Reading Mojo, Friend Dumping


Ask The Paris Review

Boy Reading, by Thomas Pollack Anshutz.

I’m in a bad spot in my reading habits. I’ve been watching a lot of reality television, and I’ve cracked open half a dozen books, and abandoned them all. What would be good to get my reading mojo back?
—S. Johnson, New York City

Elmore Leonard, Rum Punch. Or really Elmore Leonard, anything. When I was a kid and convinced of the genius of Raymond Carver, I tried to get my father to read What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and my dad responded by giving me Leonard’s novel Glitz, explaining that Leonard had a better ear for dialogue—plus in his novels stuff actually happened. This of course was not fair to Raymond Carver. My father might also have pointed out that Leonard’s books are funny. The one trouble with Leonard, and the reason I no longer read his novels, is that I have real trouble putting them down. Also I never remember anything about them. All I remember about Rum Punch, for instance, is the title and that it kept me up all night.

Post script: a friend who knows his way around reality TV suggests Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected as a sort of halfway house on the long road back to the novel. Judging from my one brush with The Real Housewives of New York, this is an excellent recommendation—Ramona and Kelly are Dahl characters come to life.

I had to friend dump someone the other day. We’ve known each since high school, but we were growing more and more apart as the years went by. I’m fine really, it’s not that sad, but I want to know if there are other examples of friend dumping that might make me feel like it’s normal.
—S. Sharp, San Francisco, CA.

Poor you. When I read the words “I’m fine really,” it makes me think you’re sadder about this than you realize, or maybe feel like saying. As the phrase “friend dump” suggests, we don’t have a good way of talking about estrangement without borrowing from the language of failed romance. At my old video store they used to shelve Withnail & I—a friend dump movie if there ever was one—in the Queer section along with the gay porn. I recommend it. It’s the story of two roommates, both actors, one of whom is outgrowing the other. It’s also about 1969 London, the perils of amphetamine abuse, and the equally terrifying perils of a weekend in the country. Plus it has Richard Grant delivering Hamlet’s “I have, of late, wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth” speech to a hyena in the London Zoo.

Once you finish Withnail, I suggest Vivian Gornick’s essay collection Approaching Eye Level. There’s one long essay in there specifically about a friend dump, but Gornick is always writing about friendship and the things that make it hard to stay friends and, sometimes, almost as hard to call it quits.

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