Ghosts in the Stacks

A voracious reader named "Chuck Finley" was such a prolific library patron that he singlehandedly increased a Florida branch's circulation by 3.9%. But there's a problem: he's not real. (h/t Kirstin Butler.)
The Millions Top 10

The Millions Top Ten: November 2016

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for November. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. The Sellout 4 months 2. 2. Ninety-Nine Stories of God 5 months 3. 3. The Trespasser 2 months 4. 6. The Underground Railroad 3 months 5. - Moonglow 1 month 6. 5. Barkskins 6 months 7. 10. Commonwealth 2 months 8. 8. Here I Am 3 months 9. 7. Pond 3 months 10. 9. Innocents and Others 5 months How fitting it is for Don DeLillo's Zero K to move on to our Millions Hall of Fame in this, the month of November, the time of no baseball and, thus, no Ks. (I will not apologize for this joke; No I Said No I Won't No.) Speaking of baseball, others have pointed out the accuracy of Back to the Future II's foretelling of our current American predicament -- the Cubs winning the World Series; Biff Tannen ascending to a position of unimaginable power -- and so in that regard, it's fitting that an author who got his start around the time that movie came out would grace our latest Top Ten. Michael Chabon, of course, requires no introduction, and least of all from someone who'd build a strained Back to the Future II reference upon the foundation of a corny baseball joke. Nevertheless here we are. Moonglow, is a welcome addition to this month's list. In her preview for our site last summer, Tess Malone wrote: We’ve all had that relative who spills their secrets on their deathbed, yet most of us don’t think to write them down. Chabon was 26 years old, already author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, when he went to see his grandfather for the last time only to hear the dying man reveal buried family stories. Twenty-six years later and the Pulitzer Prize winner’s eighth novel is inspired by his grandfather’s revelations. A nearly 500-page epic, Moonglow explores the war, sex, and technology of mid-century America in all its glory and folly. It’s simultaneously Chabon’s most imaginative and personal work to date. A few weeks ago, Chabon expanded on this balancing act between novel and memoir in an interview for our site: [Some people have claimed] that memoirs are more appropriate to the time we live in, but also superior to fiction. Listening to that kind of talk and seeing situations like the James Frey incident…The thing that made everyone upset was the fact that he had lied, you know? That he passed this thing off as true when it was a work of fiction was wrong. What pissed me off as a novelist was that he wrote it as a novel and nobody wanted to publish it. Then he relabeled it as a memoir and suddenly everybody wants to publish it and everyone wants to read it. That offends me because I’m a novelist and writing novels is what I do. I take that personally on some levels. It also offends me because it’s bullshit. Memoirs are bullshit to some degree. I don’t mean memoirists are liars; some might be, most are not. I know memoirists try to be scrupulous and try not to deviate from what they remember. It’s the last few words of my sentence where the bullshit comes in. Of course what you remember is a lie or a distortion. It’s inaccurate, there’s conflation, there’s elision. There are gaps, there maybe things that you’ve deliberately forgotten and then forgotten that you’ve forgotten so that you sincerely think they didn’t happen. Elsewhere on the list, a few titles jostled around, but nothing dropped out altogether. Stay tuned for next month's list, which will likely be influenced by our ongoing Year in Reading series. This month's near misses included: The Daily Henry JamesThe NestHeroes of the Frontier, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, and The Girls. See Also: Last month's list.
Year in Reading

A Year In Reading: Nick Moran

In Jeff VanderMeer's Area X trilogy, characters grow unhinged and obsessed. One undergoes a psychosis so fully that he physically morphs into a massive, slug-like creature wholly consumed with the task of writing on cavern walls with a glow-in-the-dark, living "ink." The trilogy is fantastic not only in its plotting and characterization, but also in its depiction of this particular kind of creeping madness -- this transformation from mundane to alien -- and how that transformation begins gradually, then hastens, and becomes permanent. It's striking how believable VanderMeer makes it seem. You read and think to yourself, could this happen to me? Well, yes. Consider: Three years ago I vowed to only read books based on, written in, or otherwise concerning the state of Florida. (I've mentioned this before.) It started out quaint enough. I worked my way through Peter Matthiessen, John D.MacDonald, Thomas McGuane, Carl Hiaasen, Padgett Powell, Charles Willeford, and almost all of Joy Williams. I got a Key West-themed bookmark and savored Elizabeth Bishop's Florida poems. I sought out recommendations from friends, and that's how I discovered Jennine Capó Crucet, Craig Pittman, and Nick Vagnoni. My to-read pile soon warranted its own shelf, and that shelf soon annexed others. Now I have a Florida bookcase, and certain shelves within that Florida bookcase are home to works on certain Floridian sub-themes: football (inarguably the best in the country!), nature (arguably the best in the country!), and politics (inarguably the worst in the country!). Tchotchkes have accumulated. I have a staple remover that looks like an alligator's mouth; I have a backscratcher that looks like an alligator's claw. My refrigerator has a lot of magnets featuring anthropomorphic suns. (Question: Why do anthropomorphic suns always wear sunglasses?) A few months back, I began a series of paintings based on Florida's wildlife. I hadn't painted in more than a decade, but suddenly I had the itch. Florida's crept into my spinal column -- slithered in like an invasive boa constrictor -- and coiled itself around my brainstem. I start each day with an email round-up of Florida's news headlines. I end most days with a different one. I imagine Florida cinched around my medulla, throbbing once to let me know there's a book about the state's foreclosure crisis, or secreting sucrotic refinery byproduct to let me know Dave Barry's got a new book out. (It wasn't as good as Pittman's.) To return to the VanderMeer analogy: consider me your alien man-slug, obsessively slinking deeper down into the cavern of insanity, fixated only on complete submergence into all things Sunshine. Much like how people don't so much inhabit Florida as they bruise her, an interest in Florida leaves visible marks as well. Fortunately, Florida as a concept inspires a lot of works for me to read, and Florida as an incubator of talent produces a lot of creative people. I've had little trouble finding new things to read. While I've gone through most of the well-known books, I'm now happy to investigate the deeper cuts. Everybody knows about Marjory Stoneman Douglas, but how many have read Don Blanding's Floridays? People the world over are interested in the Everglades, but how many would willingly read a crappy e-book written by something no less Floridian: a C-grade club promoter? How many of you would read Burt Reynolds's memoir solely because he went to Florida State University? I'm mostly unashamed to say: I would, and I have. By now, it may be hard to take me seriously, but hang on. Less well-known Florida works aren't all bad. There are rabbits in the muck if you're willing to chase them down. The carcasses of boars and headless goats wash ashore with the tides, but so does Cafe Bustelo. And while I'd argue that sifting through the filth to get to the treasure heightens your enjoyment of those riches (and probably also builds character), I realize not everyone has the time or inclination to consume so indiscriminately. Therefore, what follows is a list of the three best lesser-known Florida-related books I've read this year. Enjoy! Naked in Garden Hills by Harry Crews. Determining Crews's finest Florida novel is a conversation best had with a well-read friend over a couple drinks, preferably in a public place just in case tempers do flare to the point where witnesses might be needed. I won't try to do that here, but I submit that Naked in Garden Hills is the Crews novel that's most representative of Florida, or at least the qualities we've come to accept as particularly Floridian: unsettling strangeness and capitalism's worst effects. Set in a weird, sunken town built on an abandoned phosphate pit and populated by all sorts of bizarre characters -- one is reminded, in a way, of the "Humbug" X-Files episode -- Naked in Garden Hills tracks the forsaken also-rans left behind after corporations leech the life out of a place and leave only its husk behind. Nine Island by Jane Alison. Sex is essential to Miami, but Alison's treatment is wholly distinct from the more typical, desirous leer of authors like Tom Wolfe. Nine Island concerns an older, divorced woman living alone in a Miami Beach high-rise, determined to find happiness, but at times uncertain of her ability to do so. It interrogates the relationships between solitude and loneliness, sexual desire and actual sex, and youth and wisdom. It's a delight. I took three of Alison's writing courses years ago at the University of Miami, and in one of them she had us read Susan Minot's excellent story, "Lust," in which a woman matter-of-factly catalogs her sexual partners. Her voice is fascinating: both playful and bleak; simultaneously celebrating conquest while acknowledging the complicated, often painful feelings wrought from the pursuit and consummation of desire. Toward the end, that voice shifts from first to the second person, and with that shift the speaker's lessons gleaned from years of her own sexual activity are transformed into universal prescriptions -- personal memories turned to generalized ache and forlorn warning. In Nine Island, Alison's taken elements of "Lust" and not only stretched them out, but reoriented them -- taken a young woman's premature world-weariness and transferred it to a woman farther along in life, with more experience under her belt and less time for self-pity. Eight Miami Poets from Jai Alai Books. As a rule, every New York Times article about Miami is absolute trash (and now that it's Art Basel week, it's doubly true). I believed that even before they ran that condescending opinion piece last year. Indeed, I've come to expect a level of dismissal from all New York-based publications when it comes to evaluations of Miami's cultural scene. Perhaps it's jealousy? Miami is much prettier than New York, and there's no denying it smells better. Yet even still, I was unprepared for a blithe statement quoted by Elizabeth Kolbert in her otherwise interesting New Yorker article about climate change's effects on Magic City. The line, spoken by a Miami resident (who should know better!) was: “I’m sure if we had poets, they’d be writing about the swallowing of Miami Beach by the sea.” Man, what are you talking about!? Miami has tons of poetry; it has an entire month dedicated to it! In fact, as Exhibit A in the case against this man, I offer as evidence Jai Alai Books's terrific anthology, Eight Miami Poets, featuring the work of Miami-Dade County-based writers. Topics covered: opioid addiction, palmetto bugs, and, yes, the existential threat of sea-level rise. I rest my case. More from A Year in Reading 2016 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? 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The Millions Top 10

The Millions Top Ten: October 2016

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for October. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 3. The Sellout 3 months 2. 4. Ninety-Nine Stories of God 4 months 3. - The Trespasser 1 month 4. 5. Zero K 6 months 5. 6. Barkskins 5 months 6. 7. The Underground Railroad 2 months 7. 10. Pond 2 months 8. 9. Here I Am 2 months 9. 8. Innocents and Others 4 months 10. - Commonwealth 1 month How to rule The Millions's monthly Top Ten list: Write and publish a great book. Have the book's protagonist's voice praised for being "as appealing, erudite, and entertaining as any since Alexander Portnoy’s." Win the Man Booker Prize. Congratulations, Paul Beatty, you've done hit the trifecta! We also welcome two newcomers to our list this month: Tana French's The Trespasser and Ann Patchett's Commonwealth, both of which had previously been featured on our Most Anticipated list. French's novel, the sixth in her Dublin Murder Squad series, focuses on the murder of a young woman ostensibly preparing for a date. Around here at The Millions, it's tough to pick a resident Tana French expert - both Janet Potter and Edan Lepucki hold legitimate claims to that title -- so site readers interested in a taste of French's work should start by reading the author's recent interview for our site, focusing on her penchant for using police interrogations as literary devices; Lepucki's piece on French's plotting; a conversation between both Edan and Janet about French's writing; and the author in her own words recounting her Year in Reading. Patchett's work, too, is familiar to Millions staffers and readers alike. In her blurb for our Most Anticipated list, Lepucki wrote of Commonwealth: A new novel by the bestselling author of gems like Bel Canto and State of Wonder is certainly a noteworthy publishing event. This time, Patchett, who also owns Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tenn., takes on a more personal subject, mapping multiple generations of a family broken up by divorce and patched together, in new forms, by remarriage. Commonwealth begins in the 1960s, in California, and moves to Virginia and beyond, spanning many decades. Meanwhile, this month we graduate two Top Ten mainstays to our Hall of Fame: Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer and Samantha Hunt's Mr. Splitfoot. Fare thee well in Valhalla! This month's near misses included: The GirlsHeroes of the FrontierSigns Preceding the End of the World, The Nest, and The Unseen World. See Also: Last month's list.
The Millions Top 10

The Millions Top Ten: September 2016

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for September. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. The Sympathizer 6 months 2. 2. Mr. Splitfoot 6 months 3. 9. The Sellout 2 months 4. 7. Ninety-Nine Stories of God 3 months 5. 4. Zero K 5 months 6. 6. Barkskins 4 months 7. - The Underground Railroad 1 month 8. 8. Innocents and Others 3 months 9. - Here I Am 1 month 10. - Pond 1 month The Sellout rocketed up our Top Ten this month, jumping from ninth position all the way up to third. In a few weeks, when longtime frontrunners The Sympathizer and Mr. Splitfoot retire to our Hall of Fame, look for Paul Beatty's satirical novel to lead the pack. Speaking of the Hall of Fame, both Girl through Glass and The Lost Time Accidents graduated this month, opening space for two new entrants on our list: Colson Whitehead's universally acclaimed The Underground Railroad, and Jonathan Safran Foer's somewhat less acclaimed Here I Am. By now, Whitehead's novel needs no introduction. The #1 bestseller has drawn praise from both Obama and Oprah, and in his review for our site, Greg Walkin noted how "Whitehead’s brilliance is on constant display" throughout: After five previous novels, each very different, this is the only thing we can count on. It’s hard to imagine a new novel farther from Whitehead’s last, the zombie thriller Zone One. The Underground Railroad shares some features with his debut work, The Intuitionist, and his second novel, John Henry Days; both novels confront issues of race and American history through less-than-straightforward methods — a Whitehead signature. Yet by contrast, Safran Foer's Here I Am has drawn a wider spectrum of reviews, ranging from the simply mixed and relatively positive all the way over to Alexander Nazaryan's Los Angeles Times piece, the thrust of which can be pretty well understood just from its title: "With joyless prose about joyless people, Jonathan Safran Foer's 'Here I Am' is kitsch at best." Meanwhile, one title -- The Nest -- dropped from our monthly list, opening a spot for Claire-Louise Bennett's Pond. In his review of the work for our site, Ian Maleney wrote that it "rests with no little charm somewhere between collection and novel without ever settling on one or the other," and noted how "much of the book examines the strange process of alienation anyone might experience as they find themselves with time and space to interrogate their own behavior, private or otherwise." That sounds appropriate for the start of Autumn, if I say so myself. This month's near misses included: Heroes of the FrontierSigns Preceding the End of the World, The Girls, and The Queen of the Night. See Also: Last month's list.
The Millions Top 10

The Millions Top Ten: August 2016

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for August. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 2. The Sympathizer 5 months 2. 1. Mr. Splitfoot 5 months 3. 4. Girl Through Glass 6 months 4. 5. Zero K 4 months 5. 6. The Lost Time Accidents 6 months 6. 7. Barkskins 3 months 7. 9. Ninety-Nine Stories of God 2 months 8. 8. Innocents and Others 2 month 9. - The Sellout 1 month 10. 10. The Nest 3 months "The past is never dead," wrote William Faulkner, who may have been unconsciously foreseeing Tessa Hadley's novel, and its six-month run on our site's Top Ten. While at times the book seemed likely to drop from our rankings - it began in tenth position and only once cracked the top three - it was nevertheless a gritty and determined run, now punctuated by its ascendance to our Hall of Fame. Most of the other titles on our list bumped up a spot to fill The Past's void, and a solitary newcomer emerged this August in our ninth spot. There, Paul Beatty's satirical novel, The Sellout, joins our list for the first time. The Sellout has been mentioned fairly often on our site, dating back to last December when staff writer Michael Schaub called it, "One of the funniest books I read this year was also one of the best novels I’ve ever read." (Knowing Schaub, he's going to take full credit for the book's appearance on our list now, nevermind the fact that it's been a year since he wrote that line.) But the praise didn't end there. Several months after Schaub selected The Sellout in his Year in Reading, fellow Millions staff writer Matt Seidel wrote: Beatty’s voice is as appealing, erudite, and entertaining as any since Alexander Portnoy’s. ... It is a lacerating, learned, witty, and vulgar voice — definitely not pejorative-free — brash and vulnerable and self-righteous in its jeremiad against self-righteousness of any kind. Still more recently, Alcy Levya traced a through-line between some of Beatty's lodestars - Richard Pryor, Kurt Vonnegut, and Dave Chapelle - to investigate the circumstances of the book's creation, as well as its enduring importance: In many ways, the comedian could very easily stand in place of the narrator in The Sellout: both being intelligent and hilarious with their keen and unfiltered views of our society, and both having to come to grips with the responsibility — and the cost — of being empowered to act on that vision. All of the characters, regardless of how completely absurd they seem, are reacting to living in a time in which Beatty also resides; one in which he is daring to call something “‘Racism’ in a post-racial world.” This month's near misses included: Signs Preceding the End of the WorldHeroes of the FrontierThe Queen of the NightHomegoing and The Underground Railroad. See Also: Last month's list.
The Millions Top 10

The Millions Top Ten: July 2016

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for July. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 2. Mr. Splitfoot 4 months 2. 1. The Sympathizer 4 months 3. 5. The Past 6 months 4. 3. Girl Through Glass 5 months 5. 6. Zero K 3 months 6. 8. The Lost Time Accidents 5 months 7. 10. Barkskins 2 months 8. - Innocents and Others 1 month 9. - Ninety-Nine Stories of God 1 month 10. 9. The Nest 2 months There's some jostling atop the list this month as Samantha Hunt's Mr. Splitfoot pulls ahead of Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer. Likewise, there's been a minor shake-up in the third and fourth positions as Girl Through Glass drops below The Past, and Zero K holds pretty steady. The real mover in July, by contrast, was Annie Proulx's Barkskins, which climbed three spots from tenth to seventh, a rise no doubt attributable to Claire Cameron's strong endorsement in her "Summer Reading List for Wretched Assholes Who Prefer to Wallow in Someone Else’s Misery." Of course, highlighting this influence reminds one of Mary Shelley's question from The Last Man: "What is there in our nature that is forever urging us on towards pain and misery?" Meanwhile we bid adieu to What Belongs to You and My Name is Lucy Barton, both of which have punched one-way tickets to the literary Valhalla known to mere mortals as the Millions Hall of Fame. In their places we welcome two new arrivals. Among those newcomers is Dana Spiotta's Innocents and Others, which Jason Arthur called "a novel about how intimacy works best from a distance" in his review for our site. "There is also so much more to this book that defies quick summary," explained Edan Lepucki in her long, thoughtful interview with Spiotta, such as "technology and how it creates, bolsters, and distorts identity; making and consuming art; the responsibility and trespassing of representation; friendship; imagination; the fear of being unoriginal." (P.S. Edan, did your resolution from last January work out?) Joining Spiotta on this month's list is Joy Williams's Ninety-Nine Stories of God, which our own Nick Ripatrazone called "gorgeously written, sentence-to-sentence ... arriv[ing] in vignettes that are condensed but not constrained; tight but not dry." He noted forty-nine other reasons to read the book as well, in case you needed them, which you really shouldn't because Joy Williams is one of America's best living writers of short stories and fiction – and for my money she's unquestionably the best author of travel guides. 'Til next month, as they say! This month's near misses included: Signs Preceding the End of the WorldThe Queen of the Night, Heroes of the Frontier, The Girls, and Homegoing. See Also: Last month's list.

Why Now, Florida Man? On Craig Pittman’s ‘Oh, Florida!’

Like a greased manatee, Florida eludes capture. It’s too big, too ungraspable for tidy description. Scarcely is one aspect understood (it’s the Sunshine State) before an oppositional trait emerges (it’s our fifth wettest). Yet paradoxically, Florida is also the state most in need of an explanation. Why is it so bizarre? Why is it trying to kill us? Why does it produce so many outrageous headlines, like "Florida man changes name to Bruce Jenner to preserve name's 'heterosexual roots'" and "Florida man who died in cockroach-eating contest choked to death, autopsy says?" In fact, why has it produced so many outrageous headlines that the phrase "Florida Man" has become a meme, a nom de guerre for a demented, often nude antihero complete with his own Twitter account and Wikipedia entry? There’s a temptation to answer these questions like a pointillist -- to list headlines, write vignettes, and enumerate the weirdest, most depraved stories one can find. One hopes that from a far enough remove, such disparate dots will blend into a cohesive whole and a central narrative will emerge. There has to be a set of qualities linking crossbow-mutilated genitals, invasive Burmese pythons, and nude face-eating zombies because if there isn’t, we’re looking at unpredictable madness. And isn’t that terrifying? These are the questions Craig Pittman attempts to answer in his latest book, Oh, Florida!: How America's Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country. Part travelogue, history, and memoir, it’s altogether best understood as the author's quest to establish a Unified Theory of Florida’s Weirdness, and to make the argument that none of this is new. It’s an impressively difficult task, but it’s also one that Pittman, a veteran reporter and a Floridian by birth, is supremely qualified to undertake. (Case in point: his Twitter account.) In more than 300 pages, Pittman capably demonstrates that throughout history, Florida’s served as our nation’s testing ground, or a Petri dish from which localized events have mutated and spread into national trends. The state was the first one settled by Europeans, for instance. It was the first to preserve a national wildlife refuge. Miami’s ubiquitous cartel violence led in no small way to the modern War on Drugs, and Anita Bryant’s antagonism accelerated America’s gay rights movement. Florida begat the moon landing. During the Cold War, its proximity to Cuba almost led to our mutually assured destruction. Twice. More recently, it was where the 9/11 hijackers trained, where the housing bubble burst, and its rapidly changing demographics will surely shape our political future. As goes Florida, so follows the nation -- if not the world. (Of course, one major challenge with any Florida book is that the state moves swiftly. When Pittman submitted his manuscript to press, there were five Florida Republicans running for president; now only one part-timer remains, and not the one most expected. Furthermore, in the past month the state's dominated the news because it was the site of the nation's most-deadly mass shooting, which couldn't have been foreseen, let alone by the time the book was written. Already a sequel is needed.) To make sense of all this ignoble influence, Pittman reduces the most outlandish headlines to their basic elements, and from there he attempts to ascribe reason. Drugs are abundant because there's so much exploitable coastline, and drugs lead Floridians to fight. Floridians also fight because the weather is hot, and they're frequently nude (or at least shirtless) for the same reason. Additionally, Floridians fight because there are so many recent arrivals who've moved to the state from elsewhere, and they "haven't yet built up any trust with the folks next door." And when squabbles make it to court, juries are often lenient for the same reason: "so many of [them] are transient and feel no strong connection to [their] community," Pittman writes. Meanwhile, we learn about each crime's scandalous details because of the state's robust open records laws, which make police reports and court transcripts accessible to journalists anywhere. While these answers adhere to a convincing logic, the effect of learning that logic can be disappointing. It’s like a magician revealing the secrets behind his tricks -- sure, now it makes sense, but don't we wish it didn’t? Where's the whimsy, the fantastic? Readers hoping to find some exotic cause of the state's residential craziness -- tropical brain rot, maybe -- instead learn that, actually, the government is tragically awful at treating its mentally ill. That so many financial hoodwinks occur has less to do with some evil enzyme endemic in citrus groves than it does with the fact that there are a lot of wealthy retirees ripe for the swindling, and a lot of opportunistic criminals. There are so many shark attacks not because Floridians taste good, but because so many of them go swimming. In fact, a lot of Florida's strangeness can be chalked up to simple geography: Put nineteen million residents and nearly one hundred million tourists in such a narrow space and you're bound to generate conflict over whose turn it is at the drive-thru or whether oak trees or palms should line the streets. Adding fuel to this fire is the discovery that Florida is full of perils to life and limb, ranging from sand spurts to hurricanes, sinkholes, and shark bites. In this sense, Pittman's service journalism makes Oh, Florida! an invaluable addition to the Florida canon, which urgently needs serious voices to balance out the farcical, hyperbolic works produced by Carl Hiaasen and bloggers the world over. Likewise, Pittman does necessary work to highlight the forgotten or unheralded influence of Floridians who've shaped modern life -- both for better and worse -- such as Robert Hayling and Marion Hammer, respectively. He also demonstrates that for as long as the state's had settlers, it's also had shady real estate scammers; and he does a nice job calling out the state's qualities that are objectively fantastic: the beaches, the preserves, the weather. Truly, there's a lot to like in here, and the book should be required reading for Florida completists as well as outsiders cracking jokes about the state's foibles; don't mock that which you don't understand, and recognize that before Florida Man, there was something like Homo Floridius, or Floridopithecus perhaps. And to the extent that the book has any shortfalls, they are entirely matters of personal taste - of not going far enough. For instance, while Pittman's gaze focuses on the state overall, I would've liked to see more attention paid to South Florida specifically, which to my eyes serves as the state's driving engine of transformation, and also as the best indication of America’s future: multicultural, defined by income equality, and existentially threatened by climate change. (Maybe the oversight is explained by the fact that South Florida is distinct from the rest of the state, and doesn't fit neatly into Pittman's central theses.) Also, instead of generalizing or exaggerating, Pittman's journalistic instincts often limit his arguments to those that can be fact-checked and confirmed, which means he stops short of some key points. This is a particular hindrance when it comes to Florida Man and his origin story. Left unanswered in Oh, Florida! is the question of why we've become so fascinated with him in the past few years. Why now, Florida Man? To some degree, the answer lies in the proliferation of social media, which provides a platform for turning small town news headlines into viral content. But there's got to be more to it. Perhaps the answer can be gleaned from trashiness, one of Florida Man's most inextricable features, and a trait made evident to viewers of the recent Florida Man documentary, or readers of John Lingan's convincing piece for Pacific Standard: Florida Man could only come from our most geographically self-contained, ecologically forbidding state, the one full of sinkholes, swamps, wild gators, and urban coastal flooding. Florida Man is a Yankee nightmare in human form. He is everything frightening about white trash life in one meme -- particularly the fear that your poor, aimless life will beget little more than a backwater local news curio and subsequent jail time. Yet while both of those examples focus on a particular brand of trashiness -- that is, white trashiness -- I submit that the conditions responsible for creating Florida Man are more egalitarian. And while Pittman lays some groundwork to establish the foundation of this argument -- breezily recounting the struggles of early Florida Crackers, and identifying the state's long history of enforced impoverishment on members of certain races and ethnicities -- he doesn't quite make the leap necessary to sure up class's overall influence on Florida Man. It's a fact often ignored when weird Florida news makes the rounds that the subjects of those stories are so often poor people being arrested for crimes associated with poverty, such as those motivated by addiction, or linked to domestic violence, larceny, or burglary. It's also not a coincidence that the most archetypal Florida Man stories originate in counties more similar to Polk than Dade; indeed, the flavor of a Central Florida Man story is distinct from that of South Florida Man story. If tragedy is comedy plus time, then an archetypal Florida Man story is trashiness plus irony -- and a South Florida Man story is all of that plus ambition. Put another way: the ideal Florida Man story involves a woman named Crystal Metheny firing a missile into a car, while a South Florida Man story involves bodybuilding ex-soldiers getting their international Molly ring busted because of a pornstar's temper tantrum. While the ideal Florida Man candidate bought a bunch of houses he couldn't afford before the 2008 Recession, the prototypical South Florida Man is probably the former bartender who sold those homes to him. Do you see the difference? At the same time, do you see the similarities? Whereas South Florida's infamy stems from botched get rich quick schemes and deliberate, organized crime, the lifeblood of the more typical Floridian weirdness originates in something more intimate and tragic still. That's why for every one of Florida Man's calamities, there are a handful of more despicable and humorless episodes -- like Quran-burning pastors and outright hate crimes -- that originate from a similarly dark, sad place. All trashy Florida stories are alike; each trashy Florida Man story is ironic in its own way. That only the ironic ones make national news tells you more about the audience than the perpetrators. So why have Florida Man stories drawn so much more attention since, say, 2008? (Pittman traces to "modern" era of Florida's influence to the 2000 election; in that sense, 2008 marks the start of our post-modern one, and years henceforth could be known as A.F.M.: After Florida Man.) Well, since that time Florida's been dealing with ground zero of the nation's housing crisis, an ongoing raid of government programs, a rapidly deteriorating ecosystem (which in turn leads to more polluted waters, more contaminated water sources, more powerful natural disasters, etc...), a stagnant job market, and an escalating opioid epidemic -- all factors affecting disadvantaged populations more than their better-heeled peers. And against that backdrop, those same disadvantaged populations have become more desperate. Meanwhile, rather than paying attention to Florida Man's originating factors -- such as Florida's abysmally run state government -- outsiders have preferred paying attention to Florida Man only as a source of amusement. It's a particular kind of amusement, too, that's motivated by a need for the comparative reassurance that, bad as it is for them in their states and in their hometowns, at least they're not at a point that low. At least they'd never do that. The nation at large looks at Florida Man in much the same way privileged, yuppie audiences look at contestants on Jerry Springer or Maury. Yet the scariest thing about Florida Man, and what gives his mythos such sudden traction, is that his originating factors could be coming for us all, and I think on some level we all recognize that. As Florida goes, so follows the nation. As Florida's shoreline is eaten away by rising seas, so, too is the rest of the East Coast's. As income inequality in Florida becomes more and more pronounced, so, too widens the divide between the nation's rich and poor. From 2000 to 2010, Florida was the most corrupt state; that other states recently surpassed it in the rankings doesn't mean Florida got better so much as it means the rest of the country got worse. So on and so forth. It's possible that the conditions leading to Florida Man's creation are rapidly becoming more common elsewhere, and before long California Man and Texas Man will rise to their own infamy. Get your laughs in now, America, because Florida Man's coming to a town near you.
The Millions Top 10

The Millions Top Ten: June 2016

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for June. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 2. The Sympathizer 3 months 2. 3. Mr. Splitfoot 3 months 3. 4. Girl Through Glass 4 months 4. 5. The Past 5 months 5. 6. What Belongs to You 6 months 6. 8. Zero K 2 months 7. 7. My Name is Lucy Barton 6 months 8. 9. The Lost Time Accidents 4 months 9. - The Nest 1 month 10. - Barkskins 1 month Fresh off the heels of its Pulitzer win, there's a new number one in Millionsland: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. (He's a Year in Reading alumnus, by the way.) If past success in any indication, then smart money rides on Nguyen's debut novel soon heading to our Hall of Fame, where it'll join the past six Pulitzer winners: All the Light We Cannot See (2015), The Goldfinch (2014), The Orphan Master’s Son (2013), A Visit from the Goon Squad (2011), Tinkers (2010), and Olive Kitteridge (2009). You can read an excerpt of The Sympathizer at our sister site, Bloom. Speaking of the Hall of Fame, we graduate two novels this month -- Adam Johnson's Fortune Smiles and Marlon James's A Brief History of Seven Killings -- each of which took different paths en route to the honor. Johnson's novel enjoyed a comfortable position on the rankings pretty much out of the gate, when it debuted in the seventh spot last December. It subsequently climbed to fourth position the next month, then second, and ultimately it held the top position in March, April, and May. James's work, on the other hand, never climbed higher than the seventh spot, and most months it hovered around the ninth or tenth position. Nevertheless, it's staying power that matters around these parts, and now both works are headed to the Hall of Fame together. I, for one, am heartened! Filling the two open spots on this month's list are recent novels by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney and Annie Proulx, both of which were featured in our Great 2016 Book Preview last January. (Bonus: Did you hear we published the Great Second-Half Preview this week?) Sweeney's novel, The Nest, was teased by Rumaan Alam in his 2015 Year in Reading entry, and has been described since its March release as "delightful," "hilarious," "lively," and more. It focuses on four adult siblings waiting to cash in on their shared inheritance. Meanwhile Proulx's Barkskins was a lynchpin piece on our own Claire Cameron's "Summer Reading List for Wretched Assholes Who Prefer to Wallow in Someone Else’s Misery." It focuses on greed, wilderness, and the desolation of our forests. Truly, Millions readers are all over the map! This month's near misses included: Innocents and OthersThe Queen of the Night, Signs Preceding the End of the WorldWhy We Came to the City, and Everybody's Fool. See Also: Last month's list.
The Millions Top 10

The Millions Top Ten: May 2016

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for May. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. Fortune Smiles 6 months 2. 2. The Sympathizer 2 months 3. 10. Mr. Splitfoot 2 months 4. 7. Girl Through Glass 3 months 5. 5. The Past 4 months 6. 3. What Belongs to You 5 months 7. 4. My Name is Lucy Barton 5 months 8. - Zero K 1 month 9. 8. The Lost Time Accidents 3 months 10. 9. A Brief History of Seven Killings 6 months People love The Millions for a variety of reasons, but most of all I love The Millions because the site's readers do things like buy tons of copies of The Big Green Tent, Ludmila Ulitskaya's doorstop of a book about Soviet dissidents, which features almost as many characters as it does pages. Well, maybe y'all don't buy literal tons of copies, but certainly a substantial amount of copies - enough over a six-month span that the book has now graduated to our hallowed Hall of Fame. And that's an impressively bookish feat, so have a round of applause! Filling that open spot is Don DeLillo, whose Zero K describes not the Atlanta Braves pitching staff, as one might reasonably expect, but instead focuses on what Mark O'Connell called "the desire to achieve physical immortality through technology." (Read more in O'Connell's interview with DeLillo, which gets into the author's iPad usage, and how long it took him to write his latest novel.) It's a concern that, in a certain sense, can be tracked through much of DeLillo's past work, as our own Nick Ripatrazone recently made clear in his nice piece on the author's oeuvre: "Zero K is an extension of DeLillo’s developing themes, but it places a darker color upon them." Elsewhere on our list, some shakers and movers but overall things held steady. Clinging to the last spot this month is Marlon James, whose Brief History of Seven Killings remains one of the most memorable things I read in 2015, and who really, truly belongs in our Hall of Fame. What I mean to say is: y'all should buy a few more copies of his book to ensure its graduation in next month's write-up - not only because we've come this close and it's the right thing to do, but also because it's a fantastic book and one that you'll return to months and years after finishing. For instance, consider this passage on the cultural variety of male loathsomeness, which I think about whenever I start feeling mean at the corner bar: All of them came through Mantana’s. White men, that is. If the man is French he thinks that he gets away with saying cunt but saying you cohnnnt, because we bush bitches will never catch his drift. As soon as he sees you he will throw the keys at your feet saying you, park my car maintenant! Dépêche-toi! I take the keys and say yes massa, then go around to the women’s bathroom and flush it down the shittiest toilet. If he’s British, and under thirty, then his teeth are still hanging on and he’ll be charming enough to get you upstairs but too drunk to do anything. He won’t care and you won’t either, unless he vomits on you and leaves a few pounds on the dresser because that was such dreadful, dreadful business. If he’s British and over thirty, you spend the whole time watching the stereotypes pile up, from the letttttt meeeee ssssspeeeeeakkk toooo youuuuu slowwwwlyyyyy, dahhhhhhhhling beccauuuuuse youuuuuuu’re jussssst a liiiiiiiitle blaaaaack, speed of their speech to the horrible teeth, coming from that cup of cocoa right before bed. If he’s German he will be thin and he will know how to fuck, well in a car piston kind of way, but he will stop early because nobody can make German sound sexy. If he’s Italian, he’ll know how to fuck too, but he probably didn’t bathe before, thinks there’s such a thing as an affectionate face slap and will leave money even though you told him that you’re not a prostitute. If he’s Australian, he’ll just lie back and let you do all the work because even us blokes in Sydney heard about you Jamaican girls. If he’s Irish, he’ll make you laugh and he’ll make the dirtiest things sound sexy. But the longer you stay the longer he drinks, and the longer he drinks, well for each of those seven days you get seven different kinds of monster. And this isn't even in the top ten of passages from that book, either. So, for real, if you're thinking about reading it, hop to it already. Take it from a monster. This month's near misses included: Innocents and OthersThe Nest, Signs Preceding the End of the WorldWhen We Came to the City, and The Queen of the Night. See Also: Last month's list.