My Favorite World #18

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When I was a lad, I decided I should go ahead and plan on accomplishing three simple tasks:

  1. Read every great book ever written.
  2. Listen to every great piece of music ever written.
  3. See every great movie ever made.

I’m almost finished.1/rimshot

Reading is a huge piece of My Favorite World. Much of my recent reading has been non-fiction. It’s been pretty heavy slogging.2Including yet another run-in with Daniel Dennett that ended the way the first two did: I’m doing pretty well until, inevitably, somewhere c. page 120-150, I begin to feel I am the stupidest person in the world. I liked Coming of Age in the Milky Way  quite a lot, but covering billions of years can sort of feel like it. It was time for some fiction.

Now, because I like to believe I am an enlightened and fair-minded fellow, I stacked up three books written by actual women(!).3To burnish my bona fides as a Friend of Women; my membership renewal is up for review. Briefly, then, a few notes on these.


I’ve seen her movies and read her short stories, and I’ve even spent some time with Miranda July’s web-based work. I really like her; she feels gentle and optimistic, but not a Pollyanna. Still, first novels can be problematic, so I wondered if she could pull it off.

Wonder no more. This strange tale spent the first third making me annoyed-unto-angry with the characters; the second third creeped me right the fk out; and the ending wrapped up this unlikely story with a sweetness and hopefulness that was not forced or cloying, but somehow managed to give some credence to the idea of First Bad Man being some kind of feel-good novel.

July’s writing is sometimes spare, sometimes florid, but always direct and compelling. Even during the sections that angered me or creeped me, I never considered putting it down. She takes an unfiltered view, but never comes off as cynical or above-it-all ironic.

(Also, too: her book of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You, is pretty terrific.)



Yeah, it’s an Oprah pick, but I ain’t ashamed. I’m only about half-done with this book, but it is really pretty great. Strayed is a fantastic writer; the night I started, it kept me up way past pumpkin hour.

I had avoided this one for awhile, despite or because of the hoopla. Add the fact that I kind of hate the memoir genre4With some exceptions like Jeanette Walls and Frank McCourt., and I let this one slide. I get the sense that Strayed is giving us a pretty straight story5Keeping in mind this blog’s fealty to the Unreliable Narrator theory that posits that all writers lie., heartbreaking and terrifying and tragic.

I’ve been known to hurl memoirs wallward in disgust6Augusten Burroughs, I’m calling you out!, and it could still happen with Wild, but I think I’m down for the whole hike.

(I also find Reese Witherspoon pretty adorable and I’m curious to see how she manages this on screen.)


This is the first of the three that I read, and it kicked this whole batch of reading off in high gear.7Full disclosure: Kim and her family are good pals. This blog takes its conflict of interest standards seriously! The writing is spare, with an incessant rhythm that keeps the pages turning. The central – and several of the secondary – characters are fully realized in a crisp and economical manner. The book is funny, and sad, and tragic in places.

The story is a fictionalized account of the Mayor of Newark leading up to the 1967 riots. It’s familiar in a strange way for any of us who watched The Sopranos. We recognize some of the wise guys from our tv screen, and some of the grifts ring bells, too. But it never feels derivative; perhaps that is because the actual Mayor was a relative of the author, but I think it has more to do with the distinctive styling MacQueen brings to the page.

Sure, she’s a pal, and I’m giving her an enthusiastic plug. Take it with a grain. But I’m telling you: this is a really terrific book. And watching a friend develop her talent into something that rings like People Who Hate America: that is My Favorite World in spades.

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4 responses

  1. I read Wild in a couple of days, which is unusual for me. Normally, I savor. But I plowed through Strayed’s book. It was harrowing and so well written and, well, I couldn’t help myself.

    I haven’t read MJ. I know and adore Kim and am looking forward to reading her book. I’d add Sheila Heti, Maggie Nelson, and Sarah Manguso to your stack if they’re not or haven’t been there already.

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