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Letters to Emma Bowlcut

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  496 ratings  ·  57 reviews
Sixty-two letters from a nameless protagonist comprise this epistolary novel. He writes them to Emma, a woman he sees at a party. Each entry captures the loose, disparate details of daily life, including desires, frustrations, joys, social observations, anecdotes, advice, and the self, as depicted through emotional weather updates. Emma’s replies are not revealed, but the ...more
Paperback, 79 pages
Published July 20th 2010 by Drag City
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3.96  · 
Rating details
 ·  496 ratings  ·  57 reviews

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Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Oct 31, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Bill Callahan made his name by carving out pathways through the underbrush of the music world with a series of releases that began (c. 1990) with a (thankfully) brief period of atonal, unfriendly noise. This quickly grew into a long stretch of mostly dour but strangely beautiful and compelling albums that were usually very minimalistic, unpolished and centered around nothing but his vibrating vocal chords and the simple labor of a guitar or two, and maybe a few eerie notes wrought from a piano. ...more
Sep 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
The first half had me intoxicated with doe-eyed admiration. Unfortunately the last two sections sobered me right up and left me wondering what happened. Regardless, Bill Callahan still rocks the casbah with some amazing one-liners on par with Raymond Chandler such as: I think fish became humans because they didn't have any way to pistol whip each other. Or this three-liner: I would get you a personal assistant if I could. Like in the Russian novels where everyone, no matter how poor, had a maid ...more
Jan 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
An odd but, an effective book by Bill Callahan, who is known as Smog as well as making music under his real name. "Letters to Emma Bowlcut" are a series of correspondence to a girl that we know very little about, and not too much about the letter writer as well. We know he goes to the vortex, which is by no means clear if this is a real place or not, as well as watching boxing matches in a gym. The letters are only one-sided and from the author, but we do know that the woman that he writes to al ...more
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed this weird little book. Sort of reminded me of Letters to Wendy's in its correspondence-style back and forth with itself and this "Emma." I love Callahan's music, so the goofiness of this book was a little bit of a surprise, but a really welcome one. Highly recommended for people who love voice-driven quick reads. Please write and sing more, Mr. Callahan.
Jul 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Part 1 is pure poetry. 2 and 3 finds more prose amidst the bramble. Each line is beautiful enough to isolate and send in a text message to somebody you want to impress. I think of it like a chemical solution. Your eyes lose focus, the reaction occurs. I saw a change in color and saturation but only after it happened. Bill understands birds and eagles to such a degree that he could explain yourself to you better in terms of nests, wings and feathers. I was shocked there were no horses. This could ...more
Ty Melgren
Nov 05, 2010 rated it it was ok
There were some good lines in here but also lots of annoying ones, and I felt like the good ones should have been saved for songs instead of being used in these dumb fake letters. The whole thing just seems kind of lazy, like, if you want to have a book, why wouldn't you just write some stories or poems.

Books By Drag City Recording Artists And Whether They Are Dumb Or Not:

David Berman - The Portable February DUMB
Bill Callahan - Letters to Emma Bowl Cut MOSTLY DUMB
David Berman - Actual Air NOT DU
Oct 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Dear Mr Callahan,

Thank you for filling an otherwise dull workday afternoon.
Most people would probably abandon ship when sailing on a sinking vessel.
But I just read. And wait.
Apr 16, 2017 marked it as did-not-finish
Shelves: 2017
Nope, I'm sorry, this is too straight white male for me. For the record, here was my line in the sand:
[in a letter to a nameless woman]
Since the breakup with Robin there was a brief encounter with a girl who yelled at me for calling her puss a riddle. I was on my knees when I said it. I was still on my knees at the side of her bed when she stomped off, shaking the wood floor, causing a battery-operated penis to roll out and nudge my knee like a pup. Does this sound like I'm explaining death to a
May 20, 2018 rated it really liked it

Love you Bill.
Jesús Santana

Una novela epistolar bastante interesante es “Cartas a Emma Bowlcut” de Bill Callahan editada por Alpha Decay una editorial que lleva haciendo un gran trabajo presentándonos autores que pocos se animarían a traducir y mucho menos a publicar, esta casa editorial lo lleva haciendo con mucha fuerza desde hace bastante tiempo y dando sorpresas con cada nuevo trabajo editado. Bill Callahan es una muestra de ellos, músico indie que se atreve a hundirse en la arriesgada parte de la literatura como mezc
Jul 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Brandon, Jim, Davis
Recommended to Vicky by: Because it's Bill Callahan
Shelves: letters, favorites
I love the back description: An unnamed man studies the Vortex and his surroundings. He begins writing letters to a strange woman he is attracted to at a party. In this epistolary novelette set sometime in the future, he tells her of his daily life and a relationship between them unfolds.


"Work is something I must ease back into. I can't really explain what I do. If you watched me it would look like almost nothing." (Letter 6)

"I am possibly lonely. I was trained to
Steev Hise
Sep 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fun
This is a weird and fun book, and also profound. For an author who I already know via his lyrics is really smart and creative and a little twisted, it's cool to see another view or angle on his talent. The book is in the form of a series of letters to a woman who the narrator has evidently become very fond of, but we don't see any of the letters back. The backdrop to his life is rather surreal - he works as some sort of scientist or technician who makes measurements on something called The Vorte ...more
May 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
Bill Callahan is a genius. This was an interesting, sometimes sad, even sometimes sexy book told through letters from the narrator. Each letter, some only a few lines long, packed full of imagery and a sense of isolation the narrator felt in his secluded life. My favorite lines from the book are :"You are the reason I get out of bed. To tell you that I got out of bed. I want to pocket all your question marks and discard them discreetly when you aren't looking." Bill Callahan has such a way with ...more
Jun 04, 2015 rated it did not like it
Innocent trees died for this crap. I don't mind putting in a lot of effort to understand a difficult book. That's the implicit contract between authors like Nabokov or David Foster Wallace and us as readers: "If you, dear reader, put in your share of work, I guarantee you that I did my very best to make it worth it." But apart from the occasional cute oneliner, this book is just pointless. Pretty much anything in this book can mean pretty much anything. It is incoherent, vague, unrewarding.
Emily Axelson
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I have read this at least 8 times. This is the most moved I have ever been by a book, and every letter is quotable. You may need to relate to Bill's isolating tendencies and the emotional toll that takes, but if you do, oh man. It's amazing how this is about something which at its core is so painful but at the same time the atmosphere is filled with acceptance and hope. Magic.
Jan 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Tedium meets desperate alienation meets a burst of inspiration. It grows fangs and claws, loses a leg and turns rabid. Callahan's a metaphor whiz, illustrating a transformation in ways both intimately inviting and harrowing. I was going to give or send this book to someone or other, but I think I'll hang on to it to reread sometime first.
Jordan Winfield
Sep 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourite-books
i reread this after two years of ignoring it and now my heart is crying.
Jan 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Den vildeste deadpan, meget ømme og dumme bog jeg nogensinde har læst. Her er ét ud af mange fantastiske eksempler på fortællerens fantastiske had til verden, eller behov for den? Faktisk skriver jeg to:

“Letter 23:
Robin was a strong swimmer in the strong water. Much stronger than me. And she constantly wanted to race. I hated to lose in my soul. I would always try to hold her. I liked the way her body felt underwater.
She just wanted to race and would dart above and below me like a beam of li
Oct 18, 2017 is currently reading it
Raül De Tena
Aug 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
Es demasiado tentador leer “Cartas a Emma Bowlcut” (publicado en nuestro país dentro de la colección Héroes Modernos de Alpha Decay) buscándole las correspondencias con las letras y la figura artistica de Bill Callahan. Y lo cierto es que el mismo autor es el que nos lo pone difícil a la hora de jugar al huevo y la gallina… ¿Qué vino antes, la concepción del álbum “Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle” (Drag City, 2009) o la escritura de un párrafo como “Las nubes son específicas aquí. Blancas con ...more
Oct 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2014
I liked reading this slowly, taking it in, reading a few letters every day. Some of the anecdotes and non-sequiturs are silly, but they're so earnest and sincere, and give the book its subdued power. Some lines are tattoo-worthy, not that I'd go that far or anything. It even has a satisfying climax! Callahan builds his characters so subtly (even the eponymous one you never get to read any words from), and so quickly—the book's barely novella-length, after all. I feel like when I describe it my w ...more
Aug 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
I was chomping at the bit until I found out it was champing. Getting out of the house to stop the film loop in me. The picture is tangled and the sound is strangled. That there is nothing in this for you is something that occurs to me now and then. I can forget anything.

I learned you can get bruises without external contact. Struck by something trying to get out from within.

This day seemed like it could have gone either way. The sky half blue, half gray. When I looked again the gray had lost to
Feb 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2011, male-author
I'll give this book 4 stars, because I can't really decide what I think. And I feel like I ought to give it the benefit of the doubt. At first, I read this book real slow and careful, taking my time. Then I got impatient. I suppose that may be my fault. The language that at first seemed so witty, and so intentionally fraught, began to twist around itself like neuroses to the point where the final pages left me at a bit of a loss. Though, I suppose, since they are letters, this makes perfect sens ...more
Dec 27, 2011 rated it liked it
Bill Callahan is probably my favorite artist in the world of music today. All of his recorded material is worth checking out and his live performance is fantastic. This book is more of a curiosity, though. A decent, quick read, with a quirky structure (composed of one side of a by mail correspondence between a man and woman in a somewhat surreal time approximately resembling our own) but not something I can recommend for anyone but Callahan/Smog zealots looking, like I was, to consume any sort o ...more
Bingsy Bings
Feb 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It's difficult to review such an esoteric book. It's plot is loose to say the least, and it's size would lead one to question its heft. But the minute you start reading the letters you enter the world therein, and it's pleasurable and dreamlike, nostalgic, quiet. I read the letters over the course of a couple of weeks - waiting in a doctor's office, on hurried lunches, over tea, etc, and it was always the same. The minute you read the first sentence you were transported, and it's delicate and a ...more
Jul 30, 2013 rated it liked it
With visual art there are modern and contemporary pieces that I enjoy because they are aesthetically interesting or I appreciate the way the piece makes me feel, even if those feelings are negative. And I enjoy these pieces despite the fact that I don't understand them, don't receive the message, don't know why it was made or the context in which it was made. This is how I feel about Callahan's book. I don't "get it" and feel the meaning is lost on me. But I enjoyed the way it made me feel and a ...more
Jul 21, 2011 rated it liked it
Jessica and I got this for me to read to her on a long road trip. We got Bill to sign the front, as he's a creative hero to both of us. He wrote a really nice thing. I wish we liked the book better. As prose poetry, it's great. There are lots of great one-line thoughts and philosophies that speak a stark, wry truth. It falls apart though with the threads that try to tie a compelling narrative together. I didn't care really about what happened to anyone in the book. I found myself wishing it was ...more
Barry Engelhardt
Oct 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
I attended a book reading in Chicago many years ago to see Stephen Elliott. Happy Baby had just been released and Harmony Korine and Bill Callihan also read. I found Korine an asshole and Callihan a brilliant wordsmith who said little, but told lots. Now, years later, I finally stumbled on his book and found it amazing. He's captured an art few have in which every word counts and intertwines and paints pictures much more complex than the sum of their parts. A quick read and a guilty pleasure.
Devin White
Nov 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book really impressed me, Callahan is a wonderful writer even beyond his music. I might be a little biased because I was a fan of him prior to reading Letters but I do believe that people who aren't familiar with his work would also find this a good read. Short and sweet with a little mystery and confused emotion.
Apr 12, 2015 rated it it was ok
It was at times funny random and strange. The character says that he likes when two different species are friends. Especially when one of them is a duck. He tells Emma that she should get a duck for the library she works in. Ducks belong in librraries.

Overall, I thought the character was just annoying though. Not a fan of this book.
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Bill Callahan, also known as Smog and (Smog), is an American singer-songwriter. Callahan began working in the lo-fi genre of underground rock, with home-made tape-albums recorded on four track tape recorders. Later he began releasing albums with the label Drag City, to which he remains signed today.

In July of 2010 Drag City published Callhan's Letters to Emma Bowlcut, which is an epistolary novel
“I was trained to turn loneliness into laziness.” 52 likes
“I sometimes see a shortcoming in myself, how little patience or understanding I have for many people in the way they act. I am able to see the fragility in some, but I only have so much time to wade through their manipulations and traps and draining behaviour. Some people think I'm heartless in leaving others to suffer their own selves.” 14 likes
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