“Technologies of Heartbreak” — Josephine Demme


Illustration for a syllabus by Ben Marcus. (via)

David Foster Wallace Subscribes to The Believer; Can’t Fathom Putting a Postcard in an Envelope


(Source; via; via).

Devoid of Original Content, We Offer Instead These Links

Barbara King has to forget everything she thought she knew about Rick Steves after reviewing his new book Travel as a Political Act at Bookslut. Here’s a taste of her review:

The book is an eye-opener. Steves describes himself as a traveler and “a historian, Christian, husband, parent, carnivore, musician, capitalist, minimalist, member of NORML, and a workaholic.” The marijuana habit (I have discovered) has been headlined for a while now; the reveal here is Steves’s brand of forthright liberalism.

Promising not to “take the edge off” his opinions, Steves embraces geopolitical philosophizing “with the knowledge that good people will respectfully disagree with each other.” Speaking of assumptions, that’s a generous one. Given the mood of a large segment of the American public and Steves’s penchant for pointed passages, anyone care to wager how his fan mail is running?

Ahmad Saidullah reviews Keri Walsh’s compendium The Letters of Sylvia Beach at 3 Quarks Daily. This gives us a chance to plug our own interview with Keri Walsh from last month about the book (See? There’s some original content here after all–even if it’s recycled. Recycling is good, right?)

As part of the new partnership between Salon and McSweeney’s, you can read Nick Hornby’s latest “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” column online. The column has returned to The Believer after a too-long hiatus; it’s easily one of our favorite features in the magazine. It’s also one of the major inspirations for this site.

At The New York Times, Dave Itzkoff uses Kristen Stewart’s reaction shots as a way to review the cultural black hole that was the 2010 MTV Movie Awards. Hilarious.

The New Yorker has begun coverage on their “20 Under 40” collection of writers. The editors on their thought process:

The habit of list-making can seem arbitrary or absurd, leaving the list-makers endlessly open to second-guessing (although to encourage such second-guessing is perhaps the best reason to make lists). Good writing speaks for itself, and it speaks over time; the best writers at work today are the ones our grandchildren and their grandchildren will read. Yet the lure of the list is deeply ingrained. The Ten Commandments, the twelve disciples, the seven deadly sins, the Fantastic Four—they have the appeal of the countable and the contained, even if we suspect that there may have been other, equally compelling commandments, disciples, sins, and superheroes. What we have tried to do, in selecting the writers featured in this issue, is to offer a focussed look at the talent sprouting and blooming around us.

Finally, here’s one of those celebrated writers, Wells Tower, in an interview at a bar:

The Believer’s 2010 Reader Survey: (What Some Jokers Thought Were) The Best Books of 2009

The Believer‘s annual reader survey is always kinda sorta interesting. Here’s the top 20; linked titles go to Biblioklept reviews:

  1. Buffalo Lockjaw—Greg Ames
  2. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned—Wells Tower
  3. Let the Great World Spin—Colum McCann
  4. Invisible—Paul Auster
  5. A Gate at the Stairs—Lorrie Moore
  6. Inherent Vice—Thomas Pynchon
  7. Juliet, Naked—Nick Hornby
  8. Chronic City—Jonathan Lethem
  9. Wolf Hall—Hilary Mantel
  10. The Anthologist—Nicholson Baker
  11. Await Your Reply—Dan Chaon
  12. Ablutions—Patrick deWitt
  13. The Interrogative Mood—Padgett Powell
  14. The Financial Lives of the Poets—Jess Walter
  15. This Is Where I Leave You—Jonathan Tropper
  16. Sag Harbor—Colson Whitehead
  17. The Way Through Doors—Jesse Ball
  18. The Children’s Book—A. S. Byatt
  19. Summertime—J. M. Coetzee
  20. The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet—Reif Larsen

Read the rest of the list–honorable mentions–here. Read Biblioklept’s Best of 2009 list here.

The Believer’s 2009 Reader Survey: (What Some Jokers Thought Were) The Best Books of 2008


The new issue of The Believer showed up in my overstuffed mailbox today. It’s the film issue, featuring a DVD of short films about Jean-Luc Goddard’s travels in the U.S. My second favorite Jean-Luc! (Seriously, Alphaville is great, but it’s no ST:TNG). The issue also features The Believer‘s annual reader survey. Here are the results, from their website, with our parenthetical thoughts and links.


  1. 2666—Roberto Bolaño (This seems pretty obvious. Go, read it, now. Not that awards mater, but it also just won the National Book Critics Circle Award for best fiction).
  2. Unlucky Lucky Days—Daniel Grandbois
  3. Lush Life—Richard Price (After hearing a great interview with Price on NPR, I really wanted to read this book–and I really don’t care for detective fiction. And I never got into The Wire. I guess it’s not really genre fiction though. I guess I should read it).
  4. The Lazarus Project—Aleksandar Hemon
  5. Netherland—Joseph O’Neill (Heard lots of good things about this, but neglected to solicit a copy).
  6. Vacation—Deb Olin Unferth (Haven’t read it. Like her short stories in McSweeney’s though).
  7. Unaccustomed Earth—Jhumpa Lahiri (Unsolicited promo copy of the new trade paperback edition showed up in the mail a few days ago. I will try to read it).
  8. Arkansas—John Brandon
  9. A Mercy—Toni Morrison (This topped my best of 2008 list only because I hadn’t read 2666 yet–to be fair, however, they’re both great, totally different books, so no real reason why one should top another).
  10. Indignation—Philip Roth (Jesus. Do people still read Philip Roth. Who knew?) Continue reading “The Believer’s 2009 Reader Survey: (What Some Jokers Thought Were) The Best Books of 2008”

The Believer’s 2008 Reader Survey: (What Some Jokers Thought Were) The Best Books of 2007

The current issue of The Believer features the results of the reader’s poll, as well as the editor’s top pick, for the best books published in 2007. The editors chose Tom McCarthy’s Remainder, which we haven’t read, and the readers picked Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, probably because the hero is such a nerd. The list follows with our comments; titles are linked to our reviews.

  1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao—Junot Díaz
  2. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union—Michael Chabon: We didn’t like this book and are frankly astounded at all the praise it’s garnered.
  3. The Savage Detectives—Roberto Bolaño: It’s in a stack waiting to be read. The stack is very big though, and the book is very big, so, who knows (in all likelihood it will beat out last year’s reader fave, Pynchon’s impossibly large Against the Day).
  4. Tree of Smoke—Denis Johnson: We loved it. Top pick of the year. Very divisive, strangely–just read through the Amazon reviews.
  5. Then We Came to the End—Joshua Ferris
  6. No One Belongs Here More Than You—Miranda July: Oh my gosh. Seriously? Really? I read half of this at a Barnes & Noble, no exaggeration. I sat and drank coffee and read it. I’m not saying that a book has to take a while to read in order to have weight or substance, but in this particular instance, no, nothing, fluff. This is the kind of thing that people who quit reading after high school mistake for literature.
  7. On Chesil Beach—Ian McEwan: The library has this on CD; I’ll listen to it this summer. I’ve grappled with the first five pages of Atonement too many times to bother, really. And then I saw the movie, and it sucked. So…
  8. Zeroville—Steve Erickson
  9. Like You’d Understand, Anyway—Jim Shepard
  10. Slam—Nick Hornby: We suspect that The Believer‘s readers are partial to Hornby; would they have given another Young Adult novel a nod? We doubt it.
  11. Divisadero—Michael Ondaatje: Also in the stack.
  12. Bowl of Cherries—Millard Kaufman: A pamphlet containing the first three chapters was published as an insert in an issue of McSweeney’s. It was pretty funny.
  13. Varieties of Disturbance—Lydia Davis
  14. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian—Sherman Alexie: This was fantastic. And it was YA! We rescind our Hornby complaint.
  15. The Abstinence Teacher—Tom Perrotta
  16. Call Me by Your Name—André Aciman
  17. After Dark—Haruki Murakami: Murakami is the writer we wished that we love but we just can’t get into. We remember reading some of his short fiction years ago, in Harper’s and other places, but even The Elephant Vanishes was a trial to get through.
  18. Darkmans—Nicola Barker
  19. Diary of a Bad Year—J. M. Coetzee
  20. Falling ManDon DeLillo: Dry, self-important, rarely engaging, and not nearly as good as it was pretending to be, Falling Man was only a step above its dark twin, Cosmopolis. Continue reading “The Believer’s 2008 Reader Survey: (What Some Jokers Thought Were) The Best Books of 2007”

From The Believer: Stephen Elliot’s “The Score”

I have a subscription to The Believer, a magazine I truly love but am consistently unable to finish each month. They just pile up on my coffee table, the site of all sorts of literary flotsam and jetsam. Of course, when I first get each month’s issue, I like to skim through it and read any articles that catch my eye immediately–this is the only way they’ll get read. The tone of the majority of The Believer‘s articles and features tends to be a mix of post-modern pop culture criticism, faux academese, and general smart-assed winking and nodding. Also, they have some pretty great interviews.

Anyway, last month’s issue had a beautifully earnest personal essay by Stephen Elliot called “The Score.” I loved this essay so much that I actually called people to tell them about it. Luckily, The Believer website has the full text of “The Score” for all to read for free. This isn’t the type of essay that will make you smarter or enrich your vocabulary or provide any kind of hipster insights…it’s just a very good personal essay, a genre which I pretty much despise. Elliot discusses his dysfunctional relationship with his ex-girlfriend, drug use, and the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s in an unnerving but oddly affecting manner. Tell me that you don’t love this essay.