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The Disappointment Artist: Essays Hardcover – March 15, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (March 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385512171
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385512176
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,493,670 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist Lethem's new collection of essays starts with an intriguing, if emotionally distant, consideration of his lifelong relationship with popular culture and develops into a moving memoir that transcends those references altogether. As the essays make clear, Lethem (The Fortress of Solitude) has always been obsessive: he watched Star Wars 21 times the summer it was released, then followed that with 21 viewings of 2001 a few years later; the novels of Philip K. Dick played as large a role in his growing artistic vision as did the canvases of his father, painter Richard Lethem. But the collection doesn't find its purpose until the author strips away the pop culture references to get at what really drives him: the childhood his hippie parents provided for him, his father's artistic influence on him, his mother's early death. The book picks up steam especially in the essay "Lives of the Bohemians," a simple and direct family history in which, for the first time here, Lethem's depiction of himself as a child feels genuine rather than theorized, lived rather than considered. By the end, Lethem fully and beautifully bares himself, admitting that he, like so many, is driven by loss. Only then does he write the truest sentence possible: "I find myself speaking about my mother's death everywhere I go in this world."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Praise for Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude, for what the Baltimore Sun deems "a hybrid tour de force." Not only does Lethem display a broad range of cultural and intellectual knowledge; according to the critics he’s mastered the art of memoir as well. The book is as heartfelt and self-effacing as it is esoteric. The one negative review seems more of a personal attack on Lethem than a reasoned slice of criticism (Jennifer Autrey writes in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "There are readers who will hang in there with Lethem. I was married to one of them once."). Is there any literary style that can trip Lethem up? We’ll have to wait for his poetry collection to find out.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


More About the Author

Jonathan Lethem was born in New York and attended Bennington College.

He is the author of seven novels including Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, which was named Novel of the Year by Esquire and won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Salon Book Award, as well as the Macallan Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger.

He has also written two short story collections, a novella and a collection of essays, edited The Vintage Book of Amnesia, guest-edited The Year's Best Music Writing 2002, and was the founding fiction editor of Fence magazine.

His writings have appeared in the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, McSweeney's and many other periodicals.

He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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I read the essay "The Beards" in the New Yorker recently and had to own this book.
Addison Phillips
Jonathan Lethem's "The Dissapointment Artist" is a collection of essays that chronicles the pop culture obsessions that made Lethem into the writer that he is.
Stephen Carradini
There are moments of honest confession and insight that are really, really good . . . unfortunately the rest was too detailed to get there.
Bradley Bevers

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on March 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In THE DISAPPOINTMENT ARTIST, novelist Jonathan Lethem examines some of the influences that have shaped him, as an artist and as a person. They include films, books, music, and his family and childhood environment. Lethem grew up mainly in Brooklyn, son of a painter and a bohemian mother who died of a brain tumor when the writer was in his early teens.

"Speak, Hoyt-Schermerhorn" is the most evocative of Lethem's childhood. In this essay, he describes the subway of his high school years. Hoyt-Schermerhorn was his station in a rough neighborhood and the essay reflects his fear in being easy prey as a young boy on his own, as well as his fascination with the vibrant city all around him. When an abandoned platform in his station is chosen as the set for the dystopian New York City movie The Warriors, Lethem's interests collide.

Three essays in this collection are about movies: "Defending the Searchers," "13, 1977, 21," and "Two or Three Things I Dunno About Cassavetes," and films are at least mentioned in all of the remaining essays. The Searchers is an old John Wayne movie, dated and awkward, yet Lethem is moved by its imagery, by John Wayne's acting power, and remains in thrall to it. He is moved to defend it, even in the face of a hostile audience, even to people he knows would understand neither the movie nor his compulsion to speak. "13, 1977, 21" is about seeing Star Wars 21 times at the age of thirteen. This isn't as odd as it might sound; a lot of boys saw Star Wars many, many times when it first came out. The essay isn't really about Star Wars; it's about obsession and how you can hide behind it. His mother's illness, his father's remoteness, the awkwardness of his preteen years --- the author could make these things disappear, temporarily, at the movies.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Insatiable Reader on March 31, 2006
Format: Paperback
The mock music reviews, the odd bits of arcane conversation, and all the other eddies of thinking that appear in The Fortress of Solitude evoked curiosity I hoped this book would fulfill. What sort of essayist would Lenthem be? He is certainly a skilled one. His prose is direct and honest while being, as you'd expect, witty and creative. As a companion piece to his novel, this collection explains a great deal. The chief trouble with this memoir, however, is that Lenthem ultimately leaves his audience behind, pursuing his literary and pop-cultural obsessions past a point readers can follow. By focusing on the books, movies, and music that forged his character, Lethem risks self-indulgence. The early death of his mother, his unconventional upbringing, and his father's artistic distance promise emotinal payoff, but this collection devolves. By the end, human concerns seem less important to Lenthem than the content of his bookshelves. He opens his closets...and reveals stuff.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Martha B. on June 17, 2010
Format: Paperback
Like others have said, these essays just miss the target and at the moment I've given up after reading about half and skipping a section or two. Fairly dry anecdotes with no resonance. It reads as though you are listening to someone speak for hours about their not-all-that-interesting family who you have never met. This can be done quite well obviously but that's not the case here.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Nostalgianaut on May 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Some readers have expressed their dislike of Lethem's navel gazing in this collection, I didn't mind at all. His essays on Jack Kirby and the Searchers are some of the best writing I've read about comics or film in a long time. The scene where he describes his cynical junkie friend ruining a viewing of the Searchers should resonate with any member of Generation X who had their private passions invaded by the that slew of non-commital flakes we found ourselves surrounded with in the 1990s:eyebrow cocking stoners, who despite their lack of commitment, were always vigilant for passion, always ready to chide us for taking a stand on anything, whether it be a political position or art. If there's one thing I didn't like about this book was Lethem's display of self-consciousness about seeing Star Wars 21 times, something that no one from his generation would bat an eye at. If anything, it says more about the world he lives in than the writer himself.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By B. Capossere TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The Disappointment Artist is, as one usually expects of any collection, a bit of a mixed bag. The problem I had with it was that for me, the best essays, the most moving and most universal ones, came at the close and so the book, though slim, was a bit of a struggle to get through. The essays are a mix of memoir and critical book and film review, and a blend of both to look at Lethem's influences over the years.
It will come as no surprise to Lethem fans that comic book were one such influence and they take up most of one essay and appear in several others. Another essay details his passion over the Searchers, another looks at the films of John Cassavettes (the most strictly critical essay), One on his viewing of Star Wars 21 times has more to do with young Lethem and his mother's impending death then the movie itself. While it has some powerful moments, the essay as a whole is strangely aloof. This was my reaction to most of the essays. Part of it certainly having to deal with my lack of knowledge of several of his topics (the searchers, Cassavettes), but even those topics I am strongly familiar with (comic books, Star Wars), the essays never connected for me. I never felt Lethem fully universalized the experience for me nor did he fully personalize it except in rare moments, so I was caught in this strange area between--not fully caught up in the topic nor fully caught up in the writer's feelings about the topic. For that reason, the first half of the book was a struggle, not particularly compelling and somewhat slow. Things changed in the latter half as more of Lethem began to appear in Lives of the Bohemians. The Beards, the last piece, was by far my favorite.
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