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A career-spanning collection of spectacular essays about politics and culture Rachel Kushner has established herself as a master of the essay form. In The Hard Crowd, she gathers a selection of her writing from over the course of the last twenty years that addresses the most pressing political, artistic, and cultural issues of our times—and illuminates the themes and real-l A career-spanning collection of spectacular essays about politics and culture Rachel Kushner has established herself as a master of the essay form. In The Hard Crowd, she gathers a selection of her writing from over the course of the last twenty years that addresses the most pressing political, artistic, and cultural issues of our times—and illuminates the themes and real-life terrain that underpin her fiction. In nineteen razor-sharp essays, The Hard Crowd spans literary journalism, memoir, cultural criticism, and writing about art and literature, including pieces on Jeff Koons, Denis Johnson, and Marguerite Duras. Kushner takes us on a journey through a Palestinian refugee camp, an illegal motorcycle race down the Baja Peninsula, 1970s wildcat strikes in Fiat factories, her love of classic cars, and her young life in the music scene of her hometown, San Francisco. The closing, eponymous essay is her manifesto on nostalgia, doom, and writing. These pieces, new and old, are electric, phosphorescently vivid, and wry, and they provide an opportunity to witness the evolution and range of one of our most dazzling and fearless writers.


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A career-spanning collection of spectacular essays about politics and culture Rachel Kushner has established herself as a master of the essay form. In The Hard Crowd, she gathers a selection of her writing from over the course of the last twenty years that addresses the most pressing political, artistic, and cultural issues of our times—and illuminates the themes and real-l A career-spanning collection of spectacular essays about politics and culture Rachel Kushner has established herself as a master of the essay form. In The Hard Crowd, she gathers a selection of her writing from over the course of the last twenty years that addresses the most pressing political, artistic, and cultural issues of our times—and illuminates the themes and real-life terrain that underpin her fiction. In nineteen razor-sharp essays, The Hard Crowd spans literary journalism, memoir, cultural criticism, and writing about art and literature, including pieces on Jeff Koons, Denis Johnson, and Marguerite Duras. Kushner takes us on a journey through a Palestinian refugee camp, an illegal motorcycle race down the Baja Peninsula, 1970s wildcat strikes in Fiat factories, her love of classic cars, and her young life in the music scene of her hometown, San Francisco. The closing, eponymous essay is her manifesto on nostalgia, doom, and writing. These pieces, new and old, are electric, phosphorescently vivid, and wry, and they provide an opportunity to witness the evolution and range of one of our most dazzling and fearless writers.

30 review for The Hard Crowd: Essays 2000-2020

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    In a recent Zoom conversation between George Saunders and Tobias Wolfe, Rachel Kushner's name came up -- Saunders said he would read whatever she wrote. She is one of those special talents who is equally at home in fiction as well as non-, and this collection of essays showcases her proficiency with the latter. Her material covers subjects ranging from a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp to portraits of unconventional personalities, but when she is writing about her own experience, well, that' In a recent Zoom conversation between George Saunders and Tobias Wolfe, Rachel Kushner's name came up -- Saunders said he would read whatever she wrote. She is one of those special talents who is equally at home in fiction as well as non-, and this collection of essays showcases her proficiency with the latter. Her material covers subjects ranging from a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp to portraits of unconventional personalities, but when she is writing about her own experience, well, that's when the gloves come off (not that the gloves were there to begin with), and a reader can truly appreciate where her gutsy, take-no-prisoners style comes from. Her parents are to be commended, granting her the freedom from a very young age to hone her sense of independence. As she fearlessly enters a motorcycle race (illegal) down the Baja Peninsula or waits bar in San Francisco's Tenderloin, she has the instincts of a keen observer. The final piece, a nostalgic lookback at growing up on the non-touristy side of San Francisco, closes with the observation "I'm talking about my own life. Which not only can't matter to you, it might bore you." No. Never. Boring is one thing that Rachel Kushner never is.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Trudie

    Rachel Kushner's books ricocheted up my must-read list after The Mars Room became one of my top reads for 2018. Rereading my review of that novel I noted : Interesting anecdotes about prison escapes, the Norman Mailer / Jack Abott story and excerpts from the decoded Ted Kaczynski dairies, although interesting, often threatened to get in the way of the story-telling. The line between good fiction and non-fiction wears too thin for me at times Here in full non-fiction mode and thus free of my hu Rachel Kushner's books ricocheted up my must-read list after The Mars Room became one of my top reads for 2018. Rereading my review of that novel I noted : Interesting anecdotes about prison escapes, the Norman Mailer / Jack Abott story and excerpts from the decoded Ted Kaczynski dairies, although interesting, often threatened to get in the way of the story-telling. The line between good fiction and non-fiction wears too thin for me at times Here in full non-fiction mode and thus free of my huffy expectations for fewer snippets and more plot, Kushner reveals this bowerbird like tendency to collect obtuse and intriguing details is actually just her innate style. It is hard to pinpoint a unifying principle for these essays except to say I think they seem to add substantially to my understanding of her as a novelist. This is a collection of essays that feels almost like her autobiography. Names of long lost friends, San Francisco buildings and bars from the 90s are rattled off at an alarming rate. It risks alienating the reader, not familiar or at least interested in, motorcycles, San Francisco, the works of Dennis Johnson, Cormac McCarthy, Clarice Lispector, Marguerite Duras or obscure European cinema generally. An interest in the visual arts also helps. A lot of this risks pretension and I had the feeling Kushner would be that diner guest where you just nod and pretend you know all about that film with Marianne Faithfull in biker leather. And yet this is all grist in the mill of understanding the author and thus great preparation for her fiction. Essays that particularly stood out: We Are Orphans Here, Girl on a Motorcycle, The Hard Crowd, Bad Captains and Are Prisons Necessary?

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Kushner is a fearless intellectual that has lived her life taking risks—huge risks. Risks that many of her friends and acquaintances did not survive. For instance, in ‘A Girl on a Motorcycle’, she describes her participation in the illegal Cabo 1000 motorcycle race where a fellow motorcyclist pulled out in front of her going 30mph, while she was doing 130. She wiped out—and neither she nor her motorcycle fared well. Years later, we learn that many of the cyclists she participated with that day a Kushner is a fearless intellectual that has lived her life taking risks—huge risks. Risks that many of her friends and acquaintances did not survive. For instance, in ‘A Girl on a Motorcycle’, she describes her participation in the illegal Cabo 1000 motorcycle race where a fellow motorcyclist pulled out in front of her going 30mph, while she was doing 130. She wiped out—and neither she nor her motorcycle fared well. Years later, we learn that many of the cyclists she participated with that day are no longer alive. Kushner’s parents were bohemian academics in San Francisco exposing her to far left intellectualism. For instance, there is her interaction with Nanni Balestrini, an Italian writer and political activist who translated Marx’s practice of the ‘inquest’—a questionnaire on workers lives. In 1979, he became a fugitive of Italy and escaped by skiing down Mont Blanc into France. Indeed, art and revolution are recurring themes in her essays—whether she is writing about Jeff Koons, prison abolition, or a Palestinian refugee camp in Jerusalem. She reflects on the artists Denis Johnson, Cormac McCarthy and Marguerite Duras—individuals who boldly developed their own style and way of looking at the world. Kushner is a fabulous writer. She was a National Book Finalist for The Flamethrowers in 2013 and a Booker Prize nominee in 2018 for The Mars Room. Her style of writing reminds one of Joan Didion—a woman that knew how to write of her own experiences. Kushner’s fearless experiences have caused her to be the sole survivor of a wild crowd whittled down by prison, drugs and early death. Recommend.

  4. 5 out of 5

    W.D. Clarke

    It seems that of the essays by author-critics that I've been reading over the past while, some of the very best have been by women: Zadie Smith's two volumes (Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, Feel Free: Essays) and Joan Didion's The White Album both seldom failed to charm, enlighten and entertain me to no end, and only the latest volume by Martin Amis (The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump: Essays and Reportage, 1986-2016) could rival them for me. And now, Rachel Kushne It seems that of the essays by author-critics that I've been reading over the past while, some of the very best have been by women: Zadie Smith's two volumes (Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, Feel Free: Essays) and Joan Didion's The White Album both seldom failed to charm, enlighten and entertain me to no end, and only the latest volume by Martin Amis (The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump: Essays and Reportage, 1986-2016) could rival them for me. And now, Rachel Kushner's The Hard Crowd continues that trend. While not perfect (and I'll get to my few quibbles later), I was simply bowled over by the combination of her (at-times-self-deprecating) erudition and street-smarts, as well as by the range of her interests—and by her concomitant ability to match the register of her voice to her material. She can cover much ground, but she can also go deep—very deep. Essays which are marked by the latter include "We Are orphans Here", about her visit to the Shuafat (Palestinian) Refugee Camp in Jerusalem, which is devastating, of course, but also strangely life-affirming, not because of any rose-tinted filters it uses, but because like those Palestinians she meets, interviews and worries over, it portrays them as fully human individuals, "something unique, a vital integer in the stream of these people’s refusal to be reduced" to statistics or to stereotypes. Another high point was "Earth Angel", a paean to writer Dennis Johnson. Although I'm ashamed to admit to never having read him, one of the delights of reading books like this is it gives you a vicarious sense of having done so: Kushner gets so much under the skin of those she loves and admires that it is hard to imagine a better introduction to Johnson and his work than what she has to say about him and it: “Where are my women now, with their sweet wet words and ways, and the miraculous balls of hail popping in a green translucence in the yards?” The “green translucence in the yards” is high-flown, and yet I do not doubt that it was the salient vision to share. Every sentiment and gesture in Jesus’ Son feels true, and not all writers approach anything true in what they write, but instead have other types of gifts, and skills, for braiding imagery or manipulating cadence, pulling off stunts. Literature, even really good literature, is sometimes more like a beautiful baroque carpet than it is like life. Denis Johnson, in all his work, aimed to locate the hidden, actual face of things. But the new stories build without those miraculous balls of hail, and their truths are deeper, and more precise, true as you would true a wheel. Jesus’ Son, by comparison, seems like work produced by the forceful energy of all the saved-up characters bursting to be seen and known by those who weren’t there, weren’t in the bar or out at the farm on the Old Highway. Weren’t riding around with Georgie, high on stolen hospital meds. The Largesse of the Sea Maiden operates on a different set of registers; it feels like the paced vision of a writer who has been made to understand that life is fairly rude and somewhat short, but the world contains an uneven distribution of grace, and wisdom lies in recognizing where it—such grace—has presented itself. The stories are about death and immortality, art and its reach, and they ask elemental questions about fiction, not as a literary genre but as a human tendency. Three other Kushner touchstones are the artist Jeff Koons, and the novelists Clarice Lispector and Marguerite Duras, and Kushner successfully pulls off one magic feat after another in making their work speak to this reader, who will admit to feeling like something of a philistine when confronted such further gaps (gaps upon gaps, as well as within them!) in his knowledge. By way of giving context to one of her own novels, The Flamethrowers (which has moved up to the year 2021 in my monstrously overstuffed TBR list as a result of reading this book), Kushner also has essays on Italy and New York in the 1970s. Of these, her piece "Woman in Revolt", on Massimo Sarchielli's 1972 film, Anna, was unbelievably affecting. The titular Anna was a 16 year old girl living on the street when the director decided to "help" her by giving her a place to stay and then made a film about her, taking advantage of the invention of video tape to shoot 11 hours' worth of footage for this strange "experiment", in which the power dynamics between the filmmaker and his subject, and between men and women are laid painfully bare. I'll end with a salute that's also a quibble: several of the works collected here will convince you that Rachel Kushner was the Zelig (or, OK, Forrest Gump—but with a big, big brain) of the 1980s and early-to-mid 90s, in that her more personal essays will definitively prove that your own experience of those years was…shall we say "under-privileged" in terms of its variety of experience, or where it fell on the core-periphery map of indie (or even mainstream) artistic culture? Did you ever catch yourself "looking for the heart of Saturday night", but on a Tuesday, and not in SF or NYC or LA but in some disquieting (to a 20-something, anyway) backwater? Cos Rachel Kushner found it, pal—and remembers it all, too. She makes living in SF, NY or LA come alive again for those of us who weren't there, in the best way. But those essays, at times, feel also like they lack a bit of the structure that some of the others clearly have, and distinctly, albeit belied by a voice which certainly rivals Didion's at making the reader her confidant, making them feel like they are riding shotgun with her across the country in that old Impala of hers. And right near the end, Kushner acknowledges that some of these particular memories make a few of these essays not so much works of art, as labours of love: The things I’ve seen and the people I’ve known: maybe it just can’t matter to you. That’s what Jimmy Stewart says to Kim Novak in Vertigo. He wants Novak’s character Judy to wear her hair like the unreachable Madeleine did. He wants Judy to be a Pacific Heights class act and not a downtown department store tramp. “Judy, please, it can’t matter to you.” Outrageous. He’s talking about a woman’s own hair. Of course it matters to her. I’m talking about my own life. Which not only can’t matter to you, it might bore you. So: Get your own gig. Make your litany, as I have just made mine. Keep your tally. Mind your dead, and your living, and you can bore me. Don't believe her. She is never boring, and in minding and honouring her own dead she shows us how it should be done, quite. I look forward to reading Rachel Kushner's novels, but especially to more of her essays. I'm now a fan.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lee

    'I was the weak link, the mind always at some remove: watching myself and other people, absorbing the events of their lives and mine. To be hard is to let things roll off you, to live in the present, to not dwell or worry. And even though I stayed out late, was committed to the end, some part of me had left early. To become a writer is to have left early no matter what time you got home.' 'I was the weak link, the mind always at some remove: watching myself and other people, absorbing the events of their lives and mine. To be hard is to let things roll off you, to live in the present, to not dwell or worry. And even though I stayed out late, was committed to the end, some part of me had left early. To become a writer is to have left early no matter what time you got home.'

  6. 4 out of 5

    Chris Haak

    Very well written and felt essays. I personally would have liked less essays about art, literature, film and more about life, culture, politics. Her essays about the motorcycle race and the refugee camp in Jerusalem are absolutely outstanding for instance. Thank you Simon and Schuster and Edelweiss for the ARC.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Hardcover Hearts

    I’ll just admit straight out that I am in love with this book. I have had an imperfect relationship with Kushner's works- I devoured and marveled at The Flamethrowers, but was not as impressed by her last novel, The Mars Room. I admired what she was trying to say, but it felt less bold, less sweeping in scope than I had expected. But this book, in it's collection of essays, feels so potent and vibrant that I am again a convert. It may be that I am also someone who lived in SF during the same yea I’ll just admit straight out that I am in love with this book. I have had an imperfect relationship with Kushner's works- I devoured and marveled at The Flamethrowers, but was not as impressed by her last novel, The Mars Room. I admired what she was trying to say, but it felt less bold, less sweeping in scope than I had expected. But this book, in it's collection of essays, feels so potent and vibrant that I am again a convert. It may be that I am also someone who lived in SF during the same years she did. My first vehicle was also a motorcycle and I also took long, treacherous rides on it, though not as disastrous as hers was. I also know many of the people she references and places she checks from 1990s SF. I also am interested in refugee camps, prison abolition and how it's framed up for conversation and debate, Marguerite Duras, and art in general. But hearing her talk and eulogize someone I am acquainted with from many years ago was something that I don't know if I can put into words. She was able to show me another side of him, but one that also contained elements that I recognized in him. I had no expectations that this book would speak to me so deeply and so personally. I don't know how another reader will relate to this since I feel so close to the material, so I will offer that she writes with such clarity and sharp insight She is incredibly smart, curious, and self-aware. I hope people pick this book up.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Vincent Scarpa

    “To become a writer is to have left early no matter what time you got home.”

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alvin

    The essays in The Hard Crowd are on subjects varied enough it's highly unlikely they'll all be of interest to any one person, and a few of them are actually sort of muddled. The best ones, though, are nothing short of excellent. The stand-outs are: Girl on A Motorcycle, a piece that sociologically dissects a race Kushner went on, We Are Orphans Here, about a Palestinian community locked into a slummy ghetto in Jerusalem, and The Hard Crowd, about growing up in gritty, old San Francisco. I moved The essays in The Hard Crowd are on subjects varied enough it's highly unlikely they'll all be of interest to any one person, and a few of them are actually sort of muddled. The best ones, though, are nothing short of excellent. The stand-outs are: Girl on A Motorcycle, a piece that sociologically dissects a race Kushner went on, We Are Orphans Here, about a Palestinian community locked into a slummy ghetto in Jerusalem, and The Hard Crowd, about growing up in gritty, old San Francisco. I moved to SF the same year as Kushner, 1979, and she evokes that pre-gentrified (and now utterly vanished) city so well it gave me chills, all the while dispensing important profundities on memory and place. By the end of the essay I wanted very much to be her friend.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ron S

    A Didion for the new millennium.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Rtc when I collate my notes from the LRB event I went to!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    Felt like getting schooled by someone cooler and smarter than me at a party, mostly in the thrall but zoning out once or twice when they got onto a subject I cared less about. I think what I mean is this book has charisma? I was willing to follow wherever it went.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sean Owen

    These sorts of collections are for completists. If you love everything the author does you'll enjoy it. If not, you'll find the collection forgettable. Even if you do love the author you're not going to love everything and you're really only reading it because you'll read anything she does. This collection gives a background into Kushner's interests and where she has drawn material for her novels from. I loved Kushner's novel "The Flamethrowers" but after reading the art essays in this book I'm s These sorts of collections are for completists. If you love everything the author does you'll enjoy it. If not, you'll find the collection forgettable. Even if you do love the author you're not going to love everything and you're really only reading it because you'll read anything she does. This collection gives a background into Kushner's interests and where she has drawn material for her novels from. I loved Kushner's novel "The Flamethrowers" but after reading the art essays in this book I'm sure that I'm not reading the section on New York artists the way she intended it. But that's how fiction goes. The reader gets a say just like the author. Whereas she seems to take the artists at face value I read them as fatuous blowhards desperately posturing to give some sort of deeper meaning to the crap they're turning out. I often tell people I hate art. I like books and music, so I don't really hate art. What I really hate are all the trappings and posturings that go along with most art. There's a song by the Boston hardcore band SSD called "How much art can you take" the lyrics are only that phrase repeated over and over. It kept popping into my head when reading through the art essays in the book. The art essays made me feel like The Dude in the scene from "The Big Lebowski" with Maude and Hans The Video Artist. I'd give the book 1 star for these, but the 3 personal essays are all 5 star worthy. The first "Girl on a motorcycle" is good, "Not with the band" in the middle is great and the final "The hard crowd" is phenomenal. "Not with the band" tells of Kushner's time as a bartender at various dive bars and iconic music venues in San Francisco. It's great stuff and as a former door guy at a dive bar/music venue so much of it was a perfect look behind the scenes to that world of shitty tippers, terrible bands, and the business side of music. "The hard crowd" is a great piece of nostalgia about the crazy things you get up to growing up in a certain scene. In it, she references Jim Caroll and the song "people who died" which is a good parallel to the essay. It's kind of shocking to sit back and think about the people you used to know who ended up meeting some kind of crazy terrible end. You wonder how the hell you had anything in common with these crazy people. From "the hard crowd" "I was the weak link, the mind always at some remove: watching myself and other people, absorbing the events of their lives and mine. To be hard is to let things roll off you, to live in the present, to not dwell or worry. And even though I stayed out late, was committed to the end, some part of me had left early. To become a writer is to have left early no matter what time you got home. And I left for good, left San Francisco. My friends all stayed. But the place still defined me as it has them."

  14. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Liu

    one of my favourite living writers

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mark Wheaton

    Such a great, un-put-downable read. Not sure there’s a more badass, vital, and energizing writer in fiction or non- these days.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Spiros

    There is an iconic Julian Wasser photograph (no, not the one of Eve Babitz playing chess with Marcel Duchamp) of Joan Didion, leaning on the side of a Corvette Stingray, her ankles crossed, her right hand holding a cigarette, arm extended and crossed over her left arm, her eyes focused in a thousand-yard stare somewhere to the right of camera; it is an image that projects cool, for sure, but also a profound sense of ironic detachment and control. Contrast that photo to the photo on the jacket of There is an iconic Julian Wasser photograph (no, not the one of Eve Babitz playing chess with Marcel Duchamp) of Joan Didion, leaning on the side of a Corvette Stingray, her ankles crossed, her right hand holding a cigarette, arm extended and crossed over her left arm, her eyes focused in a thousand-yard stare somewhere to the right of camera; it is an image that projects cool, for sure, but also a profound sense of ironic detachment and control. Contrast that photo to the photo on the jacket of this book: here we have Rachel Kushner, standing behind her black Ford Galaxie 500 ragtop, her hair a disorderly nimbus, eyes half-closed, a hint of smirk around her lips; like Didion, her legs are crossed, but at the knees instead of the ankles, and I would be happy to bet that she's wearing boots below the picture frame. Her arms are hanging at her sides and, as in every picture that has ever been taken of me, she doesn't seem to know quite what to do with her hands. Whereas Didion manages somehow to make a Stingray look huge, Rachel Kushner seems very much to be in scale with her Galaxie; in fact, she's almost a ringer for my cousin Maria, who stands at just over 6 feet tall (taller, actually, because likes wearing platforms and high heels). And that is the story of this book: protestations to the contrary, Rachel Kushner throws herself headlong into the subjects about which she is writing; whether it's Italian politics of the 1970's, the writings of Margaret Duras and Clarice Lispector, a refugee camp in East Jerusalem, her time spent tending bar at the Warfield and The Blue Lamp, her shoplifting forays at The Emporium (The Big E) on Market Street, or crashing her Kawasaki Ninja 600 into the side of the road in a Baja road race, there is full engagement in the subjects of all these essays. On a side note, I enjoyed seeing that we were at several of the same concerts during the 1980's, if slightly annoyed that she was five years younger than me at all of them. I guess she's starting to catch up to me in age, now.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Glass

    Reading this book went slower then anticipated. I found some essays hard to get through or connect with and I looked in the appendix and realized many served as introductions to articles or books, which explained the looming sense I was missing a piece of context. Overall though, I enjoyed it and I liked seeing the connections to Kushner’s novels. She’s very cool, that is the only way to put it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    Some real cool zingers in here, especially her wild Baja 1000 trip that ended in her careening into a crash, and the reason I picked this up, the piece on Ruth Wilson Gilmore on the hard truths behind the idea of prison abolition.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Greg D'Avis

    Denis Johnson, motorcycles, Gorilla Biscuits, Jeff Koons, Italian leftists and much much more all in one book, and it’s all great.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Grossmann

    The opening essay, Girl On a Motorcycle, and the last essay, The Hard Crowd were fantastic and I enjoyed reading her other essays as well.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sean Kinch

    Brilliant, delightful, revelatory—Kushner’s criticism (on McCarthy, Duras, Lispector) is as sharp as her personal essays are engaging.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cheri

    Rachel Kushner is SO COOL. These essays just prove it. Such interesting varied topics written in a thoughtful, smart way. She's like the Steve McQueen of writers. Rachel Kushner is SO COOL. These essays just prove it. Such interesting varied topics written in a thoughtful, smart way. She's like the Steve McQueen of writers.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    This was an interesting collection. I hadn't read any of her non-fiction before but really enjoyed it. Kushner is one if thoes authors I would love to hang out with. In these essays which were written throughout the last 20 years she covers a variety of subjects. Her more personal essays were my favorites. Like one about a motorcycle race down in Mexico, and another about working in various rock club. And the literary essays I enjoyed too, about Denis Johnson, Cormac McCarthy and another about M This was an interesting collection. I hadn't read any of her non-fiction before but really enjoyed it. Kushner is one if thoes authors I would love to hang out with. In these essays which were written throughout the last 20 years she covers a variety of subjects. Her more personal essays were my favorites. Like one about a motorcycle race down in Mexico, and another about working in various rock club. And the literary essays I enjoyed too, about Denis Johnson, Cormac McCarthy and another about Margaret Duras, all left me compelled to read more of their work. There is a reportage piece on the abolition of jails that was very thought provoking as well. This was a well compiled collection. I did wish that the dates she wrote the essays had been included though. There is no doubt Kushner is a magnificent writer. Being able to write interesting non-fiction as well as fiction really shows her skills. Thank you to @simonschusterca for sending me this #arc. Available April 6th. • For more of my book content check out instagram.com/bookalong

  24. 5 out of 5

    Marco

    What an interesting collection of essays. I didn't find myself usually wondering what the point was like other essay collections that deal with a cross of different subjects and I think that was because Kushner's book was all over the place - in a good way. Kushner describes a lot of personal anecdotes that create a collection worthy of your time. Told from a standpoint of someone standing by and watching life unfold and a viewer of classic, nearly forgotten films that she can describe the nuance What an interesting collection of essays. I didn't find myself usually wondering what the point was like other essay collections that deal with a cross of different subjects and I think that was because Kushner's book was all over the place - in a good way. Kushner describes a lot of personal anecdotes that create a collection worthy of your time. Told from a standpoint of someone standing by and watching life unfold and a viewer of classic, nearly forgotten films that she can describe the nuances of, it's more accessible to the reader who is looking to be involved in the discussion. Some essays are just an exploration of film, book essays that research meaning, some are occurrences Kushner relives such as concerts, political events (the one where she attends the party for the maker of tear gas will leave you fuming), and others are more personal stories of her life that are told almost factually but never flat. I think it's a great work and one that should be helpful to a generation who saw the best and the worst and are stuck in the in-between of what life was and what it could be.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Carmen

    Kushner has such a beautiful way with words. Even though the topics of the essays range greatly, and even though some of the references went over my head, I appreciated every sentence and love taking each piece in. Ultimately the collection is united by themes of rebels, others, people who are “hard”. Despite spanning 20 years, the quality of essays is very even, each one worth 5 stars.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    While reading much of *The Hard Crowd*, I couldn't help but feel the pull to work on my own writing and mull over ideas that I am preparing for a final book chapter on undercover animal rights videos and investigators. Good writers do that to you: they make you simultaneously jealous and inspired. This probably only makes sense to other fellow writers, but there it is. Like many collections, *The Hard Crowd* is uneven, peppered here and there with padding of reviews that probably should have sta While reading much of *The Hard Crowd*, I couldn't help but feel the pull to work on my own writing and mull over ideas that I am preparing for a final book chapter on undercover animal rights videos and investigators. Good writers do that to you: they make you simultaneously jealous and inspired. This probably only makes sense to other fellow writers, but there it is. Like many collections, *The Hard Crowd* is uneven, peppered here and there with padding of reviews that probably should have stayed forgotten. But, at the same time, if you care about Kushner's development as a writer (I am not entirely sure I am), these more anemic reviews might prove interesting in terms of tracing the development of her ideas and interests. But the strong pieces of the collection, truly grip you with their unfiltered insights and precision. "Girl on a Motorcycle," written in 2001 for a collection on riding motorcycles, is a gem and shows a gifted writer developing her chops. It's a stunning piece full of confidence and precision that makes sense for someone beginning to enter her 30s. Kushner has a weakness for weirdos, outcasts, and general personalities too strong to be fitted into the regular rhythms of daily life. And she makes these accomplices, friends, and encounters pulse from the page. She doesn't provide an unvarnished view of her past, but she casts something like a weathered Romantic outlook upon it where the fever of youth might at times still grip her writing that she then shrugs it off with the distance of age. Also, of deep interest to me, is Kushner's fascination with the ways in which radical art and politics intersect, defining the weave of her most interesting characters' lives. She writes insightfully about the wreckage and magic of the art scene of NYC in the late 1970s. She captures the fervor of the Hot Autumn of Italy as factory revolts ignited across the industrial sections of the country where workers tried to reimagine more promising lives beyond the limits of capitalism and work. While reading Kushner, I couldn't help but feel like I was reading the work of a big sister I never had, someone who charted a path slightly before me that I also unwittingly followed. We are around the same age. Yet she is around four years older than me, which provides her with a certain amount of additional time to absorb those time periods that fascinate us both. At my more optimistic moments, I like to think these interests regarding art and politics naturally converge for children of the 1970s that had some access to bohemian centers where avant-garde work and radical politics radiated from. But then I think of many of my own friends who slipped down into politically reactionary holes and were skittish regarding any artistic experimentation. But then I wonder if the key isn't having role models who provided invitations to these worlds, who ushered us in through example and suggestion. Either way, Kushner is a phenomenal writer. Even in those few plodding reviews that litter the collection, it still takes a while to speed past them since they provide the occasional compelling insight or detail. It's funny. I had read her most famous novel, *The Flamethrower*, when it came out years ago. For some reason unclear to me, I ditched the book after reading it. I can't recall if I had different expectations for it or maybe I just encountered it at the wrong time of my life. But this collection makes me want to purchase it again since her essay, "Made to Burn," about some of the images she used in inspiring that novel, belatedly makes me realize that I might have enjoyed that book more than I first thought. Or if not that, at least that I am ready to tackle it again, along with her other work. Kushner is a force to be reckoned with. Read her.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bookreporter.com Biography & Memoir

    To sum up Rachel Kushner’s life as depicted in the two decades of essays contained in THE HARD CROWD, I have to fall back on that ubiquitous pop culture phrase, “Don’t try this at home.” In Kushner’s own telling, her free-ranging, sometimes alarmingly spontaneous approach to life did in fact start at home, in a permissively risky west coast environment encouraged by educated and cultured bohemian parents. Right from the get go, she flouted the “don’t try this” maxim at every opportunity. While gro To sum up Rachel Kushner’s life as depicted in the two decades of essays contained in THE HARD CROWD, I have to fall back on that ubiquitous pop culture phrase, “Don’t try this at home.” In Kushner’s own telling, her free-ranging, sometimes alarmingly spontaneous approach to life did in fact start at home, in a permissively risky west coast environment encouraged by educated and cultured bohemian parents. Right from the get go, she flouted the “don’t try this” maxim at every opportunity. While growing up, she ran with packs of ratty delinquent peer group teenagers, soaking up impressions and experiences that would seem to be headed nowhere as useful adult skills. But as she mentions or alludes to more than once in THE HARD CROWD, she was always the soft one among hard, often dangerous, yet vulnerable people with whom she spent much of her early adulthood. In her eponymous final essay, “The Hard Crowd,” she reflects: “I was the weak link, the mind always at some remove: watching myself and other people, absorbing the events of their lives and mine.” It’s that intense, discerning absorption, coupled with a deep knowledge acquired through reading literature and philosophy beyond her social milieu (a virtue for which she barely gives herself credit), that really knits THE HARD CROWD together. Every page unfolds with an energy and rigor that places it distinctly apart from typical survival-lit fare whose superficial sensations can pall after a few dangerous yarns. Despite the seeming superficiality of a 1980s California scene populated by wrecked people --- artists, addicts, bar musicians, cheaters, gamblers, motorcycle and car nerds, the working poor, and many combinations of the foregoing --- Kushner has a way of making every individual worth something as a literary figure. She doesn’t “gentrify” anyone with words; in fact, it's often quite the opposite. Her language flows without any sense of effort into shapes that suit her subject of the moment. And in the continuum of life as we prefer to know it, that’s all many of her youthful friends and mentors had --- just moments to flash across her path and be gone, like small meteors burning up in the unforgiving atmosphere of here-and-now reality. The fact that she herself is still here after half a century, and considered a mature writer for decades of that time, shows that Kushner is made of sterner stuff. By her own standards, however, that doesn’t necessarily mean better or more virtuous stuff than the many people she has outlived from her wilder years. It means something more like donning a mantle of literary stewardship for the memories that so many of her ill-fated cohorts were unable to sustain for themselves. Unable to pick a single favorite among the 19 diverse and always surprising reflections that comprise THE HARD CROWD, I can only say that each one is a powerful “trip” on multiple levels. They often run pell-mell into one another, crashing, burning or floating away at their own pace. The next time I see a gang of mouthy, defiant, risk-taking teen girls swarming down the main street of my city as if they owned it (not for a while, though, with pandemic restrictions still in force), I will still feel some irritation at their apparent total lack of mindfulness and manners. But I also may spare a momentary thought that there might be a brilliant Rachel Kushner among them, cleverly disguised, absorbing like crazy. Reviewed by Pauline Finch

  28. 5 out of 5

    Marie McGraw

    Confession--I grabbed this book because I thought the cover looked cool. I had heard of Kushner and even picked up "The Flamethrowers" once at the library or a used bookstore, but immediately set it down because the prospect of reading an entire book about motorcycles was not appealing to me. Non-fiction collections can range from thematically cohesive to fairly esoteric; this is certainly the latter. I admit I was not exactly feeling it at the beginning (though the first two essays, about an il Confession--I grabbed this book because I thought the cover looked cool. I had heard of Kushner and even picked up "The Flamethrowers" once at the library or a used bookstore, but immediately set it down because the prospect of reading an entire book about motorcycles was not appealing to me. Non-fiction collections can range from thematically cohesive to fairly esoteric; this is certainly the latter. I admit I was not exactly feeling it at the beginning (though the first two essays, about an illicit Baja motorcycle race, and a refugee camp in Palestine, are excellent), but somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of the way through the book I started to pick up what Kushner was putting down. While the latent art historian and critic that never was within me greatly enjoyed the cultural critiques (including discussions of Denis Johnson, Jeff Koons, Marguerite Duras, David Rattray, Clarice Lispector, and several forays into postmodern(?) Italian art and literature), it is certainly not the kind of introspective, deeply personal essay content that seems to be dominating more recent nonfiction collections. One gets the sense that the majority of the pieces in this collection were simply Kushner's thoughts about various topics that she finds interesting and worth exploring, which gives a very different kind of insight into a writer than reading someone's musings on his or herself. That's not to say Kushner's own life is absent from this collection. She recounts anecdotes from her own life both explicitly, with pieces like "Girl on a Motorcycle", and more indirectly as she weaves herself into impressions of the San Francisco of her youth and her days adjacent to music and art in San Francisco and New York. However, even when writing about her own life, she seems to be looking at some remove (perhaps the last two essays, "Bunny" and title essay, are a bit of an exception). That's not to say she lacks introspection or feeling, but rather that her tone is more cerebral and circumspect; if Kushner mentions how she felt in a moment she doesn't linger there for long. Anyway, this was a surprise hit and possibly the best of the year for me (so far). And now I'm off to move "Jesus' Son", "Train Dreams", and "How I Became One of the Invisible" (and of course, "The Flamethrowers") from the amorphous "To Read" pile to the "Read This Next" area of my bookshelf, and to see if the library has a copy of "We Want Everything" or "Agua Viva".

  29. 4 out of 5

    David Ward

    The Hard Crowd: Essays 2000 – 2020 by Rachael Kushner (Scribner 2021) (814) (3534). This is a collection of seventeen essays from novelist Rachael Kushner. It represents her first published foray into the essay format. I was not familiar with this author; I found this volume on the New Book shelves at my local public library. Rachael Kushner apparently writes about whatever has captured her interest at the moment, for these essays represent an incredibly eclectic group of topics. There is an ess The Hard Crowd: Essays 2000 – 2020 by Rachael Kushner (Scribner 2021) (814) (3534). This is a collection of seventeen essays from novelist Rachael Kushner. It represents her first published foray into the essay format. I was not familiar with this author; I found this volume on the New Book shelves at my local public library. Rachael Kushner apparently writes about whatever has captured her interest at the moment, for these essays represent an incredibly eclectic group of topics. There is an essay on the writings of Cormac McCarthy (“Picture-Book Horses”). Another is a paean to the kindness of strangers (“In the Company of Truckers”). Kushner shares her love of vintage automobiles in “Flying Cars” and her concerns about how punishment and rehabilitation are administered (“Is Prison Necessary?”). The gem of this collection is most assuredly the essay “Not With the Band” in which the author riffs about her teenage years in San Francisco in the 1960's and the music of the day. She describes her time bartending at several of the great old Bay Area concert halls such as the Warfield Theater and the legendary Fillmore West. Kushner was actually employed for a time by “Bill Graham Presents” though iconic rock 'n roll promoter and impresario Bill Graham had died before the author joined up. The essay speaks of working shows which featured Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, the Rolling Stones, and Carlos Santana. This single essay “Not With the Band'' was worth the time invested in reading this volume. Here's a quick puzzler: Which of these entertainers was the worst tipper of all time? According to Rachael Kushner, Carlos Santana was the worst tipper ever. The Hard Crowd, (p. 106). Though every single one of Santana's drinks was comped, he never ever left a nickel for the servers. (If this is true, he is an ignorant asshole.) My rating: 7/10, finished 5/4/21 (3534).

  30. 5 out of 5

    James

    The Hard Crowd from author Rachel Kushner is a solid collection of essays written over a 20 year period. The first work, Girl on a Motorcycle, sets a hard-edged tone, telling the reader that what follows may not be fun to read, but feels like truth. This essay is based on her own life, but also ties to a French movie with the same title, where the female star in the movie, Marianne Faithfull also rides a motorcycle through hard times. The essays range widely, sometimes feeling journalistic and o The Hard Crowd from author Rachel Kushner is a solid collection of essays written over a 20 year period. The first work, Girl on a Motorcycle, sets a hard-edged tone, telling the reader that what follows may not be fun to read, but feels like truth. This essay is based on her own life, but also ties to a French movie with the same title, where the female star in the movie, Marianne Faithfull also rides a motorcycle through hard times. The essays range widely, sometimes feeling journalistic and often dipping into Kushner's own experiences engaging with people, music and art, in many different places. Kushner seems a city woman at heart and doesn't seem to have had anything resembling an idyllic childhood as we hear about her growing up in San Francisco and later in other cities. Part of the back story is that she wrote three novels during the 20 year period and we get some hard lived excerpts of her research that helped shape the content and direction of her two best known novels, The Flamethrowers and The Mars Room. I read the latter a couple of years ago, but some of these essays help to elucidate where both themes and scenes from that book had emerged. One of the themes that recurs is her not just as writer, but survivor--the one who somehow shared hard living with others, but managed to be the one who could tell these stories and keep at least a memory alive of many who she had encountered. In that respect, the final essay, The Hard Crowd, seems to draw together both her past and later emergence as a writer. Here she recalls the people she'd met as a bartender in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco and her dilemmas on where to draw the line and not take somebody's rough story and turn it into fiction. Kushner is a fine writer and I sense the growth of her skill as we skim the waves from the early pieces and on to the last. Her eyes are always open and in time the words emerge.

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