Sunday, October 9, 2016

Rules for Others to Live By

Title:  Rules for Others to Live By:  Comments and Self-Contradictions
Author:  Richard Greenberg
Publication Information:  Blue Rider Press. 2016. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0399576525 / 978-0399576522

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Everything in this book is true."

Favorite Quote:  "The best thinking says 'the self' is a fiction (I have a piece about that), yet it's a fiction that we all believe, our most intimate experience. Maybe it's nothing more than our tendency to repeat. Maybe we repeat because when we do, we recognize the behavior and the familiarity is comforting. So the self is just the consolation of our tendencies."

The subtitle of this book reads "comments and contradictions." So, of course, the first question is whose comments? This book must be read with an understanding of the perspective. Richard Greenberg is a Tony Award winning playright who makes New York City his home. He has also twice been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for drama. This book is a collection of his rumination on incidents from his life and observations on the New York lifestyle.

The book begins with an introduction of sorts, stating the author's definition of himself as an urban recluse and an explanation of why he never writes personal essays. The rest of the book groups personal essays loosely into sometimes cryptically named topics like manifesto, city, city friends, storytelling, health/education, city friends (new and updated), and several dead women of whom I was fond.

I am clearly not the right reader for this book. I am not entirely sure what the point is. Perhaps, I am missing the theater background. Perhaps, I am missing the New York background. Any which way, I neither get it nor find myself interested.

First and foremost, this book is marketed as a collection of essays. For some sections comprising only a handful of sentences, calling them an essay is stretching the definition. Some consecutive sections comprise a description of a single incident; again, the need to breakup into sections is unclear to me. Personal journal entries, perhaps, but not essays.

Second, the book description states, "he shares lessons from his highly successful writing career, observations from two long decades of residence on a three-block stretch of Man­hattan, and musings from a complicated and occasionally taxing social life." I find the book to be mostly musings and observations; I do not walk away with lessons. I do not even walk away with the feeling that the objective is to convey a lesson. An occasional moment stands out, but for the most part, it just is thoughts meandering through life.

Third, the book description also uses an interesting combination of words - subversive, hopeful, and life-affirming - to describe the different essays. Again, unfortunately, I discover none of that in my reading of the book. It seems rather just ramblings about whatever comes to mind at the time of writing. I do make it all the way through the book, but it is a challenge.

Finally, some of the essays are self-serving. One in particular stands out. It begins as follows. "As an artist, I am incapable of selling out. I know because I've failed at it so many times." Further on, the essay comments on "problems in my efforts to write lucrative crap." Unfortunately, the essay also pokes fun at authors who by inference have "sold out" by writing "lucrative crap." Fun at a colleague's expense, particularly by name, is not for me.

I leave with the idea that either the book is trying too hard to be clever or I am not clever enough to get it. Either way, this one is not the reading experience for me.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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