About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

#16 - All the Sad Young Literary Men

This one was better. Not perfect, but better. All the Sad Young Literary Men, by Keith Gessen (New York, 2008).

Summary: "A charming yet scathing portrait of young adulthood at the opening of the twenty-first century, All the Sad Young Literary Men charts the lives of Sam, Mark, and Keith as they overthink their college years, underthink their love lives, and struggle through the encouragement of the women who love and despise them to find a semblance of maturity, responsibility, and even literary fame. Heartbroken in his university town, Mark tries to focus his attention on his graduate work on the Russian Revolution, only to be lured again and again to the free pornography on the library computers. Sam binds himself to the task of crafting 'the first great Zionist epic' even though he speaks no Hebrew, has never visited Israel, and is not a practicing Jew. Keith, more earnest and easily upset than the other two, is haunted by catastrophes both public and private -- and his inability to tell the difference. At every turn, at each character's misstep, All the Sad Young Literary Men radiates with comedic warmth and biting honesty and signals the arrival of a brave and trenchant new writer."

My take (really, a pretty quick one this time): Annoying characters, but I still mostly liked it -- chiefly because I think Gessen knows they're annoying, and wants us to laugh and roll our eyes at them. (Actually, Keith, from what we see of him, is fairly sympathetic; Sam and Mark, not so much.) Beautiful downtown Syracuse, NY makes a less-than-flattering cameo, as Mark's temporary Elba for most of his graduate hears (he's in a doctoral program at SU), and while it's not my favorite city, either, I initially got my feathers riled about yet another Downstater thinking there's nothing north of Westchester save depressed downtowns and toothless rednecks ... but, um, Gessen was a student at Syracuse himself at one point, so I guess he's got cred.

Anyway, digression aside, it was sometimes hard to keep Mark's and Sam's plot lines (and occasionally, love interests) separate, but again ... I'm going to assume that was deliberate. I don't know that it's a great book, or that it'll be worth reading in 10 or 20 years, but if you're familiar with the "obscure humanities scholar" type or even academic/ intellectual pretensions in general, you'll probably get a few chuckles out of AtSYLM. Best to read it once you're well past, and not still in the thick of, your angst-ridden early 20s, though.

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