60. Half Empty – David Rakoff
A friend of mine bought this book for me and told me that when she saw it, it “reminded her of me.” What she didn’t know is that when we worked together at the public library, I came across this book several times while shelving, thought about checking it out, and then didn’t get around to it…so it also reminded me of me.
Starting with the essay “The Bleak Shall Inherit,” Half Empty demonstrates a lot of truths that the more pessimistic among us will recognize, sort of like a New York-centric, more amusing version of the message from the wildly popular to interlibrary loan book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck (Side note, I tried to skim this because of the appealing title, it said something about being fine with being normal and I had to close it. I’m abnormal and I like it, sir, and not just in an “Oh, I’m so unusual, I drink coffee with four shots of espresso and am writing a screen play at Starbucks because I MUST express myself” kind of way, more in a “What did you just say? Why do you like talking about that?/Did you really just glare at me for saying ‘hamster’?” coupled with side glances and grimaces from other people when I talk kind of way.).
One of my favorite passages had to do with the musical RENT. I don’t like paying rent even though I’ve been doing so for what feels like thousands of years now, but that’s a digression mainly meant to set up the fact that I have never actually seen RENT and despite not seeing RENT, I have had that “525,600 minutes/How do you measure/Measure a year” line stuck in my head before (and now, so do you). Rakoff mentions that the super-creative creatives of RENT don’t really spend much time creating and then mentions the songwriter “noodling on his guitar,” which has long been one of my least favorite things. I hate guitar noodling. I don’t have all day, I’m dying here. We’re all dying. Stop noodling. Anyway, a short while later in the essay he talks about the creator of RENT dying the day before RENT opened, which is awfully sad, but also something that seems like a truism of creativity at this point (especially if you have to do something else to pay rent). You have to have a blind cocky optimism in order to be willing to create because it’s unlikely that it will become popular while you’re still alive. Sometimes you have to die to be popular. Or win a Putlizer. Posthumously. Also, you have to actually follow-through with making something in order to have created something that won’t be recognized until after you’re dead. Whee! Half empty!
Morty is the friend who gave me Half Empty’s favorite guinea pig. Here’s his cute little nose. He never paid any rent.
3. An Unquiet Mind – Kay Redfield Jamison
“A Memoir of Moods and Madness” and a stone cold classic for anyone interested in mental health, An Unquiet Mind is also an engaging read. Jamison’s experience with manic behavior was extremely interesting to me – her description of running rather endlessly around a parking lot during the process of earning her degree and using “we’re psych students” as the reason when questioned stood out in particular. It sort of suits the trope of going into psychiatry because one has psychological issues, but, that doesn’t have to be true. It’s very possible to ignore your own symptoms regardless of what you’re learning about or what level of professional development you’ve achieved. Brains are tricksy.
One thing to remember while reading An Unquiet Mind is that, especially if you don’t have anyone to catch you or clean up the giant mess you may have made while manic, this is definitely not an instructional manual for what to do if you are also experiencing manic or depressive episodes. It’s a memoir, and it has helpful examples, but it is not a self-help manual. You may recognize yourself, you may end up being a little envious of some of the things Jamison has gotten to do, you may not even care about getting to stay in England for long periods of time to write (I miss it). It always amuses me that I know the struggle to publish as an academic writer exists, but when you read material from people who have ended up with published work, when they discuss writing their proposals it’s just like a given that it’s going to happen- of course it did, but, somebody should write in one of their failed projects too, give the folks at home something to relate to on the other side because there’s a lot of failed academics out there who probably assumed their work was going to get published too… (Full disclosure, I am not an academic writer. I’ve just seen a lot of stressed out academics as a librarian and I’m guessing not all of them had a streamlined path to publish their research. And I’ve read or skimmed a crapload of extremely dry articles, so I wonder if the academic writers with stronger writing voices are getting shafted.)
Twiglet, a stone cold classic anchor pig.
42. Everything Is Wrong With Me – Jason Mulgrew
Ah, a memoir written by a guy who doth protest too much…I believe there are several of these. I’ve read two, that seems like enough. When someone spends a lot of time telling me that they did not spend very much time writing the book I’m currently reading because they were squandering their advance on bullshit and it shows, I get a bit tired. Don’t brag to me about your advance while writing about how much you suck as a person and how you’re a shitty writer and practically had to be forced to finish this memoir, it just makes me wonder how you got your advance to begin with and whether or not you and Cooking Dirty dude hang out and talk about how you just stumbled in to this “writing” thing. Clearly, Mr. Mulgrew did not stumble in if he was taking any kind of class from Steve Almond. Did he use magic to obtain a book contract? Commune with Satan? Blow the right person in the right bathroom? Other things I wouldn’t be caught dead doing? I mean, I understand from the back of the book that dude has a blog and that’s great. I have one too. He also has a family that he grew up with. You don’t say. It seems like some people have those. Said family is more interesting than he is, which isn’t terribly surprising. Honestly, I just wish this had a point. And I mean that in all the potential ways that the end of a rambling blog paragraph about a rambling book could mean. The last chapter though, my reactions were, “Ew” and “What the hell is he doing using this as the epilogue?”
I can’t necessarily say that this memoir is without merits, I wanted to read it for three reasons: 1. The cover is awesome. 2. The preface about writing is dead on – it’s nice to see others acknowledging that you have to forgo the work you’d most like to do, that you’re inspired to do, in order to feed yourself. 3. There’s a blurb from my fave writing instructor Mr. Steve Almond that’s actually funnier than the entire book about when Mr. Mulgrew was his student.
I’ve made Twiglet’s catchphrase “Snorecery” for a reason. It fits this situation.
13. Worst. Person. Ever. – Douglas Coupland
The department I’m currently a part of is stationed in the basement of the main branch of the 11th largest university library system in the country (last I checked). I spend most of my time in the main branch searching either virtually or physically for books and articles and one of those searches led me to a reshelving room where I found this book peeking out from underneath the Diary of Edward the Hamster 1990-1990. I didn’t even know he had one coming out this year! So, I promptly stole it away and checked it out. Finders keepers and also, sorry, person who was trying to secretly keep these two books in the second floor reshelving room, but now I’m done with it so I might just check it in and return it right back to that spot like library magic.
Anyway, this is the second Coupland book that I was a mite disappointed with. I adore Generation X and there was some level of flashback to that in this with all the little explanatory aside paragraphs – some did mimic what I was wondering and that was sort of fun. My problem with it is that although I get the book’s purpose and was generally having a good time reading it, I don’t understand the purpose of bringing in pristine sixteen year olds. Also, the poop fixation was not my cup of tea. I also found nothing useful about any of the female characters, but at least there were several – although there’s a problem with the best one and that problem is a little annoying when considering this book is written by a man. I guess that’s the only way to be a relatable character, be a man. Neal was great and the description of Neal in the beginning was one of the most disgustingly tangible smell scenes I’ve ever read. I usually don’t review anything remotely close to when it came out – just City of Devils and this one, maybe a Charlaine Harris, um, tangent- and so I’m trying not to spoil things, sort of, technically I don’t care if I spoil literary fiction for anyone [maniacal laugh] (if I was in this book, I’d now be explaining why a ‘maniacal laugh’ is the right end to that sentiment).
“Ozymandias’ World” A photo in which Ozymandias the guinea pig contemplates living in a world where women are fully allowed to explore the same range of ideas in their writing that men are and be published without impunity. There’s a reason why his rump is positioned toward the camera.