Posted by: hannah jo | February 8, 2010

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

If you know me in real life, I know you are ready for me to just shut up already about this book, but I can’t help myself. I recently finished The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris and then had the pleasure of hearing him read from it at the University Branch of the Seattle Public Library two days ago. Apparently, I belong to a new group of 2 — people who love both of Ferris’s books. I think the other person is Joshua Ferris.

Ferris’s first book, Then We Came to the End, was one of my favorite books of 2007. Written in the first person plural voice, it captivated me from the first sentence to the very last word, thanks to masterful writing, abundant wit, a topical story (about the decline of a Chicago ad agency), and some surprisingly touching moments. Lori wrote about it here back in January of 2008. I know that some people are not fans of the book (Misha!), but others are (Linda!) and some even became fans after giving up on it once and then giving it a second try (Nancy!). [Quick aside, when I talked Nancy into trying it again, she loved it and then talked about it on KUOW. Lily and I heard her review it on air while were in the car and Nancy mentioned that she had abandoned the book, but then a friend talked her into trying it again. I told Lily, “Hey, that was me! I’m the one who suggested that she try it again!” Lily’s response: “She’s not talking about you. You’re so full of yourself.” See, it always helps to have a jaded pre-teen around to keep it real, even when she’s half wrong.]

So, when I heard that Ferris had another book coming out, I immediately put it on hold at the library, before we actually had copies in house, and was rewarded with one of the first copies of The Unnamed that arrived. I hadn’t read any reviews of it, but did see that several people on Goodreads had rated it a measly single star (out of 5). OUCH! But, heck with them, I was going to read it anyway and thank goodness I did. The idea that drives the book was so intriguing to me: the main character is a man who sometimes has to get up from whatever he’s doing and start walking. He can’t control it. He walks and walks. Is it a physical ailment? Is it mental? Is it more?

As Ferris stated on Saturday, this book is more demanding than the first one. It doesn’t deliver the same entertainment that Then We Came to the End did. Thus, he’s found that people who loved the first book, don’t enjoy The Unnamed. But, people who have not read the first one love the new one. That’s why I felt compelled to tell him that I love BOTH books. As some of my library patrons have told me, though, I have a high tolerance for sad. The Unnamed is a sad book. Ferris said he did not want to lampoon the man’s ailment or make fun of it. He wanted to keep the tone serious because the disease is serious.

Ferris knows people expected him to write another book like Then We Came to the End. “Expectations be damned,” he said. He hates the pigeonholing that takes place by publishers, book sellers, and the market. He even described pigeonholing as a fetish. Then We Came to the End is often compared to the TV show, “The Office,” for example, but Ferris takes exception with that comparison. His book is far more complex, he says, and I agree.

Ferris read a long section of The Unnamed on Saturday, which gave a great indication of what the book is about and its style. I don’t have a recording of that, but I do have a link to a book trailer for The Unnamed, with audio by him. Also, here’s a podcast of an interview that David Sedaris did with Ferris which includes a bit of Ferris reading from the book. Sedaris also loves the book.

As I mentioned in my brief, 5-star (take that, haters!) Goodreads review of The Unnamed, I think this would be a great pick for book groups. In addition to being so polarizing — you either love it or hate it — it also explores some fascinating ideas worth discussing. If you read it, please let me know what you think. I can’t wait to talk to you about it!

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Responses

  1. I think your average online book [or other product] reviewer doesn’t distinguish between what she thinks is genuinely bad and what she doesn’t like. There are lots of books that I didn’t like that I recognize aren’t bad. And there are a lot of books that I realize aren’t genius but that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I still haven’t read Ferris.

  2. I’ll get right down to what’s REALLY important: you’re right, he is a stone cold fox! (This from previous, private Hannah-mail.) Although, doesn’t this picture of him remind you of, oh, someone I used to married to? Sorry. He may have been a stone cold ass, but he was yummy to look at….

    • I borrowed that phrase from Pamela — that’s how she described Daniel Radcliffe once (and I agreed). And, yes, Mr. Ferris does remind me of that man you mentioned. But, you know, not joyless.

  3. Oh, look! I got mentioned! With an exclamation point. I truly loved his first book, Hannah, and I don’t know if I would have tried it if you hadn’t talked about it so passionately during book group at the library. Can’t wait to read this next one.


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