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 2011.

Congrats to the victors, and their publishers.

And thanks, as always, for reading.

-BL

I was moving down Broadway in a state of diminished intelligence, looking one way and another. I could have been a homeless. I imagine the ghosts of Indians wandering, lost in Manhattan, in loincloths, paint on their cheeks, stunned the way I am, crippled in their hearts by the height of what towers remain. Asking where the forests have gone to and concerned about game and survival, awed by these vehicles rumbling, awed by the light from the sky…

“Game” is a word I should note.

Notepad I should have.

I have to live life differently.

Heh.

Don’t we all?

I need two phalluses next time around.

A person should have a Ferrari.

Scratch: a person should have the wisdom you get from Ferrari ownership.

I was still carrying the glove. It was a heavy workman’s glove found under a mailbox some number of blocks uptown. I must have spent three minutes on my knees wondering if I should take it—looked like a pretty swell glove.

At the corner of Twenty-fifth, I saw a hotel to the right. I was clutching the glove, backpack weighing on my shoulder, standing on the sidewalk outside of a Comfort Inn. It had been a residential building sometime in the past. Pale stone, redbrick. You could tell from the outside it would have to have one of those impoverished elevators inside, small as a phone booth and no sturdier.

I dropped the glove on the steps going in. I’d almost brought it with me to the front desk—my brain wasn’t well. The priority was not to go home.

The guy responded quickly to the bell. “Yes?”

“You have rooms?”

He said, “Yes.”

“What’s the rate?”

It was $229. I stood thinking, touching the counter with one hand and looking down. Then I said, “Thank you. Good night.”

“Good luck, sir.”

I stepped on the glove going out. I walked back to Broadway, continued downtown. A Comfort Inn is a Comfort Inn is a dump whether they charge $230 or $60. A cab home would cost $18, net of tip; people go home at the end of their days. I know all the basic procedures. Brush your teeth and floss. Mumble to your spouse and grab hold of that flab at her side; it gives you comfort through the night.

It was the quiet stretch below Twenty-third and above Union Square, where no business was open, no person was seen. I stopped at the display window of a particular high-end store and was staring at stemware. It was all crystal, with facets cut in. I like things like that. I happen to own a pillow with silk case that I paid $90 for, in ’02. The exact word for its color is “nacarat,” red tinged with orange; it’s a cognate of “nacre,” meaning mother-of-pearl: the pillow has a nacreous sheen. I was a big fan of it when I bought it—I was a big fan of myself while I was doing the buying, aware of the decadence of (a) having a throw pillow at all and (b) having a throw pillow that fucking expensive, as well as of the deeper decadence of not truly thinking, in my heart, the purchase was all that extravagant. The most decadent decadence is unreflexive, unaware, opaque to itself.

In the middle of the next street, I challenged a cab, and he slowed and was nailing the horn. I did not flip him the bird. I proceeded to cross the street at a pace so reduced you almost couldn’t tell I was moving. His engine roared as soon as he could pass me.

Muscles all over my body were sore. My feet hurt—I’d been walking for miles. I was hungry, and I wanted alcohol. I liked not knowing quite where I would sleep. It reminded me of being on the road in the old days, a long time ago, in a galaxy way the fuck out there.

 

***

 

Union Square was less dead, but still dead. The Barnes & Noble looked gloomy. The new books displayed in the window were like an affront. Screw them.

Approaching the corner of Park Avenue, I was staring at the W across the street. This is a decent hotel. The building is old and brick and passionately renovated, massive neon glowing from the roof in a color not far off from nacarat, gorgeous giant windows by the sidewalk, so the geeks can peer in and the meatheads inside can show off their three-figure blue jeans, three-figure T-shirts, or four-figure jackets, and how much they spend on their drinks. I always found that kind of vanity highly provocative and enraging.

As I entered the lobby, I practically slipped. They take good care of their floors. The handsome wooden banister at the left side of the curved stair shone as if it were metal. The woman at the desk smiled graciously.

I asked if they had a vacancy.

“Yes…”

“What’s the best rate at this hour?”

“Best I can do is three-eighty,” she said.

“What time is checkout?”

“Eleven.”

“I would have the room for—what, seven hours… ? I’m a member of the Auto Club.”

“The triple-A rate is the same. Hold on a moment.” She was keying something in, looking pained. “I can give you three-forty.”

I was holding my silver MasterCard, pausing, with no other idea than the thought that I mustn’t go home. Paul would be there, and I couldn’t look at Paul.

I couldn’t have Paul look at me. I’d spent the day playing poker at Columbia, losing three Gs… Had to try to put it all behind me. “Could I get a late checkout?”

“Of course.”

 

***

 

Next morning, in the $340 room, I wasn’t hungover alcoholically with thorough physical sickness, nausea, and head pain. This hangover was different. It was all in the brain and the chest.

I tried showering. But that couldn’t help. My face’s reflection looked sickly. My skin couldn’t become clean. My skull throbbed, and my thoughts were all scrambled. I was feeling the restlessness still.

On the train home, all I could think as I sucked bad coffee heavily sugared was that I needed to shower my mind, rinse or scrub or exfoliate in there somehow. Hose it down, if I could.

There’s no way.

In any case. In any case.

I’m a strong bitch.

My might has been proved by now.

You could ask the Aladdin about it.

In the building I climbed the three flights. Someone had been smoking on the stairwell again. I got to the green metal door of the dump Paul and I called a home.

As soon as I stepped inside, the throb and the anxiety quickened. It was like a bass drum getting frantic. Fruit flies bobbed in the kitchen. I bade them good day.

I got out my laptop from the backpack and went stumbling into my room. I collapsed at my desk. I had paid $600 for the desk. I’d gotten a number of furnishings in ’02 when I moved into Manhattan for a year. The days of wine and poses, long ago.

What is this—2005?

It’s ’06, kemo sabe. Get a grip. Bush is the president. War in Iraq. The terror alert is at orange. Things hunky-dory in general.

Katrina—remember? The toilets in Biloxi were destroyed. The Grand lay smashed on the coast. The Isle of Capri disappeared. No one ever saw the thing again. It was like a fulfillment: God’s vengeance upon the casinos. A beautiful sight!

Yeah, I remember that day. I’d been playing poker compulsively on the Internet, feeling rather spavined, and losing. They had all those warnings on the news, predictions of where it would strike. The ominousness was terrific. I was stretched out on the futon and played through the night, hoping for something tremendous.

The laptop had finished booting up. I rose from my chair, and I paced. Dust motes were swarming the air. My bed was disheveled, of course. I sat on the mattress.

I yawned. I had to live life differently. You must, boy, you must. These thoughts just hung in my head: must, must. They were in there, all right. I moved to the desk, reinstalled the poker software, began another day in the life.


Why do you write?

Well, Jonathan Safran Foer told The New York Times Magazine that he writes “in order to end [his] loneliness.” I write in order to prolong, and if possible to exacerbate Jonathan Safran Foer’s loneliness. I aim to embody a Jewish American authorial masculinity so totalizing, it not only takes his breath away, but all his friends, his wife, novelist Nicole Krauss, and their two children.

 

Is loneliness a factor in your own work?

It doesn’t motivate writing. Literally it doesn’t motivate writing. I moved to Kansas in July from New York and I’m living by myself in a sad house, alone, and not writing.

 

You moved there intending to write?

Sure. It could be a Foerian Watusi—just self-aggrandizing performance—but I had access to a house. There’s a mortgage my Socialist late uncle was able to arrange via the USDA’s Office of Rural Development. I moved to right-wing Kansas for the welfare, in effect. And also to write, which means first of all living cheaply. And second of all, what it means to me is to summon the kind of intelligence I’d most hope to find in a book. If you’re brilliant already that must be a cinch, but if you are not a brilliant person, you’ll have to take whatever intelligence you have and extend and transform it until it’s capable of apprehending something extraordinary and worth reporting. Or that’s the theory. I’m here as an experiment in “changing,” rebuilding, my mind.

 

What are the results of this experiment?

Yesterday I drank gin. And you can do that in New York: drink gin. So I put a minus sign in my writing journal. I didn’t go outside, talk to anyone, think, read, or work. It was indistinguishable from Brooklyn.

 

You make Kansas sound dangerous.

Indistinguishable from Bagram, excuse me.

 

You seem obsessed with danger, one might almost say dangerously so. Do you deliberately create it, and why?

The path into the life-furthering wisdom is reputedly perilous. One risk being the risk of the false path. Corollary: if you’re sure of your steps, you’ll have failed. I might be wrong, I might have missed something important, but when I was eighteen and taking notes on the matter, it struck me that I’d never met somebody happy who was worthy of respect. No one was happy—but everyone would tell you how to best live your life. The conclusion was that one should improvise, blaze unexpectedly, try to stay weird.

 

Your misery is strategic?

The misery, if any, is habitual.

 

But in the difficulties that you seem to engineer for yourself, is there a strategy?

I don’t mean to say that weirdness for the sake of it, addiction, desperate solitude and elective pseudo-poverty are any kind of universal answer. But I am skeptical of other answers.

 

You’re a man without a clue? No answers?

Good laughs. Canyonlands National Park. Tanqueray. I think the nearest answer is a wholly arbitrary oscillation between absolute doubt, on the one hand, and ingenuous reverence and joy: aloofness, immersion, repeat.

 

Perspectivism?

Say agnosticism sprinkled with Buddhist meditative practice, alcoholism, and a feel for the American landscape. Because that’s what works.

 

What relationship is there between wisdom, happiness and writing?

I don’t know that wisdom leads to happiness. The nature of the universe could turn out to be one of those things that you’re better off not knowing. But like anyone, during bouts of confusion, inertia, or sadness—bouts that come nightly in my case—I look instinctively for guidance from the sages, and the sages that I find most compelling are the writers whose experiential depth comes through in their words. They know what I want to know because they haven’t missed life.

 

To write the kind of books you’d want to read, you’re required to live, then.

🙂