Paula Priamos’s The Shyster’s Daughter is a beautifully written, charged, addictive “detective-noir” memoir—utterly absorbing and packed with sharp details, evoking a Southern California rarely seen on the page, replete with strip bars and casinos.

Priamos investigates the mysterious death of her high-profile defense lawyer father, describing the shady deals and characters that led to his disbarment.  She also gives a vivid portrait of her Greek American family caught up in the scandal-obsessed, drug-addicted culture of California in the closing decades of the twentieth century.

We’re proud to announce the publication of The Beautiful Anthology, edited by Elizabeth Collins, now available in trade paperback from TNB Books, the official imprint of The Nervous Breakdown.

The Beautiful Anthology can be purchased at Amazon.  To order your copy, please click right here.  (Note:  in the coming days, TBA will be available via other retailers like Powell’s and BN.com.  Ebook editions are also forthcoming.)

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

It was 4:30 p.m. by the time we got on the road. Me, Melinda, and Jane.  The sky over the southern San Joaquin Valley was heavy with rain clouds. I drove. The road was slick.  The San Emigdio Mountains were topped with snow.  “You sure are quiet,” I said to Jane. Normally she was ruling the conversation. She called it a “Janeopoly.” I figured she was plotting out her novel, Puro Amor.  Not long ago she told me she could write entire paragraphs in her head and remember them for transcribing later.

An hour or so later we zoomed down the Hollywood Freeway, took the Highland Avenue exit and headed west onto Hollywood Boulevard, on our way to Book Soup. We were nearly late for the reading.

The bookstore was small, cramped, packed floor-to-ceiling with shelves. The reading area was an aisle essentially, a few folding chairs leading to a podium.  Bunched in the crowd were some writers from TNB, several of whom I’d never met. Kimberly M. Wetherell, filmmaker and writer, wore black glasses, her red hair a fire of loveliness. She mentioned that I was no longer two dimensional—no longer just words on a screen. I said something about being a figment of her imagination.

Duke Haney, author of Banned For Life and Subversia, stood in a corner wearing a black newsboy cap and a leather jacket. He was talking to Rachel Pollon, another TNBer.  She stood about half his size and got shy when I asked her to talk on camera.  “Meet Hank,” Duke said, pointing to another tall guy.  Hank stepped forward and handed me a photo of a face with the word “awesome” on it.

Lenore Zion had long, curly hair—different than when I last saw her.  She looked younger.  She asked what I had been up to. I mumbled something about 2010 being a year to write off and later bought her book, My Dead Pets Are Interesting.

Greg Boose came up and offered me a friendly hello.  He was taller than I expected, and handsome. His wife, Claire Bidwell Smith, was taller than expected, too. Both have striking eyes the color of the sea.  Greg asked me how long I was staying in town. I wanted to say a week. I wanted to say I had a suitcase and was looking for a nice padded bus bench.  “Probably headed back tonight,” I told him.  “Though maybe I’ll just stay and find my way back in the morning.”

Joe Daly, TNB’s music editor, came over and introduced himself.  His hair was shaggy, he was unshaven, he looked like rock and roll.  For some reason I had expected his hair to be short.

I met Ben Loory, too.  He has a gentle soul and a contemplative smile. Later, when he read a story of his called “The Well” and said he might cry, I almost started crying myself.

I didn’t get to meet Victoria Patterson. She read an essay about farts in literature, and her hands were shaking as she read.  It was hilarious.  Everyone laughed and held their gas.

Then there was the master of ceremonies, Greg Olear, author of the new novel Fathermucker.  A dark sweater covered his “Brave New World” T-shirt.  He gave me a guy hug and we made small talk.  I met his wife, Stephanie, too—not a writer, but a ferocious singer.  Steph was all hugs. She talked to a college friend from Syracuse, and they laughed about old times.

 

 

WATCH: GREG OLEAR/TNBERS AT BOOK SOUP

VIEW: JANE HAWLEY PHOTOS FROM BOOK SOUP

 

After the event, many of us headed over to Mirabelle, a nearby bar and restaurant. Brad Listi carried a sack of books and asked what I was up to and where I’d been. I didn’t want to dish out my sob story right then, so I just talked opportunities, my new book of poetry, the interest of an agent in my novel Anhinga, and so on.

Inside the bar, Jane came suddenly to life. She talked and talked and I grew quiet as she and a new friend walked to where Ben, Duke and the others were hanging out. Greg was at the bar drinking a beer. He ordered me some water.  I listened to Stephanie and her friend talking about their college days. I was content.

Melinda was quiet. She used to write (Lenore recognized her from her defunct blog), and she does have a voice. But now, for the most part, she just comes to my Random Writers Workshop, where I prod people like her to write novels and dream big. Jesse from the workshop was there, too. He downed a few drinks and talked shop with Ben Loory.

We were there for about an hour before heading home.  Jane fell asleep in the back of the car and began snoring. Rain poured over Interstate 5, turning into slush as we hit the Tejon Pass, the hump over the San Andreas Fault that marks the downward slide into the Central Valley.

“You okay?” Melinda asked. She could tell I couldn’t see the lines on the road.

“I’m fine,” I told her. “Just gotta see the lanes. I don’t mind driving in storms.”  I was smiling a little, eyes  straight ahead. I felt strangely at ease, like I was passing through a kind of personal storm, releasing it, washing it away on the rain-slicked desert road.

As we rolled back into Bakersfield, Jane woke up. By now it was one o’clock, and still raining.  I pulled into Melinda’s driveway.  We got out.  Jane said a quick goodbye, ran to her car, and drove away.  A pile of leaves in the neighbor’s gutter had caused a flood in front of Melinda’s house. I grabbed a hoe from the garage and started moving the pile. Melinda watched me briefly, then went inside, to bed.  I stayed outside and pushed and pulled and hacked at the pile of leaves and branches until a stream was created.  I stood alone in the rain and watched the water flow down the street.  Rain came down against the lawns and streets of Bakersfield in the night.  It was quiet otherwise, no signs of life, and I stood alone in the rain, content to know that the flood was gone.

 

 

With a circulation of over two million, Gustavo Arellano’s nationally syndicated column “¡Ask a Mexican!” uses satire, humor, and history to expose ignorance and stereotypes, educate, and piss people off all at once.  Arellano is a longtime staff writer for the OC Weekly (now managing editor), and he’s been the subject of press coverage in the L.A. Times, Houston Chronicle, Reuters, Mexico City’s El Universal, The Today Show, Hannity and Colmes, Nightline, The New York Times, Good Morning America, Utne, and The Colbert Report.  His new book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, is scheduled for April 2012.

Through “¡Ask a Mexican!” and his subsequent book of the same title (and soon to be a play), I learned many things, including what a Dirty Sanchez means and how many Mexican swear words originate from the simple word mother. My idealization of César Chávez was busted open. Of Newport Beach, where I went through junior high and high school, and where my family became members of the Balboa Bay Club, Arellano writes, “The Balboa Bay Club represents all that’s reprehensible with the Old Orange County.”


James Brown’s memoir The Los Angeles Diaries is one of those books that writers hear other writers discussing with reverence, and that’s how I discovered it in 2004. This River, out now, serves as a postscript to The Los Angeles Diaries, and it equals its precursor in both skill and vision.

James Brown’s prose is tight and spare, which contrasts starkly with the chaos of his life, including the suicides of both his siblings, and his own battles with alcoholism and drug addiction.

Each chapter from The Los Angeles Diaries and This River is a stand-alone piece. The layering of chapters—and now of books—delivers a staggering panoramic perspective.

Of This River, Tim O’Brien writes, “A beautifully crafted and intensely moving book. Without artifice or pretension—without false moves of any sort—James Brown goes after the biggest literary game: death, love, children, degeneration, hopelessness, hope.”

Jim and I met when we discovered that our books had the same release date of March 1st. I was already a fan of The Los Angeles Diaries and had emailed him long before to tell him. We soon decided to team up and do readings together, as well as simply support each other through the publication process. In this spirit, he agreed to answer my questions.

 

 

 

 

In The Los Angeles Diaries, after a scene with your father, you write:

I’ve mined the territory before, if not this particular moment then something like it, and I’ve done it so often that I find myself confusing what actually happened with how I imagine it. In trying to sort between autobiography and fiction, or invention, and then trying to put the pieces together so that they make some kind of sense, I’ve come to think that the truth as it occurs isn’t of much use to me other than, say, as a catalyst for a story.

As a writer, I’m curious about this passage. I’d just like you to comment further. Why memoir over fiction? Or not. You’ve written fiction as well. How do you distinguish the two, etc?

 

Memory is fallible. It is also non-sequential. I can’t recall the past precisely as it may have occurred, especially whenever it is I’m writing about took place many years earlier. But I can recall more than its essence, and what I’m after when I write memoir is an emotional truth that, I hope, transcends the straight, literal experience. Memoir is not journalism anymore than it is fiction. At the same time there are lines you simply don’t cross in memoir that you would or might in fiction. You must tell your story, to the best of your abilities, as honestly as you can in memoir. It’s presumed you’re telling the truth in this genre, and you owe it to your reader to uphold that presumption, or promise. To blatantly do otherwise is to lie, and that’s the art of fiction, not memoir.

 

We’ve discussed a little about subject matter—whether you choose what to write, or whether it chooses you. I’m wondering if you could speak on this topic?

 

I believe the material chooses the writer, if the writer allows it. You write about what you care most about, what you know most about, what you think most about, the memories that haunt, your obsessions, your shortcomings, your successes and failures, and how all these experiences and feelings have shaped how you see yourself and others, particularly those you love most in this crazy world.

 

You come from a working class background. You and your brother and sister chose to pursue careers in art. Can you speak about this?

 

I’m not sure. I think my brother set the pace when he chose acting. His passion was contagious, though our mother started him on this path when he was just a kid. My brother, like my father and sister, were also big readers, and I think I originally began writing to please my brother, since I looked up to him so much, and soon enough it became a passion, which is a good thing, because as a teenager I’d also developed a strong interest in crime, the easy money, the rush that comes from robbing and stealing, as well as drug and alcohol habits.

 

Do you envision a third memoir? Or is that impossible to know?

 

I do envision one more memoir, but I can’t, and won’t, return to the dark places of my first two. This third one I want to be about getting and staying sober. I want to show another side, a better one built around this wonderful gift I’ve been given in sobriety, a second shot at life.

 

Did you have a structure in mind for your memoirs or did the pieces collect and build into a cohesive whole?

 

I had a structure in mind, but it wasn’t sequential. I wanted to write about only those events in life that affected me most, the memories I couldn’t shake, that I’d lived with for years. I felt if I didn’t write The Los Angeles Diaries, if I didn’t just come out and tell the truth about the things that haunted and troubled me, of the ugly person I could be and had become in large part because of my addictions, that I could never move forward. The book has a beginning, middle and end, just not in that order.

 

Your prose is, like O’Brien points out, without artifice or pretension. I’m curious about what writers you admire—and which writers influence your work.

 

Actually I’m a big fan of Tim O’Brien, and his work, particularly The Things They Carry, has had a strong influence on me. I also admire Flannery O’Connor, Chekhov, Raymond Carver, and Hemingway.

 

You have quite a history with the publishing industry. Can you give an overview of your experiences and comment on the industry?

 

The industry has been good to me, though I could always complain that my career could and should be better. But what’s the point of whining? “Less successful” writers would call me ungrateful. “More successful” ones would think I’m jealous. The point is, it’s the process of writing that defines success, not publication. You know when you’re doing good work, and when you’re on a roll, a streak, there’s your real pleasure. And it doesn’t get any better than that.

 

Jim and I will be reading at Skylight in Los Angeles on March 16th at 7:30 p.m. and at Vroman’s in Pasadena on March 24th at 7:00 p.m.


Hair

By Victoria Patterson

Essay

 


 

It’s gratifying to publish without gatekeepers, and, because of this freedom, there’s a goldmine of scrappy, unique, and creative posts on TNB.

I enjoy reading the comments sometimes as much or more than the posts.Commenting is a skill, one that I haven’t developed.

TNB thrives on the intelligent, lively, supportive, and witty personalities of its core contributors.

On my TNB year anniversary, I list 20 aspirations and thoughts about my writing (sort of like a New Year’s resolutions list), with the hope that you offer some of yours:

JR: I was once a buyer at Bookazine and now I work in sales.  I bought FSG, Rizzoli, Holt, and Houghton Mifflin.  A few years ago the rep for HM was presenting the new list, and this title Drift shot off the page and I asked for a manuscript, which met with a long stare.  I started tearing through Drift, a wonderful and powerfully written collection of short stories from Victoria Patterson. The collection went on to be nominated for The Story Prize.  This book didn’t have the highest expectations, and I remember telling people about it, but with collections, it certainly goes with the territory.  I started writing blog entries on the stories as I read them, and was absolutely knocked down by how good this collection is.  Victoria Patterson is a fine writer, and someone that I greatly admire.  Her talents are on display in her new novel, This Vacant Paradise, pubbing 3/11.  Over the years Victoria has been a positive and wise advocate of the Three Guys Blog, and a great friend.  We’re thrilled to have her here at the blog, where she’ll be giving us a column once a month (she was the first writer to solicit us with her own When We Fell In Love essay). In the meantime here is an interview she did with Jane Vandenburgh.

Jane Vandenburgh and the Hypothetical Fifteen-Year-Old Girl

“When I first began to write I was much worried about this thing of scandalizing people, as I fancied that what I wrote was highly inflammatory. I was wrong—it wouldn’t even have kept anybody awake…I talked to a priest about it. The first thing he said to me was, ‘You don’t have to write for fifteen-year-old girls.’”

–letter 3/10/56 Flannery O’Connor


Jane Vandenburgh


Jane Vandenburgh is the author of the novels Failure to Zigzag and The Physics of Sunset, as well as the memoir A Pocket History of Sex in the 20th Century.  Architecture of the Novel: A Writer’s Handbook was published September, 2010.

We met at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival in April 2010.  Her husband Jack Shoemaker is the editor of my forthcoming novel This Vacant Paradise with Counterpoint Press.

VP: I got in trouble with my family for writing Drift—well, not for writing it but for getting published.  Lately, I’ve been worrying about my novel’s publication, including my insecurity about the writing itself.  And, much to my frustration, I found myself recently apologizing to my dad for my novel pre-publication, regarding the sex in it.

JV: I’ve never been secure either except in the secret place where I keep my writing self, that something that somehow knows—and who knows how? —what is and isn’t excellent.  By excellent I mean only true. I simply have to work away until I get my writing to exist in at least the vicinity of the truth, otherwise it won’t continue to interest me.

But that box of unease and anxiety has also become smaller since I’ve grown a little older.  Jack says women hit their Fuck You Period at around 50 or so—what a relief to realize you honestly no longer care whether you’re voted Miss Congeniality.

Still it may be true that women, particularly mothers—as you and I both are—must operate in a way that is more dependent upon society’s support. It’s when we have kids that we become truly reliant upon those cork nets that society tosses out that are intended to keep our children and us from drowning. So maybe we, as a class of people— and by “we” I mean those of us who are moms—do simply need society’s approval more than other people do. And one quick way to lose said approval—as I witnessed with my own mom—is to be all the time needing to say the outrageous thing. My mother specialized in being outré, in uttering the true but unpopular thing. She also ended up losing custody of her kids when she was locked up in a mental institution.

VP: While I wasn’t necessarily surprised by the negative reactions to Drift, it bothered me that the complaints seemed to infer that I shouldn’t write about unflattering, gritty topics—especially as a woman writer.  A couple of reading groups “dis-invited” me.  And I’d been asked to speak as part of a fundraiser, only to be discouraged later from coming, when they finally took a look at the book.  What in your writing do you think is considered unpopular—or risky?

JV: What I’ve always wanted to say that is perhaps unpopular—as this is one of the great truths whose utterance goes in and out of fashion—is that female sexuality actually IS different from a man’s. It’s bound up in biology, in temporality, in our mortality and our ability to be generative. It also exists in context, referencing issues of emotional and physical and psychological bonds and the need for safety. What I mean is that our sexuality is vastly more complicated than a man’s, which is more simple and direct, but by simple I ardently do not mean either flat or one-dimensional.

And writing graphically about sex is difficult, because it becomes so quickly emotional, in that it makes you the writer feel things even as you’re making your reader feel things too. The writing itself also gets so easily gaudy or purple or cartoonish. It’s hard to tell the truth. You sit down to try to write about sex and you—I mean me—will instantly begin to reveal yourself, what each of us thinks about our own human bodies and those of other human beings and what this spiritual and physical and emotional connection is and isn’t made of.

And you and I are each trying to write about sexuality in the harsh light of day, that is, honestly, realistically, writing into the face of the received wisdom to say what it actually is and not what it purports to be.

It reminds me of that Flannery O’Connor quote I sent you about writing for fifteen-year-old girls.  And then there’s this as well: Ulysses couldn’t be published in the US from 1922 until 1933 because some youngish female person (described as an unnamed “girl” of unknown age) had read a chapter in a little magazine and was upset by it. The courts found it to be “obscene,” the “product of a deranged mind…” (who upsets fifteen-year-old girls…. but who ARE these people, Tory! at fifteen I knew all kinds of things, didn’t you?) Judge Wolcott’s New York district court 1933 decision was bound into the Random House edition I read in grad school.

VP: Tell me more about the received wisdom?

JV: The received wisdom is—I believe—just as tyrannically wrong as it’s ever been.  A woman’s sexuality is so often used by a misogynist society to accuse her of her inferiority, which serves to subjugate her.  Sex and the City? the kitty-cat, almost childish sexiness of that show strikes me as just such horseshit.  This is where the bodice-ripper has gone, no doubt, women in cute designer outfits eating, drinking, talking about shoes, waiting in their shallow and venal way for Mr. Right to show up to actualize their lives while they carry on achieving multiple orgasms with Mr. Wrong.  Which might be harmless enough except that it commodifies all aspects of these characters’ existences.

What it does say that is honest—I think—is that our sexuality is defined socially, that it is at least informed by Group Think, the degree to which we are social creatures. And that American society is—as ever—almost astonishingly conformist. Added to this is that rapidity with which the manners and mores to which we’re required to conform are almost as mutable as fashion—it makes it hard to keep up.

Group Think—when I was a kid—said sex for women outside of marriage was (morally) wrong. Only Protestant white guys over six feet tall got to have sex whenever they wanted, as long as this was heterosexual sex—witness Mad Men, which is one great show.  Society criminalized my dad’s being whatever degree or variety of gay he was, and I knew that to be horseshit because my mother told me it was horseshit.  And while my mom was crazy she was hardly ever wrong.

So I was born into a world that said—as a matter of our Calvinist inheritance—that we had to deny our human desires, then came the hippy days and poof! we were supposed to instantly get over that. Now a girl was supposed to be enslaved to her wanton desires, which we were being told were natural.  Sexuality had morphed into this untarnished moral good, which was also horseshit.

Fucking various men was now supposed to have become this political act—we now could act out sexually or use our sexuality to stick it to The Man, whatever, which benefited men even as it actually harmed women by trivializing the complexities.  It was confusing: I’d be thinking: But I don’t want to go to bed with you, and not because I’m particularly hung up. It’s because you’re not really that attractive.

So maybe my work has tried to be about what girls and women feel in these moments when they find themselves at those specific junctures, where they are changing or society is changing the rules on them.  I’m just vastly interested in what I think of as speech acts, in finding out what it’s possible to say because what we are and are not allowed to say does change what we think and feel and do.

I believe human sexuality to have everything to do with balancing power and powerlessness.  I’m interested in all this politically, interested in that particular existential edge, where we become alert to all the subtle manifestations of conflict between peoples of various classes, castes, races, genders, peoples, ethnicities.

I’m not particularly interested in what sex is supposed to be like according to the current fashion.  I’m interested in what feels real, what words can be used to describe textures, the inside-outside way the human body feels in moments of profound intimacy.

It is the writers who must get at this particular intimacy; we’re the ones who depict all the many subtle varieties of intercourse, the speaking or not speaking, the touching or not being able to touch. It is in Joyce or D.H. Lawrence or John Updike or Gore Vidal that I’ve gone to find enlightenment.  My theory about why women haven’t written a deep literature of female sexuality is that they’ve been too caught up in the received wisdom of society’s expectations. We’ve also been too busy getting our kids’ lunches packed and them off to school on time.  And up until the 20th century we would just too regularly have died in childbirth or lost a child or be actually worked to death.

Which is why so many of our best women writers have been one or another variety of maiden: Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Conner, Willa Cather. So writing about female sexuality from an adult, post-kid perspective may still be a little bit new. It’s challenging, also interesting. But it’s shocking that the things you and I are saying, Tory, are still shocking, no?

VP: My work is influenced by my family of origin—the alcoholism, depression, suicides, the focus on money, the politics and religion, so forth —and I somehow have lingering guilt for having a somewhat healthy life—for not imploding.

JV: The healthy life! God, such an important topic! Because we—as novelists—need to lead the organized, coherent life in order to write in the way we must, as these are the demands of writing books. The length of a novel will all but demand a bourgeoisified existence. A good book takes stability, quiet, sobriety, as well as years and years of toil.

You and I also have the experience of emerging only partially scathed from profoundly messed-up families, which is probably what shaped us to become the writers we’ve become.

And we’ve needed to do something about that guilt—in my case this is pure raw survivor’s guilt, that cosmic why of how come I get to have the life I have, that I escaped that profound unhappiness, when my little brother did not. My brother George—like Eric in your novel—was a homeless alcoholic. He killed himself almost exactly a year ago.

How come he drew that existence while I…? how sad and lonely this kind of inquiry will make you in the dead of night.

My own happiness used to feel like disloyalty. I’d simultaneously think two exactly conflicting things: that I was both the most sane and stable member of my natal family, and also, concurrently, that I didn’t have the slightest idea who the fuck I was. Coming from the family I did, I believed my sanity to be dishonest. Being sane had this mediocritizing and frightened effect on me. I thought the rest of my family were all just so much better at everything than I was, so much better, at least, at being fuck-ups.  I was a failure even at failing.

And because I have so little respect for the society that despised them, the failures in my family seemed somehow more honorable and attractive, even inspirational than normal people—my spectacularly brilliant and crazy mom? my elegantly messed up dad with his passionate sexual confusions? I just wasn’t much interested in succeeding in the world that had rejected them. Their Republican families seemed like The Textbook Elect, in that their own Personal White Person’s God had rewarded all these tall white emotionally frozen people with this great showing forth of His love and favor, this abundance of wealth and power and height and beauty, as well as Southern California real estate.

VP: There are parallels to our lives and to our work.  Do you think Jack was aware of that when he took my novel?

JV: He mentioned he had this new writer, a woman, a novelist, who’d grown up in Newport Beach, whose work reminded him of mine, in that she was serious and knew about both wealth and poverty. And he kept trying to shove this book of stories at me, and I’d be like, Sure, sure, that’s nice, Honey. My tone was probably dismissive.

And I am equally certain, Tory, that my basic reluctance had to do with the same old crap that plagues the intellectual powerhouses of The East, our society’s profound misogyny, that it infects women as it does men, saying girls such as you and I—those who’ve grown up in the Vacant Paradise you so brilliantly describe—cannot possibly be thinking about our society’s very interesting conflicts, at least not profoundly.

And—as we’ve discussed—you and I look so, well, normal. We look like women who drive the carpool because we have, we do, we will. We don’t necessarily seem like people who are ambitious, driven, discerning, as this has never been expected of people like you and me. But it’s actually important in that our Southern California-ness, this laid back, warm and open aspect is what has allowed you and me to come and go unnoticed, to both survive and even prosper behind enemy lines.


DH: Bound to Last is a quirky anthology of thirty essays on a favorite book. The essays are not necessarily by fiction writers although there are several very distinguished names, like Julia Glass and Francine Prose to be found here.

As for Sean Manning’s Introduction, I don’t know. I wanted to fight against it and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s the idea that I am being told that I should be feeling a great deal of sentiment for something. Even if I do feel it, I don’t want to be told what my feelings should be.

In this case. it’s feelings about owning particular physical books, as opposed to e texts, how they become “family” or part of your history. I feel the same way about my friends. I don’t want to explain to you why like them and you shouldn’t care anyway. But I’m going to confess to a strange book-love story of my own at the end of this post, so Manning wins.

Bound to Last is a book that’s an ‘I am as you desire me.” type of read. I don’t think you’re likely to read every essay. You’ll read the ones that speak to you, perhaps because you’ve aways loved the book the essayist wants to discuss or because you’ve never read it and always wondered about it and want to talk to one of its lovers. And believe me these readers do everything but sleep with their favorite book under the covers.

Victoria Patterson, one of my favs and a friend of this blog, writes about the massive Collected Stories of William Trevor, which have now become Volume One since a Volume Two has been released. I’ve never read Trevor but have always meant to, the massive extent of his 30 year storytelling both attracting and repelling me.

I felt awe for VP when she mentions that she’s gotten halfway through the stories and is still going strong. And then she does that miraculous thing that writers can do after they read great art, she turns them into stories of her own. Trevor’s stories become a manual, toolbox, a talisman, of the stories that Patterson will write, inspiring her forward, a personal compass of her own originality. I love how she tells us about her notes: how has Trevor done that? Look at how he introduced that character! I don’t think there is a single story in the massive Trevor volume that doesn’t get annotated by Patterson, every stain and battering of her stalwart trade paper edition reminding VP of a personal story she can tell.

My own book-love story is about a set: The American edition of  The Great French Romances published in 1900 in 20 cloth volumes of which I have 19. I found volumes at the Strand in New York and managed nearly to complete the set by browsing at Powells in Portland one fine and exceptionally sunny morning in October. The set contains novels by Daudet and other wonderful French writers that most Americans have never heard of. But the 20th volume is an edition of Madame Bovary with an introduction by Henry James and I’ve never found it. But that’s okay, I’ve only been looking for it off and on for about 30 years. It’s my Maltese Falcon.

Since I always look at the books on bookshelves in movies, I’ve spotted volumes of this set, with their trademark quadruple fleur de lis bindings topped with a crown, in Melvyn Douglas’ library in Ninotchka and on the shelves of George Burns and Gracie Allen’s home in their great old 50’s sitcom. But I’m not in a position to ask Greta Garbo or Gracie if the Flaubert is among them.

So yes, Sean! I’m guilty! Guilty! I love my e reader. It’s indispensable. But I’m also obsessed with the physical book. If you love the feel of cloth or even trade paper, you should buy a physical copy of Bound to Last and fall in love with the book all over again. You’ll find some inspired lovers within its pages. And yes, it’s also available as an e text.

threeguysonebook.com

 

This email was written to Justin Benton in December 2009 in response to his essay “How to Disappear Completely.”

 

Dear Justin,

Again, thanks for your essay.  I’d been toying with the idea of deactivating my account, and your essay was the tipping point.  Since deactivating, I’ve gone through all sorts of emotions and experienced various things.  I figured I’d give myself permission to email you.

FB is not healthy for people like me.  I joined for the wrong reason–purely self-promotional.  To sell my book.  And I went at it aggressively.  (I had something like 620 friends at the time of my deactivation.)  The more desperate I felt about my book sales and thus my prospects for selling my novel, the more actively I campaigned for friends.  Then I felt bad because people were posting about their lives–genuine, heartfelt–and all I posted were articles I’d written and good reviews, etc.  So I tried to throw in a few pithy and/or heartfelt posts now and then, or comment on other people’s posts–to disguise my blatant self-promotion.  And I just found myself thinking way too much about what to post or what to comment–instead of what story I might write.

I found that FB was a black hole of massive time suckage.  The voyeuristic writer could spend hours poking around on FB.  I knew too much about people–all of this useless information rattling around.  And some of it was very personal information–but I knew it in an impersonal and artificial way: a fellow writer’s mother committed suicide; the “friends” who went into labor and gave birth; mothers in distress with toddlers and newborns, lonely and seeking empathetic listeners, or complaining about the monotonous parenting drill; a “friend’s” relationship drama, which kept me guessing as to his latest love triangles; a “friend’s” struggle to stay off booze; another “friend’s” attempt to appear sexy and hip, posting sad, provocative photos of herself.

FB enhanced my misanthropic tendencies.  The “friend” getting her MFA at a well known college, trying to sound wise and hip and cool, posting photos of fat people at Wal Mart, all to further enhance her hip persona. The “friend” who referred to her children as “kidlets” in every one of her super upbeat and therefore tremendously sad postings.  “They’re people,” I wanted to tell her.  “Don’t demean them with that awful term that’s meant to be cute, but in the end reveals your own desperation.”  It seemed as if everyone was shouting, “Look at me!  Look at me!  I’m important!  I’m somebody!”  And it just got so noisy.  And it made me sad.  And then I was doing it as well.

The only temptation to go back on FB has come when I’ve received good news about my book.  I want to post it, in a gloat post, so that others can comment, and slap my back. But when I think about the glut of other writers self-promoting on FB, I realize that it probably doesn’t help that much with book sales.  In fact, with some of the more well-known writers I’ve friended on FB, by reading their daily postings and twitterings, I’ve found myself less likely to want to read their work.  I won’t name any names–but there’s something off-putting about needing constant attention, and the mystery of a writer is killed.

I did have two people contact me in a where are you email, why’d you quit FB because I enjoyed reading links to your articles, etc., and I directed them to you essay and my comments as an explanation–but so far, that’s it.

With two young children and a busy schedule, I have minimal time to read and write–and quitting FB has been liberating, allowing me to refocus.  I’m relieved.  I feel tugs of FB withdrawal, but I remind myself that just because I don’t post about my book receiving an accolade, doesn’t mean it doesn’t count or didn’t happen.  The tree did fall in the forest, and I don’t have to direct every one’s attention to it.

I hope I have the capacity to stay off FB.

Thanks.

Best,

Victoria Patterson