Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: Michael Schaub

By posted at 10:00 am on December 4, 2011 6

coverIn a promotional video for The Great Frustration, Seth Fried’s debut book, the author deadpans, “Technically, the book is a collection of short stories. Though I prefer to think of it as a novel that doesn’t make any sense. [Pause.] That is how we’re marketing it.” On his “Bare-Minimum-Blog Blog,” he fantasizes about ditching literary fiction to become an advertising copywriter hawking “Seth Farm Pigeon Butter” (“the pigeon butter that’s a smidgen better”); and urges fans who want to help sales of The Great Frustation to “social media the book with social media.” And before Hurricane Irene, he offered some (good) advice to New York apartment dwellers by way of a hilarious tweet which ended up going viral.

Fried, 28, is one of the funniest writers in America. But it’s not just his sly, absurdist sense of humor that makes him an author to watch — his short stories manage to be both hilarious and tragic, both surreal and enormously sensitive. The Great Frustration is a debut, but it’s also something most writers, even the most acclaimed ones, have never accomplished: it is a perfect short story collection. It’s also the best book I read in 2011.

Too often, fiction written by very funny people can turn either frivolous or precious, but Fried’s stories never even come close to trivial. He’s a brilliant humorist — see “The Frenchman,” one of the funniest stories I’ve read in years — but he doesn’t use jokes where they don’t belong, and he never uses humor to show off, or to avoid tragic conclusions that many authors would rather not face.

Humor isn’t the only weapon in his arsenal. Fried has a keen sense of history and science, which he uses to great effect in stories like the heartbreaking “The Misery of the Conquistador” and the uniquely beautiful “Animacula: A Young Scientist’s Guide to New Creatures.” (I wouldn’t be surprised if both of those stories someday end up in a definitive anthology of American fiction; they’re that good.) Like Anton Chekhov, Flannery O’Connor, and George Saunders, Fried is a master at the absurdities, small and large, that make up the human condition. He’s a deeply funny, deeply generous author, and on the basis of The Great Frustration, I’m ready to pay him the biggest compliment I could ever give an author: there’s never been a writer exactly like him before.

I should mention some of the other great books I read in 2011. This year brought some amazing fiction — Alan Heathcock’s dark, beautiful short story collection Volt, and the brilliant novels Zazen by Vanessa Veselka, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, and, especially, The Vices by Lawrence Douglas. I was happy to read two wonderful essay collections, If You Knew Then What I Know Now by Ryan Van Meter, and You Must Go and Win by Alina Simone (who, like Fried, is also a gifted humorist). And the books The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson and Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean were shining examples of flawless nonfiction. And finally, this was the year that I promised myself I would catch up on the classics I’ve missed, and read Bleak House.

I did not. Here’s to 2012.

More from A Year in Reading 2011

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

The good stuff: The Millions’ Notable articles

The motherlode: The Millions’ Books and Reviews

Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.





Share this article

More from the Millions

6 Responses to “A Year in Reading: Michael Schaub”

  1. Nick Moran
    at 11:19 am on December 4, 2011

    Well, this is certainly heading onto my wish list for 2012. Thanks for this!

  2. Philip Graham
    at 9:47 am on December 5, 2011

    Yes, Fried’s story “Animacula” is truly great, we published it in Ninth Letter, and I can still remember my excitement on first reading it when it arrived in the mail. Second and third readings are equally rewarding.

  3. Alan
    at 6:25 pm on December 7, 2011

    “Bleak House” is a favorite of mine.

  4. David
    at 3:26 pm on December 23, 2011

    The Great Frustration is available for FREE from Amazon as a Kindle book right now!

  5. A Creative Nonfiction Class Interviews Ryan Van Meter « BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog
    at 9:18 am on January 5, 2012

    […] Then What I Know Now is featured in New York Magazine’s The Year in Books and The Millions’ Year in Reading. His work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Iowa Review, The Normal School magazine, Ninth […]

  6. A Creative Nonfiction Class Interviews Ryan Van Meter | Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction
    at 8:39 am on October 5, 2013

    […] I Know Now is featured in New York Magazine‘s The Year in Books and The Millions’ Year in Reading. His work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Iowa Review, The Normal […]

Post a Response

Comments with unrelated links will be deleted. If you'd like to reach our readers, consider buying an advertisement instead.

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments that do not add to the conversation will be deleted at our discretion.