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The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  810 ratings  ·  127 reviews
When Jessa Crispin was thirty, she burned her settled Chicago life to the ground and took off for Berlin with a pair of suitcases and no plan beyond leaving. Half a decade later, she’s still on the road, in search not so much of a home as of understanding, a way of being in the world that demands neither constant struggle nor complete surrender.
The Dead Ladies P
Paperback, 240 pages
Published September 22nd 2015 by University of Chicago Press
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Average rating 3.93  · 
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Julie Ehlers
I picked this up in a newly opened independent bookstore in my area, and when the owner of the store saw it in my hands, she expressed her enthusiastic appreciation for Jessa Crispin. "She's a smartie," she said. But honestly, I wasn't so sure. I had never warmed to Crispin's website, Bookslut, even though it should have been exactly the kind of thing I loved. I always had a sense that Crispin's work was hobbled by her trying too hard to be the smartest person in the room. I hate saying that abo ...more
Dec 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
I've been a Crispin fan girl since discovering her blog, Bookslut, several years ago. She has unearthed many treasures for me from the back catalogues of the 20th century, probably most significantly Rebecca West's Black Lamb, Grey Falcon (which features in this book), but numerous other books as well. Her recommendation of Baba Yaga Laid an Egg led me to Ugresic's fascinating work. It's no exaggeration to say that without Crispin my reading list would be far more mainstream and less rich - her ...more
M. Sarki
Dec 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star-wonders

Feeling displaced and shaken from birth I am not surprised this author has never exactly seemed to fit in. Being the weirdo in the room is what she says she is used to. But she defiantly prefers to reject them before they rejected you. But this sophisticated and crazy spinster outsider manages to make me want to be led on a walk with her like a cat on a leash.

Jessa Crispin, in just one published book, has surpassed Geoff Dyer on my favorite memoir/travelo
Leigh Anne
Aug 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Suicidal impulses were starting to get the better of Crispin, so she knew it was time to get out of town. Because that's what you do when you're a writer: you design a project you can publish and get paid for, and at the same time try to save your own damn life. Thus begins a story about travel, famous dead creatives, and getting your shit together. Oddly enough, it works.

Not that isn't rough going, especially at first. Crispin is not very likable, but she doesn't give two shits whether you like
Jul 24, 2018 rated it liked it
This book makes old dead white European literary elites sound like fun. Contrary to what the name might seem to suggest, Dead Ladies Project is not so much about dead ladies as it is about one particular lady who would really like not to be dead, and who turns to several dead writers and their various European locales for inspiration to live (and as part of a sweet book deal, it’s fair to assume). On its travel writing credentials alone, Dead Ladies Project is gorgeous. Crispin blends literary c ...more
Jun 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, travel, 2018
Picked this up in a used bookstore and it really is shockingly bad. In the chapter on Sarajevo/Rebecca West she complains about the colonial mindset that led West in the 30s and recent commentators post-war to obnoxiously pontificate about the violent nature of the Balkan soul and "ancient hatreds"; then in the chapter on Ireland she herself turns around and confidently does her own diagnoses of What is Wrong With Those Feckless Irish - learned helplessness! it all goes back to the Famine, you s ...more
Jan 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
(view spoiler) ...more
Jul 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Okay, let's come right out and say that there were a few parts where I had to mentally separate the author as the author from the author as my sister, to sort of ignore that this is my childhood she's alluding to here, my hometown, me. But those parts were mercifully small. (I will go back and process those parts later, though I'm not sure Jessa would want me to.)

Anyway, biased or not, I thought it was marvelous. Especially the Berlin chapter, which (despite there being an actual introduction) i
Andrea McDowell
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did.

But that's unfair: I did like it, most of the way through. For most of the book it was one of those "I'll have to get my own copy after I return it to the library" books. And then it wasn't.

Crispin writes very well and has read widely and with great consideration (though as another reviewer notes, her choices tend to the dead white canon). She obviously thinks deeply about what she reads, the lives of the authors, and her surroundings. Those thou
Nicole Beaudry
Apr 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: jpl, adult, non-fiction, eps
A really insightful exploration of art, self, love, and Europe. Engaging, relatively well-written, melancholic, and an ode to the artists who influenced the author and the places that influenced them.
Natalya Zianora
Mar 13, 2016 rated it did not like it
Jessa Crispin's writing style is bland, slow, and mundane at best. At worst is is painfully dull and laced with failed attempts at insight and clever remarks. This book is a story of a woman who likes to read and name drop but doesn't add insight or humor, a story of someone who romanticizes emotions but cannot convey them convincingly; all under the guise of a bourgeoise adventure that seeks to unveil exciting new stories but fails miserably at every turn.
Lee Kofman
Mar 04, 2018 rated it liked it
I didn't like the politics of Jessa Crispin as she wrote them (a lot, insistently) into this book. Her bitterness, about the world at large and her own life, irritated me, particularly in her chapter about Jean Rhys. Structurally the book was often a mess, not really holding as a whole. And yet… This writer is truly gifted with this particular strangeness of her voice, this enchanting metaphysical worldview she has, where she sees dragons flying in a city she dislikes, and has wonderful conversa ...more
Nephele Tempest
Jul 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I'm not certain when exactly I discovered Jessa Crispin's online literary magazine, Bookslut, but I know it was early days. She was still in Texas, still finding the shape of the blog and the articles. I just remember being delighted by it, not just because she was tapping into a woefully underserved cross section of the publishing world by reviewing titles out of small presses and in lesser known genres, but because she herself had a distinctive voice that just clicked for me. In all the years ...more
Dec 05, 2015 rated it liked it
I sctually couldn't finish this. I was a longtime reader of Bookslut, Crispin's book blog. It was great; she dropped it abruptly-ish (to readers), and part of what followed is this book. The upshot is that each chapter (barring Igor Stravinskty?) imagines the life of a female expat in tandem with musings and confidences about Crispin herself. Let me say, I think there is a place for the memoirs of neurotic white ladies. God knows Joan Didion has a place in my heart, and on my shelf. But in 2015, ...more
Sep 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
Jessa Crispin travelled the world in the footsteps of artists she has loved who include men, women, writers and composers. Each city is dedicated to a person who inspired her.

I wanted to love this book. I heard an interview with Jessa and immediately wanted to read this book. But I don't think I got it. It is unclear what it is - it isn't a biography of her chosen people as she appears to know very little about some of them. It definitely isn't a travel guide to the amazing cities she visits as
Jan 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
I'm a fan of Jessa Crispin and Bookslut (although I haven't followed Bookslut much lately), and this was exactly the book I wanted but hadn't really dared to hope for. Set against the backdrop of about half a dozen cities, Crispin's story of self-imposed exile mingles with the tales of other writers, artists, and creatives who needed to flee. From Nora Barnacle to Claude Cahun, Crispin travels in good company.

By the time I finished The Dead Ladies Project, I had stuck a little Post-It flag on a
May 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
A fine memoir and geo-biographical exploration. Crispin goes on a year and a half wander though statelessness to understand herself, to understand other actors upon her thinking and existence.

particularly intriguing to me were the sections on Wm James/Berlin, Nora Barnacle Joyce/Trieste, and Cahun/Jersey, but each segment was interesting and thought provoking.
Oct 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
What a beautiful book. This is a genre I love - biography/memoir/spilling of guts. One of the few books I have read that I would say affected me deeply, even when I didn't agree with the author. Five out of five, two thumbs up, would read again.
missy jean
Mar 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to missy by: Ashley
Shelves: non-fiction
I need a bundle of plane tickets, stat!
I’ve got this silly little rule – not reading two books by the same author in a row. Boy, am I glad I broke it after reading Why I Am Not a Feminist. This is part memoir and part travelogue - since I haven’t been able to travel for a few years this was perfect to satisfy my travel bug (for now). Also, Crispin is in that neverending group of authors that makes me say “damn, they say what I want to say, only better!” while I read them. I suspect I'd find her writings interesting even if she talked ...more
Mar 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was a great book! I struggled to get into it for the first chapter or two, as I didn't relate to the author at all. But after that the book got steadily more engrossing as I traveled with the author from place to place. I spent quite a bit of time googling the different names that pop up in the book, but I appreciated that she trusts the reader to go do their own research, rather than spoon feeding the information about each individual mentioned.

Ill have to remember to come back and re-rea
John Dolan
Apr 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Personal, sad, witty, wise, and occasionally off-the-wall, Jessa Crispin's account of her odyssey through Europe in search of dead literary ladies (and a reason for living) is a delight. Her writing is never less than entertaining, whether she is dealing with matters of the heart (often her own), philosophical puzzles, literary ephemera, or the problems of luggage and tampons. One of the most original and entertaining reads I have encountered in some time. I will seek out more of her work, and p ...more
Aug 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2018
My main criticism of this book was that it was almost painfully heterosexual at times and I found it difficult to really care about Crispin’s torturous affair with a married man (another author no less!). But, when she was writing about the various people and places, I found it really interesting. Also, James Joyce remains the only modernist male author who hasn’t kind of been ruined for me by reading about his wife and daughter.
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book sounded too good to be true. I was fully prepared to be disappointed. Instead, I enjoyed virtually every aspect. A woman packs up her life in America, provides insight into her hometown/childhood contrasted with life in foreign cities, tales of travelling alone, stories of literary folks and their fascinating lives, some history tidbits thrown in, and I’m one satisfied customer!
Oct 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-arts, biography
Jessa Crispin can really write. It makes one wonder why she never wrote fiction herself, but instead has focused her life around being a critic and public intellectual. This book is filled with interesting insights about writing and art, as well as politics and history, while still being an interesting memoir in its own right.
Thematically, this is pretty much the travel memoir I'd have wanted to write. And Jessa Crispin is a GODDAMN good writer! Outward-looking, oscillating between self-conscious and self-aware.
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, berlin, travel
Love a book with an appendix of books for further reading and one which inspired a whole lot of wanderlust.

This is smart travel writing by an amazing talent. Recommended.
Jun 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It's pretty rare for me to give a book full 5 stars, without thinking I liked everything about the book. This is one of those significant books. In a nutshell:

1. Crispin is suicidal, she manages the popular blog The Bookslut, and decides to take off from her comfortable, familiar Chicago life and live out of a suitcase for two years (or more), go to East Europe (among other places), and think about certain books and people in those countries. This book is her recounting that journey.

2. It's mad
I don't get the title, because, writer-worshipfully and culturally, this seemed pretty dude-centric, even with the chapters focusing on the chicks Nora Barnacle (whose chapter seemed to have the specter of James Joyce lurking all around, even though that chapter is totally a four-star read and worth the price of the book, which I checked out from the library) and Maud Gonne (who still outshines William Yeats, even though "[i]t was Yeats who brought Gonne to the Golden Dawn"). Even the writer her ...more
Jul 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“...and suffering most often leaves the person a little twisted.” J. Crispin
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Jessa Crispin is the editor and founder of Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Guardian and The Toronto Globe and Mail, among other publications.

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