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Letters to Emma Bowlcut

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  600 ratings  ·  73 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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Average rating 3.93  · 
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 ·  600 ratings  ·  73 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
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
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. ...more
M. Sarki
Aug 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing

She said, she said, I know what it’s like to be dead... I said, Even though you know what you know, I know that I'm ready to leave. 'Cause you're making me feel like I've never been born.___John Lennon

Last week I read the last interview of John Ono Lennon and his partner Yoko. In it I learned the LSD story behind his Revolver album song, She Said, She Said. The opening quotation above is a paraphrase of that song’s lyrics and seems relevant to Callahan’s t
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
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. ...more
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
Apr 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
“I like your theory that the sounds that surround us sculpt the shape of our head. So I will sit in each empty room now feeling my head shift like a sand dune in a steady breeze.” (p. 23)
May 20, 2018 rated it really liked it

Love you Bill.
Aug 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Many times I've attempted to put it into words exactly what it is I've found so encapturing about Bill Callahan to me, and each time it feels like I've done it a disservice. I suppose that's what makes poetry, in all forms, compelling. To unlock something that the word alone cannot. I'm glad to say that this little book, despite being his only purely written work, is distinctly a Callahan piece of work. His one-liners, profoundly simplistic observations mixed with cryptic metaphor, often surreal ...more
Nov 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
I don’t know if I understand it, but I loved it nonetheless. Sardonic and somehow hopeful. Some strange poetic prose. “We live in a hoof print, dreaming of where the next foot will fall.” I loved it.
Jul 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Brandon, Jim, Davis
Recommended to Vicky by: Because it's Bill Callahan
Shelves: favorites, letters
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. ...more
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. ...more
Aug 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
Don't try to read it as a novel or a poem. Just read it. Callahan has an enviable facility with words.

I will confess, though, that I find his songs more cathartic than "Emma Bowlcut." Personal preference, I guess.
Oct 29, 2014 rated it liked it
"Being in those dentist chairs gives one time to think about one's feet. I have a theory that feet should not be different temperatures, that it causes upset and even illness. In the winter, if I can only find one sock, I wear none."

(pp. 9)
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.
Milly McMurray
Aug 02, 2019 rated it it was ok

I oscillated rapidly between kinda liking and absolutely hating this book.

Bill is obviously very skilled with the written word, as his music and much of this book's content can attest to.

But boy did I dislike the narrator.
Sure, I imagine I'm "supposed to". This character is misogynistic, misanthropic, conceited, and frankly, boring.
I spent the whole time reading this book hoping it wasn't a self insert on Bill's part.

The narrative flow was also disjointed and meandeandering in a way
Matt Benkarski
Jan 01, 2020 rated it liked it
An 80 page epistolary novelette (as opposed to a novella? Apparently just an arbitrary difference in word count earns your story one over the other) thats a quick read while retaining much of the abstract thought, beautiful imagery, and powerful moments of depth in simplistic phrasing and lines of thinking that Bill Callahan is known for as a song writer.
Thomas Coogan
Jan 21, 2021 rated it liked it
I did enjoy reading this but I'm not sure I can recommend it to someone who isn't already a fan of Bill's music. I found certain passages funny and profound but I'm having trouble assessing a deeper meaning to all of it. I'm sure it'll go up in my estimation with a re-read but I'm not itching to dive right back in. ...more
Peter Schutz
Apr 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Painfully beautiful, painfully witty, on the nose similes. very clever throughout, evocative throughout, nicely nebulous and painstakingly petty. half a correspondence and almost certainly the better half.
Oct 18, 2017 is currently reading it
I must be missing something here...
Em Mat
Aug 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Gorgeously written, made me cry two, no three times!
Sean Meagher
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction-modern
Beautiful and unnerving...something to hold onto on every page.
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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

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