Monday, September 28, 2009

Nothing About Love or Pity

You think your life is shit, and then you read Nami Mun’s debut novel, Miles From Nowhere, and you realize you don’t even know what shit is. I read this book in a feverish haze, while sick, and reflected on the comforts of reading about other people’s misery.

(I don’t go in too often for miserable movies; I was pissed as hell at Bjork for Dancer in the Dark, but had it been a book I would have loved it.)

Miles from Nowhere is one of those books that blurbs call “gritty” and “unsentimental” and “bleak” because it deals with homelessness and prostitution, needles and relapses and misplaced love, and it deals with these things honestly. It’s an urban tale about (and by) a Korean woman who moved to the Bronx when she was a girl with a family on the edge of dissolution. It's not that you haven't heard the story before, but have you heard it from a beautiful Korean woman? Mun acknowledges the incongruity and moves on.

I still have a head full of cold, so I'm doing my favorites in bullet point style:

Joon struggles with her addiction (“I was proud of myself for having shot up exactly the right amount. Just enough to see the world without being in it.”);

She struggles with others’ expectations (“I didn’t know what to do with all their hope…Failure had better odds.”);

She struggles with her own expectations (“I had created a new life for myself but I didn’t know what to do with it. Like staring at a finished jigsaw puzzle, where the only thing left to do was mess it up again”). 

It’s maybe not your life, but it’s real life. If you don’t like it, I hear Dan Brown has a new book out.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

the reading is the book

Rifling desperately through the galleys at my all-too-part-time bookstore gig, I came upon Nick Flynn’s new memoir, The Ticking is the Bomb.

Ok, I thought, so you can come up with some good titles. (Referencing his first memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, which I hadn’t read mostly because every other bookseller I worked with at the time had read it. I felt like the market was saturated and I should give my time to something that needed more attention. I never denied that it was a brilliant title.)

Right, so we’ve established the good titles, but the author photo is really bad. Nick Flynn, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you look like a bit of a douche in your author photo. And you’re a poet. And this is your second memoir. Is there really any way, I wonder, that this book is as good as the title? But, my access to fresh galleys is so short at this point I’m like a junkie, shoving all promising titles into my bag until it bulges. In you go.

I go through phases where I don’t read that much, and phases where all I do is read, and right now I’m in an intensive reading period. So I picked up Nick Flynn’s book shortly after bringing it home and opened it with a healthy dose of skepticism.

And wow. Wow. I’m sorry to be writing about this now, because it’s not published until January 2010, and I don’t really want to loan you my copy, because you won’t want to give it back, and I’m not ready to part with it. I read it too damn fast.

You probably want to know what it’s about. I’ve already said that it doesn’t matter what a book is about, but if you have to know, it’s about torture, and fatherhood. It’s about Flynn’s father and it’s about Flynn becoming a father, and it’s about Flynn’s mother’s suicide. It’s about Abu Ghraib and bearing witness. It’s about walking through addiction, about being your addiction, about giving in or not giving in to addiction. It’s about learning how to ask for help and learning how to accept it once you’ve asked. It is beautiful, excruciating, honest writing.

Whatever; I’m telling you, it doesn’t matter what it’s about. What matters is how it makes you feel. The Ticking is the Bomb blew a hole in my stomach, and then filled it, and then ran out before I was ready for it to be gone. Can you get that? Like chain smoking. Like how coffee is always gone before I know it. I wanted to run out and buy Another Bullshit Night in Suck City and read it immediately (more, I need more!), and simultaneously wanted to save it (hoarding is addictive behavior, too). I don’t want to be left with no other books by Nick Flynn to read .

Looks like I’m going to have to start reading poetry. It had to happen eventually.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Gidget Meets Henry Miller

I’ve been trying to write this blog post for months now. It’s been hard because it’s about someone I know and admire, and it’s about a book I really enjoyed, and I want to do it justice, I want to do her justice, and I want it to be more than a book review.

I met Reverend Jen in early 2008 at our mutual day job on the Lower East Side. I went to one of her open mic nights at Bowery Poetry Club (“If you want to see some real avant-garde theater, come to my open mic”). It was raucous and wild and everything I had imagined about New York (I’d been here maybe 4 months).

I continued attending Rev’s shows, but I felt peripheral to the Art Star scene, being new, and not an Art Star, and shy. When I heard about her book deal, I made her promise me a galley, and when I got one, I read it in three days. Live Nude Elf showed me Reverend Jen the person, the one behind Reverend Jen the personality. It’s full of sex, sure, but it’s also full of life and love and pain and passion (for art, for sex, for people).

Reverend Jen, Patron Saint of Art Stars, Patron Saint of Shy Girls, Patron Saint of Anyone Making Their Own Damn Way. Check her out (, read her book, and if you're in New York, come to her open mic at Bowery Poetry on the last Wednesday of every month or visit the Troll Museum in her apartment. She’s everything you think she is, and a whole lot more, besides.