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1. Chronic City (Vintage Contemporaries)
2. They Live (Deep Focus)
3. The Fortress of Solitude
4. You Don't Love Me Yet (Vintage
5. Motherless Brooklyn
6. The Disappointment Artist: Essays
7. As She Climbed Across the Table:
8. Gun, with Occasional Music (Harvest
9. Men and Cartoons
10. Girl in Landscape: A Novel
11. Motherless Brooklyn
12. Men and Cartoons: Stories
13. Amnesia Moon
14. The Wall of the Sky, the Wall
15. Omega: The Unknown
16. Lit Riffs
17. Kafka Americana: Fiction
18. This Shape We're In
19. The Vintage Book of Amnesia: An
20. Brooklyn Is: Southeast of the

1. Chronic City (Vintage Contemporaries)
by Jonathan Lethem
Paperback: 480 Pages (2010-08-24)
list price: US$15.95 -- used & new: US$9.56
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0307277526
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description

The bestselling and beloved author of Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude delivers a searing love letter to the city that has inspired his finest work.
Chase Insteadman, former child television star, has a new role in life—permanent guest on the Upper East Side dinner party circuit, where he is consigned to talk about his astronaut fiancée, Janice Trumbull, who is trapped on a circling Space Station. A chance encounter collides Chase with Perkus Tooth, a wily pop culture guru with a vicious conspiratorial streak and the best marijuana in town. Despite their disparate backgrounds and trajectories Chase and Perkus discover they have a lot in common, including a cast of friends from all walks of life in Manhattan.  Together and separately they attempt to define the indefinable, and enter into a quest for the most elusive of things: truth and authenticity in a city where everything has a price. 

Amazon.com Review
Amazon Best of the Month, October 2009: Jonathan Lethem, the home-grown frontrunner of a generation of Brooklyn writers, crosses the bridge to Manhattan in Chronic City, a smart, unsettling, and meticulously hilarious novel of friendship and real estate among the rich and the rent-controlled. Lethem's story centers around two unlikely friends, Chase Insteadman, a genial nonentity who was once a child sitcom star and now is best known as the loyal fiancé of a space-stranded astronaut, and Perkus Tooth, a skinny, moody, underemployed cultural critic. Chase and Perkus are free-floating, dope-dependent bohemians in a borough built on ambition, living on its margins but with surprising access to its centers of power, even to the city's billionaire mayor. Paranoiac Perkus sees urgent plots everywhere--in the font of The New Yorker, in an old VHS copy of Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid--but Chronic City, despite the presence of death, politics, and a mysterious, marauding tiger, is itself light on plot. Eschewing dramatic staples like romance and artistic creation for the more meandering passions of friendship and observation, Chronic City thrives instead on the brilliance of Lethem's ear and eye. Every page is a pleasure of pitch-perfect banter and spot-on cultural satire, cut sharply with the melancholic sense that being able to explain your city doesn't make you any more capable of living in it. --Tom Nissley ... Read more

Customer Reviews (78)

1-0 out of 5 stars For Chronic Insomniacs
Rich, bored-and boring- intellectuals visiting each others, spewing out witticisms and doing nothing of interest. Characters absolutely undescript save for some zany habits, described at extravagant lenght. And the names! Perkus Tooth sounds like a fatal gengival tumour.As for plot-what plot?

1-0 out of 5 stars Overly Long and Ostensibly Good
I thought-- hoped?-- that this kind of hyper-ironic, self-referential, everything-revolves-around-NYC fiction had been rendered obsolete by 9/11. Wrong again. Incredibly long and surprisingly sophomoric-- with some of the WORST names for characters since anything by Tom Wolfe or, for that matter, Oliver Stone-- there ARE a couple of hilarious (if fleeting) gems: a play on DFW's INFINITE JEST as OBSTINATE DUST, and a tunnel-digging robot that swallows diners, bodegas, and anything else that gets in its path (and who is bearded by a giant tiger that has been sprung from the Zoo by the Mayor's office). But the "Hey-Look-At-Me!" diction and the nagging question any reader must ask ("Do I really CARE how any of this turns out?"). I didn't.

5-0 out of 5 stars A Love Story For Our Time
According to the 'War Free Edition' of the New York Times, Janice Trumbull, New Yorker turned 'lonestronaut' remains marooned in lovelorn orbit. She has been kept from her East Eighty Fourth Street-bound fiancé by a wave of Chinese mines which has prevented her biospheric shuttlecraft's return. In 2008, her emails first reached Earth as our world's New Yorker Magazine fiction section--no return transmission possible--eventually making their way to Lethem's Manhattan, and only recently into paperback.

Steeped in her absence, jilted Chase Insteadman broods among the Island's languid aristocracy while the population continues to be serially terrorized by a gigantic escaped tiger. But just what is The Tiger? No one seems to know, or has even seen the thing first hand, and theories--from the allegedly sound to the utterly paranoid--ricochet between the Mayor's flippant propaganda and idle talk of the city's doped-out citizenry.

Hoping to absolve his guilty role in the Upper East Side's melodrama and survive in the wake of The Tiger's anomalous tour through the sinking city, the Insteadman, along with Perkus Tooth--an intellectually manic hipster, and a sordid Mayor's aid, set out on a Socratic quest to determine just what exactly's going on.

The Chronic City has been reproduced with an almost uncomfortable degree of verisimilitude, resembling The Real City down to living celebrity cameos and economies of name brand consumer products. We find these men wrestling with their roles as figments of yet another Amazon Kindle download--to them an impossible enigma which literary characters are fundamentally designed not to conceive.

Lethem re-expresses this enigma for the three dialecticians by presenting it in more metafictionally accessible forms--as a wild destructive tiger living beneath the streets, an unexplained city-wide chocolate aroma that lasts for weeks, a freakishly unrequited love, the discovery of a book such as David Foster Wallace's confoundedly vast Infinite Jest (humorously, and not too stealthily parodied as a mammoth italicized prose poem entitled Obstinate Dust by `Ralph Warden Meeker.') The Chronic City's struggle to cope with these anomalies allegorically speaks volumes about enigma in our world and the effects it has on us--the ineffable gaps and inexplicable un-authored treasures and monuments generated by our real, contemporary world.

4-0 out of 5 stars Philip K. Dick refuted on The Thirteenth Floor
The book is (in part) a Philip K. Dick paranoid conspiracy theory novel, and other reviewers have pointed out that they're so used to this kind of thing that they guessed the plot in advance, were bored by the device, and so on.

But Lethem adds a point that Dick and movies like THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR leave out: "conspiracies" cannot help but reduce themselves to interactions of human beings: those who conspire against you may be your friends and lovers, REALLY, even as their conspiracy continues.

This is new and interesting--but dry, best illustrated in the rather cold, self-mocking way which Lethem uses, and which negative reviewers here have commented on. Lethem has pointed out in his personal essays how he was drawn to a colder, more cerebral and more comic book-like art than his father produced.

Many reviewers have noted that the book's narrator, Chase Insteadman, is an uninteresting character. But so are we all. It would take novelistic trickery to make us interesting, and most novelists would not be interested enough in us to bother. Neither is Lethem, but he's interested in our situation. What should uninteresting people do? Dream of being at the center of a conspiracy? But would being a victim, or even being a conspirator, make them any more interesting?

To the five-star reviewers, yes. To the one-star reviewers, no. To Lethem ... who knows? But these are some of the points he covers.

2-0 out of 5 stars We Get It - I Think?
We all can relate to characters that reside in the tale, because at one time or another we are all those characters, but he shows pretty much the unlikable side of each.There is no connection that draws the reader in enough care about any of them.The prose as always is spot on, delivering perfect one to two liners every several pages but the rest of the story and sub par plot was about as interesting as the RDA data on the box of Froot Loops.Everything is real until it is not real and when it becomes real it isn't real anymore.Is that was Lethem was going for, if not then I am completely lost and I invite you to tell me why I would recommend this book to only the staunchest of Lethem's fans of which I am one. ... Read more

2. They Live (Deep Focus)
by Jonathan Lethem
Paperback: 208 Pages (2010-11-01)
list price: US$13.95 -- used & new: US$8.03
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 159376278X
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Editorial Review

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Deep Focus is a series of film books with a fresh approach. Take the smartest, liveliest writers in contemporary letters and let them loose on the most vital and popular corners of cinema history: midnight movies, the New Hollywood of the sixties and seventies, film noir, screwball comedies, international cult classics, and more. Passionate and idiosyncratic, each volume of Deep Focus is long-form criticism that’s relentlessly provocative and entertaining.

Kicking off the series is Jonathan Lethem’s take on They Live, John Carpenter’s 1988 classic amalgam of deliberate B-movie, sci-fi, horror, anti-Yuppie agitprop. Lethem exfoliates Carpenter’s paranoid satire in a series of penetrating, free-associational forays into the context of a story that peels the human masks off the ghoulish overlords of capitalism. His field of reference spans classic Hollywood cinema and science fiction, as well as popular music and contemporary art and theory. Taking into consideration the work of Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, James Brown, Fredric Jameson, Shepard Fairey, Philip K. Dick, Alfred Hitchcock, and Edgar Allan Poe, not to mention the role of wrestlers—including They Live star “Rowdy” Roddy Piper—in contemporary culture, Lethem’s They Live provides a wholly original perspective on Carpenter’s subversive classic.
... Read more

3. The Fortress of Solitude
by Jonathan Lethem
Paperback: 528 Pages (2004-08-24)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$5.82
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0375724885
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
The Fortress of Solitude is the story of Dylan Ebdus growing up white and motherless in downtown Brooklyn in the 1970s. It’s a neighborhood where the entertainments include muggings along with games of stoopball. In that world, Dylan has one friend, a black teenager, also motherless, named Mingus Rude. As Lethem follows the knitting and unraveling of their friendship, he creates an overwhelmingly rich and emotionally gripping canvas of race and class, superheros, gentrification, funk, hip-hop, graffiti tagging, loyalty, and memory. The Fortress of Solitude is the first great urban coming of age novel to appear in years. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (111)

2-0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
This book has some great descriptions of childhood terror and social anxiety -- descriptions that took me back to my own nerd fear.But while I loved "Motherless Brooklyn," this book left me disappointed.I found the supernatural elements absurd, and often felt like Lethem himself doubted them.There is little delving into the real feelings and motivations of the characters.Perhaps most disappointing, I felt the book had no moral core.The main character is a grasping, pretentious, wimp, and through his eyes, doping, theft, murder, and vandalism seem merely to be useful street cred markers.While some of this could be explained by the bereft culture the main character inhabited, the episode at Camden College sealed my disgust.(Not the dope dealing - although I found it unfortunate that drug dealing is seen as the height of cool in the book -- but the unrepentant disdain and contempt in which the main character held the "little people.")

5-0 out of 5 stars Rewards close attention
This is not an easy book. In the beginning, the narrator is a small, frightened boy and his impressions are at once blurry and overwhelming, the way the world does come at you when you are little.That is what makes this book so good, the voice is perfect.At the same time, it provides a close observation of a gritty reality and some insightful social comment.The relationship between Mingus and Dylan and what happens to Mingus is a scathing criticism of how we raise and educate our children, and the terrible limitations we place on them.Dylan's belated coming into his own is earned every step of the way.I would like to see this book replace "Catcher in the Rye," which is getting a little dated, as the must read coming of age book for high school students.

2-0 out of 5 stars A Sprawling, Overrated Mess
Brooklyn. The name floats constantly in the air, calling to hipsters of all ages from across the globe. As a resident of Washington, D.C., I have seen numerous people I know move there, some returning to Washington, some staying behind on that distant island to the north with its beckoning neighborhoods -- Bed-Stuy, Park Slope, Williamsburg. Just as Manhattan was once (and still is) the source of all-consuming New York City naval gazing, Brooklyn has now seized its own chunk of the self-obsessed NYC mantle. "Brooklyn is the new Manhattan," Ted Danson's editor character told Jason Schwartzman's Jonathan Ames character on the HBO series, Bored to Death.Sadly, it was only half a joke.

Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude is perhaps the gold standard for Brooklyn narcissism. It follows the story of Dylan Ebdus, a white kid whose parents were part of the early wave of gentrification in the 1970's, Fortress of Solitude is about how contemporary Brooklyn came to be than it is how Dylan Ebdus grew into adulthood there. Long and rambling, most chapters serve to celebrate some aspect of Brooklyn's history, painting the city with obtuse sentences that sound good as they roll into the brain from the page (or in my case, my Kindle), but when considered for too long hardly make a bit of sense.

Just as race relations and gentrification are the sources of modern Brooklyn's conflicts (one need look no further than Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing to see that gentrification has long been a concern for the borough), race relations inform the central plot of the novel. Dylan, being a living racial experiment for his Utopian mother, is the one white boy in a black neighborhood and black public school. Thus he is bullied and harassed for his whiteness by a sea of faceless black children. With the exception of his friend Mingus Rude, most black characters in the early part of the novel are pretty much the same character -- a dehumanized other who exist solely to "yoke" Dylan for pocket change. If anything, Dylan's experience is a reflection of white anxiety more so than the reality of race relations. Dylan's experience is, I think, oversimplified and stereotypical. The reality of minority whites in a majority black city is much more complex -- as a father with children in a D.C. public charter school, I can say with some authority that the brutalization of Dylan's daily life does not reflect the reality my daughters see every day in our city. As a human being, I'm offended by the simplification of many of the book's black characters.

Dylan drifts through the tumultuous 1970's reading Marvel comics, seeing the emergence of disco, punk and hip hop, and incongruously receiving a magic ring from a flying homeless man. Literature enthusiasts will no doubt enjoy the "magical realism" of this ring, which is barely explained and may not actually be real. But as a longtime reader of fantasy, particularly contemporary "slipstream" fantasy that has its own literary ambitions, I have to say that Lethem handles the ring rather clumsily. It seems incredibly out of place in Dylan's bildungsroman, and does not help the sprawling, unfocused narrative.

In the end, Fortress of Solitude became a chore to finish -- as my enthusiasm waned, I found it harder and harder to get through its pages. Perhaps if I aspired to one day move to Brooklyn, I would have had a different experience with the novel -- but as I have no affection for that magical borough, I can confidently say that this book is not for me, or others not already enamored with it.

5-0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written
Two boys, one black, one white, growing up together in Brooklyn in the 1970s, just before the beginning of its gentrification, a time when a white face was in a minority.

The two boys, the white Dylan Edbus, and black Mingus Rude, have much in common, their fathers are creative (one in music, the other art), they are both (eventually) in effect motherless, and they share a love of comics and comic book heroes. But their friendship is not simple, it cannot be where a young white boy is prey to regular muggings, otherwise called yolking, but it is a friendship bound by among other things shared intimacies, and a ring with special powers akin to their comic book heroes.

The story, part told in the third person, later narrated by Dylan in the 1990s, reflects a change in attitudes over a period some twenty years. It is about the music of the period, black and white relations, about friendship and loyalties, about lost opportunities. But above all it is a book that is beautifully written, a book to be savoured purely for the pleasure of reading.

5-0 out of 5 stars Each Sentence a Paragraph - In a Good Way
This is my first Lethem though he has been on my list for some time. What prompted me was reading a re-release of A.J. Davis' A Meaningful Life and finding that Lethem wrote the introduction. He reveals an interesting connection with Davis leading me to believe that the characters Abraham Ebdus and Barrett Rude Junior were partially influenced by him. But enough of my theories. In short, the book was a great read and my only complaint is with the speed in which I read it. I plan to revisit it in a few years and slow my pace. Each sentence is a paragraph, each paragraph a chapter, and each chapter a book - in a good way.

The residential resurgence of Brooklyn in the early seventies provides a tremendous backdrop for characters who try to live within its complexity and reality. Lethem and I are roughly the same age and though I grew up in a very white neighborhood in Canada, I connected with the influence of comic books (I thought I was cool when I read more Marvel than DC), the trauma of witnessing my first physical fight and wondering if I was really there or if I had formed the memory from the resulting stories, the impact of music on one's life, the linguistic expressions understood only within a few blocks, and the dull shock of returning to the neighborhood years later and mentally cataloguing what has changed and what has remained seemingly constant.

The book is a cultural history of three decades, a hipster biography of rich characters, and a jarring remembrance of growing up. It is honest and engrossing. Lethem lets us know that the world is a complex place regardless of how big your world is. His rifts on the comic book worlds are an analogy for our own - messy and disjointed. So Mr. Lethem, in my neighborhood in Winnipeg in the seventies, if things were good they were "Ten bears". If things were really good they were "Ten bears up a tree". Your book is the latter. ... Read more

4. You Don't Love Me Yet (Vintage Contemporaries)
by Jonathan Lethem
Paperback: 240 Pages (2008-04-08)
list price: US$13.95 -- used & new: US$5.85
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 140007682X
Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
Bestselling author Jonathan Lethem delivers a hilarious novel about love, art, and what it's like to be young in Los Angeles.

Lucinda Hoekke's daytime gig as a telephone operator at the Complaint Line—an art gallery's high-minded installation piece—is about as exciting as listening to dead air. Her real passion is playing bass in her forever struggling, forever unnamed band. But recently a frequent caller, the Complainer, as Lucinda dubs him, has captivated her with his philosophical musings. When Lucinda's band begins to incorporate the Complainer's catchy, existential phrases into their song lyrics, they are suddenly on the cusp of their big break. There is only one problem: the Complainer wants in.Amazon.com Review
With his sixth novel, You Don't Love Me Yet, Jonathan Lethem continues to show off his dexterity with the form, following up the coming-of-age epic The Fortress of Solitude with a dreamlike, comic portrait of the Los Angeles art scene. Lethem craftily sets up his ruse with a letter of complaint from Falmouth Strand (a seemingly minor character) who warns us that the book we are about to read completely misrepresents the truth. Falmouth is a former installation artist who has turned from sculpting objects to "manipulating people's despair, pensiveness, ennui." For his latest project, he has posted signs around Los Angeles: "Complaints? Call 213 291 7778." The novel centers around Lucinda (the perfect, unwitting instrument for Falmouth's manipulation), a bass player in a would-be indie rock quartet with nearly enough good songs for a 35-minute set (if you don't count the two they don't like anymore). Lucinda has vowed to stop sleeping with the band's lead singer Matthew (for real, this time), launching a search for true love as drunken and misguided as the band's search for a decent name. She abandons her upscale barista gig to answer complaint calls for Falmouth's conceptual art piece. Before long, she finds herself drawn to a regular whose curious words are "like a pulse detected in a vast dead carcass" of daily complaints. By way of Lucinda, the "genius" complainer's words spark the band's next song, setting them on a shaky upward trajectory all too familiar in the art world. Various characters want (or don't want) to take credit for the song's apparent success, but who deserves it? The complainer who nonchalantly rattled off the words, Lucinda who wrote them down, the remaining band members who collaboratively put them to music, or Falmouth himself, who passively engineered the whole thing?

Fans of Fortress and Motherless Brooklyn may find this novel's levity too drastic a shift, but even though Lethem is having a great time here with wordplay, a motley cast, and Lucinda's sexual meanderings, You Don't Love Me Yet is anything but a simple entertainment. He plays with our notions of art and authorship, enjoying a bit of advanced cribbery himself as he experiments with Shakespearean antics and inexplicable love match-ups. At every turn, Lethem seems to be asking sticky questions: Can anyone create the consummate intersection of dream, desire, and reality that art (and great sex) embodies? Will it last, and should it? Can any one writer capture that moment with a few meager words? If they did, how long would it take for it to be reduced to meaningless slogan? --Heidi Broadhead ... Read more

Customer Reviews (38)

1-0 out of 5 stars Hmmm... Why was this book published?
If you have never read Lethem before, don't let this book be your only Lethem.His other books are fabulous!I can only guess that is why this book was published - because his other books are so great, his publisher/editor either stops reading him or thinks they might have missed the point with this book.

Nope - there wasn't a point to miss.The book doesn't seem to have a real reason for existing. It's got some fun sentences here and there some interesting situations that don't really go anywhere.But I don't need a book for that. Don't waste your time on this one - go grab another Lethem book (Motherless Brooklyn or She Climbed Across the Table).

1-0 out of 5 stars A Disgusting Waste
I really liked Lethem's earlier works, like Gun With Occassional Music, Amnesia Moon and She Crawled Across the Table, but have not seen anything close to those since. Regarding this story, I think he's been reading a lot of Updike and so wanted to get graphic with the sex, and he certainly drew a sleazily Updikian lead character in Lucinda, but there is not enough meat on the bones here. At least Rabbit thought about what he was doing and had some dignity. Lucinda just crawls around like a cockroach eating and drinking everything in her path. The plot and characters are contrived and ridiculous. Why in the world does Lucinda go back to the complainer's loft in the end? The complainer himself is an unrealistic figure: who makes all that money off one bumper sticker idea every 6 months? Why would Lucinda be attracted to a chubby, older guy, turning her basically into a nymphomaniac?And, at the end, it was ridiculous when the complainer and his new, matronly lover go bicycling past them at their remote hideaway. Maybe Lethem should stick with magical realism where he can create his own world, instead of trying to depict the gritty, empty life of modern 'musicians'?

4-0 out of 5 stars APART Y?
Just think about the implications of the idea of a party where everyone is wearing headsets; thus, dancing to their own music while being together. This image was enough for me to ponder on for quite awhile. Plus, the song titles: "Astronaut Food" and "Monster Eyes", how cool. My brain is still picturing the kangaroo in the bathtub.I am going to San Pedro now to eat some crabs and drink a cool beer with another Jonathan Lethem book on hand.

2-0 out of 5 stars defecating kangaroos
Lucinda sleeps around and ruins everything for her band.
Hip flip novel that fails to capture the LA magic.
Somehow the rescue of the kangaroo is thematically connected to Mathew and Lucinda's life spring?
The cycle of the novel ends where it begins as if the events between have no meaning.
If I hadn't wanted to review this novel
I would have put it down in the middle.
The result here is failed literature.

5-0 out of 5 stars I thoroughly enjoyed it
I see that I'm not supposed to have liked it. Well, too late. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I've read most of his books, so I know what a great writer he is, and expected good writing here. I'm sure no one disagrees with me that he's an excellent writer. The complaints seem to be about the plot. I liked the plot for several unusual reasons. I grew up in the Silver Lake district. I'm just getting into playing music. I'm old enough to be able to look at a young woman's life in a detached way. I read a lot (mostly high class stuff), and mainly I like a book by the author's use of language, and the way he looks at things in ways I haven't. Those are my excuses. ... Read more

5. Motherless Brooklyn
by Jonathan Lethem
Paperback: 311 Pages (2000-10-24)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$6.50
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0375724834
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
Canada | United Kingdom | Germany | France | Japan
Editorial Review

Product Description
From America's most inventive novelist, Jonathan Lethem, comes this compelling and compulsive riff on the classic detective novel.

Lionel Essrog is Brooklyn's very own self-appointed Human Freakshow, an orphan whose Tourettic impulses drive him to bark, count, and rip apart our language in startling and original ways.Together with three veterans of the St. Vincent's Home for Boys, he works for small-time mobster Frank Minna's limo service cum detective agency. Life without Frank Minna, the charismatic King of Brooklyn, would be unimaginable, so who cares if the tasks he sets them are, well, not exactly legal. But when Frank is fatally stabbed, one of Lionel's colleagues lands in jail, the other two vie for his position, and the victim's widow skips town. Lionel's world is suddenly topsy-turvy, and this outcast who has trouble even conversing attempts to untangle the threads of the case while trying to keep the words straight in his head.Motherless Brooklyn is a brilliantly original homage to the classic detective novel by one of the most acclaimed writers of his generation.
Amazon.com Review
Pop quiz. Please complete the following sentence: "There aredays when I get up in the morning and stagger into the bathroom andbegin running water and then I look up and I don't even recognize myown _." If you answered face, then your name is obviouslynot Jonathan Lethem. Instead of taking the easy out, the genre-bustingnovelist concludes this by-the-numbers string of words withtoothbrush in the mirror.

This brilliant sentence and a lot of other really excellent onescompose Lethem's engaging fifth novel, MotherlessBrooklyn. Lionel Essrog, a detective suffering from Tourette'ssyndrome, spins the narrative as he tracks down the killer of hisboss, Frank Minna. Minna enlisted Lionel and his friends when theywere teenagers living at Saint Vincent's Home for Boys, ostensibly toperform odd jobs (we're talking very odd) and over the yearstrained them to become a team of investigators. The Minna men facetheir most daunting case when they find their mentor in a Dumpsterbleeding from stab wounds delivered by an assailant whose identity herefuses to reveal--even while he's dying on the way to thehospital.

Detectives? Brooklyn? Is this the same Lethem who danced thepostapocalypso in AmnesiaMoon? Incredibly, yes, and rarely has such a departure beenpulled off with this much aplomb. As in the "toothbrush" passageabove, Lethem sets himself up with the imposing task of making tiredconventions new. Brooklyn accents? Fuggetaboutit. Lethem'sdialogue is as light on its feet as a prize fighter. Lionel'sTourette's could have been an easy joke, but Lethem probes soconvincingly into the disorder that you feel simultaneously rattled,sympathetic, and irritated by the guy. Sure, the story is a mystery,but Motherless Brooklyn could be about flower arranging, forall we care. What counts is Lionel's tic-ridden take on a world fullof surprises, propelling this fiction forward at edgy, breakneckspeed. --Ryan Boudinot ... Read more

Customer Reviews (226)

3-0 out of 5 stars Not quite Chandler
It isn't just that critics have seen something Chandleresque in Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn, the book itself quotes from the old master ('About the only part of California you can't put your foot through is the front door - Marlowe, The Big Sleep'). And Lethem's modern-day crime-cracker, in an utterly different and unique style, has all the polish of the noir genre. Lionel, the Tourette-afflicted hero, is a kind of anti-Marlowe at the same time as he is Marlowe: damaged but brilliant, relentless in fooling everybody else through sheer wit. His verbal tics - disturb-a-stick! feral shtick! - lend the narrative a quirky, darkly humorous spin and are indeed good for quite a few guffaws. But Motherless Brooklyn is slow to get into. The plot isn't quite there, danger not as pressing as in Chandler, the characters not quite as grabbing. And in spite of an impressive ending, the story lacks a sufficiently fast pace. This is good, but to be read for its weird elegance more than as a thriller. And, by the way, if you haven't read any Chandler, then please, please do.

3-0 out of 5 stars When is a detective story not about detectives?When it's written by Jonathan Lethem.
My friend Matt gave me this book this summer, and after I read it I realised that this was the second book I've read by Jonathan Lethem, who also wrote the incredibly strange This Shape We're In. This story is about a young man, part of a team of four "detectives", all orphans, who do work for the Brooklyn hustler who took them out of the orphanage. The narrator, Lionel Essrog, also suffers from Tourette's Syndrome, the condition of tics and verbal outbursts, which people in his vicinity either understand or don't. When his boss is murdered, he goes on the case to try to find the murderer; the murderer is obvious, so the story is more about finding out why he was murdered. But even more, the story is about Lionel, and understanding how he lives, how he controls his tics, and what kind of a future he has waiting for him. Orphans with Tourettes probably have a hard lot in life, and since Lionel is probably also the world's worst detective he doesn't have much going for him there either. He doesn't really do anything, he stumbles onto the story somewhat haphazardly, and hardly gets any information out of anybody.

The book wasn't supremely satisfying, but nonetheless well-written. And although the story is a bit of a non-story, the way it is told and the way the story unfolds is good writing. It's certainly more straight forward than This Shape We're In.

3-0 out of 5 stars Hard boiled with a twist
The novel "Motherless Brooklyn" by Jonathan Lethem is both familiar and original.Lethem took a familiar genre, a traditional detective novel, and added an unlikely twist - the protagonist of this novel, Lionel Essrog, has Tourette syndrome.The result is an unusual and original book that has won numerous awards.

Lionel fancies himself a detective and, when his boss Frank Minna is murdered, Essrog is determined to discover who killed him.This part of the story is a rather predictable hard boiled who-done-it.Add to that the fact that Lionel has Tourette's and the book takes on a new dimension.

Lethem effortlessly pulls the reader into Lionel's world, which is haunting.Lionel has tics, both physical and vocal.His vocal tics are often shouted profanity.Other times he conjoins words or parts of words, creating sounds that burst out of him.The result is unsettling, though at times the word combinations are humorous.

Reading this novel, the detective story faded as I focused on Lionel's life with Tourette syndrome.I'm not sure if that was the effect that Lethem hoped to achieve, but it's probably the reason this book won awards.Regardless, it's an interesting book and the character Lionel is especially intriguing.

5-0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly Defying All Convention
In his treatise On Writing, Stephen King says the spark for many of the best novels is when a writer combines two or more disparate ideas/topics/themes and then figures out how they can complement each other in interesting or unexpected ways. Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn is one of the best examples you'll ever find of this theory in action.

To explain why, let's try to follow (an absurdly abbreviated version of) what must've been Lethem's thought process before actually sitting down to write: "What I want to write is a literary detective novel that pays tribute to the masters like Raymond Chandler. I like that. But I need something more. What if one of the characters has Tourette's Syndrome? Yeah, that'll add intrigue. But he can't be a punchline, he has to be sympathetic. And his relationship with language is how I'll make him sympathetic. Boom, novel."

Then, he sat down to write, and the book he produced (in 1999) won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, turned out to be one of the most-read novels of the aughts, and is often cited as a favorite novel of all time.

The plot is pretty simple: Gangster Frank Minna is murdered, and the four wise guys he's nurtured since orphan-hood (Tourrette's-afflicted Lionel Essrog being one of them) try to find out who killed him and why. Lionel tells us the the story in first person, as he wanders around New York City and then coastal Maine looking for clues and doing his best to manage his disease.

In my mind, Motherless Brooklyn succeeds spectacularly for two reasons: 1) The novel is incredibly inventive, and avoids cliche, when cliche would've been easy, and 2) It's very clear how much fun Lethem must've had writing this novel, which makes it fun to read.

First, how easy would it have been to make Lionel and his Tourette's a silly source of comic relief? Instead, Lethem uses Lionel's Tourette's in anunexpected way: He uses the disease to show us how intricate and clever language can be. Lionel must use the "wall of langauge" as a way to protect himself from his disease-addled brain's attempts to destroy him. For Lionel, language isn't what sets him apart from what's normal, it's what helps him be normal himself. If he didn't have language, even nonsensical strings of language, as an outlet to oppose his other physical tics, his disease would get the better of him, rendering him useless. This is part of Lethem's trick to make Lionel a sympathetic and incredibly self-aware character, as opposed to a source of cheap laughs. He also has Lionel continuously explain Tourette's to us so that we not only understand it (see below for an amazingly written passage explaining Tourette's), but we also understand how his unconventional thinking is actually helping him solve the mystery.

Secondly, if we understand #1, then we can also understand that when Lethem has Lionel let loose with a string of language (Franksbook! forkspook! finksblood, i.e.), the effect is not meant to be comic relief. It's just Lionel being Lionel. But, those Tourette's word explosions (ghostradish! pepperpony! kaiserphone!), which appear frequently, sure had to be helluva lot of fun to write! If Lethem wants to be funny, he'll have his characters tell a joke, use a pun (i.e., soon after Frank's dead: "my mourning brain had decided renaming itself was the evening's assignment"), or toss in a word like "chucklehead" -- which cracked me up every time. It wasn't until about two-thirds of the way through the novel when this notion of how much fun the novel had to be to write dawned on me. And that's the moment the novel really clicked for me. Lethem's not showing off or being superfluous, he's having a blast! And therefore, as a reader, you can't help but have a blast also.

5-0 out of 5 stars Tour de Force
Outstanding book. I would highly recommend this book to anyone that is a fan of quirky literature. It is a great murder mystery. It is a great illustration of a man living with Tourette syndrome. What more could you ask for? ... Read more

6. The Disappointment Artist: Essays
by Jonathan Lethem
Paperback: 160 Pages (2006-03-14)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$7.89
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1400076811
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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In a volume he describes as "a series of covert and not-so-covert autobiographical pieces," Jonathan Lethem explores the nature of cultural obsession—from western films and comic books, to the music of Pink Floyd and the New York City subway. Along the way, he shows how each of these "voyages out from himself" has led him to the source of his beginnings as a writer. The Disappointment Artist is a series of windows onto the collisions of art, landscape, and personal history that formed Lethem’s richly imaginative, searingly honest perspective on life. A touching, deeply perceptive portrait of a writer in the making. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (16)

2-0 out of 5 stars The Disappointed Reader
Like others have said, these essays just miss the target and at the moment I've given up after reading about half and skipping a section or two.Fairly dry anecdotes with no resonance.It reads as though you are listening to someone speak for hours about their not-all-that-interesting family who you have never met.This can be done quite well obviously but that's not the case here.

5-0 out of 5 stars Perfect as an Audio CD
Bookshelf space demanded that I purchase "The Dissapointment Artist" as an audio CD instead of in hardback, something I did with a little hesitance--no matter how good the reader, many books on CD remind me of kindergarden storytime.

This is not the case with "Artist." Lethem reads his essays with an even, mellow pace as he tells of nerdy childhood obsessions...then slowly, slightly, lets his voice lower, his tone darken, as he frankly discussions the death of his mother and its effect on him.

I give a hearty "thumbs-up" to the Audio edition of this book--it's worth every cent.

5-0 out of 5 stars Not One Dissapointing Essay
I love introspective essays - I think they are the purest form of creative writing. In an essay, a writer can discuss the topic that he knows most about (himself) while writing in whatever voice and whatever form the author deems appropriate. If there are few rules in fiction, there are even less rules in essays. Who can tell you that you're wrong in your opinion on yourself?

Jonathan Lethem's "The Dissapointment Artist" is a collection of essays that chronicles the pop culture obsessions that made Lethem into the writer that he is. Music, movies, and art are all given ample time, but books and authors make up the lion's share of topics discussed. He also spends a chapter talking about Hoyt-Schermerhorn, his favorite New York City subway station.

New York City itself also played a formative role in his writing style, as "The Fortress of Solitude" is set there. "Motherless Brooklyn" goes so far as to wear the Big Apple's influence on Lethem in its title. Other previous works include science fiction novels "As She Climbed Across the Table" and "Girl in Landscape."

Lethem addresses his beginnings in science fiction by admitting to seeing Star Wars twenty-one times in one summer in one essay, while also telling of an obsession with Philip K. Dick that drove him to drop out of college and move across the country to join the Philip K. Dick Society, which was dedicateding to "propagating his works and furthering his posthumous career."

Lethem addresses each essay with a nostalgic excitement. Some essays retain the fanatical qualities all the way through, like the essay on Dick, and another on comic books titled, "Identifying with Your Parents." Others take a reverent turn. Lethem waxes philosophical on both the personal and public meanings of little-known author Edward Dahlberg in the title essay, while "Two or Three Things I Dunno about Cassavetes" made me wonder why no one had told me of film-maker John Cassavetes before, if he is so wonderful and important.

The strength of the essays lies in the strength of Lethem's convictions. Besides the pinpointing of a different formative influence in every essay, there are few things that hold the book together. The book is horribly non-chronological, skipping all over Lethem's life. Topics rarely get even so much as referenced again after their essay is over. Most of the topics he discusses are obscure, as I only knew Star Wars, Pink Floyd and Philip K. Dick in a 150-page book. Yet this book is compelling in the extreme, because Jonathan Lethem can really write. Even though his obsessions teeter precariously on the cliff that is "cultish" towards the sea that is "arcane," he explains his obsessions with such clarity, insight and humor that is impossible not to enjoy the ride through his influences.

I can't believe that such a narcissistic piece of work could ever get published - but I am better off for having found it. The distinct style with which Lethem writes could suck anyone in, and the humor and interesting insights will keep you reading. The fact that Lethem is an author of fiction plays a role in drawing the reader in as well - many of the essays seem to unfold in a very character-driven style, with Lethem using himself at different ages as the protagonist. This method is extremely conducive to enjoying this work.

If you're a writer, this book is a must. Seeing a writer deconstruct his own writing style and discuss how he became a writer is fascinating. If you're a fan of essay style, this book is also a must, as Jonathan Lethem's dissections of pop culture are compelling and enthralling. It's not often that a book comes along that makes me want to read it over and over, but this book has me on the fourth reading already.

4-0 out of 5 stars Might be worth reading BEFORE you read other works by Letham
Anyway, I sure wish I'd read this one BEFORE I'd read Motherless Brooklyn and some of his other works, as this collection gives insight into the novelist himself. It is not fiction, but a sort of memoir or a set of essays that focus on things that interest Lethem as well as parts of his life. You'll discover quite a bit about him here, all written very well.

There is quite a lot of variety in this book but I found the parts that focused on his family, his early, rather unconventional life and all the events, large and small, that affected him, to be most engaging for me. I could see how certain aspects related to his books He also writes quite a bit about popular culture and he is the only writer I've read who has admitted to a similar obession to me- watching and rewatching favorite movies, sometimes more than 20, 30...even 40 times. But all this makes sense to me in the context of Lethem's work.

I also happen to believe that it is the losses or more difficult parts of our life that often form the basis for our creativity, our urge to understand, come to terms with or even transcend that loss. Letham admits to being affected by loss, a particular loss, but I'll let you read the book to find out what that was (I hate spoilers). Well worth buying and for those of you short on time, you can read just about any essay in this book, in any order. A DEFINITE plus for those of us who are short on time. This is NOT, however, a book to just read lightly or skim through. There is plenty to think about, sink your intellectual teeth into...and all that.

4-0 out of 5 stars Amazing writing
The reason to read this collection of personal essays, is not their subjects, but the thoughfulness of the author and his simply amazing writing skill. Regardless of my interest in the topics, if found them all captivating -- from the consistence of his brilliant writing and the deeply personal cast he lent to each of them.The essay about his father, the painter, is deeply affecting.Lethem's insights into what shaped him as an author and as a person are so candid and meaningful.Now I feel I will be able to read his novels next with a broader perspective into what went into them. ... Read more

7. As She Climbed Across the Table: A Novel
by Jonathan Lethem
Paperback: 224 Pages (1998-02-24)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$7.95
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0375700129
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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The best boy-meets-girl-meets-void story ever written. Professor Philip Engstrom is in love with Alice Coombs, a particle physicist who, unfortunately has fallen in love with Lack, an artificially created nothingness, a rift in the universe that absorbs some things and disdains others. For this reason, Alice finds Lack an irresistibly mysterious personality--something that makes it an unbeatable rival for Philip Internet publicity .Amazon.com Review
Particle physics, false vacuum bubbles, an alternateuniverse--this is the stuff of Jonathan Lethem's novel As SheClimbed Across the Table. The tale echoes Alice inWonderland in its mad tumble through a rearrangedreality. Narrator Phillip Engstrand is a universityprofessor who has made a career out of studying academicenvironments. Engstrand is in love with Alice Coombs, a particlephysicist engaged in a bold attempt to replicate the origins of theuniverse. The result of the experiment is Lack, a very selective blackhole that sucks some things into its void--a cat, a pair ofsocks, a strawberry--and rejects others, namely, a love-struckAlice. As Alice's unrequited obsession with Lack grows, Phillipbecomes so desperate to save his beloved from this empty rival that herisks a journey down the metaphysical rabbit hole.

Here the language of physics becomes the language of love:describing physics' "observer problem," Alice says, "Some people thinkthe observer's consciousness determines the spin or even the existenceof the electron." Later, as he stumbles to explain Alice's importanceto him, Phillip tells her, "I'm not sure I really exist except underyour observation." In this memorable little book, Lethem exploresthe cosmic possibilities of love. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (51)

4-0 out of 5 stars physics, anthropology, a tiny universe, faculty absurdity, all in a Lethem day's work
Philip, an anthropologist, is in love with Alice, a physicist.A colleague of Alice's does an experiment in which he opens up a tiny new universe.The new universe's only characteristic is that, when you throw things into it, it accepts some of them and rejects others.Alice falls in love with the new universe.Philip remains in love with Alice.The universe, named Lack, accepts and rejects.Mayhem ensues?

As usual, Lethem is difficult to characterize, but that doesn't keep him from remaining GREAT.This is my third Lethem book: Gun, with Occasional Music was crime noire mixed with science fiction; Motherless Brooklyn was crime noire with a protagonist with Tourette's.As She Climbed is ... satire of academic intellectualism and university life?(Definitely.)Science fiction?(Kind of, but not mostly.)

I love three things about Jonathan Lethem, and this book delivers on all three:

1. He draws his allusions from Everywhere.One moment he references Dr. Seuss ("I am the Lorax, I thought.I speak for the trees."), the next it's "Tang, the drink of the astronauts", and in the last few pages we encounter a great allusion to the Greek myth of Persephone;

2. He is wonderfully creative.In this novel, physicists, post-modern literary theorists, anthropologists, go head to head.A woman falls in love with a universe.Two blind men have their own language and explore the concept of time travel (see the excerpt at the end).On and on.

3. His prose is fast and clever.I couldn't put down his other two books (that I've read: Gun and Motherless).This one, a little less frenetic (since it's not a crime novel, after all) was still compelling.
The ending is - in my opinion - fabulous, from a delightful faculty Christmas party to the surprising closure.

Excerpt on time travel from Gath, one of the blind guys, to Evan, the other blind guy: "I mean, if my watch says five-thirty, and I go around all day believing in that, and then I run into you and your watch says five o'clock, half an hour difference, and we've both gone around all day half an hour different - your two, my two-thirty, your four-fifteen, my four-forty-five, half an hour in the past relative to me, and certain of it, just as certain as I am, and we begin arguing, and then, at that moment, the rest of the world blow up, huh, just completely disappears, and we're all that's left, there's no other reference point, no other observer, and for me it's five-thirty and for you it's five, isn't that a form of time travel?" 86

Potentially objectionable content:Maybe a little language, it didn't stand out to me.No sex scenes, but a few references to sex.

5-0 out of 5 stars A Change of Heart
I read As She Climbed Across the Table four or five years ago and thought it was cute but I didn't really connect with it.It felt stuffy in a way, and I couldn't understand some of the character motivations.At first I thought it was a flaw on the author's part, but since then I've come back round to reading Lethem books again, and so I re-read this one.This time I couldn't believe how sad and funny this book is, how accurate a picture of academics it sketches.I think the book was always this good, but I hadn't had the right experiences in life yet to understand it.I'd read it before I was ready.Now, after college and a few heartbreaks of my own, I completely get it.Identity is a fiction, but we try desperately to fill our own lack with things, preferences and dislikes, people, friends, families, lovers.A sad truth to confront, but I see the emptiness there, and why love is so important to fill it.I'm glad I gave this book another go round.

4-0 out of 5 stars Hilarious and Fun
I am an avid reader of Jonathan Lethem and have been happy with many of his novels (ie Motherless Brooklyn, Fortress of Solitude, Girl in Landscape) though less impressed with some of his others.This particular story is really fantastic.The narrator is fabulously flawed, sharp witted, slightly egocentric but very much in love.Discovering he is the other man to a scientific experiment throws him into a great depression and gives him the drive to win back his lover.

Unlike many of Lethems other novels which take themselves very seriously this novel is fun, it's a quick read and it's very clever.

4-0 out of 5 stars Scholarly wisdom
I'm not sure what to think of Jonathan Lethem these days - each work I read by him is, for a time, effortless, close to perfect, and then finds itself veering into a land of bad bad choices.Reading his The Fortress of Solitude, I was left to wonder what the book would have been like if it were simply kept as its electrifying first half, instead of allowed to wander, halfheartedly, into its characters' imagined futures.A similar sensation takes hold in As She Climbed Across The Table - it's not that what becomes of its characters is bad, per se, as much as it is simply ignorant of the novel's wondeful strengths.The book doesn't conclude, per se, doesn't quite complete its central love story - a bizarre love triangle in which Alice, the main character's girlfriend, is drawn away by a hyperactive physics blackhole called Lack - nor does it quite fulfill it, as a first glance at its ambiguous, artsy ending might assume.That's an interesting choice, to be certain, but it also ignores what the book does right.That's because As She Climbed... is effortless not as a love story, but as a breezy satire on academic life.It trots in a revolving door of bizarre academic types, each using Lack - which is, clearly and repeatedly stated, a giant nothing - as a springboard to represent their own attempts at fulfillment, their own need to "get" a situation.Its characters - named in bizarro Pynchon-esque monikers like Georges DeTooth,Dr. Soft, Carmo Braxia, Gavin Flapcloth (!) - are then a wild evocation of pretention in action, a goofy take on collegiate pretentions.There's not much of a sense about Philip Engstrand, a pleasant enough lovestruck protagonist, but its love story itself is a bit of a pleasantry meant to present the lack in its characters' own self-images that make its lunacy possible.All of that leaves this novel breezy, easy to read, fun, and not much of anything.Still, its goofiness is a treasure, especially climaxing in the actions and reactions around DeTooth, the wigged, deluded deconstructionist who explains to a physicist that his response to Lack is to, "compose a document.Perhaps it will not mention Lack.Perhaps it will consist of only the word 'lack.'"The physicist's response is to start vomiting.

1-0 out of 5 stars Not Recommended
I'll keep this brief.This book seems like it's trying to be weird for the sake of weirdness.Skip this one and try Lethem's other books, like "Motherless Brooklyn" and "Fortress of Solitude." ... Read more

8. Gun, with Occasional Music (Harvest Book)
by Jonathan Lethem
Paperback: 288 Pages (2003-09-01)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$3.36
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0156028972
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Gumshoe Conrad Metcalf has problems-there's a rabbit in his waiting room and a trigger-happy kangaroo on his tail. Near-future Oakland is a brave new world where evolved animals are members of society, the police monitor citizens by their karma levels, and mind-numbing drugs such as Forgettol and Acceptol are all the rage.
Metcalf has been shadowing Celeste, the wife of an affluent doctor. Perhaps he's falling a little in love with her at the same time. When the doctor turns up dead, our amiable investigator finds himself caught in a crossfire between the boys from the Inquisitor's Office and gangsters who operate out of the back room of a bar called the Fickle Muse.
Mixing elements of sci-fi, noir, and mystery, this clever first novel from the author of Motherless Brooklyn is a wry, funny, and satiric look at all that the future may hold.

... Read more

Customer Reviews (71)

5-0 out of 5 stars The noir just goes right up into your sinuses
Before Lethem was writing reasonably quirky mainstream novels, he was writing borderline bizarre novels that verged on SF, or at the very least dystopian.This here, his first novel, shows him still working out the kinks but already well on the way to sounding like himself, even if most of the time he has to sound like himself via invoking another author entirely.

Basically, what we have here is a detective story.Except it's set in a world that is seriously depressing and seriously weird.Conrad Metcalf is a private detective in a world where only certain people are licensed to ask questions.He's been hired by someone who has been accused of murder and claims he didn't do it.The deceased was someone who had hired Metcalf not that long before to track his wife to see if she was cheating on him.All too soon things descend from bad to worse as the police definitely don't want him involved, the local mob-type boss would rather just buy him off and a really unpleasant kangaroo is following him around looking for an excuse to beat the crap out of him.Needless to say, the expense report on this one is going to be interesting.

Lethem goes to great lengths to create a world but interestingly never sits down to explain the rules of it to us, we're just sort of meant to take things as they come.As was mentioned, it's a world where nobody can ask questions, where people carry cards around that dictates how much karma you have.The police can add or subtract it but once you hit zero then they take you away to be frozen for however many years they feel like.Various evolved creatures roam the city, ranging from animals like the aforementioned kangaroo and sheep to babies with giant heads that really wish they weren't intelligent babies with giant heads, because all that really gives you is the ability to notice that you really shouldn't have a giant head.Understandably, most of them just drink a lot.

If this all sounds strange that's because it is and in the wrong hands they could seem amazingly zany or even like someone having a laugh.But what makes this work is that all our gateway characters are part of this world, so that none of them see anything unusual about this because it's how they grew up, this is the world in which they're forced to live.They don't really like it some days but it's like growing up in New Jersey . . . after a while you start to think that wall to wall traffic jams are what everyone has and that's perfectly okay.Maintaining that tone is key because if all the characters are accepting this at face value, then we wind up doing so and that makes all the drug snorting and kangaroo smacking more palatable.

Where Lethem almost falls apart is his prose.Seems like he started out trying to write a Chandler pastiche but he lays the noir language on fairly thick, to the point where it vaults past homage and right into outright parody.The prose starts calling attention to itself by how "look at how hard boiled I am!" it becomes and begins to sound less natural.It's only about halfway through the book that the prose regains control of itself and doesn't sound as forced.And by then the nonstop parade of murders and beatdowns and double crosses and conspiracies is entertaining enough that you really don't care.By the time the book rolls around for one final twist that deepens and extends the world we've already spent the last two hundred pages in, you've become immersed to the point where it seems scarily plausible.

More breezy than thought-provoking, it's a great introduction not just to Lethem's talent but his imagination in general, his mixture of seriousness (Metcalf's reaction to the book's last murder, and his closing actions) and the downright wacky (hint: where the book's title comes from) showed him to be a unique author that presumably would get better once he really found his voice.Fortunately for us, he did find that voice, and from there got much better.

3-0 out of 5 stars Neither a compelling story nor strong character development
I like the writing style and there are some interesting concepts in the world Lethem has created but I'm guessing this isn't his best work.

5-0 out of 5 stars Marlowe Meets Bradbury and Orwell
This novel melds the classic Chandler or Hammett detective-mystery novel with futuristic concepts of Bradbury or Orwell.And, what this extraordinarily odd couple makes a wonderful read.

The protagonist is Spade-Spade-like street-smart Conrad Metcalf - who as a futuristic gum shoe will encounter evil fat men, thugs, dolls and corpses.After being hit on the head on few occasions, he resorts to make - apparently future users snort their numbing agents instead of drinking a brown liquid in the glass.

The bad guys include dwarf-like "Baby-Heads" whose 3-foot tall physiques, bioscientically enhanced brains and cynicism allow them tospeak and maneuver like their 6-foot counterparts, but for the obvious one thing.And, with growth patterns which rival a dog's, their lives are as shortened as their heights. Other bad guys include well dressed kangaroo hit men, who meanly kick people with their obscenely strong legs.

Metcalf, like Marlowe, gets his hands on the pretty one, Catherine Teleprompter, and smartly passes on the flirtatious Celeste whose sugar daddies include corrupt doctors and the fat man, Danny Phoneblum.

Chandler's Marlowe and fellow characters are strange, but these are probably unsurpassed.By the time the reader finishes, you discover this author is not only influenced by Animal Farm, The Maltese Falcon and The Martian Chronicles, but seems to have a dear spot in his heart of O'Henry - the ending is a little less predictable than a standard fiction as it ties into the science fiction genre.

The identification card of the future, a karma card, reminds me of Orwell's 1984 - and when the card's points run down to zero, the citizen is put in the cryogenic freezer - not lobotomized or expunged.Literally, bodies are frozen for a term of punishment, only to come out younger than their peers - in some ways it is a strange form of punishment.

The key component is not drink - but "make."Most blends are for accepting, avoiding or forgetting (Acceptol, Avoidol, Forgettol). And then there are personal blends - and of course the deadly blend which empties your core until you are just a zombie of your true self.

If you have read mysteries to the point where you think you have exhausted the supply, read this book.If you have read science fiction to the point where you have exhausted the list, try this one. This novel belongs in both sections of your neighborhood book store.

5-0 out of 5 stars beautifully done crime novel with a subtle-ish dose of Where Are We All Headed? I read it in 24 hours
I'm currently reading Nick Hornby's The Polysyllabic Spree, and he mentioned reading Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude, which reminded how much several people I know loved Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn, which in turn reminded me of a little science fiction (ish) novel that Lethem wrote back in 1994 which I had wanted to read. That's the genealogy. I picked up the book last week, and I basically read it in the last 24 hours (while traveling from DC to Atlanta to Rio to Brasilia). It had me completely captivated.

A hard-boiled detective addicted to dope and flowery metaphors goes up against the institutional cops to solve a murder. And there's a kangaroo with a gun. And a house that's a hologram. And people getting frozen (think Han Solo at the end of The Empire Strikes Back). But before you stop, the beauty of Lethem's novel is that it doesn't feel like science fiction. It feels like a captivating crime noir novel. The reason is that Lethem reels you in at the first pages with the story and the character, and only bit by bit, over time, do you realize that the world is different from our own (right now). (One problem with much science fiction and fantasy is that it requires such a massive investment to start the book: the planet of what? the what-reorganizing matter machine? huh?) And the science fiction elements all feel relevant: the walking, talking animals are the result of artificial evolution processes, and everyone is taking to dope to forget their lives (think a gritty Brave New World). The crime story itself has the requisite zillion twists and turns, and Lethem leads us right up to an impressively surprising finale.

Note: Lots of strong language, a fair amount of violent, and some sexual content.

5-0 out of 5 stars True Originality!
Lethem copies no one in this book.Like a jazz artist that takes impossibly awkward rhythms and suddenly brings it all home to a brilliant, perfect whole (to everyone's surprise!), Lethem makes sense out of almost insane story lines. Lethem reminds me of William Gibson before he ran out of ideas.Gibson was the best in his day, truly original in every sense.My impression of Lethem, about a quarter through the book, was that "He's not going to pull this off."But he does!"Gun, with Occasional Music," is a book you will think about for years after you read it.Is it profound?I'm still not sure.Like a joke that only Lethem knows the answer to, the book tricks the mind.One way or the other, the book meets the only true test:It is a fantastic read. ... Read more

9. Men and Cartoons
by Jonathan Lethem
Paperback: 240 Pages (2005-11-08)
list price: US$13.95 -- used & new: US$3.78
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1400076803
Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars
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Jonathan Lethem’s new collection of stories is a feast for his fans and the perfect introduction for new readers—nine fantastic, amusing, poignant tales written in a dizzying variety of styles, as Lethem samples high and low culture to create fictional worlds that are utterly original. Longtime readers will recognize echoes of Lethem’s novels in all these pieces—narrators who can’t stop babbling, hapless would-be detectives, people with unusual powers that do them no good, hot-blooded academics, and characters whose clever repartee masks lovelorn desperation as they negotiate both the stumbling path of romance and the bittersweet obligations of friendship.

Among them:
“The Vision” is a story about drunken neighborhood parlor games, boys who dress up as superheroes, and the perils of snide curiosity.
“Access Fantasy” is part social satire, part weird detective story. Evoking Lethem’s earliest work, it conjures up a world divided between people who have apartments and people trapped in an endless traffic jam behind The One-Way Permeable Barrier.
“The Spray” is a simple story about how people in love deal with their past. A magical spray is involved.
“Vivian Relf” is a tour de force about loss. A man meets a woman at a party; they’re sure they’ve met before, but they haven’t. As the years progress this strangely haunting encounter comes to define the narrator’s life.
“The Dystopianist, Thinking of His Rival, Is Interrupted by a Knock on the Door” is a Borgesian tale that features suicidal sheep. (This story won a Pushcart Prize when first published in Conjunctions.)
“Super Goat Man” is a savagely funny exposé of the failures of the sixties baby boomers, and of their children.

Sparkling with the off-beat humor and subtle insights, Men and Cartoons is a welcome addition to the shelf of the writer “whose bold imagination and sheer love of words defy all forms and expectations and place him among his country’s foremost novelists.”
Salon ... Read more

Customer Reviews (4)

2-0 out of 5 stars Cartoonish
The first story, Vision, gave me hope that this was going to be superior collection from a quirky writer, thinking another Steven Milhauser. But Alas, after the opening story, about the strange though emotionally bereft party games of the protagonist's flighty neighbors is upstaged by his own, the other stories left me, well, blah.Waiting for something.To write good fantasy, you have to be able to suspend disbelief on the part of the reader.Lethem fails to do that in most of these stories, or otherwise, the characters were simply too uninteresting to care about.

4-0 out of 5 stars Genres in a Blender
MEN AND CARTOONS, an uneven but daring collection of eleven short stories by Jonathan Lethem, takes delight in juxtaposing mundane realities with absurd, surreal, or even supernatural particulars. "Super Goat Man," for instance, is concerned with a Jung-reading, jazz-loving resident at a Brooklyn commune who later goes on to teach at a liberal New Hampshire college -- and, oh, by the way, this professor just happens to be the eponymous character, a literal goat-slash-man -- previously a ho-hum comic book superhero whose unremarkable adventures never quite caught on with the masses. Lethem inserts his incredible characters and events into a quasi-real world where everything is taken at face value. It almost calls to mind magical-realism, but in the case of Lethem the extraordinary is more prosaic than poetic -- less magical than merely situational. Super Goat Man is, after all, like every man in many ways, except for his goatness.

Meanwhile, in "The Shape We're In," the longest story in the collection, a retired military "man" (who happens to be a relentless wisecracker and an alcoholic) asks the Big Questions in his own little world, which just happens to be the inside of a human body. Yes, Mr F is actually some kind of corpuscular element (blood cell perhaps?) racing from the cavernous temple-like lung to the upper nose in a quest to find his son Dennis, who has been spotted panhandling in the environs of one of the eyes. In "The Spray" a house burglary introduces a couple to the spray of the title, a mysterious aerosol chemical which, when applied to an area, reveals the image of what is lost or missing. And in "Access Fantasy" -- probably the most extreme, Phillip K. Dickian outing here -- the main character attempts to solve a suspected murder when he spots a suspicious shadow on an "apartment tape" while stuck in a month-long (or is it year-long?) traffic jam. To do so, he must become an advertising drone and venture across something called the "One-Way Permeable Barrier." (Don't ask. This is certainly one of Lethem's muddiest, least satisfying stories.)

Lethem's stories are most successful when he doesn't drift too far from the normal reaches of reality and when his stories remain firmly grounded in human relationships, as in "The Vision," "The Spray," "Vivian Reif," "The Glasses," and "Super Goat Man." Although the symbolism in the "The Glasses," for instance, seems very heavy-handed, the amusing, quirky dialogue keeps this story afloat.

For those who are familiar only with Lethem's more famous works FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE and MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN, this short story collection may surprise (or disappoint). Although FORTRESS and BROOKLYN involved supernatural and offbeat elements, respectively, MEN AND CARTOONS is more overtly experimental in the strange new realities it imposes on our world. In other words, it may tax the literal-minded.

3-0 out of 5 stars Super Reader
A story collection with not too much of interest, they are all pretty short. A woman that does the Scarlet Witch outfit to get her bloke's crank on, a couple of kids that grow up to be opposing science fiction stylists, as could be seen by their favorite Marvel characters. Those being Doctor Doom for the Dystopianist, and Black Bolt for the Utopianists.

Then there is Super-Goat Man, the superhero who lost his comic etc. because of lameness and outspoken political viewpoints, and ended up faculty at a small college after being a hippy.

3-0 out of 5 stars 1 star for each good story
This is my first read of Jonathan Lethem.I heard his story "The Spray" on the NPR show Selected Shorts, and I was rather impressed, so I tracked down this collection.I am not familiar with any of his novels.

What impressed me about "The Spray" when I heard it, and also when I read it, was its easy style--a couple find that their apartment has been robbed, but when the police come, the couple find that they are not sure about what has been taken, so the police spray the apartment with a substance that makes what's missing appear in a salmon-colored glow.When they leave, though, the police leave the spray cannister behind, and the couple are curious to see what happens when they spray each other.The story moves forward very easily and naturally, obeying its own logic, but by the end it becomes clear that everything has been turning on an idea about loss and the inability to truly let go of things.But Lethem doesn't strong-arm the metaphor on the story.Everything seems to move along quite naturally, while by the end the overriding purpose becomes clear, and this purpose remains even when looking back through the story.

The best works in this collection move with that same sense of authority and ease."The Vision" is a tale about a man re-encountering someone he knew in his childhood who once thought we was a superhero, but now the narrator has to deal with the oddball as a neighbor, and even worse, as the guest of this man who is hosting a party to play a game called Mafia.Keeping with the comic book motif, "Super Goat Man" is about a man's encounters with a failed comic book hero from childhood through their like-minded academic careers.These are the strongest stories of this collection.

But others just fall flat and don't seem to sustain the kind of control and laxity that made the previously mentioned stories such winners."Planet Big Zero" is a rather dully-conflicted tale about a man and his unlikable childhod friend, and "The Glasses" may be too dependent on social commentary (maybe) to see much drive through the piece."The Dystopianist" is quite funny, but ultimately doesn't seem to pay off by the end.And the stories that were added to this printing after the hardcover offer little reason to seek out this particular edition."Interview with the Crab" has some interesting tensions about reality versus actuality (odd to say, when the title is quite literal to the premise of the story), but a lot of these stories read a little too much like T.C. Boyle--a lot of imagnation, but little to hang it on.

Though the three excellent stories in here may be worth the purchase itself, as a whole this collection doesn't satisfy.
... Read more

10. Girl in Landscape: A Novel
by Jonathan Lethem
Paperback: 288 Pages (1999-01-26)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$5.99
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0375703918
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
Anyone who wonders why Jonathan Lethem is the only novelist to be included among Newsweek's "100 People for the New Century" need only read his deliriously original new book, a science fiction/Western that combines the tragic momentum of The Searchers with the sexual tension of Lolita.

At the age of 13, Pella Marsh emigrates with her family to the Planet of the Archbuilders. These enigmatic aborigines have names like Lonely Dumptruck and and Hiding Kneel--and a civilization that baffles and frightens their human visitors.

As the spikily independent Pella becomes an uneasy envoy between two species, Girl in Landscape deftly interweaves themes of exploration and otherness, loss and sexual awakening.
Amazon.com Review
Science-fiction writers attempting coming-of-age stories haveseldom risked showing the stew of loneliness, anger, and angst thatreally characterizes adolescence. Jonathan Lethem, on the other hand,avoids the plucky sidekick syndrome and instead gives usbreathtakingly realistic Pella Marsh, a girl at that awful andwonderful crux in her life just before people start calling her"woman." Her broken family has just moved to a newly settledplanet, with strange and passive natives and the decaying remnants ofa great civilization. Something in the alien environment soon enablesPella to telepathically travel, hidden in the bodies of inconspicuous"household deer," into the homes of her fellow settlers.She inevitably discovers the seamy side of humanity--loss of innocenceeloquently portrayed.Don't read this book on a dark day, as there'snot very much sunshine in here. The entire planet is covered withruins: ruined towns, ruined hopes and dreams, ruined families.For arare dose of SF realism, this is a fantastic read, full of raw (butnot explicit) sexuality and the unhappy hierarchies of childhood.Forget about cheerful settlers moving in next door to helpfulindigenous life forms.This is what the planetary frontiers will be.No matter how far away from Earth we may travel, we'll still be thesame dirty, disappointing, beautiful monsters. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (34)

3-0 out of 5 stars Too much dark, alien atmosphere; too little actually happening
Reminiscent of a much darker version of Heinlein's Farmer in the Sky, which is a much better book in so many ways, this is a painfully dreary story of a 13-year-old girl who loses her mother, then gets transplanted to a frontier planet with her family.There are the germs of some good ideas here, but Lethem doesn't seem to know which story he wants to tell, and as such the whole book seems a little lacking in focus.

The first few chapters are devoted to Pella's mother's death, and seem rather crudely done.It's all-too apparent that Lethem is manipulating his readers into feeling sorry for poor Pella, which shouldn't have been necessary.Once the broken family has emigrated to a sparse settlement on a frontier planet, Pella's father Clement, the former politician, becomes effectively useless as both a man and a character.His mindless insistence on abstaining from appropriate medication (and everyone's refusal to explain its effects) seems (like so many other plot points) very contrived.The Archbuilders are alien enough, and we get some cool scenes with Efram, the heavy who wants things in the settlement done his way, but what we mostly get is unremittingly dark and alien atmosphere with nothing much going on.

So imagine this reader's surprise when around page 245, a chapter opens with "It all began with" which makes a sad but indisputably valid commentary on all the pages preceding.Despite the peculiar way inhabitants of this society have of spying on their neighbors, once Lethem gets down to business this book is just a re-telling of Harper Lee's classic "To Kill a Mockingbird".When Pella's younger brother plays Doctor with Joe Kincaid's daughter, one of the alien Archbuilders (who are black, not surprisingly) is accused of participating (at least passively) and the men of the town all freak, and it's up to Pella to do what needs to be done to set things right.And to Lethem's credit, these last 30 pages are very compelling.Too bad we had to struggle through so much tedium to get there.

3-0 out of 5 stars Not too much to this book.
This was my first Lethem book. I was drawn in by theinside flap... "post-apocalyptic" yes, please! "sexual awakening" oooooh fun, "new planet" interesting....
Not what I had expected.
This book is like bad haunted house, you go in exited, fumbling around in the dark not sure of what to make of anything, waiting for something thrilling to happen.... The excitement I felt in anticipation brought me more adrenaline than any actual plot point did.
This is not to say I did not enjoy my time in the haunted house.

5-0 out of 5 stars Oh great - ANOTHER coming-of-age sci-fi Western with nods to the Searchers and complex gender politics
For much of the first half of his career, Jonathan Lethem seemed to specialize in taking established genres and spinning them into something else entirely - for instance, read Gun, with Occasional Music (Harvest Book) and Motherless Brooklyn for two detective stories that hit all the necessary notes but still create something wholly unique. So it's not surprising to find that this book, written immediately before Motherless Brooklyn, does a similar thing, here taking the Western and spinning it into a sci-fi coming of age story with nods to The Searchers. As always, what Lethem does best is create complex characters, and the titular girl, Pella, is one of his most fascinating - all the more so because Lethem, a grown man, so vividly creates this portrait of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood. But more than that, Lethem reminds us what it must have been like to have settled the West and found ourselves in an utterly unfamiliar world, one populated with people we struggled to understand. In creating the planet of the Archbuilders, Lethem toys with expansionism, racial struggles, and the fear of the unknown, all while never neglecting the complex and flawed characters of his little outpost. I wouldn't recommend it as the best work Lethem's put out, but it's definitely in the upper tier; even with its short length, it's lingered with me and left me thinking about it for some time.

5-0 out of 5 stars Read it!
Lethem has been on my "to do" list for a couple of years now and I've finally started to get around to reading him recently. He is second only to Philip K. dick in my personal pantheon. VERY important writer and this book is my favorite so far.

2-0 out of 5 stars Too Much Girl; Not Enough Landscape
Motherless Brooklyn?Brilliant.Clever.A rare treat.

Gun, with Occasional Music?Beautifully bizarre.

As She Climbed Across the Table?Fantastic blend of sci-fi and romance.

But this book?

Lethem is an amazing writer, and he's been gifted with the kind of imagination that is weird but relatable.He twists the English language around abnormally creative concepts and creates unforgettably odd books.This novel, however, not so much.In fact, in many ways, this novel seems like a trial run for the kind of theme he explored with far greater skill in The Fortress of Solitude.

GIRL IN LANDSCAPE is a coming of age story.If you've read the other comments on this page, you'll get the impression that this is a quasi-western, but this is only true inasmuch as the bulk of the story takes place in the vast wilderness of a mostly unexplored planet.The handful of characters who live there could, I guess, be called frontiersmen/women, but that's hardly an important function of the plot.Don't be expecting any gunfights or stampedes or failed crops or horses.Mostly there are just ruins, remnants of a once great civilization of aliens known as Archbuilders.

Our protagonist, Pella Marsh, was raised in a futuristic New York, at an age when the atmosphere has been so scorched as to make the surface of the planet unliveable.After her mother succumbs to a life-threatening illness and her father succumbs to the loss of a major election, what's left of Pella's family moves to the alien world to begin life anew.What they find there are oddly linguistic aliens and a meager settlement of people, most of whom have no personalities aside from the occasional bout of alcoholism.

The book is obviously about Pella's attempt to deal with her burgeoning womanhood, but it is really hardly about anything at all.Aside from a stone hard man named Efram (who weilds most of his power with as much significance as a really bad dream), the cast of characters are either ineffectual or uninteresting.Usually both.Pella uses her unique position on the planet to deal with a vague (sub?)plot involving bigotry against the Archbuilders, but mostly she just spies on people and wishes her dad her dead and her mom were not.

Mildly interesting, very unsatisfying.If you're interested in Lethem, I'd suggest any of the other books above before this one. ... Read more

11. Motherless Brooklyn
by Jonathan Lethem
Hardcover: 370 Pages (1999)

Isbn: 3932170482
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12. Men and Cartoons: Stories
by Jonathan Lethem
Hardcover: 176 Pages (2004-11-02)
list price: US$19.95 -- used & new: US$6.41
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: B000OZ28G0
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description

Jonathan Lethem’s new collection of stories is a feast for his fans and the perfect introduction for new readers—nine fantastic, amusing, poignant tales written in a dizzying variety of styles, as Lethem samples high and low culture to create fictional worlds that are utterly original. Longtime readers will recognize echoes of Lethem’s novels in all these pieces—narrators who can’t stop babbling, hapless would-be detectives, people with unusual powers that do them no good, hot-blooded academics, and characters whose clever repartee masks lovelorn desperation as they negotiate both the stumbling path of romance and the bittersweet obligations of friendship.

Among them:
“The Vision” is a story about drunken neighborhood parlor games, boys who dress up as superheroes, and the perils of snide curiosity.
“Access Fantasy” is part social satire, part weird detective story. Evoking Lethem’s earliest work, it conjures up a world divided between people who have apartments and people trapped in an endless traffic jam behind The One-Way Permeable Barrier.
“The Spray” is a simple story about how people in love deal with their past. A magical spray is involved.
“Vivian Relf” is a tour de force about loss. A man meets a woman at a party; they’re sure they’ve met before, but they haven’t. As the years progress this strangely haunting encounter comes to define the narrator’s life.
“The Dystopianist, Thinking of His Rival, Is Interrupted by a Knock on the Door” is a Borgesian tale that features suicidal sheep. (This story won a Pushcart Prize when first published in Conjunctions.)
“Super Goat Man” is a savagely funny exposé of the failures of the sixties baby boomers, and of their children.

Sparkling with the off-beat humor and subtle insights, Men and Cartoons is a welcome addition to the shelf of the writer “whose bold imagination and sheer love of words defy all forms and expectations and place him among his country’s foremost novelists.”

... Read more

Customer Reviews (20)

5-0 out of 5 stars Eerily poignant
As I made my way through these stories (over a casual period of three weeks) it seemed that each time I had finished reading, one or maybe two of them at a time, I felt an extreme connection between things happening in my life and what I'd just read. Each and every one of these stories has an interesting message, sometimes the message is even that there is no message and like David Byrne's use of silence as music, Lethem knows how to write dadaistic stories but still leave the reader feeling swept away by the power of what they've just read. Jonathan Lethem has a deep love and respect for the English language and it shows in his poetic, quirky, often funny, and imaginative writing.

3-0 out of 5 stars Not Enough Heroes
This little book is curiously insubstantial, both overall and within most of the short stories. Jonathan Lethem's works are usually fascinating, given his unique thematic insights on the big thoughts of average people, and plotlines that walk the precarious edge between the normal and the surreal. Many of Lethem's full novels are highly recommended, and maybe he needs entire book-length plots to really stretch out and realize the subversive points he obviously wishes to make about the human condition. But many of the short stories here seem like quick knock-offs that only introduce ideas that may or may not go anywhere if they were in longer form.

While hardcore literary theorists may find subtle insights in some of the more mundane entries here, you may find yourself asking "what's the point?" with 15-page stories about a guy having a dispute with his optician or another guy who lets his washed-up friend move in. The better tales here take a little more time to develop eccentric characters more fully or to delve into social satire, most notably the weirdly intriguing "Access Fantasy;" "The Dystopianist, Thinking of His Rival, Is Interrupted by a Knock on the Door;" and "Super Goat Man." But at just 160 pages of mostly half-baked themes, this book just doesn't offer a true taste of Lethem's talents. [~doomsdayer520~]

4-0 out of 5 stars An Intriguing Blend Of Fictional Styles, But.....
"Men and Cartoons" is an all too brief, return visit to the fictional worlds created by Jonathan Lethem in his memorable novels "Motherless Brooklyn" and "Fortress of Solitude", with more than a passing nod to such classic early work from him like his literary debut "Gun, With Occasional Music". Hence it is an interesting, often fascinating, blend of literary styles from quasi-cyberpunk science fiction to hard-boiled noirish detective stories reminiscent of the best from the likes of Raymond Chandler and Elmore Leonard. However, it is not Lethem's most impressive story collection when I can find only one truly memorable tale in this terse anthology; the emotionally captivating "Super Goat Man". And yet there is another tale which almost succeeds as a work of literary art, "The Glasses", which is a fascinating glimpse into racial relations and standards of normal, mentally stable, behavior. If there is one common underlying thread which links all of these stories, then it is Lethem's ongoing fascination with Brooklyn, growing up there as adolescents in the 1970s, and a devout, almost fanatical, love for comic books. Those who are truly interested in reading some brief examples of Lethem's intriguing, often elegant, literary style won't be disappointed with this story collection.

4-0 out of 5 stars One of the best living American writers
Lethem's novels are superior to his essays and short stories. His essays are superior to his short stories. He has a wonderful way of articulating a particular view in american culture that is sadly lacking in competant literary and critical figures. Most of his published work is far better than the majority of stuff out there. Worthy of the price - at least checking out of the library. Remember those?

4-0 out of 5 stars Some brilliant work....
but not all the stories are fantastic.By my count, 3 of these were amazing, 3 of them bland and the last one I'd read before so it doesn't count.My personal favorite is Super Goat Man, which was magnificent.Jonathan Lethem is a very expressive writer, and I can see a bit of noir in his writing.I have to read Fortress of Solitude now. ... Read more

13. Amnesia Moon
by Jonathan Lethem
Paperback: 256 Pages (2005-08-08)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$2.91
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 015603154X
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description

In Jonathan Lethem's wryly funny second novel, we meet a young man named Chaos, who's living in a movie theater in post-apocalypticWyoming, drinking alcohol, and eating food out of cans.

It's an unusual and at times unbearable existence, but Chaos soon discovers that his post-nuclear reality may have no connection to the truth. So he takes to the road with a girl named Melinda in order to find answers. As the pair travels through the United States they find that, while each town has been affected differently by the mysterious source of the apocalypse, none of the people they meet can fill in their incomplete memories or answer their questions. Gradually, figures from Chaos's past, including some who appear only under the influence of intravenously administered drugs, make Chaos remember some of his forgotten life as a man named Moon.
Amazon.com Review
A funny post-apocalyptic road noir tale of Chaos, who lives in an abandoned projection booth at the Multiplex in Hatfork, Wyoming,and his journey to find the truth at the heart of his own American nightmare. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (43)

4-0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and imaginative
Set in a post apocalyptic USA, nothing is quite as it seems. Chaos, aka Everett, the main character cannot remember exactly who he is let alone what caused the break from the world before to the world now, and he cannot find satisfactory answers in Hatfork Wyoming, the dilapidated town populated with mutants where he has a position of some sort of oversight, so he sets of to find answers, taking with him a young mutant girl.

He may not find all the answers he's looking for, but along the way he does find love and hope, although it may not exactly match the dreams he's been having, the dreams that started his doubting.

In Amnesia Moon dreams and reality become confused in a sort of modern day Alice in Wonderland; funny, thought provoking and highly imaginative.

3-0 out of 5 stars Unsolved mysteries
More like Ridley Walker than Catcher in the Rye (the book the blurbs compare it to), this was a fast, confusing read. The plot promises but does not deliver, so I felt somewhat let down. Questions are dangled like carrots in front of the reader, but they are not answered. A bit too derivative of PK Dick, but a fun read. BTW, the book sat on my shelf for ten years, since picking it up as a hc remainder from Daedalus back in the 90's. Finally read it! But not in a hurry to read more by this author (though The Fortress of Solitude looks interesting).

2-0 out of 5 stars Wow I loved this book... until it fell to pieces.
How sad I am._Amnesia Moon_ thrilled me for the first half and more.I was eager to turn the pages and find out more about the bizarre journey of Chaos/Everett.The realms and characters intrigued me.But alas, the story all but collapses in San Francisco.The insertion of highly futuristic technology feels abrupt and unwarranted.Worse, the tale falters into an awkward, mixed-up set of characters and dreams and dead ends.I couldn't wait for it to end, and could care less (unlike so many reviewers) that the ending is "incomplete."

My sense is that Lethem didn't know what to do with his novel.He'd written something quite good, until he got to San Francisco.And then he suddenly goes Pynchon-esque on us.Lethem neither prepares us for this abysmal confusion, nor did he execute the transition adequately.He stammers and reaches fitfully, until he simply closes the book.This book should not have been published in its current state.Will I read Lethem again after this introduction?Perhaps: there was enough in the first 100 pages to make me think the guy can tell a good story... and Amazon readers tell us to focus our Lethem energies elsewhere.

3-0 out of 5 stars Perchance to ....
This book will convince you that insomnia isn't all that bad a thing.

Which is worse: a megalomaniac or someone pulling the strings who doesn't even know he's doing it? Lethem will have you scratching your head continuously as you try to figure out the meaning of this (pick a genre so long as "strange" is part of the description) book.

It seems the consensus of reviewers is that there is a weak ending. Add my vote to that tally. This is a weird book which is fine; but coupling it with a non-existent finish does a disservice to the reader.

3-0 out of 5 stars Let your mind play with the ideas
This is a road story where the main character leaves his town in Wyoming to find his identity and answers to key questions that churn over & over in his mind. It all sounds straight ahead, simple, but there's been an apocalyptic event some indeterminate time ago that has changed the face of the USA; the town he's leaving is full of mutants; he leaves with one of them, a girl covered in fur; his dreams suggest that he's not who he thinks he is and others can see his dreams when they sleep nearby. The story hooked me early.

On their travels Chaos and the girl, Melinda, encounter widely different communities - aside from the mutant town, there's one encased in a green fog, another where government officials star in their own TV show and also police the community...all of which seem to be conjured by those in the community that have the ability to broadcast their dreams to the masses around them.Is Letham commenting on how people can be brainwashed and controlled by those with power? Some of the communities are cult-like, with inhabitants doing as they are told by their demi-god.

No-one seems clear on the nature of the "disaster" that led to this post-apocalyptic world or at what point in time it occurred.There is no shared reality on this point beyond acceptance that a disaster of some sort happened. This makes the book intriguing, especially in a time where we all accept that we're waging a "war on terror".Even if we can't define the scope of what that encompasses, we accept that it needs to be done. It is one shared reality in my world.

This book made me think about how we become communities, how we arrive at shared values, how we are governed/controlled, the power of "group-think" & how much we are prepared to accept at face-value without questioning.The story may seem slight, more novella than novel, but it's thought-provoking if you let your mind play with the ideas. ... Read more

14. The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye
by Jonathan Lethem
Paperback: 294 Pages (2007-03-05)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$5.41
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: B003YCQFZ0
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description

A dead man is brought back to life so he can support his family in "The Happy Man"; occasionally he slips into a zombielike state while his soul is tortured in Hell. In "Vanilla Dunk," future basketball players are given the skills of old-time stars like Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. And in "Forever, Said the Duck," stored computer personalities scheme to break free of their owners.

In these and other stories in this striking collection, Jonathan Lethem, author of The Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, draws the reader ever more deeply into his strange, unforgettable world—a trip from which there may be no easy return.

Amazon.com Review
Jonathan Lethem continues his unique brand of storytellingwith this collection of seven short works. There is no mistaking hisrange or ability as he writes skillfully about subjects as various asHell and the NBA. As usual, reading Lethem is a bit like staring at anupside-down Picasso in black light with 3-D glasses--intenselyinteresting, often confusing, rampantly inventive and never dull. Theunderpinning of this book is not a theme or an idea but ratherLethem's pure, unleashed talent and a mind that can come up with ideasthat will jolt even seasoned SF readers. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (11)

3-0 out of 5 stars Early Lethem, recommended with reservation.
Perhaps I've had the good fortune of reading no Lethem prior to this collection of short stories. Bereft of comparison, I'm also bereft of prejudice. Although I won't be for long. One of his novels is next on my bookshelf.

I know that since the publication of this collection of short stories in the mid `90s, Lethem's career has managed a steady evolution from more pulpy science and speculative fiction to more "literary credibility" (tongue firmly in cheek) with novels like The Fortress of Solitude and Chronic City. I'm excited to delve into more of his work. Lethem has prominently featured on my "to do" list for quite a while.

Overall, I enjoyed this collection, although it certainly is a mixed bag. As I type, I'm not sure what rating I'll give it; I'm vacillating between three and four stars. Stories range from excellent, to not bad, to far too impenetrable to be satisfying, one or two I simply found boring, and one downright terrible: "Forever, Said the Duck," I'm talking to you.

Of course, I can't say I was irritated or disappointed, knowing this was early work from a writer who would significantly improve.

The collection starts very strong, if disturbingly, with "The Happy Man," a somewhat shocking story about a man trying hard to provide for his family that also works as a fable or parable exploring the emasculating effects of modern society on the average working joe. Needless to say, take the title with a grain of salt.

The lame duck, "Forever, Said the Duck," lies smack dab in the middle of the collection. Perhaps editor/publisher thought no one would notice it there. Strictly dialogue-driven in a terrible way, I can't recommend anyone bother with the silly premise and absurd imagery. I'm guessing it was meant to be humorous, but either there's an in-joke behind this story that left this reader out, or the highbrow comedy far too erudite for me to relate.Regardless, that hour of my life would have been better spent elsewhere.

While most others were merely passable or too cryptic for my taste, I very much enjoyed the sixth story in the collection, "Hardened Criminals," which worked for me as a discussion about the tragic effects of urban violence and decay on family in a most unique and literal fashion.
Overall, Lethem's stories are full of interesting ways to explore familiar ideas, but they also feel unpolished, a bit too crass, unadorned, coarse. While many short story writers embrace cryptic or unresolved story arcs, they also must find a way to connect with the reader. I can certainly delve into the meaning behind "Vanilla Dunk" and "Sleepy People," but if it's not a great story, what does it matter of it's sending a thought provoking message?

Not a masterful collection, but worth checking out if you enjoy Lethem or speculative fiction. Keep expectations in check.

4-0 out of 5 stars Unlimited imagination!
This collection of short stories from Berkeley-by-way-of-Brooklyn writer Jonathan Lethem explores the same sort of absurdist science fiction landscape as his novel "Amnesia Moon." These seven pieces show the depth and breadth of Lethem's creativity as he explores the outer reaches of this genre.

The stories that were previously printed in Asimov's Science Fiction magazine are among the standouts in this collection and speak both to the editor's catholic tastes and Lethem's ability to inhabit vastly different worlds and report back with chilling clarity.

"The Happy Man," the lead off tale of a guy who spends half his time in hell and the other half trying to make up with his increasingly distant wife and troubled teenage son, sets the tone for the volume. In this troubling story, the reappearance of a ne'er-do-well uncle in his Earth-bound life begins to draw the two worlds into closer proximity. Lethem telegraphs his final blow but it is devastating all the same. This story stays with the reader and reveals the barely-disguised malice in our classic fairy tales.

"Vanilla Dunk," is a slightly futuristic story of professional basketball in a time where the sport is in an advanced state of atrophy and has begun to consume itself like a snake eating its own tail. Powered "exosuits" give players the sampled skills of the greatest athletes of all time, turning the game into a live fantasy league.

Lethem uses the post-sport spectacle to probe the issues of race (when a white hotshot draws the much-vaunted skills of Michael Jordan) and fame like a tongue returning to the socket of a broken tooth. This is quite a different story than "The Happy Man" and it's a testament to Lethem's deft touch that one doesn't need an understanding, or fondness for that matter, of basketball to enjoy it.

Not every story in "The Wall of the Eye" is a slam dunk, but the penultimate tale, "The Hardened Criminals," shows what an incredible imagination Lethem possesses. To give away the story's main conceit would be a crime in and of itself, but it ends up being a chilling indictment of the prison industry and the way that it is set up to strip away the humanity of those stupid, crazy, or unlucky enough to fall under its purview.

Lethem is a prolific novelist as well as short story writer and at times his prose reads dangerously close to poetry as in this introduction of the prison in "The Hardened Criminals":

"The prison was an accomplishment, a monument to human ingenuity, like a dam or an aircraft carrier. At the same time the prison was a disaster, something imposed by nature on the helpless city, a pit gouged by a meteorite, or a forest-fire scar."

3-0 out of 5 stars Like beating your head against a wall.
It's pretty much a consensus that this is not Lethem's best work. Only a few of the stories are worth the effort - Happy Man, Vanilla Dunk & Sleepy People. Lethem knows how to write but these come across as stories written to fill a publishing commitment rather than ones he really worked on.

If you are a Lethem fan, this is OK to fill out a collection. If you haven't read him before, give this one a pass and read "Gun, with Occasional Music" instead. Four stars for the goodies, two (at best) for the rest - so three star rating.

3-0 out of 5 stars Huge Creative Range, but Not Always Satisfactory Execution
You never know what to expect from Lethem.Compare the terse, stripped-down language of "Gun, With Occasional Music" with his hyperverbose description in "Fortress of Solitude."The man is a literary chameleon, a ventroliquist of strange new voices.

Of what I've read so far, my favorite two Lethem stories are "Mood Bender" from The Best of Crank! anthology and "The Happy Man" from this one.Like what other reviewers have said, the rest is a mixed bag.Most are interesting, and might show the beginnings of Lethem's literary aspirations, as they are more vignettes than traditional stories ("Light and the Sufferer," about crackheads shadowed by strange mute aliens, is the best of these).Frequently, I found myself impressed by the ideas far more than the stories themselves.

But the collection is definitely worth reading, especially for fans of Philip K. Dick looking for something new in SF.I enjoyed them much more than his more recent novels, where he takes a nose-dive into big-L "Literature," with its endless description and dearth of plot.

3-0 out of 5 stars 2 Great Stories, 5.... Aren't
With this collection of seven stories (three of which are reprints from Asimov's) Lethem continues to befuddle me. I loved Motherless Brooklyn, Gun With Occasional Music, and a short story in the Best of Crank anthologyÑbut I hated Amnesia Moon and another story in Best of Crank. While all the stories in this collection benefit from brilliant premises and Lethem's dexterous prose only the two best two ("The Happy Man" and "Vanilla Dunk," both from Asimov's) have true "endings." The other five trail off into nothingness or incomprehensible weirdness that make me wonder if Lethem's subconscious is bound by the old writer's adage that no ending is better than a bad ending.

"The Happy Man" features a dead man who is raised from the dead so he can financially support his family, the catch is that his consciousness must reside in hell part of the time. There he has bizarre nightmares that lead to an unfortunately predictable denouement. In "Vanilla Dunk," professional basketball players are issued suits giving them skills of former greats. From this interesting idea, Lethem fabricates one of the best sports stories I've ever read, as an obnoxious white kid wins the "draft lottery" and gets to be the next Michael Jordan and racial tensions ensue. "Light and the Sufferer" follows a crack addict, his brother, and the mysterious alien who follows them around New York. The humans' story ends rather obviously, but the significance of the aliens is left somewhat obscure. "Forever, Said the Duck" is about a cocktail party inhabited by clones of everyone who's had sex with the two hosts. It's promising enough at first, but degenerates into a psychedelic nonsense. The nifty notion of "The Hardened Criminals" is that convicts are physically hardened and used as bricks for a massive prison tower. Lethem seemed totally unable to make anything out of the premise, however, and when a young criminal meets his father in the wall, the result is rather forced. "Five ..." presents the mystery of a woman who has sex with a man and "loses" two weeks of her life. Unfortunately, the story implodes rather than leading anywhere interesting. The final story, "Sleepy People" is simply odd and makes you wonder why it was included.

Lethem is certainly a creative genius, however, he's still pretty hit or miss in harnessing his creativity. Sometimes he doesn't seem to know what to do with it and ends up writing himself into a bizarre corner. Still, I'll continue to read him to catch the sparkling stuff. ... Read more

15. Omega: The Unknown
by Jonathan Lethem
Hardcover: 256 Pages (2008-09-24)
list price: US$29.99 -- used & new: US$18.08
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0785130527
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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The story of a mute, reluctant super hero from another planet, and the earthly teenager with whom he shares a strange destiny - and the legion of robots and nanoviruses that have been sent from afar to hunt the two of them down! Created in 1975 by Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes, the original Omega the Unknown lasted only ten issues, but was a legend to those who recall it - an ahead-of-its-time tale of an anti-hero, inflected with brilliant ambiguity. One of Omega's teenage fans was award-winning novelist Jonathan Lethem, who has used the original as a springboard for a superbly strange, funny, and moving graphic novel in ten chapters. Collects Omega: The Unknown #1-10. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (53)

2-0 out of 5 stars Rather Be an Alpha than Omega
I'd have to say I'm not a fan of the style of writing or graphics. Steve Gerber first wrote the fist Omega in the 1970s, and it's obvious that Jonathan Lethem was very true to Gerber and honored his anti-corporate message -- the story is marinated in retro revolution. Farel Dalrymple's art is a rough and unpolished, simple drawings without bright colors, like you'd see in older graphic novels.

The first half of "Omega: The Unknown" is a set of confusing subplots, and occasionally a plot threads lead absolutely nowhere. Some times it seemed like weird was the theme just for the sake of being "weird." The second half tighten up the plot. Even then, in the second half it takes the reader to some strange, surreal places. The final chapter is the most unusual -- dialogue whatsoever.If you're into strange for the sake of strange then you probably love it.

Lethem goes full out on weird and satirical -- the Mink is a unheroic "hero" who declares war on Omega for threatening his "M" franchise, and the story is often narrated by a statue that only has hands and a head (and occasionally sings). Even weirder, one of the big threats to the city is Mink's robotic severed hand (which grows legs and walks out of the lab -- can it get much weirder than that?). Anti-robot salt, grilled birds and neighborhood bullies all play a part.

Another review of Omega called it Trippy, and if you disregard the untrippy graphics, I'd say that about sums it up.

4-0 out of 5 stars Pretty Cool, Pretty Cool Indeed!
I have not read the original run of Omega, thus these comments are strictly limited to a stand alone reading of Jonathan Lethem's, et al. work, although, the artwork of this version bears no resemblance whatsoever to said original run.

It's not very difficult to recommend this comic book, nonetheless. All aspects of the excellent artwork--lettering included--match the quirkiness of the script whereupon, e.g., even the main character tries his hand at illustrating a comics mini-tale featuring quite a style of its own in Chapter VII, eccentric psychological insights are furnished by a Guardian of the Galaxy-like floating talking-head and lead singer of a band called The O-Thinkers that utters lines like: "...You never know exactly what combinations may occur when silicon and meat-beings start swapping spit" and its sense of humor, illustrated by such dialogue lines as:

--"I think that guy's called "Doc Digestion."

-- Yea, yeah, from "Astonishing Tales of Nutrition," right?


"My friggin' hand got Andromeda Strained."

The story is intriguing, attractive and its pacing is superb, very Mike Allredish in both its artistic spirit and letter.

All characters are remarkably odd in both their uniqueness and recognizable aspects. Purple dressed Mink, e.g., reads like a corporately-restrained Garth Ennis-like take on Booster Gold minus the annoying flying mechanical gizmo, plus a bothersome supporting retinue of hot purple dressed Mink wannabes instead.

Pretty cool, pretty cool indeed!

3-0 out of 5 stars Interesting but ultimately mediocre updating of an interesting but ultimately mediocre 1970's comic book series
Omega The Unknown was an interesting but ultimately unsuccessful comic series (both creatively and commercially) created by cult fav comic writer Steve Gerber (Howard The Duck, Man-Thing) during the 1970's; it has inexplicably been brought back to life by writer Johnathon Lethem and illustrator Farel Dalrymple to no great effect.

Fans of the original comic book will be hard-pressed to recognize Mr. Gerber's original comic creation and will no doubt come away disappointed. I must wonder... why bring this niche character back in the first place if you intend on doing such a radical overhaul in tone and style? Why not just create a new character altogether? The indie-comic style art is OK, as is the story (yet another quirky, satirical, deconstructive look at the super-hero genre).

All in all, worth a read, if not a buy.

4-0 out of 5 stars Interesting Redo of Unknown Comic
Leave it to Jonathan Lethem to reimagine a comic that has been long forgotten.Omega the Unknown had a short run many years ago.There is an afterword in this graphic novel explaining how the series came to be and how it is loosly based on the original series.In some cases, frame almost matches frame and then the story veers away and becomes something different.I have yet to look up the originals, but the Lethem version was an interesting story.

A boy is shipped off to a school and a car accident reveals his parents to be androids.His origin as some kind of super hero manifests itself and he is sent to a place where he can trust noone.He has problems realizing his powers.He is sent to school where he makes a friend among many people who pick on him.A super hero turned bad named The Mink plots against him.Another hero, a mute who often does nothing, works subtly behind the scenes to help the kid.At times the kid walks blindly and cluelessly through what happens to him.Other times, he rises above.One of the best segments is when he revisits his parents' house and finds his uniform and a few secrets about his parents.A maze sequence is also very good.There are, however, times when the narrative drags and it becomes hard to read.Then it picks up again.The idea of a super hero who wanders through life as an everyman is interesting.I liked the fact that the story meets with a satisfactory end.There is no cliffhanger to leave you wanting to read the next one, which did not disappoint me at all.

I don't know if there will be another Omega graphic novel by Lethem and friends, or if this is a one shot.The end seemed pretty conclusive, but there are areas than could be expanded upon if the creators wanted.I would definitely recommend it to fans of Lethem.It is definitely better than "Fortress of Solitude," but not as good as "Wall of the Eye" or "Gun With Occasional Music."

2-0 out of 5 stars I really wanted to like this.
It's not all bad. OMEGA: THE UNKNOWN has its good moments, but they are too few and far-between. Jonathan Lethem is really grasping for the quirkiness of the original series mixed in with some pseudo-WATCHMEN style examination of the superhero in reality, and with his unfortunate lack of great storytelling skills and not being the best artist hurts his attempts to make a genre-bending tale here. It's unfortunate, because I really did want to like this book. It just didn't work for me. ... Read more

16. Lit Riffs
by Jonathan Lethem, Tom Perrotta, Lester Bangs, Aimee Bender, Amanda Davis, Neal Pollack, J. T. Leroy, Heidi Julavitz, Toure
Paperback: 432 Pages (2004-06-15)
list price: US$25.99 -- used & new: US$0.99
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0743470265
Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars
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Following in the footsteps of the late great Lester Bangs -- the most revered and irreverent of rock 'n' roll critics -- twenty-four celebrated writers have penned stories inspired by great songs. Just as Bangs cast new light on a Rod Stewart classic with his story "Maggie May," about a wholly unexpected connection between an impressionable young man and an aging, alcoholic hooker, the diverse, electrifying stories here use songs as a springboard for a form dubbed the lit riff.

Alongside Bangs's classic work, you'll find stories by J.T. LeRoy, who puts a recovering teenage drug abuser in a dentist's chair with nothing but the Foo Fighters's "Everlong" -- blaring through the P.A. -- to fight the pain; Jonathan Lethem, whose narrator looks back on his lost innocence just as an extramarital affair careens to an end -- this to the tune "Speeding Motorcycle" as recorded by Yo La Tengo; and Jennifer Belle, who envisions a prequel to Paul Simon's "Graceland" -- one that takes place at a children's birthday party replete with a real live kangaroo.

With original contributions from Tom Perrotta, Nelson George, Amanda Davis, Lisa Tucker, Aimee Bender, Darin Strauss, and many more -- riffing on everyone from Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen to the White Stripes, Cat Power, and Bob Marley -- this is both an astounding collection of short stories and an extraordinary experiment in words and music.

Soundtrack available from Saturation Acres Music & Recording Co. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (1)

3-0 out of 5 stars reversi
Lit Riffs is a unique concept, one so obvious you'd smack yourself on the forehead for not having considered it:stories based on songs, when the reverse is quite common.The choices of songs to base a tale on is wildly disparate, which is cool.Thankfully this collection didn't go down the route of all easily recognizable pop songs.

More interesting than the book is the companion recording of cover versions of the songs that inspired Lit Riffs, soon to be released by S.A.M. records;My favorite track is the rendering of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah by the band Teenage Girls.Covers of Cohen songs tend toward the slavishly faithful;it's refreshing to hear a group make it seem new. ... Read more

17. Kafka Americana: Fiction
by Jonathan Lethem, Carter Scholz
Paperback: 100 Pages (2001-09)
list price: US$11.00 -- used & new: US$1.49
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 039332253X
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Previously published only in a signed, limited edition, Kafka Americana has achieved cult status. Norton now brings this reimagination of our labyrinthine world to a wider audience. In an act of literary appropriation, Lethem and Scholz seize a helpless Kafka by the lapels and thrust him into the cultural wreckage of twentieth-century America. In the collaboratively written "Receding Horizon," Hollywood welcomes Kafka as scriptwriter for Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, with appropriately morbid results. Scholz's "The Amount to Carry" transports "the legal secretary of the Workman's Accident Insurance Institute" to a conference with fellow insurance executives Wallace Stevens and Charles Ives, to muse on what can and can't be insured. And Lethem's "K for Fake" brings together Orson Welles, Jerry Lewis, and Rod Serling in a kangaroo trial in which Kafka faces fraudulent charges. Taking modernism's presiding genius for a joyride, the authors portray an absurd, ominous world that Kafka might have invented but could never have survived. ... Read more

18. This Shape We're In
by Jonathan Lethem
Hardcover: 55 Pages (2001-02-05)
list price: US$9.00 -- used & new: US$6.00
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0970335520
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Lethem, author of the bestselling Motherless Brooklyn , returns in concentrated form - packing twice the adventure into one-eighth the pages. This book could be some kind of allegory book, but it might not be an allegory book at all. It involves people and drinking and people looking for a giant eye. It is among the best things Mr. Lethem has written.
... Read more

Customer Reviews (12)

2-0 out of 5 stars Huh?
The novella is about a former General with a drinking problem sent by his shrewish wife to rescue their son from chanting as a cultist for something called the Third Eye. Oh yes, and they're all microscopic humanish creatures living inside a horse. So the general travels to the eye where his son is and along the way encounters militia drinking dens, bizarre orgies, barbecues with the horse's meat being used, and a Central Command gone mad.

I have no idea what the book is supposed to be about. It's a brief 55 page novella with large font size so the confusion is over soon but the whole thing is so strange it doesn't make any sense. Why are these humans living inside a horse? What's the business with the Third Eye? Why do all the humans have references to our world and live like we do only inside a horse?

It's bonkers like a Vonnegut-esque story but really is a weak effort from a usually great writer. "Motherless Brooklyn" and "Gun, with Occasional Music" are both excellent novels and I highly recommend those rather than this meandering tale of nothing.

3-0 out of 5 stars The weirdest book I've ever read
A strange, surreal book. It would be useful if I could compare it to something, but that's just not possible...A man travels through the insides of a cow looking for his lost son, who he believes has found the eye and is observing the outside world.Along the way, he passes groups of people who are barbecuing parts of the living cow, having orgies, whatever.Yes, odd...

4-0 out of 5 stars Philip K. Dick Would Be Proud of This Little Book
As I read the 55 pages of *This Shape We're In*, I kept thinking that I was reading a Philip K. Dick story; this was something I couldn't shake all the way to the end and enhanced by the fact that this is the first thing I have read by Jonathan Lethem, and because of this I look forward to reading more.

It would be difficult to say much about the plot because almost any detail would spoil the reading of this book and the answer to the question that runs through this book: what is the Shape that the characters live in - a multi-generational spaceship? A fallout shelter? - and what will the Eye see - Interstellar space? A nuclear wasteland? That is the most I can give away without ruining the fun of reading this little novella.

And, again, this book would do Philip K. Dick proud! I don't know if Lethem intended this or if his books are very Dickian as a whole.

Hats off once again to McSweeney's Books for bringing this book to us.


A Guide to my Book Rating System:

1 star = The wood pulp would have been better utilized as toilet paper.
2 stars = Don't bother, clean your bathroom instead.
3 stars = Wasn't a waste of time, but it was time wasted.
4 stars = Good book, but not life altering.
5 stars = This book changed my world in at least some small way.

3-0 out of 5 stars Good Enough
Lethem has proven himself to be a virtuoso of story-telling.His books, for the most part, inhabit a plane of existence that defies much classification, and they wield their creativity with the force of a sledgehammer but the precision of a scalpel.Although his work can sometimes be uneven, it is always entertaining, and certainly never average or boring (to be fair, though, his short stories are hit-and-miss).

This little nugget is, for the most part, a success, but it also comes across as only partially-formed.And although it is, as usual, beautifully and skillfully told, it seems to be less a fully realized tale and more a creative exercise.Lethem, here, is just stretching is literary limbs.Consider listening to a highly touted operatic singer practicing her scales: it's still beautiful singing, and it may even be fun to listen to, but it isn't a song, and there's just not that much to it.

5-0 out of 5 stars Satire
First of all, when one judges this book, it should be judged using the correct criteria.This is not an amazing novel, nor is it a story for the ages.What it is is a funny little story and it should be judged as such.Taking the Trojan horse from the Iliad and mixing it with Fantastic Voyages, generation ship Sci-fi, and the Simpsons is a really funny idea.If this book were any longer it would have failed.Any shorter and it would have been a footnote.As it is, it is a very successful and amusing tidbit. ... Read more

19. The Vintage Book of Amnesia: An Anthology of Writing on the Subject of Memory Loss
Paperback: 432 Pages (2000-10-17)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$3.98
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0375706615
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Jonathan Lethem is perhaps our most active literary voice mining the genre margins of our culture.In this unique collection he creates an anthology that no one else could.He draws on the work of such unforgettables as Julio Cortazar, who presents a man caught between the ancient and modern worlds unable to say which is real; Philip K. Dick, who tells the story of a man trapped on a spaceship of the somnolent, unable to sleep and slowly losing his mind; Shirley Jackson, who takes us on a nightmarish trip across town with a young secretary; and Oliver Sacks, who presents us with an aging hippie who possesses no memory of anything that has taken place since the early seventies.

What Lethem has done is nothing less than define a new genre of literature-the amnesia story-and in the process he invites us to sit down, pick up the book, and begin to forget.

Also including: John Franklin Bardin, Donald Barthelme, Thomas M. Disch, Karn Joy Fowler, David Grand, Anna Kavan, Haruki Murakami, Flann O'Brien, Edmund White, and many others. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (6)

3-0 out of 5 stars A Lacunae of Amnesia is Present in this Book
Although a worthy endeavor, the author has, either through negligent research or faulty criteria, neglected to include the work of Nicomedes Suarez-Arauz, Amazonian poet, artist, academic (professor emeritus at Smith College), theoretician and creator of an artistic movement using amnesia as a creative premise in the arts. A seminal work is Amnesis: The Art of the Lost Object (Lascaux Publishers, 1988), Amnesis: The Art of Amnesia and the Lost Object For a partial chronology of Suarez-Arauz's work on Amnesia see [...]. Also, on that website you can find a poetic evocation of his theory in The Amnesis Manifesto (1984). In 1988, Suarez-Arauz gave a lecture on the topic at Boston City Hall and you can view videos on UTube. Just type in his name.
Artists throughout the world have been influenced by his work on amnesia as a creative metaphor. Do a google search with his name and the words amnesia amenesis loen. (Do three different searches.)
No less than Jorge Luis Borges and Buckminster Fuller praised Suarez-Arauz's work.
Recently, Robin Blaetz, professor film studies at Holyoke College, wrote an essay entitled Amnesis Time: The Films of Majorie Keller in the book Women's Experimental Cinema (Duke University Press, 2007).
Suarez-Arauz's creative work on amnesia began in 1973. For anyone interested, there are a multiude of resources to futher investigate the topic. Presently, an anthology of his work over the last 34 years is being prepared for publication in Latin America.
The author seems to have been afflicted with amnesia when preparing his anthology.

3-0 out of 5 stars Some great stories, some so-so
When I saw this at a bookstore, I had to have it, being a big fan of that cheesiest of all literary and cinematic devices, amnesia.
Most of these stories were new to me, except for the Donald Barthelme's "Game,"and some are great, such as Philip K. Dick's "I Hope I Will Arrive Soon," Brian Fawcett's "Soul Walker," and particularly a nonfiction entry from Oliver Sacks, "The Last Hippie."I did not care at all for "Sarah Canary," or "The Second Coming." Many of these "stories," are actually excerpts, which now makes me want to read Cornell Woolrich's "The Black Curtain" and "Cowboys Don't Cry" by L.J. Davis. Still, I have to say the best thing in the whole book is Lethem's introduction. After that, the book itself was a bit of a letdown. Still, I'm glad I bought it and I look forward to going through the books listed in his "Incomplete Annotated Bibliography of Amnesia Fiction."

3-0 out of 5 stars Uneven and teasing, but contains gems
The theme is right up my alley and Lethem is one of my favorite authors. Nevertheless I found the book frustrating, because many of the pieces are excerpts from novels and show it, with abrupt endings that don't resolve anything. I'm grateful for having the chance to get tastes of these (mostly obscure) books, but it detracts from the anthology itself. Nevertheless, thanks to this I've already discovered, purchased and read two excellent novels I'd never heard of before -- Lawrence Shainberg's "Memories Of Amnesia" (first person view of eminent neurologist's mental collapse) and John Franklin Bardin's "The Deadly Percheron" (weirdo '40s noir) -- and in between enjoyed some old classics I hadn't re-read in a while, such as Philip K Dick's terrifying SF short story "I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon".

3-0 out of 5 stars Hardly cohesive
While this book contains many wonderful short stories, it fails at being a cohesive anthology.Editor Lethem has broadly defined 'amnesia' define anything related to the doubt of one's mental state or existence.That's wide net, and the resulting catch is eclectic and disjointed.

I also have a problem with the excerpts from full novels.Although many stand well on their own, I always feel as if I'm not getting the full point.Once I was halfway through I began skipping the excerpts and focused on the complete short stories.

But as I said, there are many gems here.Particulary the Borges, Lethem, and Sacks stories stand out.If you read this with the understanding that most of the stories have nothing to do with the common perception of amnesia, it may be well worth your time.

4-0 out of 5 stars Mmmm... yummy.
Are you worried that coughing up the bucks for an anthology will leave you with two or three gem stories and a pile of duds? Well don't worry this time, kids, Lethem delivers the goods. At least eight solid keepers in this one that I will certainly read again at some point. Overall, the theme works very well, and the variety of experiences (from creepy to wacky) is pretty wide. It's not all bumps on the head, waking up in white-walled rooms... ... Read more

20. Brooklyn Is: Southeast of the Island: Travel Notes
by James Agee
Hardcover: 64 Pages (2005-10-01)
list price: US$16.95 -- used & new: US$10.41
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0823224929
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For the first time in book form—a great writer’s classic celebration of the essence of Brooklyn.

Propulsive, lyrical, jazzy, and tender, its pitch-perfect descriptions endure even as Brooklyn changes; Agee’s essay is a New York classic. Resonant with the rhythms of Hart Crane, Walt Whitman, and Thomas Wolfe, it takes its place alongside Alfred Kazin’s "A Walker in the City" as a great writer’s love-song to Brooklyn and alongside E. B. White’s "Here Is New York" as an essential statement of the place so many call home. ... Read more

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