June 11th, 2009 / 12:09 pm
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A Conversation About The Adderall Diaries

The Adderall Diaries on my desk.

A month ago, both J. A. Tyler and I wrote Stephen Elliott and asked to be included as destinations for an advanced copy of his forthcoming book, The Adderall Diaries (which you can still do). We were instructed to read the book within a week and mail it to the next person on a list of readers. While it was nice reading The Adderall Diaries for free this way, thanks to the generosity of its author, any sort of information we can recall about the book is likely flawed or just wrong. The book has left us, and is with other people now. Neither J. A. Tyler or myself have any way of verifying any specifics referenced in our conversation.

GM: I contacted Stephen Elliott immediately after I read the Blake Butler post about the advanced copies of the book. I got really excited. I think I got overly excited. I’ve never owned any literature-related t-shirts aside from a Happy Baby t-shirt I wore until I put on some weight.

It was a good experience to read the single copy of the book in a week and send it to the next person, who was you.

Initially, I wanted to do a “professional style” review, but I was really into the Rockets/Lakers series at the time and I decided to just go with it and read the book and not care about taking notes. I read it in bed over the course of a few games with the television muted.

JAT: I thought holy shit I hope I emailed about this soon enough, it was only a few minutes after the post, but I was still beat to the punch. Then I saw it was you and thought, nice. The idea of getting an advanced copy in the mail and being asked to read it in a week and send it on was great. And when the envelope came I looked to see how much it cost you to send it to me so that I would know how much it would cost me to send it to someone else. And I bought a bubble wrap envelope too because you had bought one. The best surprise I think was seeing that Stephen Elliot had printed his name and signed it on the inside cover and asked that everyone else do the same. So you had too and I knew I would when I finished reading and I was thinking about how cool this would be to make it back to Stephen Elliott will all this readership penned on the front page. I read it in chunks before falling asleep at night and once I was tempted to read it in the bathroom like I do so often but because I would be handing it to someone else I didn’t.

GM: I also considered toilet reading uncourteous. I can’t remember doing anything inappropriate with the book. I might have changed my son a few times and handled the book, but I don’t consider baby butt as gross as adult butt.

Thinking about the book a month later, it feels really scattered. Some of it was about a murder trial, and some was about Stephen’s dad, and some was about his relationships with friends, writing, women, and probably everything else about his life. When I sat down to try and write some sort of review, I felt like it was an impossible task to sum the book up in a sentence. I liked that. It was more like a representation of real life than a Hollywood movie pitch.

The book begins and ends with Stephen’s father, but beyond that it just seems like a stream of experiences and reactions to those experiences. Did you get the feeling at the end like you had been let fully into the ongoing life of another person? I mean, it’s not like I feel like Stephen Elliott and I are “best buds” or whatever kind of shit people want to project onto the authors they enjoy after reading a very personal book, but I definitely feel like there wasn’t much withheld and because of that I was able to see what living is like for this other person without much obstruction.

JAT: Baby-butt definitely does not equal adult-butt. No way. I didn’t even break the spine on that thing like I normally do either. I like the book to know who is boss, who is reading it, and then I don’t have to use a bookmark because it just flops open to where I was before. I didn’t do that with this, because some people think that breaking the spine is the worst etiquette.

But yes, the book feels now to me like a scatter and did too even when I was reading it. But the scatter was in a good way I think because as you said, this book is no movie plot, no cinematic narrative, and the breaks and flushing through of personal memories/moments should read I think as a barrage and not a line.

And too, while I don’t think Stephen Elliott and I are best friends now, like we won’t be sharing ABC gum anytime soon, there was a flagrant kind of honesty that was enjoyable– it is nice to feel as if you are reading distinct individual thoughts and punching memories instead of stream-lined-for-an-audience narrative and hand-holding through-line. I appreciated the scatter in that way, it felt reciprocal with me as a reader. Did the narrative hold together for you in that way too though?

GM: Definitely. I like seeing the book as a “barrage.” He jumps from subject to subject, throwing a lot of backstory and thoughts out, and lets you loosely connect the details yourself.

My mom really wants me to read this Bill O’Reilly book, and without reading the book I already feel like it’s going to be Bill O just telling me what he learned from yelling at people and why him falling off the monkey bars in third grade changed his life forever, and why that stuff should be relevant to everyone.

The Adderall Diaries was the exact opposite of the Bill O’Reilly book I just made up. Stephen Elliot doesn’t spend much, if any time dealing in absolutes. He understands that people have different life experiences that lead them different places. The whole book seems to embrace the confusion of life, what’s true, why the truth matters, why a lie matters as much as the truth, and how memory shapes what the truth is. I think he says something in a caveat before the book officially begins about memory and truth. I wish I made notes.

JAT: Interestingly enough, I think he manages to jump from subject to subject without inundating the reader with exposition, he gives just enough to satiate but not enough to saturate. A good balance (something difficult in this kind of book with this kind of narrative).

And I think you are right, the confusion of life manifest here is what works so well, the imbalance of characters and the domineering punch at times, like we really do exist, in and out of stories and (often) without tangible reason. The static of our living is somehow captured here.

And the opening did have something in it about truth and memory, how one shapes the other I think, but ironically, neither of us can remember.

And that Bill O book, I would not want to read it. I would rather be water-boarded.

GM: I think I’m going to read it. I feel like I need to expose myself to that kind of thing. There is an unwavering conviction to subjective “truths” that some people carry with them to a fault, and it can be interesting to see. With the exception of the murderer in the book, Elliott doesn’t come down too hard on people with this kind of conviction. I think there’s a tendency to be dismissive of bullshit, and he instead takes us into reasoning behind the bullshit.

My friend Scott hates the word “bullshit,” saying that it’s too vague, but in this case I think I just mean the tendency of people to be so full of their opinions, ideals, and viewpoint to a degree that they begin to bend the truth.

I feel like we should be talking about things more specifically and that people are going to read this and be disappointed. But I also feel like the parts of the book that I could reference from memory were really fun to read without any expectations.

Maybe this conversation should exist solely as the “teaser trailer” for the real reviews that are going to exist everywhere soon. You got any final thoughts? Should we keep going?

JAT: In this book the so-called truths of everyone, the bullshit people normally unleash from a full sack, without thought, always in a threat of lecture, always in judgment, Elliott does it without that pressure, he lets it happen as it happens, not dismissive but not bearing any sort of clear judgmental tone (for the most part). And that too is what makes it more a text of honest living rather than narrative driven character/plot. That is what makes this so readable and engaging.

And, though we have not let any plot out, have not discussed any points in specific detail, the scatter we talked about, the barrage, that exists best I think without any other expectations beyond what the title divulges and the knowledge that this will shoot from point to point doing something both literary and driven.

Teaser trailer. Perfect.

My final thoughts: This was a great promotional push on Elliott’s part and I appreciate the opportunity to talk about it without having the book in my hands, to see what remained and what left, to re-think how honest psuedo/semi-memoir structure can compel forward.

I think we have teased and trailed. I like it. You?

GM: I feel good about it.

I would recommend this book to every person I have ever met. Even my mother.

Take us out with a J. A. Tyler bio?

JAT: Yes. Everybody read it. And check out mud luscious/ml press sometime. Otherwise, I will leave all the focus on Mr. Elliott. Thanks for chatting about this. You rock.

GM: I’m glad you agreed to do this. Thank you. Keep putting those nice stories in my mailbox.

The Adderall Diaries by Stephen Elliott will be available in September. You can get an advance copy to read for as long as he’s sending them out here, and if you feel like owning it you can preorder the book at Powells.

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