I think it takes a certain kind of person to like this type of book. If you’re at all familiar with Miranda July, you probably have an idea of what I’m talking about: she’s kind of strange, quietly aloof, and quirky. People seem to either completely dig her style or not get her at all. Case in point: her short story collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You. I personally love it and own it in two formats. But when I took a road trip with my mom, I popped in the audiobook (which July narrates) and ended up getting lots of strange looks from my mom.
This seems to be the case with her latest book, It Chooses You. Skimming reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, it looks like a split: people think she’s being either condescending or brilliant. Back in 2009, while July was trying to finish up the screenplay for her second film, The Future — which, coincidentally, also earned me lots of side-eyes from my mother — July randomly decided to stave off her writer’s block by throwing herself into a side project: interviewing people who sold things on Pennysaver. Her end result was this book.
The project shows her a side of LA and its surrounding areas that she’s never given much thought to: with a few exceptions, she encounters mostly poor, computerless, isolated people. Each of the people featured in the book is unique, and there are several memorable, poignant interviews. Interspersed between the interviews are updates on July’s progress on her movie script. As July nears various film deadlines, her interviews take on a new urgency.
People who have seen The Future will recognize elements from It Chooses You in the film. One of her interviewees, Joe, even made it into the movie (he’s the old man who gives the husband relationship advice). Of all the interviews, Joe’s is the one I won’t soon forget; it actually made me cry (and laugh, but mostly cry). Although The Future is my least favorite July project to date, it was cool to see how the script slowly took shape; a lot of it makes more sense now.
You don’t need to have seen The Future to enjoy this book (actually, if you’ve never experienced Miranda July before, I’d recommend starting with Me and You and Everyone We Know). But like I said earlier, it’s not a book for everyone. The interviews are fascinating, but her take on them is definitely very Miranda July-y (read: awkward and slightly neurotic). If you’re looking for a quick, aesthetically pleasing read that’s not mainstream, this might be the perfect book for you.
You can read an excerpt from the beginning of the book via The New Yorker.
It Chooses You was released on November 15, 2011 by McSweeney’s.