Review of Alain de Botton’s “Pleasures and Sorrows of Work”

My review of Alain de Botton's Pleasures and Sorrows of Work is in the New York Times Book Review of 28 June 2009. I'm afraid I wasn't crazy about it. As it happens, though, I wrote favorably about de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life in a round-up of Proust news published in Lingua Franca almost exactly a decade ago.

Heavy Rotation, the early reviews

Heavy Rotation, an anthology of writers’ reflections on life-changing albums edited by Peter Terzian (aka my boyfriend), is getting some great reviews. The Village Voice published a full-page playlist/teaser on 15 June, in which Zach Baron confessed that it was “a relief to read music criticism that does not employ the word ‘skronk.'” On June 19, in L Magazine, Mike Conklin called Ben Kunkel’s contribution to the anthology “the definitive piece of writing about the Smiths.” And today, June 22, the website Modern Tonic asserted that Heavy Rotation “will top the ’25 Most Played’ list on the iPod of your mind.” See below for New York City events, which start with a reading at Cobble Hill’s Book Court tomorrow night.

Update, September 24: La New-Yorkaise wrote about Colm Toibin’s and Joshua Ferris’s contributions on June 23, and today the New York Times blog Paper Cuts publishes a playlist by Peter of his favorite memory-flavored songs. A few hours later: And the New York Observer takes note of the book and of the Bryant Park lunchtime reading-concert (see below for details).

Update, September 25: In The Onion‘s A.V. Club, Michaelangelo Matos writes:

John Jeremiah Sullivan’s essay on American Primitive Vol. II is tremendous: a travelogue about going to interview John Fahey—whose label, Revenant, issued the compilation—that spins out into deeper assessments about the meanings of American song. Todd Pruzan writes a beautiful account of a longstanding friendship with a New Zealand woman set to the soundtrack of the NZ film Topless Women Talk About Their Lives. Lisa Dierbeck presents a tough account of a teen life lived in the mirror image—even before the album appeared—of the tough first Pretenders album. Asali Solomon’s sharp firsthand account of racism in the Dominican Republic is set to a Gloria Estefan record. And Pankaj Mishra’s ode to ABBA’s Super Trouper is a snapshot of a rapidly modernizing India in the early ’80s, when the tape Mishra picked up at a marketplace became a totem of a new world to be—and not just inside the album’s grooves.

And at her blog Light Reading, Jenny Davidson calls Ben Kunkel’s essay “unmissably good” and calls John Jeremiah Sullivan’s “absolutely and divinely sublime.”

Heavy Rotation, the debut and the parties

Peter Terzian, Heavy RotationMy boyfriend, Peter Terzian, has edited an anthology that Harper Perennial is going to publish on June 23: Heavy Rotation: Twenty Writers on the Albums that Changed Their Lives. It features the following pair-ups:

  • Stacey D'Erasmo on Kate Bush,
  • Pankaj Mishra on ABBA,
  • Colm Tóibín on Joni Mitchell,
  • Mark Greif on Fugazi,
  • Sheila Heti on the Annie soundtrack,
  • Ben Kunkel on the Smiths,
  • James Wood on the Who,
  • John Jeremiah Sullivan on early blues,
  • Clifford Chase on the B-52s,

and quite a few more. In my opinion, it is the book of the year. Kirkus, perhaps a more neutral judge, calls it "Music writing with a personal twist by an assortment of modern writers. . . . A satisfying, fun read that may prompt rifling through old CDs and LPs to reclaim one's own transformative musical memories." You can order your copy now on Amazon, on Barnes & Noble, or through Powells.

And if you're in New York City this summer, you're invited to some parties in its honor, which promise to be pretty amazing, especially if you have a taste for lounge-singing book editors and bongo-drumming literary critics. Here's the schedule, courtesy of Peter:

  • Tuesday, June 23rd, 7:00 pm
    Heavy Rotation launch party
    Come have a drink, meet the contributors, and celebrate the book's publication day.
    At Book Court, 163 Court Street between Dean and Pacific Streets, Brooklyn

  • Wednesday, July 1st, 12:10 pm
    A lunch-hour event in Bryant Park, behind the New York Public Library. Editor Peter Terzian will be discussing music and writing with contributors Clifford Chase, Stacey D'Erasmo, Joshua Ferris, and Asali Solomon. Plus, the New York debut of contributor John Jeremiah Sullivan's band Fayaway, with special guest percussionist James Wood.
    Note: Fayaway will play two sets—one at 12:10, before the discussion, and another at 1:30, after the discussion. The discussion will begin at 12:30.
    Bryant Park Reading Room, New York (near 42nd Street, between the back of the library and 6th Avenue—look for the burgundy and white umbrellas)

  • Tuesday, July 14th, 7:00 pm
    Contributors Lisa Dierbeck, John Haskell, Todd Pruzan, and Martha Southgate will join me in a reading and panel discussion. With musical accompaniment by cabaret singer (and the book's Harper Perennial editor) Rakesh Satyal.
    At McNally Jackson, 52 Prince Street between Lafayette and Mulberry Streets, New York

No RSVP required. See you there!

The Wreck surveyed

Over at Conversational Reading, Levi Stahl has been kind enough to write of The Wreck of the Henry Clay that "this attractively chunky, almost pocket-sized collection works surprisingly well as a book." Stahl's is the second notice the Wreck has received (the first was from Chris Shea at Brainiac, registering the fact that my blog now came in a "meatspace edition"), which is two more than I was expecting. It is of course not too late to buy a copy (click here!). It now costs just $14.95 in ink-and-paper, and during the month of July, you can get it for 10 percent less than that if you enter the code "JULYCONTEST10" when you check out.

Update, June 22: Magic Molly added some nice words on June 16, as did Jeremy Hatch at The Rumpus on June 11.

Further update, June 24: The New Yorker's blog Book Bench interviews me about the dark secrets behind the production of the news-making Wreck of the Henry Clay.

Still later update, June 28: Duck Beater wrote on June 22 that he's buying a copy, and it may be the only book he buys all summer.

Even later, July 8: Peter Mendelsund writes at Jacket Mechanical that the Wreck is "one of the most entertaining and informative books I’ve read all year."