Three Very Different Books Connected By a Quest for Identity
The Gooze Fritz, by Sergei Lebedev (New Vessel Press)
There’s a natural inclination to fill in the missing pieces of our personal narratives. It partially stems from the belief that understanding where you come from, can ultimately shape where you’re going. Such stories allow us to elevate our unknown ancestors to mythical proportions — a missing father can become a war hero, or a grandfather a healing wizard — offering the descendent a chance to create order from chaos and reframe their roots.
Kirill, the main character in The Goose Fritz by Sergei Lebedev, doesn’t initially set out to elevate his ancestors, but he does attempt to control his destiny by creating a linear arc of the past. As a child, Kirill was the sole companion of his grandmother Lina, as she took secretive trips to the German cemetery in Moscow. Unquestioning, he accompanies her for years before understanding the family’s German origins. It’s a secret that seems so far removed from the American psyche — a nation of immigrants — yet so apt in a time of increased nationalism.
If Peter Buttigieg was only the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Twitter would care less about what he reads. But he is running for the highest office in the land, and that makes a difference.
People love lists almost as much as they love to hate them. Take our latest, by the Democratic candidate for President, Pete Buttigieg. I was heading to LAX airport to catch the redeye last Thursday when I noticed some unusual activity on Twitter. Many of the people in my feed were tweeting about Ulysses, the novel that is widely considered a cornerstone of modernist literature, and which Buttigieg had just selected as one of his ten favorite reads for One Grand Books. “James Joyce is trending, so I have to give Pete Buttigieg credit for that,” tweeted Jeet Heer, a contributing editor for The New Republic.
The famous opening line of Slaughterhouse-Five, is a tease of a sentence. Is Vonnegut giving us a memoir, or fiction? Or is he challenging the very nature of memoir? Who says that fiction is any less true than non-fiction? In an era when memoirs are frequently unmasked as fiction, why do we even bother with the distinction? To quote Oscar Wilde in his essay, The Decay of Lying, “There is such a thing as robbing a story of its reality by trying to make it too true.” Read More Wheels Within Wheels: Revisiting Slaughterhouse-Five
In his book Fascination, his memoir of gay life in 1970s Long Island, a leading proponent of the New Narrative movement recalls his coming-of-age in a “seedy, Burroughs kind of place.”
I grew up in Smithtown, a suburb of New York, a town so invidious that still I speak of it in Proustian terms—or Miltonic terms, a kind of paradise I feel evicted from. Smithtown, Long Island, kind of an MGM Norman Rockwell hometown, a place so boring they gave it a boring name . . . When I was 14 I began to go to New York on a regular basis, sometimes on the train, sometimes hitchhiking there, looking for a jungly eroticism I supposed Smithtown, with its manicured lawns and its country club airs, couldn’t afford me. I was right and wrong at the same time.
We invited you to help us whittle 20 books published in 1969 down to ten, and we’re now ready to kick off One Grand’s 1969 Book Club. We’re giving readers a month to read our first choice of the year, Kurt Vonnegut’s “famous Dresden book,” as he wryly refers to Slaughterhouse-Five in his introduction. A book that is simultaneously fiction and memoir, and which hops around in time, the New York Times urged that the introduction be read aloud to “children, cadets and basic trainees.” It was the first of Vonnegut’s to become a bestseller, but lost the Hugo Award that year to Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which we’ll be reading later this year.
Graham Greene leads the nominations. Margaret Atwood is running close.
With almost 150 votes cast, the line-up for the 1969 Book Club is shaping up to be a perfect gender balance with books by men, and five books by women. Iconic 1969 novels, Portnoy’s Complaint, Slaughterhouse Five, and The Left-Hand of Darkness are all polling well, as is Maya Angelou’s vivid memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Rounding out the list is Daphne DuMaurier’s gothic time-traveling novel, The House on the Strand, just pushing out John Cheever’s Bullet Park. It’s not too late to vote – the poll can be found here, but here’s the current state of play.
Vote for ten books you want to read (or reread) from the year of Woodstock, Stonewall and Nixon’s inauguration – and join us on a literary journey.
One Grand Books is launching its first book club, and we’re inviting you to join us—whether local or long-distance readers. In the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, Stonewall, and Neil Armstrong’s “small step for mankind,” the 1969 Book Club will look at novels published in that momentous year – which began with the inauguration of Richard Nixon. What, if anything, do they reveal about the concerns of the age, and how do they speak to us today? In literary terms, it was an extraordinary year, with groundbreaking novels by Philip Roth, Ursula LeGuin, and Kurt Vonnegut, as well as some enduring bestsellers, among them Mario Puzzo’s The Godfather and Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. It was also a year in which second wave feminism made its influence clear in novels by Margaret Atwood and Iris Murdoch, among others, and when the singular talent of Maya Angelou was announced with the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. What’s more, all of these titles have all had five decades to demonstrate their longevity and worth.
The acclaimed writer Abdella Taïa on the protests gripping France.
We are in an emergency, that’s for certain. France is on edge at present, on fire. France is angry. Very angry. And nobody can say that this anger emanating from the lower middle class is unjustified. No. There is consensus on that, on its legitimacy. People really have had enough of paying even more tax, and of seeing their lives being reduced day after day. Opposing desires – the desire for purchasing power and the desire to regain one’s dignity.