Over the Christmas holidays I went to The Bookshelf on a mission. I felt I was in a reading rut and wanted something to shake me out of it. I wandered around and around and ended up in the art section when I saw it: Miranda July’s It Chooses You. July is an artist whose whole life seems to be one giant, wonderful work in progress: she performs, acts, curates, writes short stories, makes CDs, directs films…. In her all of her work she combines child-like wonderment with the shocking world of adults. Her art both comforts and jars.
In this book July finds herself in-between her first, acclaimed feature film (Me and You and Everyone We Know) and scripting her second one. She is lost and procrastinating, so she decides to start a new project: to look through the L.A. PennySaver, pick out some ads, and visit and interview the people who placed them. She takes a photographer along with her, so the book is filled with the artifacts of these visits.
It is a strange and beautiful book. The people July visits are fascinating, but often seem caught in amber (most belong to a different, almost unimaginable, pre-computer time). The book is an account of her working through her fears and writer’s block as she visits each home. She is an unflinching writer, mostly about her own art and self:
In my paranoid world every storekeeper thinks I’m stealing, every man thinks I’m a prostitute or a lesbian, every woman thinks I’m a lesbian or arrogant, and every child and animal sees the real me and it is evil. And they are not wrong; I have been all these things at one time or another.But she is equally frank in her impressions of her interviewees: “Ron was exactly the kind of man you spend your whole life being careful not to end up in the apartment of.” She finds beauty in the awkward and around the edges, and she finds odd and lovely new ways to describe the familiar. The book sneaks up on you. What starts as a seemingly random series of events ends up with a narrative arc that pulls you along.
I was moved much more than I expected reading this book. It put the world on a slightly different tilt and has lingered in my mind ever since I put it down. If you have never heard of Miranda July, this would be a great book to get you started.
- Brendan Johnson