I enjoy reading books that feel like I could have written them. The books I truly love are ones I could never possibly write, but it’s fun to read a book that fits so well with your own experiences sometimes.
Corey Redekop’s Shelf Monkey is a story about a lapsed Mennonite on the run for crimes against purveyors of shitty literature. It’s set in Winnipeg and is about the people who work in libraries and bookstores and are aghast at the taste customers display in choosing things to read. The villain of the book is a caricature of supermarket self-help book pushers, and the heroes form a book-burning cult. Only terrible pieces of shit books, and everyone really gets off on it.
It’s a decent little book. I think it’s a little less relevant to the culture of the 2010s than something like Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, but that’s because it still seems to be treating broadcast television as an important cultural force rather than the internet. It’s a little Palahniukish, and the opening few chapters led me to expect more fragmented experimental storytelling than it actually delivered (eventually it settled into a pretty standard epistolary novel). I definitely recommend it to the book-lovers and more importantly to those people who make sure to peel the Oprah’s Book Club stickers off their copies of Steinbeck.
Overqualified is a novel told in job application cover letters. It’s by Joey Comeau, who does the comic A Softer World and wrote the zombie novel One Bloody Thing After Another. (I haven’t read his latest, Bible Camp Bloodbath yet, but I will.)
When I told my girlfriend about the concept of this book she thought it sounded neat. Then I read her one of the letters and she said “Oh. It’s not very realistic. It’s just a gimmick. No one would actually write that.” And I was a little thrown off. I must have read it wrong, or prefaced it wrong. I mean, of course no one actually would write about their dead brother and throwing lightbulbs off an apartment building in a job application to GE, but it’s beautiful and sad. Or beautiful and angry like his letter to Gillette about razor-blades and sex. Or beautiful and cynical like his Hallmark greeting card ideas:
Front cover is a picture of a puppy dog with big, sad eyes. A Golden Retriever, maybe. Some breed that everyone loves, something vulnerable. The text on the front reads: “You think love has to last forever for it to be real. You think it isn’t true love unless it lasts until one of us is dead.” Inside text: “That isn’t love. That’s dog fighting.”
In every case there’s this desperation and weirdness that was weird and painful and amazing.
It’s not a clever story, which you might think it would be, with the tagline I gave it above. It’s just a weirdly emotional one about a man who’se trying to hold on to some sort of memory or reality by writing to corporations to the nonhuman beings that have all the power in our world. Reality shifts about him as he talks about all his many qualifications, but his pain remains constant.
So I should revise my original words. Overqualified is a dark, funny story about pain. Told in cover letters.