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This Week’s Reading

Staff Picks: Alcoholics Anonymous, Hollywood Star Whackers

December 17, 2010 | by

Clancy Martin. Photograph by David Eulitt.

The cover story in this month’s issue of Harper’s: “The Drunk's Club,” by Clancy Martin. An irreverent, harrowing, tough-minded account of Martin’s experience in Alcoholics Anonymous, which he describes (characteristically) as “the cult that saved my life.” —Lorin Stein

I’ve begun reading George Gissing’s New Grub Street, a late Victorian novel of the literary demimonde, which one of the characters calls “the valley of the shadow of books.” It’s a grim place: The editors are stupid, the writers are desperate, and everyone seems to live in a garret. A conflict is shaping up between the Pragmatist, who writes for money, and the Idealist, who writes for love. But Gissing was a Realist—which means, I think, there will be no happy ending for Literature. —Robyn Creswell

Pick up the January issue of Vanity Fair with Johnny Depp on the cover. Look at all the beautiful people. Then turn to page sixty-four, and read about the delusional world of Randy and Evi Quaid. The two are racked with debt and living out of a Prius in Canada. They are convinced they are being hunted by an anonymous group called “the Hollywood Star Whackers” and that Randy’s royalty checks are being funneled into an account under the name of “Ronda L. Quaid.” Says Randy to the reporter: “I guess I’m worth more to ’em dead than alive.” —Thessaly La Force

There’s something both terrifying and satisfying in the circular logic of recommending that one read a reading list. The list is Donald Barthelme’s, and it comes attached to a lovely essay by Kevin Moffett, published in The Believer in 2003. Moffett recounts the summer he spent attacking the eighty-one suggestions—which had once served as Barthelme’s syllabus—but there’s no reason you can’t make this a winter project of your own. —Miranda Popkey

I’ve been admiring The Novelist’s Lexicon, a petite book edited by Villa Gillet filled with dozens and dozens of contributions from some of my favorite writers. The task? To pick one word that opens the door to their work. Rick Moody picks adumbrated, Etgar Keret chooses balagan, Jonathan Lethem selects furniture, Annie Proulx picks terroir, and—perhaps my favorite—Olivia Rosenthal settles on no. —T. L.

I will plug Isak Dinesen from the afterlife. Don’t think you’re done just because you’ve read Out of Africa! Her Seven Gothic Tales are a wonder: complex negotiations between a romantic past and a nervous, sober present. —Katy Waldman



  1. Steve | December 18, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    It’s a bit disheartening that the writer in the Believer basically stole some of the books in the Gainsville book warehouse, even when they were less than $1 each on average. $15 wouldn’t buy any book at the UF bookstore much less 25.

  2. Chloé Cooper Jones | December 20, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Clancy Martin’s piece about AA in Harper’s is one of the bravest and most elegant essays that I’ve read all year. Good pick, Stein.

  3. Adam | December 21, 2010 at 12:33 am

    I felt the same way, along with the Joyce Carol Oates New Yorker piece mentioned here a couple weeks ago.

  4. Shelley | December 21, 2010 at 11:58 am

    I apologize for going off-topic this once, but it might be a good time for us to do some Paul Revere-ing on the Internet–today the FCC is passing down the first of the Net Neutrality rulings. Al Franken on HuffPo (scroll down middle column) says we should be outraged, and he doesn’t usually exaggerate. The Internet should not be headed toward corporate blogs buying the fast lane and the rest of us stuck in slow.

    Not sure where to make our voice heard, by emailing the White House or maybe the FCC page with How To Make ECFS Express Comments? It might be good if non-corporate websites had a community way for us to alert each other when something important like this comes up. Please pass it on, FYI.

  5. Bill | January 3, 2011 at 6:17 am

    Well of COURSE Lorin Stein chose Martin’s work.

    Stein is Martin’s editor/horn-blower at Farrar, Straus and Giroux and has a very vested interest in getting Martin’s name out there as much as he can.

    You didn’t think any of these “staff” actually recommended the works pro bono, did you? I think the only recommendation I can actually trust as being honest is Katy Waldman’s – unless she’s soon to be heading up a re-release of Dinesen’s works, which is probably what’s happening.

    It’s all bloody marketing. Now Martin can say, “Look! Look! I got a Staff Pick in the Paris Review!” which will inevitably snowball into a new book proposal for Martin that will, predictably, turn into another big ol’ stinker – but not before both Martin AND Stein come away with the $$$$$s.

    I truly wish this wasn’t the way the world works. Alas.

  6. Lorin Stein | January 3, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Ah, Bill, if only one pulled down the $$$$$ so easily! I am proud to say you’re absolutely right–I did sign up Clancy Martin’s first novel when I worked for Farrar, Straus and Giroux. And for a reason: I think Martin is a wonderful writer. His piece in Harper’s seems to me his best work of nonfiction to date. But I don’t work at FSG, and I don’t get any residuals …

    I hope this clarification goes some small way to restoring your faith in humanity–or at least in The Paris Review.

3 Pingbacks

  1. […] into the account under the name of “Ronda L. Quaid.” Says Randy to the reporter: “I … See the rest here: Related Posts:Randy Quaid: Trying to Escape "Hollywood Star Whackers …Randy Quaid says […]

  2. […] this year, I was struck by a reader’s comment to the Paris Review staff reading recommendations, regarding Lorin Stein’s choice of “The Drunk’s Club” by Clancy Martin: Well of COURSE […]

  3. […] the insidiousness of this is often inflated into absurdity. Batuman points out an example involving a blog post at The Paris Review in which Lorin Stein recommends a (fantastic!) Harper’s article by a writer he has edited. A […]

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