Read an excerpt of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s psychomagical memoir at BOMB Magazine

BOMB has published an excerpt from filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s new memoir Where the Bird Sings Best. An excerpt of the excerpt:

In those good old days, Salvador Arcavi, the first of a long series of Salvadors—traditionally all his descendants had the same name—though respectful of the Holy Book, decided he was not to going to be a prisoner to its letters. Following the prophecy Jacob made to his son (“Your hand will be on the neck of your enemy. Your father’s sons will bow down to you. Judah is a young lion.”), he became a lion tamer. His way to draw nearer to God was to study those beasts and to live an itinerant life, giving performances in which his union with his animals surpassed the limits of reality and reached the miraculous. The lions jumped through flaming hoops, balanced on the tight rope, danced on their hind legs, climbed up on one another to form a pyramid, spelled out the name of a spectator by choosing wooden letters, and, the greatest test, accepted within their jaws without hurting it the head of the tamer, then dragged him through the sawdust to draw a six-pointed star.

My ancestor had a simple method for making the beasts love him: he never forced them to do anything, and he made their training into a game. Whenever they wanted to eat, he fed them, and if they decided not to eat, he did not insist. If they wanted to sleep, he let them, and if they were rutting, he let them fornicate without distraction. He adopted the rhythm of the animals with care and tenderness. He let his hair grow into a mane, he ate raw meat, and he slept naked in the cage embracing his lions.

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. (Book Acquired, 11.18.2014)

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This one looks pretty good: Viv Albertine’s memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. U.S. publisher St. Martin’s Press’s blurb:

Viv Albertine is a pioneer. As lead guitarist and songwriter for the seminal band The Slits, she influenced a future generation of artists including Kurt Cobain and Carrie Brownstein. She formed a band with Sid Vicious and was there the night he met Nancy Spungeon. She tempted Johnny Thunders…toured America with the Clash…dated Mick Jones…and inspired the classic Clash anthem “Train in Vain.” But Albertine was no mere muse. In Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys., Albertine delivers a unique and unfiltered look at a traditionally male-dominated scene.

Her story is so much more than a music memoir. Albertine’s narrative is nothing less than a fierce correspondence from a life on the fringes of culture. The author recalls rebelling from conformity and patriarchal society ever since her days as an adolescent girl in the same London suburb of Muswell Hill where the Kinks formed. With brash honesty—and an unforgiving memory—Albertine writes of immersing herself into punk culture among the likes of the Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks. Of her devastation when the Slits broke up and her reinvention as a director and screenwriter. Or abortion, marriage, motherhood, and surviving cancer. Navigating infidelity and negotiating divorce. And launching her recent comeback as a solo artist with her debut album, The Vermilion Border.

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. is a raw chronicle of music, fashion, love, sex, feminism, and more that connects the early days of punk to the Riot Grrl movement and beyond. But even more profoundly, Viv Albertine’s remarkable memoir is the story of an empowered woman staying true to herself and making it on her own in the modern world.

Emmanuelle Guattari’s Memoir (Book Acquired, 9.15.2014)

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I read about half of this yesterday. I, Little Asylum by Emmanuelle Guattari. Publisher Semiotext(e)/MIT’s blurb:

A moment later, Lacan is chattering with me, and giving me some crayons to draw with.
—from I, Little Asylum

Founded in 1951 and renowned in the world of psychiatry, the experimental psychiatric clinic of La Borde sought to break with the traditional internment of the mentally ill and to have them participate in the material organization of collective life. The clinic owed much of its approach to psychoanalyst and philosopher Félix Guattari, who was its codirector with Jean Oury until 1992. In this lyrical chronicle of a childhood at La Borde, Félix Guattari’s daughter Emanuelle Guattari offers a series of impressionistic vignettes drawn from her own experiences.

As a child whose parents worked in the clinic, Emanuelle Guattari (“Manou”) experienced La Borde–which is housed in a castle in the middle of a spacious park–as a place not of confinement but of imagination and play. She evokes a landscape that is surreal but also mundane, describing the fat monkey named Boubou her father kept at the clinic, interactions between the “La Borde kids” and the “Residents” (aka, the “Insane,” feared by the locals), the ever fascinating rainbow-hued “shit pit” on the grounds, and prank-calls to the clinic switchboard. And, of course, there is Félix Guattari himself, at the dinner table, battling a rat, and in his daughter’s dreams. Emmanuelle Guattari’s tale of childlike wonder offers a poetic counterpoint to the writings of her father and his intellectual circle.

Dmitry Samarov’s Where To? (Book Acquired, 8.22.2014)

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Where To? A Hack Memoir is Dmitry Samarov’s sequel to Hack.

Publisher Curbside Splendor’s blurb:

Dmitry Samarov’s illustrated memoir captures encounters with drunken passengers, overbearing cops, unreasonable city bureaucracy, his fellow cabdrivers, a few potholes, and other unexpectedly beautiful moments. Accompanied by dozens of Samarov’s original artworks—composed during traffic jams, waits at the airport, and lulls in his shifts—the stories in Where To? provide a street-level view of America from the perspective of an immigrant painter driving a cab for money.

I interviewed Dmitry about his art and his writing a few years ago, and he described Hack:

Hack started as a zine around 2000 as a way for me to make sense of my three years driving a cab in Boston (1993-1997). It was called Hack because the license to operate a taxi in Boston was called a Hackney Carriage License and they used to call cabbies hacks in the old days. It was my first attempt at writing outside of school homework assignments and there really wasn’t much writing, it was mostly pictures. Those pictures were a challenge too because, as I’ve said, I work primarily from direct observation and the only way to do these were from memory. These illustrations were made to work together with the words, not to stand on their own and that has continued to be the case through the whole history of Hack.

I started driving a taxi in Chicago in 2003 and revived Hack as a blog late in 2006. To my surprise, it got notice pretty quickly from some in the local press—Whet Moser, then of theChicago Reader especially—-and my high school pal John Hodgman mentioning it in a magazine didn’t hurt either. That got it noticed by a publicist at University of Chicago Press named Levi Stahl. He bought a copy of my self-published compilation (see the third one down) and eventually pitched Hack as a book to his employers. They published it in October 2011.

With or Without You (Book Acquired, 2.24.2014)

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Domenica Ruta’s memoir With or Without You is new in trade paperback next week from Random House. Their blurb:

Domenica Ruta grew up in a working-class, unforgiving town north of Boston, in a trash-filled house on a dead-end road surrounded by a river and a salt marsh. Her mother, Kathi, a notorious local figure, was a drug addict and sometimes dealer whose life swung between welfare and riches, and whose highbrow taste was at odds with her hardscrabble life. And yet she managed, despite the chaos she created, to instill in her daughter a love of stories. Kathi frequently kept Domenica home from school to watch such classics as theGodfather movies and everything by Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, telling her, “This is more important. I promise. You’ll thank me later.” And despite the fact that there was not a book to be found in her household, Domenica developed a love of reading, which helped her believe that she could transcend this life of undying grudges, self-inflicted misfortune, and the crooked moral code that Kathi and her cohorts lived by.
 
With or Without You is the story of Domenica Ruta’s unconventional coming of age—a darkly hilarious chronicle of a misfit ’90s youth and the necessary and painful act of breaking away, and of overcoming her own addictions and demons in the process. In a brilliant stylistic feat, Ruta has written a powerful, inspiring, compulsively readable, and finally redemptive story about loving and leaving.

Son of a Gun (Book Acquired, 8.5.2013)

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Son of a Gun, Justin St. Germain’s memoir, explores the life and death of his mother, who was killed by her fifth husband. Here’s publisher Random House’s blurb:

Tombstone, Arizona, September 2001. Debbie St. Germain’s death in her remote trailer, apparently at the hands of her fifth husband, is a passing curiosity. “A real-life old West murder mystery,” the local TV announcers intone before the commercial break, while barroom gossips snicker cruelly. But for her twenty-year-old son, Justin St. Germain, the tragedy marks the line that separates his world into before and after.

Justin decides to confront people from his past and delve into the police records in an attempt to make sense of his mother’s life and death. All the while he tries to be the type of man she would have wanted him to be. Brutally honest and beautifully written, Son of a Gun is a brave, unexpected and unforgettable memoir.

Here’s Publishers Weekly’s write-up:

A young man wrestles with his heartache over his mother’s murder in this lacerating memoir of family dysfunction. St. Germain was a 20-year-old college student when his mother Debbie was shot to death in 2001 by her fifth husband in a desolate trailer in the Arizona desert, a disaster that threw into sharp relief the chaos of his working-class background. St. Germain revisits Debbie’s unstable life as an Army paratrooper and businesswoman, the string of men she took up with (some physically abusive), and his own boyhood resentment at their presence and at incessant domestic upheaval. Intertwined is a jaundiced, somewhat self-conscious meditation on St. Germain’s claustrophobic hometown of Tombstone—all sun-bleached ennui, arid hardpan, and tourist kitsch—and its presiding spirit, Wyatt Earp, archetype of the violent, trigger-happy machismo that he blames for killing his mother, yet feels drawn to as a touchstone of manhood. St. Germain makes harsh judgments of the men in his past (as well as of his sullen, callous adolescent self), but as he seeks them out later, he arrives, almost against his will, at a subtler appreciation of their complexities. At times his trauma feels more dutiful than deeply felt, but his memoir vividly conveys the journey from youthful victimization toward mature understanding.

 

Mother Daughter Me (Book Acquired, 7.08.2013)

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Mother Daughter Me is Katie Hafner’s memoir, new in hardback from Random House. Their blurb:

The complex, deeply binding relationship between mothers and daughters is brought vividly to life in Katie Hafner’s remarkable memoir, an exploration of the year she and her mother, Helen, spent working through, and triumphing over, a lifetime of unresolved emotions.

Dreaming of a “year in Provence” with her mother, Katie urges Helen to move to San Francisco to live with her and Zoë, Katie’s teenage daughter. Katie and Zoë had become a mother-daughter team, strong enough, Katie thought, to absorb the arrival of a seventy-seven-year-old woman set in her ways.

Filled with fairy-tale hope that she and her mother would become friends, and that Helen would grow close to her exceptional granddaughter, Katie embarked on an experiment in intergenerational living that she would soon discover was filled with land mines: memories of her parents’ painful divorce, of her mother’s drinking, of dislocating moves back and forth across the country,  and of Katie’s own widowhood and bumpy recovery. Helen, for her part, was also holding difficult issues at bay.

How these three women from such different generations learn to navigate their challenging, turbulent, and ultimately healing journey together makes for riveting reading. By turns heartbreaking and funny—and always insightful—Katie Hafner’s brave and loving book answers questions about the universal truths of family that are central to the lives of so many.

Aftermath (Book Acquired, 7.08.2013)

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When a review copy of Rachel Cusk’s memoir Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation (new in trade paperback from Picador) showed up the other day, a dim bulb went off—where did I know Cusk’s name? I’m not generally a fan of the memoir, so I doubt I’d read it. And then! Aha! Yes—it was a review of Cusk’s memoir that won Camilla Long this year’s “Hatchet Job of the Year” award.

From Long’s review (originally published in The Sunday Times):

The book is crammed with mad, flowery metaphors and hifalutin creative-writing experiments. There are hectic passages on Greek tragedy and the Christian concept of family, as well as fragments of ghost stories, references to the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy, and heavy Freudian symbolism, including a long description of the removal of a molar, “a large tooth,” she writes portentously, “of great…personal significance”. The final chapter is an out-of-body experience — her situation seen through the eyes of her pill-popping Eastern European au pair. Oddly, I read the whole thing in a Bulgarian accent.

I don’t know, that sounds pretty weird. Kinda intrigues me.

 

Still Points North (Book Acquired, 3.02.2013)

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Still Points North is Leigh Newman’s new memoir about growing up in Alaska. Publisher Random House’s blurb:

Part adventure story, part love story, part homecoming, Still Points North is a page-turning memoir that explores the extremes of belonging and exile, and the difference between how to survive and knowing how to truly live.

Growing up in the wilds of Alaska, seven-year-old Leigh Newman spent her time landing silver salmon, hiking glaciers, and flying in a single-prop plane. But her life split in two when her parents unexpectedly divorced, requiring her to spend summers on the tundra with her “Great Alaskan” father and the school year in Baltimore with her more urbane mother.

Navigating the fraught terrain of her family’s unraveling, Newman did what any outdoorsman would do: She adapted. With her father she fished remote rivers, hunted caribou, and packed her own shotgun shells. With her mother she memorized the names of antique furniture, composed proper bread-and-butter notes, and studied Latin poetry at a private girl’s school. Charting her way through these two very different worlds, Newman learned to never get attached to people or places, and to leave others before they left her. As an adult, she explored the most distant reaches of the globe as a travel writer, yet had difficulty navigating the far more foreign landscape of love and marriage.

In vivid, astonishing prose, Newman reveals how a child torn between two homes becomes a woman who both fears and idealizes connection, how a need for independence can morph into isolation, and how even the most guarded heart can still long for understanding. Still Points North is a love letter to an unconventional Alaskan childhood of endurance and affection, one that teaches us that no matter where you go in life, the truest tests of courage are the chances you take, not with bears and blizzards, but with other people.

 

 

Andrei Tarkovsky: The Collector of Dreams (Book Acquired, 12.29.2012)

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Layla Alexander-Garrett’s memoir Andrei Tarkovsky: The Collector of Dreams is new from Glagoslav. Their blurb:

The Sacrifice is Andrei Tarkovsky’s final masterpiece. The film was shot in Sweden, during the summer of 1985, while Tarkovsky was in exile; it turned out to be his final testament. Day after day, while the film was being made, Layla Alexander-Garrett – Tarkovsky’s on-site interpreter – kept a diary which forms the basis of her award-winning book Andrei Tarkovsky: The Collector Of Dreams. In this book the great director is portrayed as a real, living person: tormented, happy, inexhaustibly kind but at times harsh, unrelenting, conscience-stricken and artistically unfulfilled.

I’ve been riffling through it over the past few days. Alexander-Garrett describes her time with Tarkovsky in vivid detail—there’s a concrete richness to the book, and the author doesn’t try to psychoanalyze or interpret or otherwise interpose herself between the reader and the subject. More to come.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Memoir — In the House of the Interpreter (Book Acquired, 10.24.2012)

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In the House of the Interpreter is a memoir from Ngugi wa Thiong’o. It’s new next month in hardback from Pantheon (lovely cover/design, on this one, Pantheon people. Seriously). Their blurb:

World-renowned Kenyan novelist, poet, playwright, and literary critic Ng˜ug˜ý wa Thiong’o gives us the second volume of his memoirs in the wake of his critically acclaimed Dreams in a Time of War.

In the House of the Interpreter richly and poignantly evokes the author’s life and times at boarding school—the first secondary educational institution in British-ruled Kenya—in the 1950s, against the backdrop of the tumultuous Mau Mau Uprising for independence and Kenyan sovereignty. While Ng˜ug˜ý has been enjoying scouting trips, chess tournaments, and reading about the fictional RAF pilot adventurer Biggles at the prestigious Alliance High School near Nairobi, things have been changing rapidly at home. Poised as he is between two worlds, Ng˜ug˜ý returns home for his first visit since starting school to find his house razed and the entire village moved up the road, closer to a guard checkpoint. Later, his brother Good Wallace, a member of the insurgency, is captured by the British and taken to a concentration camp. As for Ng˜ug˜ý himself, he falls victim to the forces of colonialism in the person of a police officer encountered on a bus journey, and he is thrown into jail for six days. In his second year at Alliance High School, the boarding school that was his haven in a heartless world is shattered by investigations, charges of disloyalty, and the politics of civil unrest.

In the House of the Interpreter hauntingly describes the formative experiences of a young man who would become a world-class writer and, as a political dissident, a moral compass to us all. It is a winning celebration of the implacable determination of youth and the power of hope.

 

I Didn’t Like Joshua Cody’s Memoir [sic]

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Joshua Cody’s memoir [sic] showed up at Biblioklept World Headquarters a few weeks ago and despite my prejudices, I coasted through it over a few afternoons.

Those prejudices:

1) It’s a memoir.

2) There’s a Jonathan Franzen blurb on the cover.

3) The title [sic] is an unbearably too-clever pun (and this from a guy who loves puns).

The first thing I noticed about [sic] were the pictures : paintings, maps, charts, sketches, lists, collages, other texts, and so on interspersed throughout the text. I like pictures in books.

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The way that Cody uses these illustrations at first reminded me of  W.G. Sebald, who employed pictures in novels like Austerlitz and The Rings of Saturn in an oblique, documentary approach.

Cody is less oblique than Sebald, and perhaps flippant too. He doesn’t namecheck Sebald, at any rate, unlike David Byrne, who openly admitted to following Sebald’s path in his 2008 memoir Bicycle Diaries. (Cody does namecheck David Byrne though).

Then I edged my way into the plot, such as it is. I’ll lazily let publisher W.W. Norton summarize:

Joshua Cody, a brilliant young composer, was about to receive his PhD when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Facing a bone marrow transplant and full radiation, he charts his struggle: the fury, the tendency to self-destruction, and the ruthless grasping for life and sensation; the encounter with beautiful Ariel, who gives him cocaine and a blow job in a Manhattan restaurant following his first treatment; the detailed morphine fantasy complete with a bride called Valentina while, in reality, hospital staff are pinning him to his bed.

Moving effortlessly between references to Don Giovanni and the Rolling Stones, Ezra Pound and Buffalo Bill, and studded with pages from his own diaries and hospital notebooks, [sic] is a mesmerizing, hallucinatory glimpse into a young man’s battle against disease and a celebration of art, language, music, and life.

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As Norton’s summary suggests, Cody’s memoir is highly discursive and playful, loaded with references to art, music, and literature. Digressions on figures like David Foster Wallace, Orson Welles, or Alexander Theroux lard the book—indeed, they often seem to edge out the story Cody intends to tell, his cancer memoir. He seems reticent to fully engage his own feelings, instead layering reference upon reference. These references become insufferable at times—are we supposed to care that Cody met David Lynch and would like to be his friend, or that Cody briefly studied ancient Greek? Cody is so busy trying to impress the reader that he forgets to express meaning.

We see this reticence, this turning away from, here over two pages: Cody moves from a story about buying a facsimile copy of Pound’s original draft of The Waste Land to a lengthy footnote that manages to name drop James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Woody Allen, Anaïs Nin, and Henry Miller (in just two sentences!) and then into a facsimile reproduction of one of the stories his brother would write for him as a child:

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The big problem with Cody’s memoir is that it never feels particularly real. I enjoy discursive referential postmodernism as much as the next fella, but [sic] often fails to cohere around a central idea, let alone an emotion. When Cody describes dating a stripper/dominatrix, it feels like a party trick, an inflated anecdote—there’s no emotional core, no contemplative connection to his illness. Other sexual episodes read like a parody of Henry Miller.

As its title suggests, [sic] is a dodge, a bait-and-switch, an evasion. Cody is clearly very clever—but a dazzling display of cleverness can’t sustain a narrative.

Paul Auster’s Winter Journal (Book Acquired Some Time Over the July 4th Holiday)

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I was pleasantly surprised to find Paul Auster’s forthcoming memoir Winter Journal in the mail after being away for a week. I had mixed feelings about Auster’s last novel Sunset Park, but I dig his nonfiction, and I opened Winter Journal randomly to an episode where the adolescent Auster loses his virginity to a hooker in a passage that’s both tender and funny, so this one seems promising. (It’s also written entirely in the second person pronoun).

Publisher Henry Holt’s blurb:

Facing his sixty-third winter, internationally acclaimed novelist Paul Auster sits down to write a history of his body and its sensations—both pleasurable and painful.

Thirty years after the publication of The Invention of Solitude, in which he wrote so movingly about fatherhood, Auster gives us a second unconventional memoir in which he writes about his mother’s life and death. Winter Journal is a highly personal meditation on the body, time, and memory, by one of our most intellectually elegant writers.

Despair/Food (Books Acquired 6.08.2012)

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 Dead Man Working is the latest from Carl Cederström (whose discussions with Simon Critchley became How to Stop Living and Start Worrying) and Peter Fleming. The book explores the existential despair of workers in our post-capitalist age. (It’s funnier than that description might suggest). Publisher Zer0’s blurb:

Capitalism has become strange. Ironically, while the ‘age of work’ seems to have come to an end, working has assumed a total presence – a ‘worker’s society’ in the worst sense of the term – where everyone finds themselves obsessed with it. So what does the worker tell us today? ‘I feel drained, empty – dead'; This book tells the story of the dead man working. It follows this figure through the daily tedium of the office, to the humiliating mandatory team building exercise, to awkward encounters with the funky boss who pretends to hate capitalism and tells you to be authentic. In this society, the experience of work is not of dying…but neither of living. It is one of a living death. And yet, the dead man working is nevertheless compelled to wear the exterior signs of life, to throw a pretty smile, feign enthusiasm and make a half-baked joke. When the corporation has colonized life itself, even our dreams, the question of escape becomes ever more pressing, ever more desperate.

Full review on deck.

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Yes, Chef is Marcus Samuelsson’s memoir. If that name sounds familiar, you might recognize his face:

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Publisher Random House’s blurb:

Marcus Samuelsson was only three years old when he, his mother, and his sister—all battling tuberculosis—walked seventy-five miles to a hospital in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Adaba. Tragically, his mother succumbed to the disease shortly after she arrived, but Marcus and his sister recovered, and one year later they were welcomed into a loving middle-class white family in Göteborg, Sweden. It was there that Marcus’s new grandmother, Helga, sparked in him a lifelong passion for food and cooking with her pan-fried herring, her freshly baked bread, and her signature roast chicken. From a very early age, there was little question what Marcus was going to be when he grew up.

Yes, Chef chronicles Marcus Samuelsson’s remarkable journey from Helga’s humble kitchen to some of the most demanding and cutthroat restaurants in Switzerland and France, from his grueling stints on cruise ships to his arrival in New York City, where his outsize talent and ambition finally come together at Aquavit, earning him a coveted New York Times three-star rating at the age of twenty-four. But Samuelsson’s career of  “chasing flavors,” as he calls it, had only just begun—in the intervening years, there have been White House state dinners, career crises, reality show triumphs and, most important, the opening of the beloved Red Rooster in Harlem. At Red Rooster, Samuelsson has fufilled his dream of creating a truly diverse, multiracial dining room—a place where presidents and prime ministers rub elbows with jazz musicians, aspiring artists, bus drivers, and nurses. It is a place where an orphan from Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, living in America, can feel at home.

With disarming honesty and intimacy, Samuelsson also opens up about his failures—the price of ambition, in human terms—and recounts his emotional journey, as a grown man, to meet the father he never knew. Yes, Chef is a tale of personal discovery, unshakable determination, and the passionate, playful pursuit of flavors—one man’s struggle to find a place for himself in the kitchen, and in the world.

Books Acquired, 1.17.2012—Or, Here’s What’s New from Picador This Month

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The kind people at Picador sent me a box of books, including a memoir (Margaux Fragoso’s Tiger, Tiger), a few novels (The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan; Ralph Sassone’s The Intimates; Alan Glynn’s noir thriller Bloodland; Dieter Schlesak’s The Druggist of Auschwitz, which purports to be a “documentary novel”; and Zoë Heller’s first novel, Everything You Know), and a work of political science (Ari Berman’s Herding Donkeys).

A box of books is a bit overwhelming, but I make it a point to spend some time with every book that comes into Biblioklept World Headquarters. Here’s some thoughts on these.

I actually ended up reading almost all of The Lover’s Dictionary, despite it having the word “lover” in the title, which, jeez. When my wife picked it up, she said something like, “How can they call this a novel?” — fair question, because the book is structured like a dictionary. In point of illustration:

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I’ve got a bigger post on Levithan’s book coming up, one that tries to situate it in the context of other non-novelly novels—but in short it is a novel, a very contemporary one that tells the oldest story in the proverbial book (boy meets girl) in an elliptical way that suits our post-information age. Like I said more to come, but for now: The Lover’s Dictionary is funny, occasionally cruel, too-often saccharine, awfully real, sometimes deeply flawed, but consistently engaging (sorry for all the adverbs).

I imagine Margaux Fragoso’s memoir Tiger, Tiger will capture the fascination of a large audience, but half an hour of the book was almost more than I could bear. Not because Fragoso can’t write—far from it, in fact—but her subject matter, which is to say her stolen childhood, is rendered too raw,   too real for me; there’s nothing pulpy or lurid about Fragoso’s work, nor is there the aesthetic sheen of Lolita to gloss any of the ugly, sordid details.  Kathryn Harrison ponders the question of Tiger, Tiger’s audience in her favorable review at The New York Times:

So who — other than voyeurs looking for a sustained close-up of a pedophile in action — will want to read this book? To bear witness to a numbingly long series of violations of a child by a man who has honed his wickedness for decades is not more pleasant than it sounds. As a society we energetically oppose sexual abuse; as individuals most of us shy away from investigating a relationship characterized by creepy kisses and inappropriate fondling. Worse, we defend cowardice by calling it discretion — minding our own business. Maybe a book like “Tiger, Tiger” can help us be a little braver. Certainly, it took courage to write.

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Ralph Sassone’s The Intimates: sex scenes (straight and gay); lots of notations about parents; lots of characters.

Dieter Schlesak’s The Druggist of Auschwitz: This “documentary novel” blends actual testimony from the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial, interviews with camp guards and prisoners, and fictional narrative to tell the true story of Dr. Victor Capesius, an SS officer who worked with Mengele. The book is less gimmicky than it sounds in this description, and if its documentary elements are blunter and less ambiguous than W.G. Sebald’s historical fragments, I suppose that’s what the subject matter merits.

Alan Glynn’s new novel Bloodland (a Picador paperback original) is a noirish thriller set against the backdrop of political and corporate intrigue. Glynn writes with terse immediacy, telegraphing the plot in short punchy sentences that recall James Ellroy (without the finnicky slang). The book reads almost like a movie script, vivid and concrete. It’s a fast-paced page turner with a smart plot, just the sort of thing one wants from a thriller.

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Herding Donkeys by Ari Berman: Honestly not my thing, but if you want to read about the DNC from the time of Howard Dean to the rise of Barrack Obama, this is probably a book for you.

Zoë Heller’s Everything You Know: This is new in paperback again after over a decade. The story focuses on a cantankerous, unlikable son-of-a-bitch named Willy Muller. Things aren’t going well for him: he’s just suffered a heart attack, his daughter’s committed suicide, and the public still believes he murdered his wife. No wonder he hates humanity. Heller is probably most famous for her novel Notes on a Scandal, which was adapted into an excellent film in 2006.

Biblioklept’s picks: The Lover’s Dictionary; Tiger, Tiger; Bloodland.

Book Acquired, 12.12.2011

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Michael Frayn’s memoir My Father’s Fortune. Publisher Picador’s (trade paperback) description:

Winner of the PEN/Ackerley Prize

Award-winning playwright and novelist Michael Frayn “makes the family memoir his own” (The Daily Telegraph) as he tells the story of his father, Tom Frayn. A clever lad, an asbestos salesman with a winning smile and a racetrack vocabulary, Tom Frayn emerged undaunted from a childhood spent in two rooms with six other people, all of them deaf. And undaunted he stayed, through German rockets, feckless in-laws, and his own increasing deafness; through the setback of a son as bafflingly slow-witted as the father was quick on his feet; through the shockingly sudden tragedy that darkened his life. As Peter Kemp wrote in The Sunday Times (London), “Frayn has never written with more searching brilliance than in his quest for his past.”

In Brief — New Books from Gabrielle Hamilton, Meg Howrey, and Frances Stonor Saunders

The memoir-in-food is something of a cliché at this point, but Gabrielle Hamilton’s new book Blood, Bones & Butter came with enough accolades (including a glowing blurb from Anthony Bourdain) and positive early reviews (like Kakutani’s at The NYT) for me to spend a few hours thumbing through it. Much has been made of Hamilton’s writing bona fides (an MFA in fiction writing from University of Michigan), and while she can put a sentence together without relying on the stock phrases and tropes that lard most memoirs these days, that skill wouldn’t really matter if she didn’t have a tale to tell. Blood, Bones & Butter follows a strange culinary career (it’s subtitled The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef), complete with drug abuse, theft, and, of course cooking. Only I wish there was more cooking, more time in the kitchen, the butcher’s, the market. Instead, Hamilton seems to channel her (often mean-spirited) energy on her family; her parents’ divorce hangs over the narrative like a Greek tragedy, and her own attitude toward her husband is bizarre, to say the least. The results are mixed, but fans of food-writing à la Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential will likely enjoy Blood, Bones & Butter. New in hardback from Random House.

Meg Howrey’s new novel Blind Sight tells the story of Luke Prescott, a bright, introspective seventeen year old obsessed with brain biology. Raised by a hippie mother and two half-sisters, Luke gets the opportunity to the summer before college with his estranged father, a famous television star. In Los Angeles, Luke gets to know his father better, sorting out the difference between public persona and private truth; this process in turn leads Luke to re-evaluate his own sense of identity. There’s also some pot-smoking and sex. Howrey moves the narrative between Luke’s first-person voice (in the past tense) to a third person present tense narrator. At times this disjunction seems like a lazy shorthand to allow the reader to see something Luke can’t see (or doesn’t want the reader to see), but it works nicely on the whole, underlining the gaps between truth and belief that the novel seeks to explore. Blind Sight is new in hardback from Pantheon.

In The Woman Who Shot Mussolini, Frances Stonor Saunders plays historical detective, reconstructing the story of Violet Gibson, who fired on Mussolini in April of 1926 (she grazed his nose). Gibson, the daughter of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, was 50 when she shot Mussolini, and perhaps more than a little crazy. She was almost lynched after shooting Il Duce, but the not-so-benevolent dictator pardoned her, and she was quickly returned to England, where she spent the rest of her life in an insane asylum. Saunders’s book explores whether Gibson’s attack was the motivation of an insane woman or part of a bigger conspiracy theory, illustrating her mystery with poignant black and white photos. And although Saunders focuses on the little-known Gibson, she works to draw parallels between the would-be assassin and Mussolini. Saunders’s exploration of an otherwise unremarked upon episode balances historical scholarship with the pacing and rhythm of an historical thriller. New in trade paperback edition from Picador.

Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other — NPR’s Scott Simon’s New Memoir in Praise of Adoption

If you listen to NPR, you’re likely familiar with Scott Simon, host of Weekend Edition. In his new memoir Baby We Were Meant for Each Other, Simon shares his own experiences adopting two girls from China, his daughters Elise and Lina. In addition to sharing his own story, Simon highlights moving tales from a dozen other families, including sportswriter Frank Deford and Freakonomics author Steve Levitt. Simon mixes pathos and humor and his detailed, unflinching narrative is deeply emotional without ever coming across as maudlin or mawkish. While an argument for adoption seems to be relatively common sense, Simon reveals that the process is declining in America, largely because of advances in fertility science. He also makes an impassioned case against China’s one-child policy as a human rights crime against women. In a recent profile at Bookpage, Simon said “The Chinese permit an astonishingly small percentage of orphaned and abandoned children to be adopted. To me, that is absolutely flabbergasting. The government policy on adoption is addressing political, economic and social goals that have almost nothing to do with the best interests of children. Now that we have two little girls from China who are part of our family, we need to speak out about it.” At first glance Simon’s memoir will likely resonate mostly with those who’ve experienced adoption first-hand, but a closer look reveals a narrative that taps into an experience that we all share–what it means to part of a family. Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other is new in hardback from Random House.

New(ish) Memoirs from Nathan Rabin, Sloane Crosley, and James Ellroy

Nearly a  year after earning good reviews, Nathan Rabin’s memoir The Big Rewind is now available in paperback (the cover sports the claim that the book now includes “EVEN MORE BITING WIT AND UNWISE CANDOR”). Rabin, if you don’t know, is the head writer for the AV Club, a website I am hopelessly addicted to; he’s also responsible for some of the site’s best regular columns, including “My Year of Flops,” where he revisits films that, y’know, flopped, “THEN! That’s What They Called Music!,” where he subjects himself to listening to and writing about those NOW! CDs, and “Nashville or Bust,” a year-long analysis of country music from an avowed hip-hop fan. If I sound prejudicially predisposed to liking Rabin’s memoir, I am. I can’t help it. In The Big Rewind, Rabin revisits the various pop culture touchstones through which he lived his strange, often sad life–so Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs becomes the lens through which he details his thankless years working for Blockbuster and Nirvana’s In Utero is a key to understanding Rabin’s time in a group foster home. There’s a story arc–depression, a missing mother, suicide attempts, redemption–and plenty of irony to keep it under control. At the same time, there’s too much heart in Rabin’s writing for you not to care. Recommended. The Big Rewind is new in trade paperback from Scribner.

Sloane Crosley’s new collection of memory essays, How Did You Get This Number, finds the witty, observational young lass being witty and observational in and out of New York City–but mostly in. There are trips to Portugal and Paris, and a weird wedding in Alaska. There’s a remembrance of all the childhood pets that didn’t make it. There’s a story about buying furniture of questionable origin off the back of a truck. At times Crosley’s archness can be grating, as dry observations pile one upon the other, but her gift for exacting, sharp detail and her willingness to let her guard down at just the right moment in most of the selections make for a funny and compelling read. I’m still not sure why there’s no question mark in the title, though. How Did You Get This Number is new in hardback from Riverhead Books.

I just got my advance review copy of James Ellroy’s forthcoming memoir The Hilliker Curse, so I haven’t had time to read much of it, but the story so far is morbidly fascinating (like, you know, an Ellroy novel. But this is real. Because it’s a memoir). In 1958, James’s mother Jean Hilliker had divorced her husband and begun binge drinking. When she hit him one night, the ten year old boy wished that she would die. Three months later she was found murdered on the side of the road–the case remains unsolved. The memoir details Ellroy’s extreme guilt; his sincere belief that he had literally cursed his mother pollutes his life, particularly in his complex relationships with women. Full review forthcoming. The Hilliker Curse is available September 7th, 2010 from Knopf.