Sara's Reviews > It Chooses You

It Chooses You by Miranda July
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Aug 02, 2012

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Recommended to Sara by: The Millions

This is a book about writer’s block. The kind of writer’s block particularly inspired by the internet, where you surf the web and google your own name, or the name of an ex-boyfriend instead of finishing up whatever project it is that you are supposed to be finishing on the same machine.

July’s answer to this sort of writer’s block is to begin answering ads in the paper edition of the Pennysaver, ads selling goods for under ten dollars. And she makes forays into these computerless people’s homes (who else places ads in a newspaper circular, instead of placing them in Craigslist?), interviewing them and photographing them and the things they have for sale. This is where the book is at its most interesting – people at the very margins of the economy are brought into focus with July’s visits, in all their nutty, enterprising, and occasionally disturbing glory. I could have read a book with three times as many visits as she paid, and still not gotten tired of just finding out who exactly is at the other end of that ad for tadpoles or a $10 leather jacket.

But in the end, this is a book about writer’s block, and not about the people she meets, and that is the book’s shortcoming. On the one hand, she is amazingly canny at underscoring the problem with a life conducted as if the internets were the real: “The web seemed so inherently endless that it didn’t occur to me what wasn’t there . . . Domingo’s blog was one of the best I’ve ever read, but I had to drive to him to get it, he had to tell it to me with his whole self, and there was no easy way to search for him. He could be found only accidentally” (160). She recognizes her inadequacy in dealing with the non-internet-mediated world, commenting after one visit “the fullness of [that] life was menacing to me – there was no room for invention, no place for the kind of fictional conjuring that makes me feel useful, or feel anything at all. [The seller] wanted me to just actually be there and eat fruit with her” (99). This is the sort of stunned incompetence I think a lot of us feel, who make our living moving blocks of text around a screen. And July keeps reminding herself to dwell in that moment and feel what it feels like.

But the ending doesn’t dwell in that moment and it left me with a feeling that her Pennysaver interviews wind up being mostly about her career. July thoughtfully acknowledges the possibly exploitative dynamic of her interviews as she narrates them, at one point even admitting that her interest made her kind of “creepy.” But that thoughtfulness evaporates. The conclusion of the book winds up being an incredibly one-note celebration of how the people she met were “genuine” and how, by finding them, she was able to make her own work more authentic. Which felt icky to me, as well as unimaginative. Plenty of people have already told that story before.
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