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We Learn Nothing: Essays and Cartoons Hardcover – Jun 12 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (June 12 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439198705
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439198704
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.3 x 21.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 340 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #325,518 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Tim Kreider's writing is heartbreaking, brutal and hilarious—usually at the same time. He can do in a few pages what I need several hours of screen time and tens of millions to accomplish. And he does it better. Come to think of it, I'd rather not do a blurb. I am beginning to feel bad about myself." (Judd Apatow)

"A remarkable collection . . . I found myself nodding in agreement and wondering how [Tim Kreider] could so consistently express my feelings, and express them so much better than I ever could." (Nancy Pearl NPR.org)

“Kreider is a superb essayist, a funny and fluent storyteller who wears his cultural literacy lightly . . . To read “The Creature Walks Among Us,” “The Czar’s Daughter,” “Escape from Pony Island,” or “An Insult to the Brain” is to appreciate a mordant but affectionate observer of life’s rich pageant, and a craftsman who almost never puts a word wrong.” (Johns Hopkins Magazine)

“In a political atmosphere as angry as this, [Kreider's] oblique, self-deprecating commentary may be the only angle to which party loyalists on either side are likely to respond. We Learn Nothing should be their required reading.” (Willamette Week (Portland, Ore.))

“Kreider is as compelling a writer as he is a visual satirist. His essays tend toward the ‘elegiac,’ as he puts it—something that cannot be said of his cartoons—but the same delightfully brutal honesty underlies both. Kreider’s descriptions are often simultaneously surprising and resonant . . . self-effacing and funny.” (City Paper (Baltimore))

“Kreider locates the right simile and the pith of situations as he carefully catalogues humanity’s inventive and manifold ways of failing.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“Earnest, well-turned personal essays about screw-ups without an ounce of sanctimony—a tough trick.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Amazing . . . Any thinking person with a sense of humor will find We Learn Nothing provocative and delightful, reminiscent, in varying ways, of David Foster Wallace, James Thurber, David Sedaris, and Susan Sontag.” (Jennifer Finney Boylan author of She’s Not There)

"Tim Kreider may be the most subversive soul in America and his subversions—by turns public and intimate, political and cultural—are just what our weary, mixed-up nation needs. The essays in We Learn Nothing are for anybody who believes it's high time for some answers, damn it." (Richard Russo Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls)

"Whether he is expressing himself in highly original cartoons that are hilarious visual poems, or in prose that exposes our self-delusions by the way he probes his own experience with candor, Tim Kreider is a writer-artist who brilliantly understands that every humorist at his best is a liberator. Because he is irreverent, makes us laugh, ruffles the feathers of the pretentious and the pompous, and keeps us honest, We Learn Nothing is a pleasure from its first page to the last." (Charles Johnson bestselling author of Middle Passage)

We Learn Nothing articulated, for me, more human truths than any book in recent memory. When you’re done with it, it almost feels like finishing a textbook: you actually feel like you understand how things work a little better.” (PublishersWeekly.com)

About the Author

Tim Kreider’s work has appeared in The New York Times, Film Quarterly, The Comics Journal, and Nerve.com. His popular comic strip The Pain—When Will It End? ran in alternative weeklies and has been has been collected in three books by Fantagraphics. He divides his time between New York City and the Chesapeake Bay area.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By ifyouknew on Jan. 13 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
These essays were interesting, thought-provoking, and amusing. Kreider has had an interesting life, but more importantly, he has an interesting outlook on life. I also enjoyed the cartoons. I will look for more by this writer.
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Format: Paperback
I purchased this book after reading Kreider's essay, "The Busy Trap", on social media. It was a slightly hesitant purchase, as for some reason I had a feeling the rest of the essays would be disappointing in comparison. Happily, I was mistaken, and the book exceeded all my expectations. I would recommend it to anyone, but in particular to people who have either Holly or McIntyre as part of their name.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Tim Kreider has a unique gift. Few artists are so equally effective in both image and text. Every word is a brush stroke.

We Learn Nothing is a less satirical testament to human frailty than Tim's previous gonzo, punk rock masterpiece, The Pain, but it's no less sincere, and no less important. His voice has matured since the bad old days of the Bush Administration without ever sacrificing its ability to speak truth to power, even if power now takes the form of love and friendship.

Tim's cutting wit is tempered only by his essential, relentless empathy for fellow human beings. Even the ones he utterly despises.

This book is a gem, and you should read it.

There are few memoirs as honest and sorrowful as this little book of essays, and even fewer as funny.
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By Ben on April 12 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Great book. Pleasure to read. Funny. Made me laugh out loug sitting by myself. Love books like this! I recommend it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 90 reviews
37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Masterful storytelling July 11 2012
By Dustin G. Rhodes - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's easy to compare a book like this to the works of a host of other contemporary essayists (Sedaris, et al), but after the second or third essay I realized Kreider's voice is unique: he tells stories, often with the barest of details, in a way that doesn't expose himself too much and/or doesn't exploit someone else in the process. Which is to say, he has written a book that is heart-breaking, charming, edge-of-your-seat suspenseful (hoping that he will offer up all the gory details) and -- even though I hate this word when used to describe writing -- generous. Kreider is a masterful storyteller, and I can't recall the last time I enjoyed a book of essays this much.

The stories themselves cover a lot of terrain: dysfunctional family members, transgendered friends, near death experiences, relationships; but always from the perspective of someone who's madly in love with his friends and family, warts and all. Kreider exposes the ugly/beautiful truth of what it means to be human in the most honest, thoughtful, endearing and entertaining way.

Highly, highly recommended.
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Incisive, confessional, hilarious, rueful commentary by a master essayist July 22 2012
By Reddhedd - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book after reading an essay("The Busy Trap")by this author in the New York Times online. I had never heard of Tim Kreider before, but this essay was so topical, so insightful, so on-target that I simply had to see what else he had to say.

I was a little hesitant because it became clear after a bit of research that Kreider's politics and mine were pretty far out of sync. (Not that I mind competing viewpoints, I just don't like the whole bashing thing.) I need not have worried. Unlike much of Kreider's work of the George W. Bush era, which consistently savaged all things Republican, We Learn Nothing is not overtly political. Each essay is unique, highly original, wistful, soul-baring, poignant, and achingly human. Although a naturally passionate lefty partisan, Kreider is, to his immense credit, rigorously intellectually honest and reflexively fair throughout this latest collection. He is unsparingly critical of himself and those with whom he aligns, and gracious and empathetic to his philosophical opposites. It feels a little like an act of atonement, as though Kreider is saying: Sorry I got a little carried away there. See, I'm much better now.

I cannot recall ever having read an author so preternaturally incisive, so aware, so adept at performing what amounts to a full monty of the soul without seeming self-indulgent. Kreider is relentlessly introspective and profoundly self-aware. Yet this is no act of mere navel-gazing. Above all, We Learn Nothing is the work of a sensitive, piercing intelligence trying to make sense of the world by first making sense of itself. This book should be required reading for anyone trying to come to terms with this messy, confusing, brutal, beautiful, tragic, hilarious, stupid, fragile thing we call life. Scratch that: This book should be required reading, period.

After reading this book I thought, I would love to spend an afternoon with this guy over beers, discussing anything and everything.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
The pain may never end; why must this book? June 23 2012
By S.S. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tim's brilliant writing style, scathing satire and sharp wit will alleviate your pain of "being a person in the world". It's tremendously comforting to discover that you are not alone in your secret despair.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Unique observations June 26 2012
By Steve - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
We Learn Nothing is insightful and loaded with unique observations about love, life, friendship, family, politics, and career. From noticing that his near-death experience only had a finite shelf life as a life-changing experience, to his comparison of a bad toupee to how we cover our own more personal insecurities (the soul toupee), Kreider speaks with humor and a disarming self-deprecation. I've read some good books this year, and this one ranks at or near the top of the list.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Amazing, funny, insightful, bizarre July 2 2012
By Jessica - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
We Learn Nothing is funny and profound. The essays range from Kreider's stabbing ("Fourteen years ago, I was stabbed in the throat. This is kind of a long story and less interesting than it sounds."), to romantic relationships, friendship, political outrage ("I was a political cartoonist and essayist for the duration of the Bush presidency, so I was professionally furious every week for eight years."), family, illness, his friend Jenny Boylan's gender reassignment journey ("Jenny would argue that she'd never been a man; she'd just been impersonating one. I would say, You and me both."). The essays manage to be both hilarious and serious, quick yet insightful. I really enjoy essay collections, but the funny ones especially tend to be fast reads that I soon forget. This one I liked so much that I decided not to mark it up. So I put stickies in the spots that I wanted to go back to and really think about. Trust me, there are a LOT of stickies in this book.

In his writing, Kreider comes off as intense, intelligent, and witty with a slightly unbalanced edge that makes for some brutally honest - almost cringe-inducing -- reading moments. Kreider is an interesting guy with an interesting life. Not many of us can write essays about a mentally ill uncle incarcerated for attempted murder by arson ("His visits were like a whiff of cigarette smoke in church."), getting stabbed, a transitioning transgender friend, discovering in middle age that we've been adopted, or a best friend who becomes obsessed with peak-oil. But what makes We Learn Nothing a really worthwhile read, beyond the fun and inherent interest, is the way Kreider widens the scope. I'll never -- sorry to say -- have a friend quite like Skelly, the subject of the wonderful "The Czar's Daughter", who, despite "his incidental falsehoods" was "a fundamentally genuine person." But I can certainly relate to Kreider's Skelly-inspired meditation on lying and identity:

"What someone's lies reveal about them (aspirations to being an accomplished writer, fantasies of an exotic history and a cosmopolitan family) are always sadder than the fact of the lies themselves. These inventions illuminate the negative spaces of someone's self-image, their vanity and insecurities and most childish wishes, as we can infer from warped starlight the presence of a far vaster mass of dark matter."

Another essay I loved was "How They Tried to F*** Me Over (But I Showed Them)", about political allegiances, hypocrisy, and rage. As someone who spends a lot of time online, I felt more than a twinge of uncomfortable recognition when reading passages like this one:

"Obviously, some part of us loves feeling 1) right and 2) wronged. But outrage is like a lot of other things that feel good, but, over time, devour us from the inside out. Except it's even more insidious than most vices because we don't even consciously acknowledge that it's a pleasure. We prefer to think of it as a disagreeable but fundamentally healthy reaction to negative stimuli, like pain or nausea, rather than admit it's a shameful kick we eagerly indulge again and again..."

The subtitle of We Learn Nothing includes the word "Cartoons" and you may have noticed I've said almost nothing about the drawings here. I confess they left me unmoved. In describing his cartoons, Krieder has said they reveal "a certain preoccupation with the sordid and the unwise-with drunkenness, ill-advised sex, poor work habits-and what Frederic Raphael, in speaking of Stanley Kubrick, described as 'an amused pessimism at the notion that people are capable of change.'" My feeling was that the cartoons lived up (or down, depending on your view) to this sensibility, but I happened to prefer the more optimistic sensibility of the text.

This is a terrific book. I recommend it wholeheartedly.