“People said that writers were driven by the need to create a world over which they could exert total control, but Wes knew…that in writing you often ended up making something that was very different from what you intended to make when you started out.” (195)
I started out intending to write a review of Jesse Browner’s Everything Happens Today. I intended to discuss the book’s debt to The Catcher in the Rye (teenage prep school protagonist Wes, anxious about sex and worried about his little sister growing up and being corrupted, struggles to overcome the sadness he sees all around him in New York City, crying literally and figuratively about the phonies while being one himself). I meant to create a clever calculus like “Holden Caulfield as interpreted by filmmakers Whit Stillman and Wes Anderson,” and then stress how I meant that as a compliment, and that Browner’s novel was thoughtful and often beautifully written. I intended to mention how some books (like my two most recent reads, The Fault in Our Stars and Everybody Sees the Ants) I talk about with all my students, while others, like Everything Happens Today, I save for a targeted few, in this case those who will appreciate a main character who decries how André in War and Peace was “choking on his own philosophical boner,” and then proceeds to fill page-length paragraphs doing the same thing. (And those who will not be offended by a book that makes liberal use of a word that has a phonetically similar opening to Holden’s “phony.”) I intended to discuss how a teenage protagonist does not a young adult novel make (despite the claims made by the publisher on the flap).
But I could not escape this line from early in the book: “His father had told him once, with his usual wistful bitterness, that you never again read books with the passion and intensity you bring to them as a teenager, and that was easy to believe” (27). I should not claim to speak for the entire Nerdy Book Club, but I think Browner just gave us another operational definition of a Nerdy Book Club member: If you still read books, all kinds of books, with the passion and intensity you brought to them in your youth, then you are a Nerdy Book Club member. For this insight I am beholden to Browner and his adult young adult novel.
I sense Browner himself should be an honorary member, as he fills Everything Happens Today with references to Borges and the Library of Babel, Granta, Mary Poppins, Brave New World, The Great Gatsby, The Master and Margarita, and even Twilight–in addition to the aforementioned War and Peace, which plays a major role in Everything Happens Today (It is Saturday and Wes has until Monday to rewrite an English paper analyzing it, what with his English teacher feeling that Wes’ initial draft, an exegesis of the US Army’s M16 Operator’s Manual, was “an unfit subject for an honor’s class in European literature”). This is a bookish novel, and your connotation of “bookish” may well determine how much you enjoy it.
Lucy, one of the causes of Wes’ sexual anxiety, calls him out on his interiority. “I mean, you seem to have a lot of these preconceived notions about people, like you don’t know how real people think, like everything you’ve ever learned is from books. Bookish” (163). If, like me, you are often wistful about how much certain books meant to you, but you are never bitter, even though you may, like Wes does by the end, recognize that being “bookish” not only provides you with paths into other worlds but also a path into loneliness, then Everything Happens Today may resonate in ways both pleasurable and painful.
Teaches reading to high school freshmen and dual-credit college composition to high school seniors. From November to February, the head coach of a high school large group speech team. From March to the beginning of June, the head coach of a girls high school soccer team. Reads like it’s his job (which thankfully it is). Found on Twitter @Polking. Has no friends so only plays Words.