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The TNB Book Club has selected Jonathan Franzen’s Purity as its official August pick—available soon in trade paperback from Picador. As a featured book club author, Mr. Franzen will be appearing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast next month. Stay tuned!

Carswell_1I had trouble coming up with questions to ask myself, so I asked my wife, who is a psychologist in a prison, to ask me questions like I was one of her inmate patients.

I see that you were placed in the mental health system. What prompted this?

I wrote a book about my favorite authors and their metaphysical ukuleles. It’s as crazy as it sounds.

 

What makes it crazy?

I didn’t mean to do it, exactly. I started out bored one day in New Mexico, kind of stranded in a diner, so I started writing about Herman Melville’s time with in the Marquesas, living with a tribe he believed were cannibals. The story seemed more real to me once I gave Melville a ukulele, so I went with it.

Autobiography in ten words.

Brawled my way into the world. Survive is my language.

You firestar. Pool of moonburst.
You turned my skin to dust. Rawblade glasstooth girl.
With your hot rage and bus ticket anywhere.
Never saw a woman run so many directions at once.
One night, you shined so bright the police came to watch.
Your bruises and shirt-shreds. How we all just stood there,
watching you shimmer. Afraid to flinch, for a faceful of claw.
You are some kind of firework. Flipswitch blues.
Broken Sundays spent towing the boulders out of you.
The Brooklyn 3am’s, frenzied as an upturned autobahn.

Metaphysical Ukulele Cover“UKULELE FALLOUT”

1. Healthy and Optimistic

Richard Brautigan’s ukulele fell suddenly from the sky on a sunny October day. It landed in Washington Square Park on the North Shore of San Francisco, not far from the Benjamin Franklin statue.

The first to approach Richard Brautigan’s ukulele was a homeless wino. He watched the ukulele fall from the sky while eating a sandwich he had been given across the street at Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral. The sandwich fell out of the wino’s hand, occupied what sky remained between the hand and the grass of Washington Square Park, and, like Richard Brautigan’s ukulele, took its place among the poplars and cypresses, the sandboxes and sprinklers and tennis balls saturated with dog spit in the park. The wino picked up his sandwich and continued to eat.

A jogger also saw Richard Brautigan’s ukulele fall from the sky. She jogged over to the fallen ukulele.

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I don’t know how to write this essay. It’s smarter than me. I’m overthinking every line, every angle. I write it, and I take it apart. I hold a broken piece and try to fit it in somewhere else and stare for a long time and take it out again. Writing about family is complicated. Reading what I write about my family is complicated. Write, delete. Hold back, unleash. Delete, delete. I’m exploring the idea of family because I have some sort of family identity struggle going on because I always have a family identity struggle going on. Is this what happens when your parents get divorced? When your parents break do you break too? Divorce or separation doesn’t equate brokenness—doesn’t have to but usually does. People don’t get divorced because their relationship is going well. Divorce means something is wrong—so wrong the animosity between my parents is still palpable after twenty-five years.

I want to tell you stories about my parents, and I want those stories to reflect me with big psychological terms. I want to contain my identity in a manageable, cohesive space. This essay. I’m starting to think this is impossible.

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July 8, 2016

To: Nelnet Education Loan Servicing, The U.S. Department of Education, the FSA Ombudsman Group
, and the Better Business Bureau of Nebraska

CC: Loretta Lynch, Barbara Lee, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Barack Obama

BCC: The Nervous Breakdown

From: Ariel Gore, Oakland, CA

 

I am writing to make a formal complaint against Nelnet Education Loan Servicing and, by extension, the U.S. Department of Education that empowers them, for a pattern of willful incompetence that I believe amounts to fraud.

I entered college as a young single mom in 1990. I was told that an education was the road out of poverty. I did not take out any private loans. I took out the maximum government student loans recommended to me, and was assured they were reasonable based on the educational products that were being sold to me. Those loans amounted to less than $40,000. I did well in school and graduated from Mills College with honors in 1994. Instead of studying creative writing at the graduate level, I opted for a more “practical” master’s program in journalism and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1996. I have been on an Income-Contingent / Income-Based Repayment Plan since 2002 and have always made the required payments on time.

kcatinella_photo1.

The Internet isn’t popular enough yet for thousands of people to make the comparison between Justin Timberlake’s hair and a block of dry, uncooked Ramen Noodles. It is 1999. Because no one is paying attention, no one notices that Justin has a bad case of head lice that he refuses to acknowledge due to his busy schedule and also his desire to maintain a top-ranking position as teenage sex icon. The rest of N*Sync is in the hallway toying with the TRL celebrity photo booth while Justin sits in the greenroom of the Times Square studio. Carson Daly has just walked in to give Justin a hug. Carson asks, Do you need anything my man? to which Justin replies, I think I’m OK for now. Neither of them are particularly good at conversation, and they take turns looking in different corners of the room as JC and Joey call out poses from the hallway: Let’s do a silly one, Let’s stick our tongues out, OK, this one let’s just smile. Finally, Carson says, Not into pictures? Justin wishes he could explain to Carson that he actually loves photo booths, but the rest of the boys would surely get lice if he participated, so instead he just says, Nah, not my thing, and scratches a spot on his scalp that has been intensifying throughout the exchange.

Mike_Edison_You_Are_a_Complete_Disappointment

Now playing on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast: Mike Edison, former publisher of High Times magazine and former editor-in-chief of Screw magazine. He is also a musician and a professional wrestler. His new memoir, You Are a Complete Disappointment, is available now from Sterling Books.

 

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Listen via iTunes.

jacket copy smallerSwan Huntley’s debut novel We Could Be Beautiful is as literary and character-driven as it is a cleverly plotted page-turner. Forty-three-year-old Catherine West grew up with money. Eighty thousand dollars gets directly deposited into her bank account each month from the family trust. She owns an apartment in the West Village and spends her days with her masseuse or shopping for designer clothes. At an art gallery she meets William Stockton, who is rich, handsome, and happens to be an old family friend. As they fall in love and then plan their wedding, Catherine’s mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, faintly remembers sinister things about William’s past, including a letter from a nanny stating, “We cannot trust anyone…”

I found myself completely immersed in the world Huntley created, and not just because I read We Could Be Beautiful while living in Manhattan this summer and surrounded by the types of characters she details perfectly on the page. As scary as it is the narrative felt possible, maybe because Huntley wrote from experience. After receiving her MFA from Columbia University, she lived in a commune in Brooklyn and worked as a nanny for a family in Soho. Today, she lives in Northern California, where she was when I called her for this interview about We Could Be Beautiful.

We're All Damaged coverIt’s scary how many details I remember about the night Karen left.

That’s the thing I hate most about my brain, the way it stores and catalogs things, all this dumb shit on a giant hard drive in my head, so I’m forced to obsess over it all like a crazy person.

Here’s a perfect example.

Our waiter had a button stuck to his apron that said “Ask Me about Bacon Time!” Why in the hell would I remember that? He had to have been wearing, like, thirty buttons—they always do—but that’s the one I remember. He brought us our food, I saw the button, and I wondered if he was ever tempted to wear it outside of work, like with jeans and a T-shirt, just hanging out with his friends.

Hey, everybody—you guys—ask me about Bacon Time!

 

Jessica & Matthew

Five Beers, Five Questions

Who: Authors Matthew Norman and Jessica Anya Blau

Where: A dive bar with dangerous parking (try to get out of the lot without getting hit by oncoming cars) in North Baltimore. Three TVs played the baseball game. The pool table was in continuous use.

What: Natty Boh, a beer the locals drink.

How Much: 3 dollars a can.

Present: a nice multi-racial mix that properly represented the people of Baltimore.

But: With the exception of the bi-racial lesbian couple eating burgers, everyone looked like they could use a good long stint in rehab. Especially the guy with the open, weeping, mouth sore who asked Jessica to play pool with him.

Max_Porter_Grief_is_the_Thing_with_Feathers

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast: Max Porter, whose debut novel, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, is the official June pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club. Winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize, it is available now from Graywolf Press. (Photo credit: Lucy Dickens)

 

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Listen via iTunes.

SarahAnnA little over a year ago, an article headlined Los Angeles and Its Booming Creative Class Lures New Yorkers was published in the New York Times style section. Seemingly written solely to troll LA residents, the piece name-dropped “in-season Zambian coffee,” the downtown Ace Hotel, and Moby’s house here as evidence that LA was finally suitable for New York tastes. “Los Angeles is widely acknowledged to have become strikingly more cosmopolitan in recent years,” the author noted, going on to list brioche tarts and barrel-aged rye cocktails as proof that Southern California was a region on the rise.

The bemused furor that arose on social media died down, but not before journalist, podcaster, and famed caftan enthusiast Ann Friedman wrote a parody for the LA Times. In her take, Friedman expresses shock and delight at the idea that Angelenos are “reversing the American directive to go west…finding that New York is more than a capitalist prison that runs on the fumes of the finance industry and nostalgia for CBGB.” “In fact,” she writes, “it now offers many of the lifestyle amenities that their hometown has boasted for decades.” (Friedman’s listed amenities include green juice, raw meals and “an In-N-Out Burger replacement called Shake Shack.”)

TroubleLexie.BlondieThe problem wasn’t so much that Lexie had taken the Klonopin. And it wasn’t even that she had stolen them. At thirty generic pills for ten dollars, the theft of a handful (two down the gullet, the rest down her bra) had to be less than . . . seven bucks? The problem, as Lexie saw it, was that she had fallen asleep in the bed of the owner of the Klonopin. And the owner of the Klonopin was the wife of her lover.

“Miss James?” Jen Waite said. Her dyed hair was blonder than Lexie’s and her pale face looked prettier than Lexie remembered from their single meeting at Parents’ Weekend—brow furrowed now, head tilted with concern.

Lexie looked down at herself. Her fitted red dress was scrunched up to her hips and she wasn’t wearing underwear. A shadow of hair trailed from crotch to mid-thigh. Lexie tried to yank the dress down but her brain-hand-body coordination was off and she couldn’t manage the required butt-lift.