On finally reading the book a friend lends you

You know how sometimes a friend will press a beloved novel on you, and you’ll take it home with every intention of reading it, but something about it’ll strike you the wrong way?

Something irrational, I mean. Like maybe it’s got a butt-ugly cover. Or maybe, even though the writing is fine, you just think it’s too contrived for a book to open with a group of junkies sitting around a table, predicting how each of them will die.

So then, if you’re like me, you read two or three pages before shoving the book in one of the wobbly stacks against the wall* (see above). You forget about it except when you happen to glimpse the spine guiltily every couple of months — or when, from time to time, you decide you want to reread an old Poe story or remember the finer points of the Barthelme essay about how much Thanksgiving sucks, and you’re actually forced to confront the thing. Then you might even take another look at the first page or two, but you wind up right back at the table with the junkies, and you stick with your initial impressions.

This is exactly what I did with Ellen Miller’s Like Being Killed.

The proprietress of Number One Hit Song let me borrow it a couple of years ago, back when I first moved to Greenpoint. I’m sure she would’ve liked her book back before now, but when we’re practicing knife-throwing and drinking moonshine in my backyard, we only badmouth other people, not each other.

I finally read Like Being Killed the week before last,** and I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of the best fictional examinations of drug addiction I’ve read in years — even though it ends with a sort of cockeyed redemption. (If you’ve been reading this site for any length of time, you’ll be able to guess how I normally feel about anything remotely approaching a happy ending.) I’ll probably have more to say about the book one of these days, but for now I want to warn off those of you who can’t tolerate discursive ruminations on loss and grief and the desire to be less conscious.

Anyhow, this post is intended less as a suggestion to read that particular novel than as an exhortation to track down the last book a friend foisted upon you and give it a try. You might end up sharing her grief over the writer’s failure to produce much else.

* I’ll have you know that some of the books in the photo actually fell on my face while I was lying on the floor to take this photograph, so I may have given myself a black eye. I won’t find out until morning — it’s just after midnight now — but it wouldn’t be the first time. I forgot the cardinal rule of the book slob: never try to tidy the stacks after you’ve had a couple of beers. Incidentally, there’re six other piles just like those in my apartment. Mr. Maud can barely climb into his side of the bed. You can choose to think I’m joking, if you want, but the dirty genes run in the family. Iron the sheets, my ass.

** Sorry in advance for the teeth marks, Dana.


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