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Meiselman: The Lean Years (New Chicago Classics Book 7)

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Meiselman has had enough. After a life spent playing by the rules, this lonely thirty-six-year-old man-"number two" at a suburban Chicago public library, in charge of events and programs, and in no control whatsoever over his fantasies about his domineering boss-is looking to come out on top, at last. What seems like an ordinary week in 2004 will prove to be a golden oppor Meiselman has had enough. After a life spent playing by the rules, this lonely thirty-six-year-old man-"number two" at a suburban Chicago public library, in charge of events and programs, and in no control whatsoever over his fantasies about his domineering boss-is looking to come out on top, at last. What seems like an ordinary week in 2004 will prove to be a golden opportunity (at least in his mind) to reverse a lifetime of petty humiliations. And no one-not his newly observant wife, not the Holocaust survivor neighbor who regularly disturbs his sleep with her late-night gardening, and certainly not the former-classmate-turned-renowned-author who's returning to the library for a triumphant literary homecoming-will stand in his way.


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Meiselman has had enough. After a life spent playing by the rules, this lonely thirty-six-year-old man-"number two" at a suburban Chicago public library, in charge of events and programs, and in no control whatsoever over his fantasies about his domineering boss-is looking to come out on top, at last. What seems like an ordinary week in 2004 will prove to be a golden oppor Meiselman has had enough. After a life spent playing by the rules, this lonely thirty-six-year-old man-"number two" at a suburban Chicago public library, in charge of events and programs, and in no control whatsoever over his fantasies about his domineering boss-is looking to come out on top, at last. What seems like an ordinary week in 2004 will prove to be a golden opportunity (at least in his mind) to reverse a lifetime of petty humiliations. And no one-not his newly observant wife, not the Holocaust survivor neighbor who regularly disturbs his sleep with her late-night gardening, and certainly not the former-classmate-turned-renowned-author who's returning to the library for a triumphant literary homecoming-will stand in his way.

30 review for Meiselman: The Lean Years (New Chicago Classics Book 7)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Stacey B

    I rated this now so the author will know I read the book, as I had said in a post I would. But more important, I remember thinking at the time this rating may not be fair due to my timing of the read, and could very well be a 5*. It wouldn't be the first or second time for me to re-read a book for that reason- glad I recognized it. I rated this now so the author will know I read the book, as I had said in a post I would. But more important, I remember thinking at the time this rating may not be fair due to my timing of the read, and could very well be a 5*. It wouldn't be the first or second time for me to re-read a book for that reason- glad I recognized it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jan Rice

    A review in stray thoughts: Hooray--not more chick lit, But, watch out now: dick lit (sick lit!) ...For the relief of unbearable urges... Civilization and its discontents... All is not quiet on the western front. Can this marriage be saved? Afraid not. ...another tack, By bookshelf names: Not bibliotraumatic. It is not (yet) bibliotherapeutic; could it morph? It's not reconciliation/redemptive. It is ...about books and reading, although the protagonist's limited attention span stymies him; He cannot concentr A review in stray thoughts: Hooray--not more chick lit, But, watch out now: dick lit (sick lit!) ...For the relief of unbearable urges... Civilization and its discontents... All is not quiet on the western front. Can this marriage be saved? Afraid not. ...another tack, By bookshelf names: Not bibliotraumatic. It is not (yet) bibliotherapeutic; could it morph? It's not reconciliation/redemptive. It is ...about books and reading, although the protagonist's limited attention span stymies him; He cannot concentrate to read. He may need to keep a suitcase packed, but his likely destination will be his parents. Religion is present the way reading is present. Them and us--boiled down here to 'them and me,' Him against the world, But hamstrung by double-consciousness. Several times I thought things would come out okay in the end, Miraculously; it would have had to be miraculously, Since he can't win for losing. Is it weak will? Incompetence? Self-sabotage by any other name would stink no less Does the book's name imply an encore? Can this person be saved? Well-written, but hard to take, A comment on society too. How can the center hold?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Duclos

    Meiselman, the titular character in this hilarious debut novel, never seems to make the right choice. Whether he's trying to impress a woman with pink hair with his knowledge of literature, vanquish his nemesis in debate at the public library, or just have a conversation with his wife, his actions are often cringe-worthy. Despite his many flaws, I couldn't help but root for Meiselman, in large part because of Landes's skill in rendering a character we can all laugh at, but who is also somehow ne Meiselman, the titular character in this hilarious debut novel, never seems to make the right choice. Whether he's trying to impress a woman with pink hair with his knowledge of literature, vanquish his nemesis in debate at the public library, or just have a conversation with his wife, his actions are often cringe-worthy. Despite his many flaws, I couldn't help but root for Meiselman, in large part because of Landes's skill in rendering a character we can all laugh at, but who is also somehow never the butt of the joke.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Hamburger

    Meisleman is definitely one of the funniest books I've read in a while, the story of a nebbishy librarian who thinks he's going to change his life over the course of a fateful few days when a famous writer comes to town. Instead what comes to light is the true nature of his existence. Landes's sentences literally do somersaults on the page! His style is energetic and vivid. You won't forget it. Meisleman is definitely one of the funniest books I've read in a while, the story of a nebbishy librarian who thinks he's going to change his life over the course of a fateful few days when a famous writer comes to town. Instead what comes to light is the true nature of his existence. Landes's sentences literally do somersaults on the page! His style is energetic and vivid. You won't forget it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    I have a lot of thoughts about Meiselman. The author and I studied together in a Master's program, and I've always admired his writing style. This book was no exception. Landes paints vivid images, and creates a full, detailed world. The characters in this book, especially Meiselman himself, but also many of the other characters, feel like real people, not stereotypes or NPCs. Meiselman is a horrible character, and he's realistic in how awful he is. We all have a little Meiselman in us. We all s I have a lot of thoughts about Meiselman. The author and I studied together in a Master's program, and I've always admired his writing style. This book was no exception. Landes paints vivid images, and creates a full, detailed world. The characters in this book, especially Meiselman himself, but also many of the other characters, feel like real people, not stereotypes or NPCs. Meiselman is a horrible character, and he's realistic in how awful he is. We all have a little Meiselman in us. We all sometimes think we're being mistreated when there's no ill intent, we all sometimes want to reassure ourselves that we're better than we are, and we all sometimes give in to our baser desires. Reading Meiselman was ike having a spider crawl across my arm, and being unable to remove it. I felt disgusted, disturbed, and a sense of horrid fascination at how much worse things just kept getting. In its own way, Meiselman was a lot more horrifying than my usual fare of Stephen King, where the monsters aren't just humans with good intentions.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Loved this neurotic, irreverent, lushly (and lustily) told novel. OY, Meiselman. Recently, I interviewed the author for Hevria: https://hevria.com/sara-lippmann/what... Loved this neurotic, irreverent, lushly (and lustily) told novel. OY, Meiselman. Recently, I interviewed the author for Hevria: https://hevria.com/sara-lippmann/what...

  7. 4 out of 5

    Joan

    I want to read the book written by the person who wrote the description of this book. That book sounded amazing and funny. This book was dreary. I hated all the characters, and I'd be hard pressed to find any redeeming qualities about them. Basically, a man from an orthodox Jewish family, has had little luck in both work and life and is constantly number two, thinks that it is everyone else's fault that he is like this. He has this strange relationship with his wife (who has converted for him) an I want to read the book written by the person who wrote the description of this book. That book sounded amazing and funny. This book was dreary. I hated all the characters, and I'd be hard pressed to find any redeeming qualities about them. Basically, a man from an orthodox Jewish family, has had little luck in both work and life and is constantly number two, thinks that it is everyone else's fault that he is like this. He has this strange relationship with his wife (who has converted for him) and he is always trying to outsmart and avoid her at every opportunity, while being drawn to her when she isn't available to him. Though I come from a Jewish family, we are not orthodox, so, I learned a few new things about this particular sect of Judaism. Things I didn't wish to know. Things I cannot un-know. I hope people that read this, might realize that not all sects live by such rules. I finished, hoping it would get better, and hoping at some point it would be as funny as promised. It was mainly uncomfortable situations brought on by Meiselman himself.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mark Zvonkovic

    This clever novel gives the reader an hilarious perspective of a young man bumbling his way through work, religion and sex. Although Meiselman is meant to be humorous, it’s protagonist, Meiselman, is tragic. He lives in a house given to him by, and very close to, his stereotypically funny Jewish parents, who don’t think of themselves as funny, only as seriously observant Jews. His wife, Deena or Daisy, depending on the circumstance, had to take courses on how to be observant. She takes it serious This clever novel gives the reader an hilarious perspective of a young man bumbling his way through work, religion and sex. Although Meiselman is meant to be humorous, it’s protagonist, Meiselman, is tragic. He lives in a house given to him by, and very close to, his stereotypically funny Jewish parents, who don’t think of themselves as funny, only as seriously observant Jews. His wife, Deena or Daisy, depending on the circumstance, had to take courses on how to be observant. She takes it seriously, although it seems more out of duty than belief. And Meiselman is a mess who keeps sliding away from observance, when he isn’t thinking about the Chicago Cubs. Judaism in the novel is a bit murky, as much from the depiction of the characters as from the attempts at humor. The story is told from Meiselman’s point of view almost exclusively. Sometimes it is hard to tell where an observation is coming from because Landes disguises it. But everything that happens is sifted through Meiselman’s eyes and one needs to question how much these depictions are slanted. Meiselman also portrays action in advance, as he does after his meeting with the Rav when on his way home with the Rav’s pronouncement concerning the blood spot on his wife’s underwear, he “envisions how the rest of the night will unfold.” His vision is strangely sexual and in the end he comments, “This is more or less what happens.” It is hard to know whether that comment is truthful, as is the case with most of his commentary, particularly when it is coupled with memories of his childhood, like the ones with Ethel, who also happens to be his boss. Meiselman’s circumspection is particularly profound when he is interacting with the pink-haired woman, who during all of the novel is a subject of his poorly concealed lust. She asks a question at the Shenkenberg reading and Meiselman’s rendition about it is more about himself than her, “Indeed, she is the liberator. You’ve made it to the stage is the pink-haired woman’s message. The light shines on you the same as it does for Shenkenberg, while the rest of us sit cramped in narrow seats on the other side, faceless in the dark.” It’s no matter that the pink-haired woman’s question itself isn’t repeated. Meiselman, the novel, is a very long concoction of strands of Meiselman’s neuroses looping in and out of memories and rationalizations about his tortured life. The problem with the story is its length. The strands the narrator weaves during the narration start to entangle with themselves after about three hundred pages and the story begins to gasp for air. We’ve heard it too many times, already, readers will want to say. Put us (and Meiselman) out of our misery. Please.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sorelle

    This morning, I finished reading Meiselman: The Lean Years, a debut novel by Avner Landes. My first thought after devouring the last sentence was: So many people are going to love this book. Which of my friends will borrow it first? With no small measure of excitement did I add it to my fresh pile of books-by-the-front-door. I wasn't sure what to expect before I read it. The book's reviews told me it was a "triumph of comic escalation" about a "suburban schlemiel's endless capacity for self-sabot This morning, I finished reading Meiselman: The Lean Years, a debut novel by Avner Landes. My first thought after devouring the last sentence was: So many people are going to love this book. Which of my friends will borrow it first? With no small measure of excitement did I add it to my fresh pile of books-by-the-front-door. I wasn't sure what to expect before I read it. The book's reviews told me it was a "triumph of comic escalation" about a "suburban schlemiel's endless capacity for self-sabotage." The book certainly delivered on all those fronts and more. What particularly took my breath away was how even though the book centers around a frustrated "second-in-command" at the local library who invites disaster at every turn, and whose delusions of grandeur set him up for disappointment and anguish, we can all find parts of ourselves in Meiselman. Who among us at at least at one point in our lives hasn't felt misunderstood and aches to be perceived by others how we perceive ourselves? The book is exquisitely raw, honest, insightful, and humbling - as well as hilarious and deeply entertaining - and essentially an invitation for us all to take a look inside ourselves. Avner Landes is an exceptional observer of human nature which bears fruit in his epic novel "Meiselman." I really had a hard time saying goodbye to Meiselman - both the book and the character. Can't wait to see what Avi comes up with next. Not often I read a book twice, but might have to make an exception for Meiselman. Do yourself a favor and add this to your list of summer 2021 books to read. You won't be sorry.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Van Oosbree

    Meiselman reminded me of a male Eleanor Oliphant... oblivious to how out of touch they are with the world around them. Funny book about a librarian in a Jewish community.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Chava

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I'm not a fan of books where the main character ruminates, so it took me a long time to read this one. I credit the author with weaving a story about a shlemazel, and creating interesting secondary characters that contribute to Meiselman's challenges and push him to break free from his "shlemazelness." Although the Meiselman is supposed to be Orthodox, he breaks a lot of rules, particularly keeping kosher and not "spilling his seed." A running gag that involves Meiselman taking his wife's underwe I'm not a fan of books where the main character ruminates, so it took me a long time to read this one. I credit the author with weaving a story about a shlemazel, and creating interesting secondary characters that contribute to Meiselman's challenges and push him to break free from his "shlemazelness." Although the Meiselman is supposed to be Orthodox, he breaks a lot of rules, particularly keeping kosher and not "spilling his seed." A running gag that involves Meiselman taking his wife's underwear to a rabbi to check for blood, and then continually pulling the underpants out of his pocket at awkward moments, fell flat for this reader.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Carly Pask

    I related so much to this character, maybe not as myself, but definitely as some of my relatives/friends. Landes held nothing back, and for that, I thank him.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tucker

    I was interested the premise of a 36-year-old Jewish librarian going rogue to resolve his 2004 midlife crisis. The main character is — I believe intentionally — dislikable or at least off-putting, and to that extent I think the book is done well, although of course a dislikable main character presents a natural barrier to the reader liking the book. I became exhausted by the voice in Chapter 8 and put away the novel for about five months, at which point, having forgotten what happened in Chapter I was interested the premise of a 36-year-old Jewish librarian going rogue to resolve his 2004 midlife crisis. The main character is — I believe intentionally — dislikable or at least off-putting, and to that extent I think the book is done well, although of course a dislikable main character presents a natural barrier to the reader liking the book. I became exhausted by the voice in Chapter 8 and put away the novel for about five months, at which point, having forgotten what happened in Chapter 8, I picked it up again. The sentences are stylistically beautiful, elaborately precise and with a glassy coolness, like crystals. The mood is pensive, but not uplifting. Moments I like in the second half of the book include when Shenkenberg says into a microphone that everyone “works at some point in life to become our own rebbe.” He adds: “Only a sociopath embraces the position of rebbe with ease, without mourning over the killed fathers. The book is titled The Sad Rebbe.” I’m also interested by Meiselman’s grumbling: “Stolidity, the ability to not allow a misfortunate incident to mark one’s character, is no longer a virtue. The people of this generation want their episodes to define them, which is why people are willing to freely discuss personal shortcomings. * * * This new generation freely picks and chooses whether an episode is profound or immaterial, and they never pick correctly.”

  14. 5 out of 5

    M.R. Ruth

    Avner Landes is a master storyteller. This is a must-read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Erika Dreifus

    As the cover suggests, this is a book with a library connection: Protagonist Meiselman works as events and programs coordinator for a Chicago-area library. And there's a major book-focused plotline, concerning a single author event, that runs through the novel. I'm always drawn to novels that are somehow embedded in a world of books, so I was happy to be offered a copy of this one. We spend the week-long narrative present of this novel (despite the book's subtitle, only in flashback do we cover p As the cover suggests, this is a book with a library connection: Protagonist Meiselman works as events and programs coordinator for a Chicago-area library. And there's a major book-focused plotline, concerning a single author event, that runs through the novel. I'm always drawn to novels that are somehow embedded in a world of books, so I was happy to be offered a copy of this one. We spend the week-long narrative present of this novel (despite the book's subtitle, only in flashback do we cover past "years") lodged in the mind/perspective of the protagonist, and that can be an uncomfortable place to be. Certainly, Meiselman is not a happy guy. I imagine that he may evoke a range of responses in readers. He's a flawed character, to be sure (my own reaction to him contains a large dose of pity). But one senses that the author understands this. I also sense that fans of the Chicago White Sox (and, um, Portnoy's Complaint) may feel more immediately at home in Meiselman's world than I did. I read in an interview that the author is currently at work on a novel set in Chicago, New York, and Israel. I will be eager to know when that one's available.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Fran

    This is so hard to rate. The writing is quality...smart, funny at times. I’ve read many books with hard-to-love characters, but everyone in this book annoyed me. Quality deserves 4 stars, but I found the story a struggle to get through, as I was not invested in any of the characters.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lee Klein

    Like an observant Curb Your Enthusiasm or a bottle of seltzer in book form, intentionally shaken until the giddy effervescence threatens total explosion.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Randy Dary

    This is about a Jewish fellow who is 2nd-in-charge of a large public library. I was glad to find this book and mostly enjoyed reading it, but toward the end I got kind of tired of the guy, frankly. The book is well-written, characters defined and flashed out, all good things, but Meiselman himself — for him, at first, I had sympathy, but he ends up where he does, which is not terrible, but because of who and what he is. That probably makes this a truly good book, now that I think of it. The read This is about a Jewish fellow who is 2nd-in-charge of a large public library. I was glad to find this book and mostly enjoyed reading it, but toward the end I got kind of tired of the guy, frankly. The book is well-written, characters defined and flashed out, all good things, but Meiselman himself — for him, at first, I had sympathy, but he ends up where he does, which is not terrible, but because of who and what he is. That probably makes this a truly good book, now that I think of it. The reader is right there with Meiselman, in his head. That makes it kind of “for better or for worse”, I guess. I’m a WASP who finds Jewish writing very interesting. That’s why I said I was glad to find this book. Maybe the fact that I was at the same time finishing watching Seinfeld episodes, which I’d never seen before, created a bit of overload. I actually got sort of tired of them towards the end, also, and I think for the same reason: all the kvetching (?) and selfawareness and making mountains out of molehills. It’s funny until it’s not. So, you should try this book, ok? Me, if this is part of a series, I’m not going to worry about the other books. One was enough.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    This book is fantastically conceived and expertly constructed. The long, dense chapters (each consisting of a day in the week of our eponymous protagonist) strike at the heart of Meiselman’s comically soul-sucking life, as he aches for the kind of reckoning wounded men such as himself search for in their lives. And it’s an absolute masterpiece in comic timing, as Avner Landes extends jokes, beyond what would be the breaking point for most writers, without managing to wear out his welcome. This b This book is fantastically conceived and expertly constructed. The long, dense chapters (each consisting of a day in the week of our eponymous protagonist) strike at the heart of Meiselman’s comically soul-sucking life, as he aches for the kind of reckoning wounded men such as himself search for in their lives. And it’s an absolute masterpiece in comic timing, as Avner Landes extends jokes, beyond what would be the breaking point for most writers, without managing to wear out his welcome. This book is a true marvel of literary engineering. Whether the unlikable but sympathetic (or is it unsympathetic but likable) Meiselman riffs on Judaism, or sex, or childhood trauma, or Frank Thomas, it’s clear Landes understands the language of cringe, in that it’s less about being edgy and more about being relatable—it’s about making the reader’s shoulders creep upward as a very unwelcome form of sympathy seeps into their nerves, as they say to themselves, “Oh God—I’m not like this, am I?” Insanely funny book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Marlene

    Weird and Depressing Maybe if you are Jewish you think this book is funny? I can find no humor in having my “spotted underwear” examined by a Rabbi for some reason I could not fathom. Do they really do this? Perhaps the author could have explained more clearly what the purpose was...maybe then it would at least have meaning? As another reviewer wrote, I did not find this book funny. Full disclosure, I quit after about 100 pages. I have better books to spend my time on!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Emily E.

    Stopped halfway. I thought this was supposed to be funny, but it was a horrible cringefest about a sociopath who sees himself as the victim in every situation, despite having exactly zero positive qualities as a human. Nope. Life is too short.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Karleen Cole

    Actually at 20% I just had to quit reading. Did not care the least about any of the characters and wasn’t sure if there was a plot.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    Super well written. You can feel the neurotic natural of the main character.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Sacks

    That highly prized thing: a book which a properly funny, easy read and also genuinely substantial, surprising and thought-provoking; lots of later moments that lead you to reassess earlier ones, lots of very well-crafted writing, lots of, "Hang on, is this what I'm like too?" moments. I think for the most part the answer is - "Not quite." Where Meiselman does terrible and ridiculous things in secret that he would not do in public, most of us would draw the line between the impulse and the action That highly prized thing: a book which a properly funny, easy read and also genuinely substantial, surprising and thought-provoking; lots of later moments that lead you to reassess earlier ones, lots of very well-crafted writing, lots of, "Hang on, is this what I'm like too?" moments. I think for the most part the answer is - "Not quite." Where Meiselman does terrible and ridiculous things in secret that he would not do in public, most of us would draw the line between the impulse and the action. All the same, I found myself in genuine suspense on behalf of this hugely unlikeable character. I'm not generally a fan of humour that rests on humiliation, but here I found myself not cringing, but willing his humiliation not to be discovered. Meiselman aspires to greatness and his falls are heavy, yet somehow all he projects outwardly, for the most part, is a bland, nerdish mediocrity. Often even he is not aware of the drama, or assumes it to be a very different one from what we can see it to be. This is also quite a detailed picture of Orthodox Jewish life, in the place between piety and cynicism which many religious people inhabit most of the time. Having grown up in a similar world I found it an enjoyable and accurate charicature of a community. If you have any questions about Orthodox Jewish life that you haven't dared to ask, the chances are the answers are here.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Chaim Wachtel

    Funny, entertaining I purchased this book, dokey because the author's brother is an old friend of mine. So, I had very few expectations as all I knew was the blurb on Amazon. This book is a good first book, it could have been a little shorter, but all in all very entertaining. The main character, is completely.bonkers, and the reader sees everything through his eyes, giving you a distorted view.of reality. I tried seeming if there was anything autobiographical about the book, but other than the Funny, entertaining I purchased this book, dokey because the author's brother is an old friend of mine. So, I had very few expectations as all I knew was the blurb on Amazon. This book is a good first book, it could have been a little shorter, but all in all very entertaining. The main character, is completely.bonkers, and the reader sees everything through his eyes, giving you a distorted view.of reality. I tried seeming if there was anything autobiographical about the book, but other than the author coming from Chicago and being a white sox fan, I. going to assume that the rest is pure fiction. All in all a good read from a first time author.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Julie

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ruth Stevens

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tina

  30. 5 out of 5

    Diane

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