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The Futilitarians: Our Year of Thinking, Drinking, Grieving, and Reading

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  381 ratings  ·  81 reviews
A memoir of friendship and literature chronicling a search for meaning and comfort in great books, and a beautiful path out of grief

Anne Gisleson had lost her twin sisters, had been forced to flee her home during Hurricane Katrina, and had witnessed cancer take her beloved father. Before she met her husband, Brad, he had suffered his own trauma, losing his partner and the
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published August 22nd 2017 by Little, Brown and Company
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3.75  · 
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 ·  381 ratings  ·  81 reviews

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Julie Ehlers
Many of us, as we get older, go through an experience that divides our life into "before" and "after," whether it's the death of a loved one, a health crisis, a divorce or breakup, a job loss or financial failure, or some combination of these and other factors. In The Futilitarians, the illness and death of Anne Gisleson's father is the impetus for her and her husband Brad to form the Existential Crisis Reading Group (ECRG) with some friends and family members. The goal of the group is to select ...more
Cindy Burnett
Oct 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
3.5 - 4 stars

The Futilitarians is a weightier book than I normally choose to read, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The book is heavy on philosophy, a subject I honestly did not know very much about before I read The Futilitarians. Anne Gisleson and her husband Brad chose to create the Existential Crisis Reading Group (nicknamed The Futilitarians) to focus on the question of how people move on in the face of great loss. Anne lost two younger sisters to suicide, weathered Hurricane Katrina in New Or
One for angsty, bookish types. In 2012 Anne Gisleson, a New Orleans-based creative writing teacher, her husband, one of her sisters and some friends formed what they called an Existential Crisis Reading Group (which, for the record, I think would have been the better title for this book). Each month they got together to discuss their lives and their set readings – both expected and off-beat selections, everything from Kafka and Tolstoy to Kingsley Amis and Clarice Lispector – over wine and snack ...more
Nov 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-bookstores
I was drawn to this book by the premise of an existentialist book group. But I plodded along through much of this book - especially the reading discussions - which felt superimposed. This book wasn't really about the members of the group or even the readings, but about Gisleson's own grief - and I wish she had stuck with that focus. Her writing came alive when she wrote about New Orleans and the post Katrina rebuilding and about working through her own personal losses.
Aug 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Anne Gisleson's memoirs dealing with her father's death and her twin sister's suicides 18 months apart is quite a heavy read. Her husband had his own losses he was grieving through as he lost his partner and mother to his son very early in their marriage to cancer. Combine that with suffering through Hurricane Katrina and life's daily offerings, there is a LOT of pain in here.

Together with their friends (who had many pains, as well), Ann and her husband, Brad, start a book club, the ECRG in whic
Aug 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017, best-of-2017
I'm giving this memoir five stars, not because it is perfectly written, but because it is so well-considered by the author and because for me it's the right book for our perilous and uncertain time. If ever there's a need for community and doubt and an exploration of the Tragic vs. Trivial planes of existence, it's now.

The memoir covers a single year, 2012, of monthly meetings for contemplating works of art that question our purpose. Woven into analysis of the works that were chosen is the stor
Mar 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Much more a personal memoir than a book about a book group (the “our year” in the subtitle led me to expect a broader approach to the group's experiences), Gisleson organizes her musings on grief, loss, renewal, and what might give life meaning when one is faced with loneliness and death, around a year of book group meetings. Gisleson, a mother of young children and third daughter in a tight knit family of eight children, works through feelings of grief and futility over the loss by suicide of h ...more
Effective memoirs are normally ‘confessions’ in Northrop Frye’s sense in the Anatomy of Criticism, wherein Frye argues that the confession developed from Augustine and Rousseau, using a “stream of consciousness technique” to opine on “some theoretical and intellectual interest in religion, politics, or art,” and always “inspired by a creative, and therefore fictional, impulse to select only those events and experiences in the writer's life that go to build up an integrated pattern” (op. cit. at ...more
blue-collar mind
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: new-orleans
In short: I think this ranks as one of the best memoirs to come out of the South in some time. I’ve been waiting for someone to use the Katrina timeline to illustrate the pain and random brutality that is so normalized here that it is often clichéd in the retelling. Gisleson's take on New Orleans life is important in that she is a native of the city and it has been my experience that that is a too-small group writing about New Orleans in recent years. Her tender and often witty memoir frames how ...more
Brandon Forsyth
Aug 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
A fitting read for this tumultuous, heavy summer: wrestling with major questions of life and loss, informed by grief but celebrating life, Anne Gisleson's profile of her existential crisis reading group was something I truly savoured. The book details her struggle with her father's death and her sisters' suicides, and how a book club informed by novels, poetry and philosophy helped her find meaning again. Lyrical and free-flowing, the book moves between time periods as reading triggers the autho ...more
Magen Stevenson
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
I will keep this book on my shelf for a second go round, but only after I do more study in existentialism. Gisleson's story of repeated heartbreaking loss is very personal and she tells her family history beautifully, but I was lost on the weighty pieces of literature cited, although often quoted. it was also often difficult to emotional relate to her healing process and the way she expressed herself as the child of a prominent lawyer and member of an affluent family. She often overindulged in h ...more
Andrea (Born and Read in Chicago)
This was another review copy provided by Little Brown, as part of their ambassador program and it's not the kind of book I would have normally sought out, since I'm not big on memoirs and I figured the existential talk would be over my head. Admittedly, some of it is, yet Gisleson can compare Dante to Hot Tub Time Machine (!) and she intersperses the existential with such accessible thoughts on motherhood, sisterhood, marriage and life. And at it's heart, it is a beautiful and raw ode to her sis ...more
Oct 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
While considered a memoir, this book is so much more. At its center is a book club like no other, but one I'd like to join (at least for a night). Gisleson's exploration of grief, Katrina, family, and community is filtered through a wide variety of literature as presented by the book club members. In some respects the book reminds me of Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, but travels in many more directions. You will want to note and remember something from each page, the writing is that good ...more
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
I was definitely in the minority with this book. I just thought it jumped around and did not follow any type of pattern which is what life is -- I guess I just could not find a rhythm to catch my interest.

It is a memoir of a year of a book club, dealing with the loss of twin sisters, recovering from Hurricane Katrina, and grieving her father all relating these life situations to literary writings from their book club.
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant look at a book club and dealing with loss, getting older, and change. One of my favorite books that came out in 2017.
Dec 09, 2017 rated it it was ok
Loved the concept; hated the writing style. It was written in such a detached manner. Ugh. I could barely tolerate sitting with this thing.
Oct 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
In 2012, Gisleson was emerging from a period of hardship and grief. She and a friend decided to form a book club and call it the Existential Crisis Reading Group (ECRG) or The Futilitarians. Still mourning her recently deceased father, the ravages of hurricane Katrina on her home and home city, and the long ago loss of her beloved twin sisters, Rebecca and Rachel, both to suicide, Gisleson found herself at a moment in life where gathering together with a group of friends to read and discuss exis ...more
Sep 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Tragedy has visited Anne Gisleson so many times. In an effort to cope with the suicides of her twin sisters, her father's death, and the devastation of her hometown in Hurricane Katrina, as well as with the everyday crises that are part of life, she formed the Existential Crisis Reading Group (ECRG). Each chapter of The Futilitarians delves into the readings and discussions that took place in a given month for the first year of the group's existence, but Gisleson weaves her personal story throug ...more
Katie/Doing Dewey
Dec 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a memoir about dealing with grief, specifically about the book club the author formed to explore the topic as she was dealing with the loss of her twin sisters and her father’s death. The book club initially struck me as incredibly pretentious. The participants seemed like they were trying too hard to be literary and philosophical. The author didn’t share enough detail about the readings they discussed, leaving me feeling lost. Fortunately, within the first few chapters, she shifts to mo ...more
Cambri Morris
Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It's interesting reading peoples' reviews of this book as a memoir or philosophical treatise on Existentialism... I picked up this book at the library after a keyword search of "Grief" after losing my father and it has been a truly wonderful companion and a beautiful reckoning with grief.

As she honors all kinds of loss and trauma, the book examines the paradigm of endings giving way to beginnings, death to life. She artfully avoids offering answers while still providing poignant insights, endin
Jenni Buchanan
I found this book so interesting and inspiring that I had to go out and buy my own copy, AND a copy of the Concise Dictionary of Existentialism Gisleson mentions so frequently. This is seemingly two completely different narrative lines--Gisleson's grief over her sisters and her father, and the first year of the Futilitarians--but as with most things in life, the two inform each other, and end up wound around each other like strands of DNA. I was constantly moved by Gisleson's honesty regarding h ...more
Savannah Wooten
Jun 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
So many thoughts about this book - the first being that it's not for everyone.

The book's kitschy premise (an Existential Crisis Reading Group) buries what it is actually "about" for most of the book - which is the author's emotional processing of tragedies past and present (memoir style!)

It's amazing, well written, and compelling - but if you picked it up for the book club, for stories about multiple participants, etc., it will surprise you by almost entirely derailing from the premise.

That b
Jack Mierl
Oct 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you love New Orleans, existential thinking, and the memoir genre then you should pick up a copy of Anne Gisleson's book immediately. She writes passionately, letting the readers to explore the raw emotions that she experiences. She methodically explores different topics in regards to existential literature. While I was expecting her to relate the ECRG to her personal experiences in regards to her sisters and father, I didn't expect the level of intensity and depth into some of these intimate ...more
Laurie Leopold
Jan 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“When people’s delusions are threatened, the tighter they cling to them.”

That quote hit home, in context of current climate. I feverishly jotted down notes reading this book, and felt like I was in their book club. I loved this wholeheartedly.
While the book was heavy at times it was the right mix of emotions I wanted to feel when reading about existentialism.
Aug 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"As you get older all the bodies of your stillborn selves may pile up around you but every decision is also its own creation. That's one of the miracles of the self--that we keep creating ourselves amid the personal carnage."
I loved The Futilitiarians for its grief, its hope, its dedication to seeking - in one's own life alone and with a tribe of others who also seek. There is beauty in ruin and re-creation and if we continue to ask questions and search for answers to make this one life we're l
Nov 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
per the blurb, Dave Eggers loved it, and I in turn love love love his A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, so by the transitive property I figured I'd like this one at least pretty well.....

....and I did. But with a qualifier. The organizational hook is a year's worth of monthly meetings of a book club {the ECRG's, or Existential Crisis Reading Group} she and her husband formed with some friends also going through tough times in post-Katrina New Orleans. I could take or leave her comments
Nov 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Somewhere between 3-4 stars for me. I am often quite bored by landscape descriptions and if there are too many in a book, or they are too long, my mind will wander. I realized at some point it's because I just don't understand the nomenclature, possibly due to my life being almost exclusively lived in cities. So when an author starts talking about "sluices," or "deltas," or describes rivers or fields or pastures or woods in any detail, I'm lost. The existential and philosophical discussions in t ...more
I felt like the author didn't really decide what she wanted this book to be. Based on the title, I thought it would be about the book club, but it isn't. Though she does write and reflect on what the book club read, by the end of the book I still had no sense of who anyone else in the group was or what they thought about anything. The subtitle of the book is "our," but there's no our. A large part of the book is Gisleson working through her grief over both her father's recent death and the less ...more
Feb 26, 2018 added it
Shelves: 2018
Favorite Quotes:
*Quotes for this book are very interesting for me. First I listened 3/4 or more of the book, the author narrated it, which I always love. Then some of the quotes I enjoy are from the books or pieces that they read.

Funny, erudite, chummy, and biting, Amis's writing on drinking is a cocktail invitation to take issue with him, to enjoy the unresolvable argument that is humanity.

G.P. [general principle] 9: He who truly believes he has a hangover has no hangover.

p. 148
A ha
Emily Duchon
"i wake up in a rage." i learned some new things with this one; bought clarice lispector immediately upon finishing that chapter. what a queen.

well, but what is this book exactly? it's a memoir of a woman searching for the meaning of life, mostly. and some healing along the way after experiencing a few too many deaths in the family, two of which are her twin sister's tragic suicides. she gathers together some friends and they read existential literature and talk shit and figure things out, which
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