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Jonatham Lethem

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A quick plug. I just finished listening to the 3-CD audio version of Jonathan Lethem's The Disappointment Artist this afternoon, and I gotta tell ya, it

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Lethem also wrote a terrific appreciation of John Cassavettes in last year's Granta film issue. It was so persuasive I decided to give Cassavettes another go and bought Faces. I think it's one of the finest American movies I've seen and I'm tracking down a few more of them at the moment. I've got Fortress of Solitude since Christmas but keep putting it off. That Granta issue is well worth getting by the way, there'sa great piece from the guy who trained the rats for Herzog's Nosferatu and another good essay on New German Cinema

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Rathmadder, the Cassavettes essay is included in The Disappointment Artist hardback, but -- aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhh! -- not in the audiobook!

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I picked up Fortress of Solitude for a quarter price (!!) almost two years ago and have been started it several times since, but I've been interrupted each time I tried to get into it. A few weeks ago, I picked up Motherless Brooklyn, after reading the cover copy and seeing the National Critic's Circle award. Just finished it today. I'll try to post a more thorough review on my website in a few days, but here're some first thoughts.

1. Great narrator. Lionel Essrog is utterly endearing and sympathetic. The book's main gimmick is that he's Tourettic, but I can forgive a gimmick when it's as convincing and authentic as this one. Before this book, the only exposure to Tourette's I'd had was in some dumb comedies where the afficted character's main role is to shout obcenities at inappropriate movies, but Motherless Brooklyn explores the condition much more thoroughly. It really struck me how some of my own hyperactive compusions share similarities to what Essrog goes though.

2. Great sense of humor. Tourette's is funny. Just imagining some of the situations, and how bizarre it would seem to be a part of them continually cracked me up. For instance, Lionel has a compusion where he has to tap the shoulder of people he's talking to. So there's a humorous scene where he is just straining not to tap the shoulder of a cop who's in the process of shaking him down. I know I may be insensitive to think so, but I feel like Lionel gives readers permission to laugh at his antics. He sees himself as a "human freakshow," and seems to be more upset at how most people manage to tune him out than how he's such a curiosity to others.

3. Mediocre mystery. I'm not sure why, but the final solution to the mystery was not at all compelling. Have to think about this a bit more to figure out why....

Overall, a great read. Highly recommended.

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Read it a few years ago. Liked it about like you did, although now the plot is long forgotten, I'm just going by my memory of how I felt about it.

Oliver Sachs in one of his books, has a story about a surgeon in Canada who has Tourette's. That was a fascinating read. I can't imagine meeting the surgeon for the first time and seeing and hearing all the tics. Apparently, he is very good, though.

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Read it a few years ago.
Edited by solishu

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Wandering around IMDB, I see that Ed Norton is working on making a film of this. He's doing the screenplay, directing and playing Lionel. It's marked as 2005, but it's still pre-production, so it doesn't seem to be moving very quickly.

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Link to the LA Times list of favorite books from 2005, which includes Letham's recent essay collection, The Disappointment Artist.

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This is really going to be a great movie. The IMDB page for it show a rating of 9.5 with 156 votes -- and the script isn't even finished yet!

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Wandering around IMDB, I see that Ed Norton is working on making a film of this. He's doing the screenplay, directing and playing Lionel. It's marked as 2005, but it's still pre-production, so it doesn't seem to be moving very quickly.

Wow, I am really bumping this one. I noticed some comments made recently on this book in another thread and read it as a result. I once had a good friend with Tourette's, and this book was like peeking inside that guy's head. Truly enlightening.

But as far as the movie is concerned, I had no idea it was in production. And, believe it or not, Edward Norton became my stand in visual for Lionel while reading. My impression is that if one were to actually see Lionel on the street, one's impression would be far less gently comedic as the book permits. There seems to be two Lionel's in the book: the one beloved by Minna and the one that annoyed Tony and others. I wonder if the latter is going to be the one presented by the film, and the audience will then be allowed to discover the former for themselves.

I haven't been able to track down much more info on the adaptation other than this somewhat bad news ("Norton will be seen later this year in The Illusionist and The Painted Veil. And once he's finished Pride and Glory he'll decide whether he'll do Motherless Brooklyn, a drama in which he would play a detective with Tourette's.")

Edited by MLeary

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Ron Charles [url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/13/AR2009101302994.html]lavishes praise[/url] upon Letham's new novel, but says the book's negatives outweigh the positives:

[i]Jonathan Lethem's brilliant, bloated new novel about the hollowness of modern life should delight his devoted fans -- and put them on the defensive. They will point, justifiably, to the exquisite wit and dazzling intricacy of every single paragraph. In the pages of "Chronic City," all 467 of them, this super-hip, genre-blurring, MacArthur-winning, best-selling novelist proves he's one of the most elegant stylists in the country, and he's capable of spinning surreal scenes that are equal parts noir and comedy. But ultimately, these perfectly choreographed sentences compose a tedious reading experience in which redundancy substitutes for development and effect for profundity. [/i]

As someone who can't wrap my head around any 467-page books these days (with the rare exception), I found the conclusion to Charles' review rather exciting. He says I can get nearly the same impact from one of Letham's earlier short stories as I can from this latest opus:

[i]As a reflection on modern alienation and the chronic loneliness that afflicts us in our faux world, this is beautifully, often powerfully done. When Perkus accuses Chase of being "the perfect avatar of the city's unreality," he's diagnosed a peculiarly contemporary condition. But how many extraneous and repetitive scenes does it take to convey the pathos of this condition? Who isn't weary by now of the "simulacrum" plot? It's all right for an hour or two if it's sexed up with enough violence, like, say, "The Matrix," and certainly Steven Millhauser spun an entrancing novel around the idea in "Martin Dressler," but a lot of water has run over this old philosophical tea bag. The characters that populate Chase's Manhattan never develop beyond their strident quirkiness, and even the intense friendship between Chase and Perkus remains more mysterious than poignant.

The payoff for all this work, a "Twilight Zone" revelation squeezed into the final 20 pages, is a thin reward for such sophisticated but prolonged antics. But fortunately, a CliffsNotes version of "Chronic City" appeared two years ago in a short story collection edited by Zadie Smith called "The Book of Other People." Lethem's contribution, titled "Perkus Tooth," delivers 80 percent of the effect of "Chronic City" for about 5 percent of the effort. That's a bargain nobody should pass up. [/i]

BTW, I've retitled this thread and have merged it with our "Motherless Brooklyn" thread, which was also solely devoted to the work of Jonathan Letham. Edited by Christian

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Equal time for Gregory Cowles in the NY Times, who [url=http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/25/books/review/Cowles-t.html?_r=1&ref=books]gives the novel a rave[/url].

With play like that, I suspect the novel might show up in the Top 10 Fiction Best Sellers within a week or two.

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I'm about a quarter of the way through Chronic City and am enjoying it so far. Motherless Brooklyn is one of those books that compelled me to recommend it to other readers I thought would like it.

Chronic City, while enjoyable, is only recommended if for those who already like Lethem.

Incidentally, I've seen several reviews comment Lethem's surreal portrayal of a bizarro-Manhattan, making particular reference to the tiger that roams the city. I'm sure I remember something similar in either McInerney's Brightness Falls or one of the DeLillo books set in Manhattan.

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[quote name='e2c' date='04 November 2009 - 02:45 PM' timestamp='1257363914' post='207693']
He's also more sympathetic toward women characters, I think.
[/quote]
Funny, I just picked up a copy of his [i]Manhood for Amateurs[/i]!:)

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Foer's next book is about animals/factory farming/vegetarainism. Something like that. I'd be more excited if I hadn't already read that type of book, more than once. I hope he gets back to fiction writing soon.

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Sorry to play Corrector (really!), but I'm compelled to mention that Chabon is not a New Yorker. I do agree that he fits into the same mental filing slot for me with Lethem and Froer, however, and I too am looking forward to reading [i]Manhood for Amateurs[/i].

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I think you just paid Chabon's writing quite a compliment, because as far as I know he's never lived in NYC.

I've always wanted to have the time to explore some of the places Chabon described in The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, because I've pictured them for so many years.

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I'll revive my participation in this thread to say I found Chronic City overall to be a disappointment. I'm still in the camp that will read any book Lethem has published, but wouldn't recommend Chronic City to anyone who isn't already a fan.

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Jeffrey linked to the NY Times 10 Best Books of the Year list elsewhere in this forum, but I thought it was worth [url=http://www.nytimes.com/gift-guide/holiday-2009/10-best-gift-guide-sub/list.html?ref=books]linking here[/url] as well, as [i]Chronic City[/i] appears on it.

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Lethem has written [url=http://suvudu.com/2010/10/jonathan-lethem-focuses-on-carpenters-troubled-masterpiece-they-live.html]an analysis[/url] of John Carpenter’s [i]They Live[/i].

[i]Viewing They Live through Lethem’s eyes is to see not only the overtly leftist political message, but to also acknowledge and attempt to reconcile this with the film’s more deeply buried and infinitely more troublesome racial and gender politics.[/i]

Hmmm. Makes me want to see Carpenter’s film, which I saw in college and was disappointed by. I remember my film prof remarking about how amused he was that Carpenter had made a film where “the bad guys are Republicans” — something that didn’t sit right with me for many years, but which now seems lighthearted and kind of fun. I wonder if Carpenter was being serious.

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Lethem's [i]They Live [/i]gets [url=http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/05/books/review/Kehr-t.html?_r=1&ref=books]reviewed[/url] [i]by Dave Kehr[/i] in the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

I had to order the book. Hope I actually read it! Edited by Christian

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Slate chooses [i]They Live[/i] as one of the [url=http://www.slate.com/id/2277103/pagenum/3]the year's best books[/url] (last item on the page).

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[quote name='Christian' date='09 December 2010 - 02:12 PM' timestamp='1291921967' post='236598']
Slate chooses [i]They Live[/i] as one of the [url=http://www.slate.com/id/2277103/pagenum/3]the year's best books[/url] (last item on the page).
[/quote]
And now, [url=http://io9.com/#!5766538]an excerpt from Letham's [i]They Live[/i][/url].

I can't say I dwelled (dwelt?) on the book too long, but I did read it, enjoyed it, and am grateful to it and its author for causing me to take another look at Carpenter's film.

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The "Deep Focus" book series, which launched with Letham's [i]They Live[/i], [url=http://www.salon.com/books/nonfiction/index.html?story=/books/2011/06/08/deep_focus_sean_howe]branches out[/url]:

[i]Joining Lethem's book last fall was another surprising piece of pop scholarship: Christopher Sorrentino's take on "Death Wish," the Charles Bronson vehicle from 1974. ...

Now four more "Deep Focus" titles are on the way: Josh Wilker's "The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training," Matthew Specktor's "The Sting," John Ross Bowie's "Heathers," and Chris Ryan's "Lethal Weapon."[/i]

The article's author adds, FWIW: "There's a bit of a pattern here: So far the series seems, well, focused on the reactions of white American men born in the '60s and '70s to movies they first saw between the ages of 9 and 25, give or take."

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[url="http://lareviewofbooks.org/post/12467824780/my-disappointment-critic"]Jonathan Lethem on being reviewed by James Wood:[/url]

[quote]“Strangely enough, another misrepresentation, made passingly, stuck worse in my craw. Wood complained of the book’s protagonist: “We never see him thinking an abstract thought, or reading a book … or thinking about God and the meaning of life, or growing up in any of the conventional mental ways of the teenage Bildungsroman.” Now this, friends, is how you send an author scurrying back to his own pages, to be certain he isn’t going mad. I wasn’t. My huffy, bruised, two-page letter to Wood detailed the fifteen or twenty most obvious, most unmissable instances of my primary character’s reading: Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Lewis Carroll, Tolkien, Robert Heinlein, Mad magazine, as well as endless scenes of looking at comic books. Never mind the obsessive parsing of LP liner notes, or first-person narration which included moments like: “I read Peter Guralnick and Charlie Gillett and Greg Shaw…” That my novel took as one of its key subjects the seduction, and risk, of reading the lives around you as if they were an epic cartoon or frieze, not something in which you were yourself implicated, I couldn’t demand Wood observe. But not reading? This enraged me.”[/quote]

[b][url="http://ayjay.tumblr.com/post/12469452145/strangely-enough-another-misrepresentation-made"]To which Alan Jacobs responds[/url]:[/b]

[quote]Lethem is going to get hammered for writing this — He’s showing his insecurities, he’s indulging his petty resentments, doesn’t he know that this only makes the critics want to trash him? — but I think he’s doing the right thing. Wood is a tremendously insightful critic, and a major stylist, but here is a case in which he says things that are manifestly not true in an attempt to discredit someone’s book. Those of us who write reviews are not obliged to like anything, and we can be as fiercely critical as we believe necessary, but we have an obligation to get our facts right. Wood really should apologize to Lethem and issue a correction, but that obviously isn’t going to happen.[/quote] Edited by Overstreet

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