Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Good at Being Bad

Sisyphys by Titian
Giles Harvey's “Cry Me a River" (The New Yorker, 3/25/13) takes a look Benjamin Anastos’s Too Good to be True, Toby Young’s How to Lose Friends and Alienate People and The Sound of No Hands Clapping, David Goodwillie’s Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, Josh Gidding’s Failure: An Autobiography,Tom Grimes’s Mentor: A Memoir, Greg Baxter’s A Preparation for Death and David Shields’ How Literature Saved My Life. With the exception of the Shields title which is less concerned with personal failure than the failure of fiction itself, Harvey set himself a Sisyphean task in trying to come up with something positive say about such a large number of books about failure. You can almost picture Harvey with his legs up on his desk and the review copies of the books on failure in an auspicious pile—with say Memoirs of Literary Failure being the straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of blocking the view out of his window at The New Yorker. But where does someone like Josh Gidding go? Failure: An Autobiography is not like Star Wars. Despite the fact that Toby Young did write The Sound of No Hands Clapping after How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, there is not likely to be a sequel to the Gidding volume. And what about the failed writers whose whole existence has become a cliché? What about those autobiographies of failure that fail to merit mention in even a piece like Harvey’s? What about the angry diatribes, in which the writer blames everyone from the publisher to his wife, that fail to get published at all? What about those books that aren’t good at being bad?

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