this book is, with no exaggeration, one of the best things i have ever read.
i read this book because i love kenny shopsin and this is written by his daughter, who also loves him. kenny shopsin is something of a legend: a take-no-shit new yorker with the pottiest of mouths and a crazy-ass restaurant where every item is imagination run wild and you’d better know the rules. i love his attitude and his creativity and that his cookbook is both hilarious and functional, and even though i have only managed to get to his restaurant once, it was everything i had hoped it would be and i NEED to go back.
so, i grabbed this book, hoping it would have some funny kenny shopsin anecdotes, the way i like to see lawrence durrell pop up in books by his brother gerald, who lovingly takes him down a peg. but this book, while it more than delivers what i wanted it to in terms of those anecdotes and the shopsin philosophy, proves that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and tamara shopsin is as magnificent a personality as her dad, and a phenomenal writer to boot.
it is wonderfully unexpected in scope and free in form, and very very fast to read. on most of the pages, the text does not go all the way to the bottom, and there are drawings and photographs throughout, but this does not feel at all like padding to extend the length of the book – it suits her style of storytelling perfectly. these are recollections, snippets of family lore, stories about the characters she knew growing up in the village in the 80’s and beyond alongside tales of her travels as an adult with her photographer boyfriend as they travel to various locations on assignment, and the two storytelling tracks are full of touchpoints and connections that are sheer perfection.
this book is too nice an object for me to want to fold over its pages whenever i came across something i wanted to call out in the review, so i just slipped little pieces of paper in each page, and by the end, the book was basically all bookmarks. so, to save me the time of typing out the entire book here, you all need to go out and read this to learn all about the role of chewing gum in marital disputes, gumball machine obsessions, why you should order soda at restaurants you love, crossword puzzles, instructions for making an origami penis, etc etc etc.
it is spectacular, and i don’t think you already have to have a love of the shopsin name to appreciate it, but it definitely helps if you have an affection for the new york of bygone days.
People looked out for each other even if it was a pain in the ass. This might have been because the Village was more dangerous and hardscrabble, because people lived there longer, were in more need, or just talked to each other more.
it will make you envy “her” new york and her unconventional upbringing and whatever combination of things made her mind work the way it does and sustained her wide-eyed appreciation of the world, taking it all in without judgment or horror, even as she sees new york change again and again. she mentions how the city has changed in very matter-of-fact terms that aren’t bitter or given any emotional weight, but the contrast in her descriptions says it all – the neighborhood feel is gone. it’s never angry – it’s an observation with a shrug, which is the shopsin philosophy in a nutshell.
it’s also a perfect circle – the story that serves as the introduction to the book is revealed to be something completely unexpected on the final page, which i will not ruin, but this is another hallmark of her style – the callback-as-reveal. she will mention someone in passing – as a bit player in the story of a more central individual, and then maybe 50 pages later, casually reveal that that bit player was charlie parker. and she does this frequently, tying her threads together so well – she uses earlier anecdotes about a neat freak tenant or a man’s low sperm count to illustrate the changing new york, and with one sentence invoking the incidents, gets her point across so perfectly, so poetically. it’s a skill that would make a novelist envious, but in a memoir, it’s even better – evidence of a remarkable mind observing and relaying her world in candid, accessible terms that make you yearn to befriend her. i mean, i want to hang out with her, and i’m scared of twins, so that should tell you something.
every page is a gift.
and the title? that refers to a little nugget of shopsin philosophy that spoke to my very soul. the arbitrary stupid goal, or ASG is:
A goal that isn’t too important makes you live in the moment, and still gives you a driving force. This driving force is a way to get around the fact that we will all die and there is no real point to life.
But with the ASG there is a point. It is not such an important point that you postpone joy to achieve it. It is just a decoy point that keeps you bobbing along, allowing you to find ecstasy in the small things, the unexpected, and the everyday.
What happens when you reach the stupid goal? Then what? You just find a new ASG.
all the monthly projects i do on here, all the little distractions i pursue that provide me with a silly little sense of accomplishment in a life where i don’t have the money or career or success that i should, they are what keep me invested and engaged while i flounder and hope that something will come along and give me a greater sense of purpose. and now i have a name for it.
i love this book so damn much. i would have maybe liked a little more food-based tales, but i can always read the cookbook for that (Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin), or watch the shopsin documentary again. i want her to never stop writing.
this book – read it read it read it.
PLEASE ADOPT ME, SHOPSINS!
review to come, but MAN, do i love this book