations as diverse as the American Southwest, Alaska, Bhutan, Tibe
Mar 11, 2012 rated it it was ok
This seems to be one of those books you are supposed to like, but I really did not. Though categorized as a novel, it is not. It is apparent that Ms. Houston is a very talented writer who has led an extremely interesting life. I just did not enjoy the tiny chapters, the sort of hipster references, and the overall vibe of the book. I had to force myself to finish it.
Guess I am just not as cool as the other people who have read this.
A.K. Turner
Oct 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
I had such high expectations for this and was so disappointed. I could deal with the format - disjointed, choppy, confusing. I could deal with the main character of the "novel" being a woman named Pam who teaches writing. I could even deal with the whiny unlikable boyfriends, which in turn make it difficult to like the narrator. But I could not deal with all three. It was just too much to accept from an author who I believe to be incredibly talented. I've read essays by Houston that have left me ...more
May 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, fiction, done
Very good story about a middle-aged creative writing instructor and outdoorswoman leading her life. The story unfolds in a series of vignettes - I thought that would annoy me, but it actually worked really well. Make sure you have a copy with the reading group guide in the back, so you can read "The Author on Her Work" after reading the book - it satisfyingly answered my questions about the story. :)
Mar 19, 2012 rated it liked it
The word that you probably cannot read in the little heart-shaped cloud on the book cover is "novel." I point this out because this book reads like the most funky and creative memoir ever. Adding to this misinterpretation is that the narrator of the book is also named Pam, also is a Creative Writing teacher in California, and also owns a ranch in Colorado. But the cloud on the back of the book says "fiction," so there ya go. Apparently not every word included here is true, but it would be an ama ...more
Feb 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
I went to hear Pam Houston read in Berkeley on February 20. It was delightful, and I appreciated when she said that we are a culture so interested in categorizing--novel, prose poetry, fiction, non-fiction.

I liked this book a lot, perhaps more than any book besides "Cowboys." But "Cowboys" maybe only because of where I was in my life when I read it. However, I think this is a book that might require multiple readings, and could in fact become my favorite book. However, I probably should not hav
Kim Messier
Jan 14, 2014 rated it it was ok
I have loved Pam Houston since Cowboys Are My Weakness, and had high expectations for Contents May Have Shifted. I really wanted to love this book, bought a hardcover because I expected to keep it. Instead I am disappointed in the self-indulgent narrator and stream-of-consciousness writing style. I loved the format of each chapter taking place in a different location of the world, and when I read the jacket copy that it was originally conceived as "144 reasons not to commit suicide" I understood ...more
Janet Elsbach
May 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Here are two things that might happen to you when you are reading the first twenty pages of this book: you might think, 'hey, whoa, how the hell am I supposed to keep track of all this when it is not written as tidily as I have come to expect from a novel' and your mind might stubbornly resist; and you might think, 'hey, whoa, there is an AWFUL LOT of autobiographical parallels here, maybe too much for me to accept that this is a novel at all,' and your mind might wander along paths of trying to ...more
May 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
After reading 108 pages, I realized I wasn't learning anything new from this book, unless it was that the author either had a very interesting job that enabled her to travel a lot or she had a trust fund and was just going where the wind blew her. I did enjoy the descriptions of places that I have not been but, other than that, there just isn't much that makes me want to read more. Part of it may be her jumping around from place to year to whatever and back again. I think this is a book that may ...more
Mar 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary-fiction
I quickly learned that I needed to take sips of “Contents May Have Shifted” with my morning coffee when my mind was alert and better able to catch the nuances in Houston's writing. It didn't work to read it at bedtime. A friend who also read the book said, “Houston asks a lot of the reader.” Yes, this is true, and I think that readers who are willing to give the book the kind of attention it requires will be rewarded. Perhaps it was the power of suggestion in the title, but as I read further int ...more
Alyson Hagy
Oct 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Pam Houston has one of the best voices around. On the page, she can be tender, hilarious, plaintive, shrewd, and incisive by turns. I really enjoyed the structure of this book (144 short "glimmers" or microfictions of a sort). The narrator, "Pam" takes us around the world on a series of internal and external journeys that explore love, loss, heritage, friendship and more. Each section is wonderfully balanced and flavored. And I relished the dozens of locales...from Alaska to Tunisia to Laos. A l ...more
Apr 03, 2014 rated it it was ok
Excellent writing, but... A series of vignettes that are supposed to add up to a heavily autobiographical novel. The message seems to be one of looking for meaning in life, looking for home, looking for peace never quite found. To me, it comes off close to whining about how difficult it is to be an intelligent, well-to-do writer from whom that still isn't quite enough.
Janelle Bailey
Aug 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
45: Contents May Have Shifted by Pam Houston...completing, I believe, my reading of every book she's written. This is not at all your typical novel. Its order is not chronological, done of its events not necessarily sensical, in context...but the sense is the beauty: a love of travel and adventure, spending time with both the people who challenge and those who understand completely and comfort with their mere presence. So many allusions I shared, and those I didn't only caused me to add to my to ...more
Kristin Boldon
Jun 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: borrowed, 2019, memoir
Weird but good.
Dec 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Years ago, the first writing workshop I ever attended was in Taos, NM, and the teacher I worked with for that week was Pam Houston. One of the first things I remember her talking about was "glimmers"--the moments that captured her or stuck with her for some reason or other and that she knew she would write about someday even if she didn't yet know exactly how they would fit with anything else. About forty pages into this book, it struck me that she'd found a way to create a storyline entirely ou ...more
I’ve long believed that the worth of a book lies not in what the book is about but how it is about it. I would apply this to all forms of art, storytelling, and entertainment in general, but for the point of this review we’ll stick with books. The more reading I do the more I grow to understand that the worth of a book cannot actually be placed so firmly on one thing alone. So I’ve reached the unavoidable conclusion that it’s what a book is about, how it is about it, and some added nebulous conc ...more
Julie Stafford
Jun 25, 2014 rated it did not like it
I would like to start out by saying that this book was one that was given to me by a friend who went to BEA in 2013 and brought home "more books than she would ever have time to read." I also have more books than I have time to read which is why it took me a year and a half to get to this book. I chose this book because I like titles, and the title "Contents May Have Shifted" sounds like the book would be fun. From the back I learned that it was a book about a woman who travels a lot and was in ...more
Jan 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
I read this in a day. I am a fan of Pam Houston's writing. In this novel, the character, Pam, narrates her story in mini chapters. It's an interesting way of telling the story because at first you think - this is jumping around from place to place and time to time, but when you think about it, that's sort of the way many of us tell a story. The story flows and we learn about characters in Pam's life, (much like we did in Sight Hound.) She deals with many of the same pitfalls and joys we all do - ...more
Jul 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book. As Pam Houston writes as a postscript, she's working between truth and fiction (the story is somewhere between 82 and 100 percent true) while also experimenting with narrative flow. At first her vignettes are little flashes of scenery and people, but over time they shine together as a larger story her travels, her loves, her heartaches, her friends and animals, and the bigger things she's searching for in life, such as release from the pain her father inflicted upon her and love ...more
Jan 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novel, read-in-2012
I finished this book just this morning. I liked it a lot though I would say the style/format is schizophrenic. It is made up of short sections, each one named for a place. Even within those short sections the topic/idea/thread jumps around from paragraph to paragraph. But, that said, I liked it. The short sections do accumulate, there is a thread, and things do come together, but not in a way that is reductive.
It might be a bit too much given to insight. In almost every section, there is some bi
Feb 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle
I'm predisposed to like Pam Houston - I took a writing class with her back in the late 90s and found her to be warm, funny and really insightful. Totally the kind of person you want to hang out with over beers (though her stories will ALWAYS be better than yours). Her new novel is lovely, though it took me a little while to fall into its rhythm -- 144 short chapters, which take place in various locations and with a variety of characters. Take the time to sort it all out, though, and you get an e ...more
Hella Comat
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
I had quite a slog getting through this book, but I wanted to give the author every chance. But I think the 144 short chapters didn't go anywhere for me. I don't understand the point of writing about locations - Alaska, Tunisia, New Zealand, Colorado, Laos etc. etc to name just a few, but then to jumble up all the chapters about the same place throughout the book. It's the same with characters and thoughts - they're mentioned without any explanation of whether they're people or animals or what t ...more
Diane Webber-thrush
Jul 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I haven't ever read anything quite like this book by Pam Houston. I bought it at The Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver while I was on vacation, one of those staff recommendations on an index card. She's a Colorado author, writes about some of the places I had been. I had to make room in the suitcase for it. It is 144 vignettes, most just a couple of pages each. And the setting, time and place, is more fluid in this book than anything I've read. The narrator Pam travels A LOT. What grounds it is ...more
Joni Haws
Feb 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Too much to say. The long and short of it is that while this book is less cohesive than my standard fare, the writing is breathtaking, the line between honesty and indulgence so carefully, and beautifully, tread. Pam Houston and I are people who would probably never hang out in real life, though she makes me kind of want to, sub-zero temps and all. I went to a reading/book-signing of hers almost a year ago where she read excerpts from this work, so it was fun to have some of that background to g ...more
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2015 Reading Chal...: Contents May Have Shifted by Pam Houston 1 30 Jan 25, 2015 07:26PM  

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Houston is the Director of Creative Writing at U.C. Davis. Her stories have been selected for the Best American Short Stories, the O. Henry Awards, the Pushcart Prize, and the Best American Short Stories of the Century. She lives in Colorado at 9,000 feet above sea level near the headwaters of the Rio Grande.

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