Chris Adrian

Important Book of the Day – The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian

the childrens hospital blue

My last post talked about a few of my favorite things, things meaning books that stand out to me today, or in my not-too-distant past, as being some kind of revelatory. It’s hard to talk of any sort of favorites in our world without remembering the heavy hitters of Greek or Roman myth, and other classics, that timelessly walk along with us as we create new stories. I see a bit of Ulysses in every hero with too much bluster and bravado, and a bit of Oedipus in every fated family tale.

I recently read Faust, and the power lying in that tragedy totally rocked me to my core. Goethe uses such simple, short and plain exclamations of sadness which sum up incomprehensible destruction of each aspect of a person’s life, reminding me that sometimes less is more when it comes to the most poignant part of the drama. I’m a sucker for big tragedy–the downers of life thoroughly explored and encapsulated for all of us to visit again and again. I see these older stories in every new thing I read. Every news story and courtroom spectacle seems predicted by people who lived so long ago but understood so much about the deepest parts of existence, like we’re all still the pawns of vicious gods seeking to entertain themselves with our 24 hour news cycles.

One of the oldest stories is that of a flood. I’ve always been captivated with the flood myth’s timelessness, its ability to flow like water from one culture to another, from some of the first written books to all important religious texts to fiction today. This myth alone deserves its own post, as a ton of amazing literature surrounds it, but I want to talk about my absolute favorite book, which happens to be a modern take on the flood myth: The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian.

This one book stands for me above all the rest. This is what I talk about when people ask about my favorite book, but I haven’t come across a person yet who recognizes his name or the title. He’s a well kept secret.

The New York Times review of The Children’s Hospital talks of Adrian’s following the formula of writing what one knows, which seems unusual in this case, as the novel is about a world-ending flood, in which a children’s hospital rises above the deluge, its patients and staff seemingly the only chosen ones left to survive. And yet, Adrian is a graduate from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, a former student of Harvard Divinity School, and an M.D. He is currently (the internet tells me) in the pediatric hematology/oncology fellowship at UCSF. Fitting, then, that his masterpiece involves the world’s end, flooding of biblical proportion, angels, and a children’s hospital rising above the destruction. This stuff is on his mind, this stuff of life and death and the meaning of it all.

This is not a short book, nor a light-hearted one. I read it after its release in 2006, while unfortunately trying to date someone. His questions of “What do you want to do?” would always be answered by my “I just want to read this book.” I would lie sideways with my head hanging off my bed, arms dangling and heavy hardback copy of The Children’s Hospital laying on the floor. Eventually, the guy left, and I kept reading. This book is everything good about reading–an almost randomly imaginative concept combined with crisp exactitude in expressing the human experience. In Adrian’s writing, anarchy meets accuracy, in all the best ways possible: anorexics on the eating disorder wing vomit the food given to them by angels, a 15-year-old cancer patient paints her room and her body black after she sees the floodwaters out her window, a little boy may be mentally ill or may be something much, much darker…  Here’s an excerpt:

     Here and there, in blocks of two or three hours, she and Rob would sleep. He’d finish crying, his sobs quieting to little hiccups, and then he was snoring and already starting to drool. Jemma always fell asleep soon after him, but woke within an hour or two. She might watch him for a little while, note his eyes moving under his lids and wonder if he was dreaming of his mother and his sisters, but then she would rise and wander. Every night, passing by the patient rooms, she’d see nurses or parents or bleary-eyed residents, standing beneath the televisions and looking uselessly from channel to channel. She would have avoided the television in any disaster, anyhow. All the late junior disasters had made her stomach hurt to consider, and she’d actively run away from the screens everywhere that played them over and over again. She stopped once beside a nurse she didn’t know and looked up at the screen, imagining in the static an endless repetition of flood, a supremely high and distant vantage that showed the earth in space turning a deeper and deeper blue. If you flipped for long enough the angel-lady would offer you a cheery movie, whether you wanted one or not.

They wanted a voice and an image, she supposed. Someone to tell them what was happening, even after the windows cleared and it become so obvious what had happened. Never mind that the angel broadcast blessings in her buzzing, broken mechanical nose voice. They were as repetitious and horrible, in their way, as a television scene would have been. ‘Creatures,’ she’d call out. ‘I will preserve you.’ It sounded less comforting every time she said it.

gob's griefGob’s Grief is Adrian’s first book, and it is slightly related to The Children’s Hospital. By no means a direct prequel, it is also haunting in its portrayal of human pain and impossible not to mention. Exploring the Civil War and its tragedies with Adrian’s signature dark, eloquent magical realism, we meet Walt Whitman as he tends to the dying off the battlefield, and a doctor named Gob as he bathes unbearably in grief, spending his life building a machine to bring back his twin brother, who ran away to join the Union Army at age eleven and died in his first battle.


the great nightAdrian’s most recent release, The Great Night, published in 2011, is a dazzling, dizzying and bright retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which takes place in San Francisco’s Buena Vista Park on New Year’s Eve, 2008. Three broken-hearted people walk into the park at the same time but from different directions (one from the Haight, one from the Sunset, and one from the Castro), and so begins a night enchanted with spoiled, cruel faeries and homeless folks intent on producing a musical.

All three of Adrian’s books are memorable, with the combination of brilliantly odd ideas meshed with stunning writing ability creating believability where other authors might fall short. Adrian asks you to explore yourself and those around you by looking at impossible situations, and it somehow works. The Children’s Hospital stands alone as (so far) Adrian’s single masterpiece–a sprawling concept with precise and staggering detail, an ugly angry triumphant story of humanity at its best and worst, an examination of why we keep going in the face of so many unanswered questions, or really why we go on at all. Don’t take on this book lightly, but I urge you, please, take it on.

 The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian on Powell’

Post-Christmas Poetry Post – Victoria Chang’s The Boss


Although I don’t read a bunch of poetry these days, sometimes I stumble upon something that stops me in my tracks and speaks to me as the truth for our times in a way only a poem could. This happened to me with a poem from Victoria Chang, “The Boss Tells Me,” featured in The Believer‘s June 2013 issue, quoted here as I couldn’t get the spacing right to copy the whole thing: “I can align/myself with the bystanders who have different/standards for another year I can mortgage my heart/in monthly installments for another year I can fill/my garage with scooters and things/with motors like Mona at the end of the hall with/her loan and home and college bills who never/sees anything in the office never seems to hear/anything in the office but her own/heartbeat her own term sheet for another year”

Like this poem, all the rest included in The Boss are so relevant to today’s struggles and so jarring in the most beautiful and breathtaking of ways. Like much of the best poetry out there, Chang isn’t afraid to go to the dark side–she writes of the ennui and injustice (like the chicken and the egg) of American corporate culture (“no keyboard competes with the tap-tap/of his heart”), the struggle in explaining the lost American dream to her children (“we plug away despite plagues in other countries/we are still in awe of the boss and/the law and all the dollars the doll I once had is now my/daughter’s doll she will dream of balls and/gowns and sparkly towns when should I tell her all the/towns are falling down”), and watching her father forget the American and its politics entirely as he ages (“he can’t/remember his passwords can’t get past/his words can’t figure out what the pass is for can’t/access his accounts can’t remember/ass-kissing for his large accounts can’t account/for himself can no longer count”). The words, stanzas, and themes in The Boss all fall apart into a sort of stuttering and skipping word-play of delirium that reaches a powerful crescendo by the end of the book.

The Boss was published by McSweeney’s Poetry Series. McSweeney’s never ceases to amaze me with the quality of work they publish, since publishing my favorite book of all time The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian. In order to get a copy of The Boss, I signed up for a subscription to the McSweeney’s Poetry Series and got a better deal than I would have even on Amazon–when does that happen? Subscribe for 4 issues of the poetry series, starting with The Boss or the next book, for $40.  Chang was recently reading at Moe’s Books in Berkeley and I regrettably missed it, as I wasn’t feeling well. Such is life.

Reading poetry always feels more meditative to me than reading a novel, as I’m not seeking a conclusion or larger plot twist yet to come. I wonder if this is why not many people read poetry, or why I tend to not seek it out as much myself. While reading a book can feel, in a way, like almost accomplishing something, poems ask that I try to not accomplish anything while reading them–they offer nothing, and ask that I simply be open to absorbing their words. This seems rather counterintuitive in American society today, where the demands are always to do more, better, faster. I think this is why poetry was also the perfect medium for Chang to express her points–our time spent getting stuff done in office jobs and our many struggles to get ahead may make this book of poems all the more difficult to get through, but all the more meaningful if we manage to pick it up and appreciate it.

McSweeney’s Poetry Series on

The Boss on

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Also, can anyone who knows how to cut and paste something into a blockquote and keep its original spacing feel free to post a comment and let me know how that works? Thanks!

Cataloging Influences – My Author Alphabet


Inspired by the Litquake post Cataloging Your Influences by Christopher Schultz, who was in turn inspired by the post A is for Achebe on BookRiot, I created my own author alphabet. Building an author alphabet allows you to catalog your favorite authors and influences with a twist. I first brainstormed all of my favorite writers, and then used either their first or last initial to place them into my alphabet. It was tricky to place each author so all my favorites would get a place on the list.

Here is my alphabet:

Chris Adrian
Charles Bukowski
Agatha Christie
Don Delillo
Edgar Allen Poe
David Foster Wallace
Italo (Giovanni) Calvino (ha! I had to look up his middle name.)
Ted Hughes
Kazuo Ishiguro
Jorge Luis Borges
Stephen King
Jonathem Lethem
A.M. Holmes
Vladimir Nabokov
Orson Scott Card
Sylvia Plath
David Quammen
Thomas R. Pynchon
Saul Williams
Lynne Tillman
Ellen Ullman
Kurt Vonnegut
Colson Whitehead
X – I couldn’t come up with an ‘X’…
Cormac McCarthy (I cheated here but couldn’t come up with a ‘Y’ fave author)
Mark Z. Danieleweski

I left out but would have liked to include:

Dave Eggers
Chuck Palahniuk
Margaret Atwood
Robert McCammon
Kate Walbert
Victor Lavalle
China Miéville
Phillip K. Dick

Which authors would make your list?

10 Books With Epic Movie Potential

I was inspired by the blog post and ongoing conversation over at A Little Book of Blogs about the best book to film adaptations.  I started thinking about the best (and worst) movies I’ve seen based on books.  I actually started writing a blog post including a list of my faves, but while writing it I realized that most my favorite book-to-movies are pretty obvious (The Shining, The Silence of the Lambs, Fight Club, Blade Runner, etc.) and have been heavily discussed all over the internets already. This made me begin to think of all the great un-movied books, which are sitting on my shelves and just begging to be made into epic films.

1. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

A terrifying documentary analyzed in obsessive detail by a blind man?  A house which seems to be growing extra rooms and hallways?  An addict falling into madness?  How has this not been turned into a bizarre and creative masterpiece of a film?

2.  Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem

This hard-boiled detective novel is set in a twisted, dystopian future where intelligent animals live as (to some degree) equals in human society.  Gun, with Occasional Music is begging to be one of the coolest mystery movies ever made.

3.  The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian

The world ends, and who does god save?  The staff and patients of a children’s hospital, which elevates above a flood-filled world.  Angels, plagues, nefarious youth…  All the makings of a great film are included in this book.

4.  The Dublin Murder Squad books by Tana French

Tana French is one of the best mystery writers living today, and her books are each vivid tales with their own unusual settings (the woods, a creepy house full of young and attractive youth, abandoned track housing, the rough spot in town).  Her Dublin Murder Squad cops practically step off the page and into the real world.  Great actors and actresses could make each of these parts oozy with emotion and amazing to watch.

5.  Rebecca by Daphne Dumarier

I know, I know.  This classic has already been a movie, a play, a TV series, and an opera (really).  This just means the story is that good, and we are due for a modern remake.

6.  The Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks

This was one of the best books I read last year, and I think this type of complicated antihero tale set against the lush backdrop of Florida would make a painful, powerful, memorable film.

7.  The Delivery Man by Joe McGuiness

Film rights supposedly sold years ago for this glimpse into the world of the young, surprisingly innocent deviants of Las Vegas.

8.  Chanel Bonfire by Wendy Lawless

Wendy Lawless recalls her mother’s sociopathic behavior.  Even though this is a memoir, much of the stuff is hard to believe and definitely worth building a film around.  Chanel Bonfire, the movie, could be the adaptation that Running with Scissors was meant to be.

9.  Oh the Glory of It All by Sean Wilsey

In the same category as Chanel Bonfire, Oh the Glory of It All is Sean Wilsey’s memoir of growing up with an insane San Francisco socialite for a mother.  This is a sprawling book which would need some heavy editing for a film version, but Wilsey’s emotional struggles and process of healing are uniquely relevant to the modern struggle of every adolescent who has been given every opportunity but taken none.

10.  State of Wonder by Anne Patchett

Hidden deep in the rainforest of Brazil, a pharmaceutical company’s research doctor has gone rogue.  A woman is sent to find her.  I’m imagining this as an Apocalypse Now meets Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.

What books do you think are begging for movie adaptations?