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A memoir of friendship and literature chronicling a search for meaning and comfort in great books, and a beautiful path out of grief.
Anne Gisleson had lost her twin sisters, had been forced to flee her home during Hurricane Katrina, and had witnessed cancer take her beloved father. Before she met her husband, Brad, he had suffered his own trauma, losing his partner and the mother of his son to cancer in her young thirties. "How do we keep moving forward," Anne asks, "amid all this loss and threat?" The answer: "We do it together."
Anne and Brad, in the midst of forging their happiness, found that their friends had been suffering their own losses and crises as well: loved ones gone, rocky marriages, tricky child-rearing, jobs lost or gained, financial insecurities or unexpected windfalls. Together these resilient New Orleanians formed what they called the Existential Crisis Reading Group, which they jokingly dubbed "The Futilitarians." From Epicurus to Tolstoy, from Cheever to Amis to Lispector, each month they read and talked about identity, parenting, love, mortality, and life in post-Katrina New Orleans,
In the year after her father's death, these living-room gatherings provided a sustenance Anne craved, fortifying her and helping her blaze a trail out of her well-worn grief. More than that, this fellowship allowed her finally to commune with her sisters on the page, and to tell the story of her family that had remained long untold. Written with wisdom, soul, and a playful sense of humor, The Futilitarians is a guide to living curiously and fully, and a testament to the way that even from the toughest soil of sorrow, beauty and wonder can bloom.
About the Author
Anne Gisleson's work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Oxford American, The Believer, Ecotone, and The Los Angeles Times and has been selected for inclusion in several anthologies, including Best American Non-Required Reading. For years, Anne was chair of the Creative Writing Program at the internationally-renowned New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. In 2005, she co-founded Antenna in New Orleans, where she lives.
"Moving and complete and very much worth reading . . . Post-Katrina New Orleans itself is an essential component of this world; it lives on the page in pungent detail, with all its disastrous losses and fragile hopes . . . An estimable book."—Emily Fox Gordon, New York Times Book Review
"Gisleson brings New Orleans itself into sharp focus, lingering lovingly on its places, its people, and its history . . . but she [also] goes universal in her debut . . . The Futilitarians tackles hopelessness, but it never succumbs to it. Gisleson writes with wit, warmth, and a spiritual devotion to books that never comes across as preachy . . . This search for purpose and connection amid chaos and loss permeates even the most heart-wrenching moments of The Futilitarians--and it's what turns the book from a meditation on reading to a celebration of being."—Jason Heller, NPR
"Truly great writing . . . Never does Gisleson dip a toe into the clichéd or the saccharine. Employing a Dave Eggers-esque eye for specificity and the absurd, she conjures the strange beauty of her world . . . An affecting memoir."—Keziah Weir, ELLE
"A healing memoir . . . Reeling from deaths, crises, and trauma, Gisleson and a group of friends formed the Existential Crisis Reading Group. In The Futilitarians, Gisleson movingly recounts how they found comfort in the words of Tolstoy, Kafka, and other greats."—Real Simple
"The meetings themselves are absorbing enough to make
you crave an invitation, thanks to Gisleson's slyly gorgeous writing.
But she also uses them to profound effect as a kind of scaffolding, linear
poles through which to loop her personal story . . . New Orleans has a visceral
presence in these pages, a malleable face, at times a defiant gaiety . . .
Refreshingly, Gisleson doesn't offer answers so much as ask good questions . .
Her story isn't an easy, read-in-a-couple-of-gulps proposition . . . Yet it
offers a generous companionship, the solace of being seen."—Dawn Raffel, San Francisco Chronicle
"Gisleson gives us a layered portrait of not just one woman's rich and complicated life, but so much more: a family suffering unspeakable tragedy, a city struggling, a group of friends brought together to make common cause in making sense of life . . . In her hands, the search is beautiful indeed, sparkling with fierce intelligence and sharp wit and unsparing honesty . . . Lovers of New Orleans stories will find much to admire here, with Gisleson's vast knowledge and experience of the city . . . Her observations are spot-on . . . An exquisite memoir."—Susan Larson, New Orleans Advocate
"Vivid . . . moving . . . This haunting and personal look at the real New Orleans, a city of light and shadows, is an unflinching meditation on public grief and honest intimacy."—Lauren LeBlanc, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"This is a shattering and very important book-and will, if there is justice (and there must be justice), be considered one of the best books of this year. There is an ocean of hurt here, but Gisleson manages to sail through it and show us everything that's beautiful about this sea of pain. If you love existential literature, or New Orleans, or your family, or are curious about the meaning of life, then you will find The Futilitarians to be an essential book."—Dave Eggers, New York Times bestselling author of The Circle and What is the What
"The Futilitarians sets out a search for meaning in grand terms and solves the search in the beauty of loving detail. From suicide to set painting, lunch pies to Death Row, from decayed eternity to the complex rebirth of New Orleans, this book never loses the treasure of abiding doubt. Plus, spoiler, it ends in fireworks and a reading list you do not want to miss."—Louise Erdrich
"After Katrina, New Orleanians became experts in resilience. Anne Gisleson has captured that spirit poignantly in The Futilitarians, which explores how we can find meaning in our lives by struggling back from tragedies. Whether as communities or as individuals, she shows, we do it by holding hands and moving forward together."—Walter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute and New York Times bestselling author of Steve Jobs and Einstein: His Life and Universe
"This is a beautiful book about the things that matter--love, death, grief, anger, regret, renewal, the life of the mind, the life of the heart, and the life of the world around you. Anne Gisleson is a brave and gifted writer, with the wisdom to embrace empathy and connection, not to mention intellectual curiosity, in an existence that can only ever be filled with uncertainty. I just wish I could join her reading club."
—Sam Lipsyte, New York Times bestselling author of The Ask
"Boozy, brilliant, beautiful, tragic, and deeply affecting, The Futilitarians is my favorite memoir of the year."
—Jami Attenberg, New York Times bestselling author of The Middlesteins
"A wonderful and profoundly moving personal memoir of loss and resilience, and an unforgettable tribute to the great good that comes from reading great books (and talking about them!) Through long evenings of conversation fueled by food, wine, and more wine, the Existential Crisis Reading Group finds sustaining joy in literature, art, community, and yes, family. This book will move you to tears, to laughter, and to joy--and will leave you with a renewed awe for all the unexpected gifts that being alive allows, including the special joy of finding a great book like The Futilitarians."
—Nina Sankovitch, author of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair
"Gisleson's memoir is a compassionate journey through personal grief, as well as a smart compendium of literature . . . What ensues is dynamic examination of human suffering and human joy . . . Most moving is her hard look at her twin sisters' lives . . . Her narrative is a wonderful look at friendship and grief, as well as an enlightening personal journey."—Publishers Weekly
"An engrossing memoir chronicling a search for spiritual healing . . . A graceful narrative that seamlessly interweaves philosophical reflections and intimate revelations."—Kirkus Reviews
"With beautiful writing, Gisleson effortlessly weaves
existentialism around narrative, challenging and engaging readers with a
seamless blend of theory and memoir. Writer and educator Gisleson's first book-length
work weighs heavy with life's toughest questions and then instantaneously
elevates the soul with hope, making for a charming, captivating, and incredibly
smart must-read."—Melissa Norstedt, Booklist
"[The Futilitarians] seamlessly melds together Gisleson's story, New Orleans' ongoing recovery, and existential discovery."—Carla Jean Whitley, BookPage
interested in expanding their reading lists, as well as those fascinated by New
Orleans, will find this a meaty work."—Rachael Dreyer, Library Journal