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Want Not

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  2,768 ratings  ·  439 reviews
A compulsively readable, deeply human novel that examines our most basic and unquenchable emotion: want.  With his critically acclaimed first novel Dear American Airlines, Jonathan Miles was widely praised as a comic genius “after something bigger” (David Ulin, Los Angeles Times) whose fiction was “not just philosophically but emotionally rewarding” (Richard Russo, New Yor ...more
Hardcover, 389 pages
Published November 5th 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Average rating 3.68  · 
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 ·  2,768 ratings  ·  439 reviews

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Sep 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, 2014
I’ve made two major moves in my life. From Melbourne, Australia to Los Angeles, CA and then a few weeks ago from LA to Birmingham, AL. Both times I preached to anyone who would listen “At least I don’t have much stuff.” It turns out that not only was I full of shit, but I also had a lot of shit. What I thought was my somewhat minimalist existence was, both times, an embarrassing display of consumerism. Yes, I really do have this many pairs of shoes and yes, I guess that is a lot of kitchenware f ...more
Greg Zimmerman
Nov 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
(Review first appeared at

I really, really loved this book. I mean, REALLY loved it. This is the one novel I've read this year that when I finished, my first reaction was to run out to the street corner to start preaching it. It's that good.

Why is it so good? Because it's exactly what fiction should be — it's clever, funny, totally engrossing, sobering, and dammit, if it doesn't give you a good attack of conscience. And the ending to this novel? Imagine t
Ron Charles
Hundreds of years before Lunch­ables, bottled water and disposable razors, a proverb warned us, “Wilful waste makes woeful want,” which we’ve since trimmed to the even more thrifty phrase “Waste not, want not.” And yet we’re still throwing out 40 percent of our food and producing more than four pounds of garbage per person per day, raising great putrid effigies of each of us on the horizon.

Perhaps the only thing more shocking than all the stuff we throw away is all the stuff we don’t. This year,
Dec 26, 2013 added it
Shelves: fiction
Another book that defies a star rating. 5 stars for writing. That said I think Jonathan Miles did a really good job building and making us see his characters and I liked the way he brought the three separate stories together in the end. I believe there are things to discuss here and do look forward to meeting the author at Booktopia Boulder.

I can't rate it 5 stars (it was amazing) though as in the end I felt "Yes this was interesting" and now I'm on to the next read. I liked it. I'm not certain
Here’s a book I wish I had written. “Waste not, want not” goes the aphorism, and Miles’s second novel explores both themes to their fullest extent: the concept of waste – from profligate living to garbage and excrement – and ordinary people’s conflicting desires. In three interlocking story lines, Miles looks for what is really of human value at a time when everything seems disposable and possessions both material and digital can exert a dispiriting tyranny.

The novel opens on Thanksgiving 2007,
Hank Stuever
Dec 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
A sturdy and compellingly sad/funny novel about a few very different people and the garbage/waste they create, physically and metaphorically. I enjoyed it quite a bit -- almost as much as I liked Miles's "Dear American Airlines"; it has elements of both Lorrie Moore (it especially reminded me of "A Gate at the Stairs" in the way it shoehorned in all of the author/narrator's editorial concerns about the costs of modernity and the rat race into the overall plot and dialogue) and Tom Perrotta (in t ...more
Sep 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
”Garbage was the only pure crop that civilization produced because no one owned it, no one wanted it, no one fought over it, no one had ever launched a war to claim it.  Land, air, water, people, animals: all these had been commodified, sacked with price tags, and enslaved on that vast plantation known as civilization.”

What we consume eventually becomes trash. 

Trash everywhere. 
Trash in the oceans. 
Trash underground. 
Trash inside us all.

This book by Jonathan Miles explains this in every way poss
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was highly recommended by my good friend Phyllis and I thank her for thinking of me. If you ever wake up at 4:00 a.m. and think about the plastic trash in the ocean that is reputed to cover a space the size of Texas, this book is for you.

The book follows the (seemingly) unrelated stories of 3 groups of people: one a linguist who has been asked to help design a sign that would warn future earthlings of the dangers of a burial ground of nuclear waste. BTW, how will we communicate with t
Miles does a great job of presenting the same thesis through three very different worlds. As always happens in these sorts of stories, eventually the three worlds collide in a somewhat unnecessary fashion to provide closure. I agree with Miles’s politics and I enjoyed the MANY examples of “over wanting” that he presented. At times, I thought it might be a bit repetitive and preachy, but in general it was a decent read.

Miles manages to nestle an important argument within a decent story. The three
Sep 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
I was surprised by how much I liked Want Not. Three "sets" of people are loosely linked by a theme of trash, discards, waste, extra stuff - depending on the person. I didn't like most of the characters in the beginning, but gradually they all grew on me. At times, the writing blew me away. ...more
Dec 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book was amiable enough until it reached a scene at Yankee Stadium. The Yanks are playing the Indians, all well and good, except all the Yankees the author writes about are real and the only Indians player is made up. I could live with that because the scene created around the fake Indians player is funny and couldn't happen with any real Indians player. My real problem was that the real Yankees players in the scene -- Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi -- didn't play to ...more
Jason Makansi
Nov 15, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: my-books
I had very high hopes for Want Not, so high I was hoping Mr. Miles would become another member of the pantheon of highly regarded Jonathan-named authors (Jonathan Lethem, Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Safran Foer). Miles' novel is about New York (always pulls me in), the waste and excesses of modern society (I live with this professionally), and alternative lifestyles (e.g., Freegans). Mr. Miles also has the second most sought after pedigree in literary fiction, as described on the back flap he is ...more
Feb 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
As I read this I kept thinking of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft where Stephen King warns idealistic authors not to focus on themes in their fiction. Just write a good story, he says, and the themes will evolve. I wondered whether Jonathan Miles followed this advice. Certainly the novel didn't suffer for this, but the themes were prominent and it's hard to imagine he didn't work from theme --> story as opposed to the other way around.

The aptly titled Want Not focuses heavily on themes of wast
Dec 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
It's a book that gave me a lot of trouble. I would pick it up, inch forward in terms of pages even though I'd be reading for hours, set it back down and forget about it for a number of days. But ultimately, I ended up loving it. So much that I'm not even docking a star for the initial drag-a-thon.

There are three different stories, intersecting very little, if at all. A freegan couple, Micah and Talmadge, experiencing change in their relationship towards each other and towards their ism when a n
Jeff Buddle
Feb 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"Want Not," is half of a well-known aphorism. But as the title of Jonathan Miles's new novel it has another layer of meaning that shades the darkest thread of this fine work. To tap into another aphorism, an alternate name for the novel might be "Another Man's Treasure." Or perhaps more appropriately for at least two characters in the book, "Another Woman's..."

Miles populates his fictional world with a cast of disparate characters: an obese professor of lingustics that studies dead languages, a
Jul 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
I liked Jonathan Miles's slight-but-incisive 2008 novel, Dear American Airlines, quite a bit, and the basic theme of Want Not--material (over)consumption, and how it doesn't make anyone happy and produces terrible amounts of waste--is something I think about all the time. I was predisposed, then, to enjoy this book, and I did. Miles is a terrific writer, especially adept at the quick character sketch, the provocative/evocative image, the rollicking set piece. Some of his narrative choices in Wan ...more
Sep 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’ve been working to declutter my house for the last six years, ever since the death of a loved one made me see the burden we leave behind for others to deal with. It’s been a painful process, examining one's feelings about each item and deciding what to keep, for practical or sentimental reasons, and what to get rid of. And it’s definitely easier to trash than donate, but I just can’t send useful things to a landfill. It’s a big job after a lifetime of thoughtless accumulation.

Still, I wasn’t s
Nov 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
If this isn't on your "Best Novels of 2013" list, your "Best Novels of 2013" list is defective.

This book was exactly what I wanted to read right now, in part because of my growing distaste for the rampant materialism of American culture. It's a book about stuff -- what we have and what we want and what we throw away and how one person's trash is another person's dinner. And it's amazing.

It's truly a character-driven novel, and the awesome thing about it is that I like even the characters I don
Nov 02, 2014 rated it did not like it
My life is to short and I have no desire to continue reading a book that literally takes a dump on the reader less than half way through.

Are you consumerist animals entirely tied to our need to accumulate things? Would you like to read some amateur philosophy on how our decadent lifestyle is destroying your soul? Do you want to read about soulless people so you can genuflect at the alter of self-hatred, finishing with a desire to throw out all your stuff and truly live in the moment? Really, the
Sharyn Pachnek
Mar 28, 2018 rated it did not like it
Halfway through and really cannot force myself to finish this book. There is not a single character whom I can care about. Every character in the book is miserable. I don’t mean just miserable by my standards; they are all miserable within their own.
This author conjures up so many revolting visual images that I can only hope will eventually be flushed out of my memory...and truly with no redeeming reason or value behind it.
If you want to wallow in hideous misery with people you wouldn’t want to
May 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2018
Between 2 and 3 stars. I respected where the author was trying to go, but didn't think this came together in a cohesive or satisfying way. Any story told from multiple perspectives runs the risk of some characters being less interesting than others, and that was definitely the case here, where I was completely bored by at least one of the storylines for the entire book. Most of all, though, I had a real issue with the inauthenticity/underdeveloped female characters in this book and the way the m ...more
Jan 22, 2014 rated it did not like it
I'm an avid reader. I read everything. Lots of genres. This book DROVE ME CRAZY and I quit in the middle. Save your time and money and don't waste it on this book. ...more
Kirsten Feldman
Apr 05, 2014 rated it it was ok
I wanted not to continue reading this book.
Camille McCarthy
Jan 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed the topic of this book (using "waste" as a motif throughout). In particular, I liked the characters of Talmage and Micah, who lived as squatters and "freegans" by only consuming food that had been thrown out. As someone who is especially fascinated with the waste our society produces, this was a fun book, as it brings the concepts of waste to life, and poses questions about our relationship to waste and what we can do about it or with it. I thought it would have been stronger i ...more
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book had me at dumpster-diving freegans in NYC.

Besides the so-righteous-you-love-to-hate-them freegans, there are several other subplots in this well-written novel about people and their foibles: an obese linguist, on a task force to create a nuclear waste dump warning sign for future civilizations, deals with his separation from his wife by purging all his possessions with the help of his newly-acquired twentysomething loser roommate; a right-wing stepfather forges a close and yet creepy/p
We've been conditioned not to care. We've been taught to dispose. p7

A thoroughly entertaining novel about zero waste? JM has pulled it off in this surprisingly painless skewering of the good life.

The status quo isn't sustainable. Nonsystematic change doesn't help when it's the system that's the problem. p74

This is our condition, We do not solve problems. We replace them with other problems. p187

How much easier it would be if... people were merely good or bad...instead of the hoary in-between.
S.W. Hubbard
Jan 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a novel of ideas which nevertheless has plenty of compelling characters and some witty writing. It is told from the alternating points of view of three unrelated family groups: a young "freegan" couple squatting in an abandoned NYC building and getting all they need to survive by Dumpster diving; a discontented suburban upper-middle class family whose patriarch makes money by collecting debts from irresponsible spenders; and a fat linguistics professor whose wife has dumped him and who i ...more
Jan 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Astoundingly brilliant, this novel takes a sharply satirical and remarkably perceptive look at a seemingly disconnected group of people, connected mostly through the theme of waste and recycling. We being with Micah and Talmadge, two freegans who pride themselves on living off the waste of others, dumpster diving for food and squatting in an abandoned apartment building. When Talmadge's skeptical friend Matty joins them, however, his perspective and opportunistic attitude shifts their lifestyle ...more
Kasa Cotugno
There's a reason this book has gleaned such high ratings -- it's compulsively readable and delivers a message. This is one of those books that makes a reader glad they love to read. Three seemingly disparate storylines only have the Metropolitan Area in common, but when convergence comes, it is no real surprise.

The unifying theme is consumerism, the accumulation and disposal of STUFF. One thread follows a freegan couple as they dumpster-dive for dinner, return to their squat, and live a totally
Mar 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Someone recommended this book to me after I told them that one of my favorite genres is the white male fuck up novel! I love troubled characters who make a ton of mistakes and then maybe or maybe not learns from these mistakes. Nobody's perfect, right? So.........this book. The writing is this book is good. At first it struck me as overwriting. The sentences and word choices were so complex - I almost regretted the fact that I did not read this on my Kindle and could click on words I didn't know ...more
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JONATHAN MILES is the author of the novels Dear American Airlines and Want Not, both New York Times Notable Books. His latest novel, Anatomy of a Miracle: The True* Story of a Paralyzed Veteran, a Mississippi Convenience Store, a Vatican Investigation, and the Spectacular Perils of Grace, is published by Crown/Hogarth.

Dear American Airlines was named a Best Book of 2008 by the Wall Street Journal,

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