The Grumpy Librarian: If Your Living Room is Carpeted in Thorns…
Recommendations Weird, Bleak, Hilarious, and Gritty
Caitlin Goodman, aka, The Grumpy Librarian, is here to help. The rules are simple: if you’re looking for what book to read next (who isn’t), just send over two books you love, and one you… don’t. The Grumpy Librarian will do the math and provide you with the ideal next read. (To submit your books, you can email TheGrumpyLibrarian@lithub.com.)
Geek Love, Katherine Dunn • Happy All the Time, Laurie Colwin
Purity, Jonathan Franzen
This week, our Dear Writer cheated, submitting extra books, but the Grumpy Librarian is too stoked to talk about Geek Love to object too strenuously. So the GL has arbitrarily trimmed the list; a one-time exception is granted in consideration of Geek Love being the greatest. The best thing about all the success Swamplandia! received a few years ago is it reminded everyone about Geek Love. Ok, the idea of building a family novel from a magical freak show sounds both twee and foul. But it’s a real heart-sucker of a book, emotionally resonant and very funny. It’s not cheerful or optimistic, though, so it makes for an interesting pairing with Laurie Colwin. That’s not to say Happy All the Time is Nancy Meyers in paper covers, but there’s a lot less cynicism and malaise and authorial narcissism in Colwin’s worlds than in a lot of the contemporary literary canon.
Speaking of! Franzen. This column is apparently exclusively read by his haters. Like, fully one-third of the GL’s inbox is two books someone liked and a novel by Franzen. Trollolol et cetera. He’ll probably write another novel at some point, it may even be worse than Purity, and the GL is here to say you do not need to feel obligated to read it! He’s doing fine.
Dear Writer, have you read Lynda Barry’s Cruddy yet? You’ll like it. Everyone should like it, because it’s spectacular, but it is very weird and bleak and hilarious. It probably could not exist without Geek Love (although it’s less straightfowardly indebted to it than Swamplandia!). The GL lent her copy to a friend and it has been the biggest mistake of her life.
Cruddy, Lynda Barry
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The Dinner, Herman Koch • Battleborn, Claire Vaye Watkins
Blood and Guts in High School, Kathy Acker
Is your living room carpeted with thorns? These are some savage books our Dear Writer has listed; there is probably not much Maeve Binchy on her bookcase. The GL is actually a little burnt out on “Surprise! Under a brittle veneer of civility is the messy jam of violence and nastiness.” It isn’t entirely the dutiful shocks or twisted-mirror characterizations that the GL objects to, it’s that the novel is buttressed by authorial contempt. Bourgeois culture can be aptly critiqued without plugging in the cheat code of (uh, spoiler) entitled teenagers burning a homeless woman to death. But she’ll gladly co-sign the recommendation of Battleborn. The fables feel gothic and windburnt, it’s a great death of a summer read. If you haven’t read Watkins’ essay “On Pandering” in Tin House, do so. But remain strong in your avowal that Battleborn is great—whether despite or because of its “architecture of pandering” is an argument for a theorist, not this reader.
The GL at first thought of recommending Alexandra Kleeman but, while her experimental solipsism is maybe not as provocative as the antisocial poetics of Kathy Acker, it’s still a risky referral. While novels are what the GL tends to receive in her inbox and novels are what she almost always ends up recommending, supposedly there are other literary forms. Here’s one! Friedrich Durenmatt’s play The Visit is no doubt experienced differently a) in German and b) in performance, but the nasty humor that gilds its moralizing should be familiar. Prost, misanthropes!
The Visit, Friedrich Durenmatt