Between the Lines Book Club: What to Read if you Liked Little Failure

between the lines book club logoThis month we are reading Little Failure, by Gary Shteyngart, as our Between the Lines Book Club Pick.  This book club meets right here every Friday.  If you are in the Sacramento, CA area, you can also join us in person at 10:30AM on the fourth Saturday of every month at Arden Dimick Library.

Little Failure is a memoir by Gary Shteyngart about his difficult relationship with his parents.  Memoirs have been around for a long time.  One of the first was Julius Caesar’s Commentary on the Gallic War, written in 58-49BC.

While Julius Caesar focused on political world events, popular recent memoirs have focused on the family.  If you like Little Failure, you might like these books, which describe awful childhoods with humor and a great tenacity:

Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt

McCourt describes growing up in Ireland.  It opens with the immortal lines:

“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

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Running With Scissors, by August Burroughs

Burroughs writes about his life with his mother and his mother’s psychiatrist in 1970’s Massachusetts.  While he describes horrific scenes and events, he does so with humor and a determination to survive.

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Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel

In this graphic novel memoir, Bechdel describes her youth in rural Pennsylvania.  Her novel focuses on her relationship with her father and their mutual struggles with sexuality (he was a closeted gay man; she is a lesbian).  The sequel, Are You My Mother?  is about Bechdel’s relationship with her mom.

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For something completely different, try:

Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs by Writer’s Famous and Obscure, ed. by Rachel Fershleiser

Can you tell your life story in six words?  This started as an online project and became a series of wonderful, funny, moving, silly books.  Examples, “Followed rules, not dreams.  Never again”, “I grew and grew and grew”, and, from Stephen Colbert, “Well, I thought it was funny.”

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Between the Lines Book Club is Back with: Little Failure

between the lines book club logoAfter a break for the month of December, Between the Lines Book Club is back!  This book club meets right here every Friday.  If you are in the Sacramento, CA area, you can also join us in person at 10:30AM on the fourth Saturday of every month at Arden Dimick Library.  This month we are reading Little Failure, by Gary Shteyngart.  This memoir is tragic and funny, often simultaneously.  Shteynhgart writes of his parents with anger, sadness, and compassion.  Here’s the publisher’s blurb from Random House:

Little Failure is the all too true story of an immigrant family betting its future on America, as told by a lifelong misfit who finally finds a place for himself in the world through books and words. In 1979, a little boy dragging a ginormous fur hat and an overcoat made from the skin of some Soviet woodland creature steps off the plane at New York’s JFK International Airport and into his new American life. His troubles are just beginning. For the former Igor Shteyngart, coming to the United States from the Soviet Union is like stumbling off a monochromatic cliff and landing in a pool of Technicolor. Careening between his Soviet home life and his American aspirations, he finds himself living in two contradictory worlds, wishing for a real home in one. He becomes so strange to his parents that his mother stops bickering with his father long enough to coin the phrase failurchka—“little failure”—which she applies to her once-promising son. With affection. Mostly. From the terrors of Hebrew School to a crash course in first love to a return visit to the homeland that is no longer home, Gary Shteyngart has crafted a ruthlessly brave and funny memoir of searching for every kind of love—family, romantic, and of the self.

I’ll write more about this book next week, but here’s an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air program to tide you over.  Enjoy!

http://www.npr.org/2014/01/07/260445299/you-cant-be-this-furry-and-other-life-lessons-from-gary-shteyngart

cover of Little Failure