EDITOR’S NOTE:

Another year has come and gone, and it’s time once again to present The Nobbies, the official book awards of The Nervous Breakdown.

Below you’ll find this year’s winners, our picks for the best books of 2012.

Congrats to the victors, and their publishers.

And thanks, as always, for reading.

-BL

The Rules of Inheritance begins with a mother dying. It is 1996 and Claire Bidwell Smith is eighteen years old. By this time, both of her parents have been diagnosed with cancer, and though her father’s was discovered first, her mother’s was farther along once finally found, too late, for some terrible reason, for many terrible reasons, none of which Claire will know for years, and some never. She receives the call in an unfamiliar bed under the same roof as a boy with whom she yearns to be familiar, but will never be, and not for lack of trying. This moment, many before it, and even many after it, solidify the circumstances that control Claire’s life for years. She is young and wild, uninhibited, restricted, hurt, abandoned. Death, the inevitable loss and end (or physical end) of all things, fills every crack in Claire’s being, the cracks that form following the deaths of both of her parents before she is old enough to fully realize the severity of these events and the consequences that will follow, many of which are self-inflicted.

My father and I spend the two months following my mother’s death sitting around in the living room, until one day he decides that I should to go to Europe to meet my best friend Liz.

We can’t just sit around here smoking and looking at each other, he says.

I know he’s right, but I’m afraid to him leave alone.

Don’t worry about me, he says as if reading my mind.

Is The Rules of Inheritance about how you inherited a bunch of money and acted like a Kardashian?

Sadly, no. It’s more depressing, gritty and uplifting than that. Both of my parents got cancer when I was fourteen. My mother died when I was eighteen and my father when I was twenty-five. I’m an only child and these losses left me very much alone in the world, and going through something that none of my peers had really experienced. The book is kind of a coming-of-age story. It follows me through cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, through various relationships I cultivated with men and with alcohol. It’s definitely a grief memoir, but it’s also a lot more than that. You don’t have to have lost someone to relate to someone who is trying to figure themselves out and fucking up a lot along the way.

 

Aren’t you kind of embarrassed to publish a memoir?

For a long time the word memoir really made me cringe. When people asked what I was working on, I would go to great lengths to avoid that word. I’m actually a big fan of memoirs, but there can be something really trite and embarrassing about them, especially given our culture’s obsession with the intimate details of other people’s lives.

 

So, why did you write a memoir?

Well, when I was grieving and trying to figure out how to move through my life as a young woman without parents, I turned to other people’s stories for answers and solace. These stories often came in the form of memoirs, and I found some of them enormously helpful. That’s all I really want from my book — to help people.

 

For some reason no one has really asked you about the writing style you used in Rules, although it’s kind of unusual. You don’t indent your paragraphs and you don’t use quotation marks. What’s up with that?

It’s true. People like to use the same three words to describe by book: gritty, poetic and heart-wrenching, and they talk a lot about how well the book flows, but no one comments on the liberties I took with the writing style. I don’t indent any of the paragraphs, I let a lot of lines stand alone and I don’t use quotations. A lot of this has to do with the poetic nature of the writing and the way I wanted the language emphasized, but I also just wanted the writing to have a kind of immediacy that I think gets lost with a more formal approach. And I also just felt weird using quotes around sentences that were based on memories.

 

Got it. Makes sense. I heard you’re working on some weird afterlife book now, doing seances and stuff. Is that true?

No seances. Yet. But yes, I’m working on a nonfiction book in which I explore different beliefs about the afterlife in an attempt to work out what I believe for myself. If you call it a spiritual memoir I’ll shoot you. I’ve been doing all kinds of fun stuff for it though — seeing mediums, getting hypnotized to find out about my past lives and taking Kabbalah classes. Stay tuned!

*This is a transcript of the conversation we had with Caroline Leavitt, author of The TNB Book Club‘s January selection, Pictures of You.  It happened on Sunday, January 30, 2011.

 

 

BRAD LISTI (BL): Alright, everybody. We’re back. Welcome. Really pleased to have Caroline Leavitt here with us this month. Her latest novel, Pictures of You, is receiving all kinds of praise and good ink. Its story focuses on the aftermath of a car crash that leaves one woman dead — a survivor’s tale that hits on a variety of compelling themes, including grief, guilt, secrets, and the limits of human forgiveness. Please feel free to offer up questions for Caroline throughout. As always, I’ll be moderating as we go.

Welcome, Caroline!

CAROLINE LEAVITT (CL): Thanks for coming everyone, and thank you, Brad.  Remember: no question is too embarrassing to ask me.

This morning I watched a bird fly into a car in front of me and fall to the asphalt below like a dirty sock that missed the hamper. The bird had been part of a pair, he and his other half swooping down from the trees in the park on the opposite side of the road, as myself and the driver in front of me zoomed by on our way to what was surely some tedious Wednesday destination, mine being work, for which I was already late.

I started to jumble my words on the freeways heading into Chicago. Not truly badly, or to the point where I was nonsensical or in any way reminiscent of Steve Miller Band lyrics, but just enough that alarm bells started to ring.

So, while we were at McDonald’s, getting coffee, on the outskirts of town, Zara gently quizzed me.

‘Hey, what state is Hobart in?’

My mind was a foggy, cotton-wool blank.

‘Um… I know it’s not Western Australia, so maybe it’s… uh… fuck. I have no idea. Where is it?’

‘Tasmania,’ Zara said.

‘Oh! Yeah! Tasmania. That’s right. It’s the capital city of Tasmania. Well, I knew it wasn’t Western Australia.’

Even though there were only ten minutes to go to Gina Frangello’s house, it was unanimously decided at this point that Zara should take over the driving.

*This post is by Greg Boose and Claire Bidwell Smith.


GREG:

It’s common sense; it’s not just something you are told as a child and then realize is bullshit by the time you’re nineteen.

You don’t touch motorcycles that aren’t yours.

If you touch a stranger’s motorcycle, there’s a chance it could fall over.

And after that, only a variation of four situations can play out: