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Want Not

5 stars
646 (22%)
4 stars
1,110 (39%)
3 stars
736 (25%)
2 stars
243 (8%)
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107 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 449 reviews
Profile Image for Mary.
428 reviews785 followers
September 12, 2014
I’ve made two major moves in my life. From Melbourne, Australia to Los Angeles, CA and then a few weeks ago from LA to Birmingham, AL. Both times I preached to anyone who would listen “At least I don’t have much stuff.” It turns out that not only was I full of shit, but I also had a lot of shit. What I thought was my somewhat minimalist existence was, both times, an embarrassing display of consumerism. Yes, I really do have this many pairs of shoes and yes, I guess that is a lot of kitchenware for someone who has only cooked sporadically over the years, but I need it all. It’s mine. It’s my stuff. In 2007 I had to fit the contents of my first 27 years of life into two suitcases. The second time, I channeled my Tetris skills by packing away my seven years in California into my small car. And it turns out that after the umpteenth garbage bag and the endless donations and ebay auctions and tearful debates of what to keep and what to discard, in the end I can barely remember what material possessions I left behind. I remember the people and the places and both times I’ve left with nostalgia and smiling tears but what was that item I couldn’t live without which caused panicky regret in my gut the instant I gave it away? It was nothing at all. This stuff, these bags and boxes and products and relics…none of it was my life. My life, as it turns out, is stored in my head. The rest? Disposable.

In the final pages of Want Not, a son stands in the nursing home room of his recently deceased father asking “What do I do with all this stuff?” The mindless accumulation of possessions and the society of excess in which we all live is the central theme of this engrossing and bitterly funny novel. Miles reveals the hypocrisy and disillusionment of the times in which we live with biting humor and a deep sense of what it feels like to live in the world today. Never before have we had such a surplus and never before have we been so empty.

And when we talk about waste, we’re not just talking about the last piece of pizza growing spores in the fridge or the money we spent on the juicer we’ve never used. We’re talking about people. The way we use them up and throw them out like rancid leftovers. The way we get excited about them in the beginning and then forget about them, like the gym membership we spent a week’s wage on and never put to use.

The characters in this novel are each trying to fill the landfill sized voids inside them. They’re funny because they’re sad and we’re sad so we find them funny. The duplicity of the self righteous, the fruitlessness of our struggles, the complete loneliness of the way our first world lives are structured. Miles absolutely nails it.
Profile Image for Greg Zimmerman.
829 reviews173 followers
August 30, 2016
(Review first appeared at

I really, really loved this book. I mean, REALLY loved it. This is the one novel I've read this year that when I finished, my first reaction was to run out to the street corner to start preaching it. It's that good.

Why is it so good? Because it's exactly what fiction should be — it's clever, funny, totally engrossing, sobering, and dammit, if it doesn't give you a good attack of conscience. And the ending to this novel? Imagine the ending to the movie Requiem for a Dream, but on the page — it's about like that. It's good swift kick to the groin — but in a good, satisfying way (if that's possible) — a perfect conclusion both thematically and plot-wise to the novel.

The novel itself consists of three storylines that are related thematically, but don't seem to be related plot-wise until the very end. The theme is waste — you can almost hear the implied "waste not" from the famous maxim that would precede the title, right? The idea here is that greed leads to waste. We collect things (and people) that we don't need or necessarily even want, and we throw them away (people, too) just as easily.

One of the many strengths of this novel is its characters — the best (if least likeable) of which is Dave. Dave is skeezy middle-aged New Jerseyan who has gotten rich from a business he started that acquires debt at auction and then employs any means necessary to collect them. We first meet Dave on Thanksgiving Day as he's just taken what he considers to be a beautiful poop — so beautiful in fact, he snaps of photo with his camera phone, and later shows it to his teenage stepdaughter. Dave has very little scruples — he'll do whatever it takes to collect a debt, and he uses the proceeds to buy meaningless stuff, like fake boobs for his second wife Sara.

Then there's Elwin — a 54-year-old overweight linguistics professor whose wife has just left him. This has left him feeling discarded and sad. In our first scene with Elwin, he hits a deer with his car late at night, and decides to take it home and save the meat (waste not!) — with an assist from his young-20s neighbor Christopher, a Jersey Shore wannabe who is also one of the highlights of this novel. Elwin's father has Alzheimer's and Elwin struggles to comes to terms with the idea that all the memories his father has accumulated over his life are disappearing, like so many

Finally, the third story is of Micah and Talmidge, a mid-20s couple who live off the grid in a squat apartment in Manhattan, and feed themselves from the waste of others — they basically dumpster diving to live from food that's discarded by restaurants and grocery stores. Things go south for the couple when Talmidge's college buddy Matty, just off a nine-month stint in jail for dealing drugs, comes to live with them. Micah's backstory is one of the more fascinating dozen or so page set-pieces in the novel — raised in rural Tennessee after her father had a religious vision. Now, the ideal of living independent of society (and gross consumerism, and its resulting waste) is what governs her life. And she's brought former frat-boy Talmidge along for the ride.

Throughout this novel, Miles is at his best when he veers into several-page set pieces on topics ranging from Dave's specific tactics for making collection calls to Elwin's father's memory of liberating a concentration camp during World War II. Miles is a spectacularly good writer — he's as good at cracking one-liners as he is stringing you along for a paragraph-length, stream-of-consciousness sentence.

So, to wrap up, if you only take one of my book recommendations all year, let it be this one. If you've read and enjoyed Jess Walter or Jonathan Tropper, you'll love this too — it's a similar style of writing, though I'd suggest that Miles might be even better. I cannot recommend this more highly. It's so, so good.
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,049 reviews48.7k followers
December 8, 2013
Hundreds of years before Lunch­ables, bottled water and disposable razors, a proverb warned us, “Wilful waste makes woeful want,” which we’ve since trimmed to the even more thrifty phrase “Waste not, want not.” And yet we’re still throwing out 40 percent of our food and producing more than four pounds of garbage per person per day, raising great putrid effigies of each of us on the horizon.

Perhaps the only thing more shocking than all the stuff we throw away is all the stuff we don’t. This year, hoarding was added to the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” That was a late recognition of the anxiety driving the fastest-growing segment of America’s commercial real estate industry: self-storage. The Wall Street Journal notes that investors consider the business “recession proof.” Apparently, no matter how bad things get, we’ll always cling to our junk.

Whether you’re a chronic hoarder or a censorious neatnik, make room on the shelf for this terrific new book from Jonathan Miles called “Want Not.” Best known for his first comic novel, “Dear American Airlines,” Miles is back with a complex, often hilarious, ultimately moving story about who we are and what we discard — subjects that have always been more intimately linked than we care to admit. “Want Not” is — someone’s got to say it — the best trashy novel of the year.

The story moves along three tracks simultaneously, building toward that annual feast of plenty and refuse: Thanksgiving. (Remember, most of what we know about the Pilgrims and the Indians — and all ancient peoples — comes from their immortal garbage.) Among Miles’s cast is a couple of devoted “freegans” squatting in an abandoned building in New York. Talmadge, a guileless young man, dropped out of college and almost died during a bad drug trip at Burning Man. He was saved by Micah, a female anti-consumer messiah, who was raised in the woods and remains determined to live outside the world of getting and spending. Taking a moment away from slicing rescued tofu and limp carrots for their Thanksgiving feast, Micah explains that “foraging is about refusing, on a totally personal level, to join in the overconsumption that’s just, just sucking the life from the planet. It’s about shunning commodity culture, or disposable culture, whatever.” Micah’s humorless orthodoxy (and rancid cuisine) would test anyone’s patience, and Miles’s imitation of her dreadlocked radicalism comes close to mockery, but his sympathy for her keeps this thread of the novel from ever sounding shrill or cynical.

Cynicism gets free reign, though, in another story line involving an obnoxious collections agent named Dave Masoli. He’s a miracle worker who can extract payments from junk debts, bills written off long ago and tossed in the financial waste bin. The key to Dave’s success, Miles explains, “was never to listen to the debtors . . . because then some empathetic instinct might kick in, causing their problems — the ex-husband gone south with his chippie, the disability preventing them from working, that sort of thing — to infect your problem, that being how to most efficiently convince them to pay money on a debt they had every liberty to ignore.”

Appropriately, this section on filthy lucre opens with a shockingly hilarious toilet scene that should make Jonathan Franzen flush with envy. But unlike the infamous talking turd of The Corrections or the bathroom disaster of Freedom, in “Want Not,” the excremental moment emerges from the dark theme of the novel. As Freud insisted, the way we regard our waste is linked to what we value, how we behave, who we are — profound questions, indeed, for the most obliviously wasteful nation on Earth.

That issue reaches its most glorious expression in the novel’s third story line: the tale of a linguistics professor whose wife recently abandoned him. We meet Dr. Elwin Cross on the night he hits a deer while driving home. Against all wisdom (and sanitation), he decides to stuff the carcass into his trunk and dress it for eating. That bloody scene eventually reaches a fantastic peak of absurdity, but even after the drama passes, we’re left to enjoy Elwin’s self-deprecating wit for the rest of novel. Overweight by at least 100 pounds, overwhelmed by a houseful of physical and emotional baggage, he feels used and useless: “Numb and fatter,” he thinks. “That was the best suit he could drape upon his future.” And his fatalism isn’t much soothed by his study of the world’s cast-off tongues: “Of the world’s 6,500 languages, only 600 would survive another generation, and what was Dr. Elwin Cross Jr. doing about it?”

In one of the book’s cleverest philosophical asides, Elwin is asked to help devise a warning to mark the nation’s repository for 800,000 drums of radioactive waste. How, the government wants to know, can we speak about our most toxic dregs to the next 400 generations? Elwin isn’t very hopeful about being able to communicate anything meaningful over that distance, and the assignment seems even more futile given the trouble he has communicating over just a single generation with his own father.

We’ve come to expect the gears of these multi­track novels to suddenly click together and form some mammoth narrative machine. But like a fastidious recycler, Miles largely keeps his story lines in three separate bins, letting them serve as independent facets of this fascinating exploration of the nature and meaning of our garbage. Then, when we least expect it, the characters brush against each other — sometimes with life-changing consequences.

Those moments contribute to a counter­vailing force in this reflection on the persistence of trash. Even as “Want Not” paws through the bones of pre­history, the wasteland of our modern economy and the ­ashes of the future, Miles’s elegant and thoughtful voice suggests that all is not lost. The novel may begin with prickly satire, it may dig deep into America’s disposable lifestyle, but it ultimately pivots to scenes of surprising tenderness. Despite our extravagant waste, despite our carelessness with each other, despite that temptation to despair that everything is flotsam and jetsam, Miles offers a heartfelt affirmation of human value.

That’s what makes this a novel to hoard.
Profile Image for Carol.
834 reviews499 followers
March 31, 2014
Another book that defies a star rating. 5 stars for writing. That said I think Jonathan Miles did a really good job building and making us see his characters and I liked the way he brought the three separate stories together in the end. I believe there are things to discuss here and do look forward to meeting the author at Booktopia Boulder.

I can't rate it 5 stars (it was amazing) though as in the end I felt "Yes this was interesting" and now I'm on to the next read. I liked it. I'm not certain what I've taken from Want Not. It definitely did not live up to its promise of an examination of "want". Perhaps I will see Want Not in a different light when I have a chance to discuss this with others.

Once again, the writing captured me. For this alone I'm glad I read this.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,669 reviews2,662 followers
January 27, 2014
Here’s a book I wish I had written. “Waste not, want not” goes the aphorism, and Miles’s second novel explores both themes to their fullest extent: the concept of waste – from profligate living to garbage and excrement – and ordinary people’s conflicting desires. In three interlocking story lines, Miles looks for what is really of human value at a time when everything seems disposable and possessions both material and digital can exert a dispiriting tyranny.

The novel opens on Thanksgiving 2007, with New York City buried under an early snowstorm. The nation’s annual excuse for gluttony makes a perfect metaphorical setting for Miles’s exposé of food waste and consumerist excess. Like Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, it’s a timely, humane response to the modern condition, especially the unavoidable fact of environmental threat.

This formed part of an article on my Best Fiction Reads of 2013 for Bookkaholic.

An excerpt of my full review is available to non-subscribers at BookBrowse.
Profile Image for Hank Stuever.
Author 3 books2,015 followers
January 1, 2014
A sturdy and compellingly sad/funny novel about a few very different people and the garbage/waste they create, physically and metaphorically. I enjoyed it quite a bit -- almost as much as I liked Miles's "Dear American Airlines"; it has elements of both Lorrie Moore (it especially reminded me of "A Gate at the Stairs" in the way it shoehorned in all of the author/narrator's editorial concerns about the costs of modernity and the rat race into the overall plot and dialogue) and Tom Perrotta (in the way Miles so adroitly observes banal details and personal habits that speak wry volumes).

My quibbles with "Want Not" are the occasionally weighty way in which Miles has tried to tackle environmental waste issues along with everything else (I sort of groaned when 9/11 came into play, but it was handled pretty well). Also, as with two-thirds of the books I read in 2013, I found myself wishing for less density from paragraph to paragraph. He's such an eloquent and keen writer who needs just a small dose of "kill your darlings" -- the book is maybe 10-15 percent too wordy in parts.

But I seem to be harping on this a lot these days; maybe a guy reaches a certain age (is it 45, perhaps?), with too many years in the writing/editing biz, and he turns into a human red pencil. (I kept running into the word "corrugated," used to describe a storage unit door but also the cleavage on a bony woman, etc. Perhaps the redundancy was intentional, but it seemed like one of those things Control-F could've caught.) Maybe readers want their gardens to be overly lush and untrimmed, especially when it comes to novels. At this stage, I'm much more admiring of leanness in prose.
Profile Image for Josh.
306 reviews160 followers
June 5, 2015
”Garbage was the only pure crop that civilization produced because no one owned it, no one wanted it, no one fought over it, no one had ever launched a war to claim it.  Land, air, water, people, animals: all these had been commodified, sacked with price tags, and enslaved on that vast plantation known as civilization.”

What we consume eventually becomes trash. 

Trash everywhere. 
Trash in the oceans. 
Trash underground. 
Trash inside us all.

This book by Jonathan Miles explains this in every way possible.  What makes this book stand out is the accuracy on how he tells a story from each character’s point of view and how their actions are plausible and completely believable in this modern age of materialism.

Sometimes with a serious tone, yet mostly projecting satire on humanity’s problem with waste, the book’s message prods and prods you, over and over, basically saying ‘WTF are we doing?’

”Everything is salvageable.”

Profile Image for Cosimo.
429 reviews
August 30, 2015
Invisibili persistenze

“Le volpi hanno le loro tane e gli uccelli del cielo i loro nidi, ma il Figlio dell'uomo non ha dove posare il capo”. Matteo, 8, 20 e Luca, 9,58

Manhattan, storie di amicizia, amore e famiglia tra rifiuti e scorie, legami dialogici tra consumismo e nuova etica, un romanzo corale con trame e sottotrame narrate con chiarezza e partecipazione, per un racconto di buona qualità e notevole originalità. Una scrittura interessante genera digressioni e incastri che conquistano e al tempo stesso scuotono; si alternano un sorprendente coinvolgimento a brani di faticosa elaborazione e passaggi di disorganiche parentesi. Si ritrovano naturalezza di stile mescolata a una certa meccanicità narrativa, nelle avventure dissennate e insolite interpretate da personaggi curiosi e vivaci. Le storie ad ogni modo sono semplici e profonde, hanno una propria vitale intensità: uno studioso dopo il divorzio che sta perdendo il padre malato, madre e figlia di una vittima del World Trade Center, una giovane coppia in cerca di amore e senso, individui in equilibrio su un mondo di oggetti, affetti, valori e emozioni fragili e transitori: dentro a insicure e indefinibili vicende, essi rinnovano strenuamente il proprio esistere, cercando uno sguardo che persista in un futuro possibile e una condizione che non sia fatalmente soggetta a decadimento e oblio. Sciagure, incontri, imprevisti, contrasti, gravidanze, rotture, anomalie, sorprese, malattie e lutti si susseguono densamente sulla scena. Miles descrive con umorismo e tenacia gli episodi rilevanti e non programmati di vite parallele e convergenti nella dissonante società contemporanea, sull'orlo dell'assurdo, tra fiducia e catastrofe; riflette così sull'essenza temporanea del nostro essere e sull'infedeltà intrinseca dell'avere, in permanente fluttuazione drammatica tra prosperità e rovina. Per affermare con abile intelligenza la corporeità consistente e sensibile di ciò che non siamo e ciò che non vogliamo: insomma, per dare voce alla storia visibile e quella invisibile che incombono su di noi come, con le parole di De Lillo, “the unseen something that haunt the day”.
Profile Image for Judith.
1,538 reviews76 followers
March 26, 2018
This book was highly recommended by my good friend Phyllis and I thank her for thinking of me. If you ever wake up at 4:00 a.m. and think about the plastic trash in the ocean that is reputed to cover a space the size of Texas, this book is for you.

The book follows the (seemingly) unrelated stories of 3 groups of people: one a linguist who has been asked to help design a sign that would warn future earthlings of the dangers of a burial ground of nuclear waste. BTW, how will we communicate with the future inhabitants of the earth that deadly waste lies underground, so they don't start digging, anticipating archaeological artifacts?

The book includes an in-depth look at the lives of 3 young people who are squatting in NYC and survive on the treasures they find by dumpster diving. It's amazing how much I learned about trash by reading their stories. Like: good clothing stores often rip their clothes to shreds when they can't sell them. And food stores often lock their garbage cans to keep people from feeding off their refuse.
I do understand the economic principles at stake here and the liability involved but it still seems insane.

The book is not pedantic, yet I felt I was learning something all the time I was reading it. I kept wishing it wasn't a library book so I could highlight various pithy observations made by the characters.

Profile Image for Mircalla .
649 reviews89 followers
October 7, 2015

In questo libro si parla di resti. Spazzatura che tracima attraverso il racconto di molte vite, vite intrecciate o vissute in parallelo, vite piene di alimenti scaduti, vestiti, mobili, bambini, mariti, nonni...tutta roba che viene lasciata significante è rimandato alla buona volontà di chi legge...c'è molta critica sociale e un bel po' di dolore...poca speranza e pochissima soddisfazione, ma c'è verità in tutto questo racconto di Scarti, forse di quella ce n'è anche troppa ;-)


Profile Image for Sheri.
1,233 reviews
October 19, 2014
Miles does a great job of presenting the same thesis through three very different worlds. As always happens in these sorts of stories, eventually the three worlds collide in a somewhat unnecessary fashion to provide closure. I agree with Miles’s politics and I enjoyed the MANY examples of “over wanting” that he presented. At times, I thought it might be a bit repetitive and preachy, but in general it was a decent read.

Miles manages to nestle an important argument within a decent story. The three elements are all different enough (squatters, lonely PhD, and businessman/trophy wife) that he can explore different themes and levels of waste and desire. I particularly liked the tongue-in-cheek scene in which Sara and Liz send dishes back (creating even more waste) at the SUSTAINABLE CURATION restaurant. Essentially, we are all creatures of desire and stuck in this human condition in which we always want more.

He addresses addiction: “Just a big mess of hopeless fools-or holy goofs, like the kid’s button said—licking the carpet, hoping for that bitter buzz on the tongue tip, the promise of a fix. Money, pussy, cock, fame, the warm and righteous embracing arms of Jesus, a world scraped of all its scabs and scars: the fix didn’t matter.”

Overconsumption: “he understood that with more came less. That there was an equilibrium to life, and that with everything you gained you lost something as well, in the same measure, so that whatever further bliss was available to him would have to be paid with equal degrees of pain. He had just one life, not two, meaning more was an illusion, a traitorous chimera.”

Forbidden desire/lust: “when she replied, with a wink, ‘Well, I’ve got a lot to teach you then, don’t I?’ he felt something powerful go surging through his entire body, something fizzy and inebriating and dangerous and swashbuckling and altogether new.”

And waste: “But that’s all any civilization leaves behind…..Not a single library survived antiquity. It’s just tombs and trash heaps. Historically speaking, we are what we bury.”

Ultimately, he presents the pessimistic view that everything is fleeting and that we have no real solution to current problems: “Antidepressants, ADD medications, whatever. Just take a pill and change the light bulbs, right? That’s the prescription. That’ll make everything all right. Just keep smiling and buying.” And that for most of us there is no real option for change: “What if you could change your life as easily as changing trains? Well you could, she supposed—wasn’t that the gist of Eat Pray Love, which everyone but Sara seemed to be reading that spring? Unless you had kids, that is.”

I think the most poignant example was the story of Micah and the plastic salesman on the train in India. The man justifies the large quantities of plastic littering the countryside as saving the elephants (plastic was originally discovered as an alternative to ivory), but then Micah sees a sorry elephant in the streets emphasizing that the elephants were not really saved so much as tortured in a new way.

As a total aside, I cracked up when Elwin thought Billy Joel was dead because so many radio stations were playing his songs simultaneously because this exact thing happened to me about a week ago (except with Elton John). Just as Sara flips the channels (99 choices and nothing is on) and can find nothing to satisfy her, occasionally the SAME thing is on everywhere. I loved the subtle examples throughout of the way that cultural variation is nonexistent. We do, in fact, simply listen to/watch/read/think about the SAME things all the time.

I was in DC at the end of August and there was a black box installation at the Hirshorn by Oliver Laric addressing this same issue. He showed the repetition of images throughout time and place and comments on the lack of originality in most of our “cultural” products.

Overall it was an entertaining read. Somewhat implausible at times, but entertaining.
Profile Image for Mike.
165 reviews15 followers
December 22, 2014
This book was amiable enough until it reached a scene at Yankee Stadium. The Yanks are playing the Indians, all well and good, except all the Yankees the author writes about are real and the only Indians player is made up. I could live with that because the scene created around the fake Indians player is funny and couldn't happen with any real Indians player. My real problem was that the real Yankees players in the scene -- Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi -- didn't play together on the Yankeee in the year (2009) this takes place. Sure, it's a small detail, but the reason such tidbits are included in books are to make it real in a time and place. Getting that detail wrong didn't change the book. It just diminished it for me because something like that could have easily been fixed.

The real reason for the two-star review is the same reason books and movies like this often fail -- a ridiculous coincidence. The book follows three unconnected narratives. One is a young couple who squats off the grid in Manhattan, scavenging for food and other goods. Another is a man who has become fairly successful building a debt-collection business and now lives with his sullen wife and stepdaughter in an unfinished suburban development. The third is a college professor of linguistics who has ballooned to 340 pounds after his wife left him. They have only geography and themes of waste in common. Despite alternating chapters throughout the book, only two of the characters meet each other. When they do, it is in a rather contrived, unearned, and rather disgusting scene which no one should read while eating. That many of the characters don't get an ending so much as their stories just stop is another problem. Most of them are left with Requiem For A Dream fates, which they don't deserve at all.

I could feel similarities to Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue here with the lyrical writing which sometimes strained to say more than it actually did. It also reminded me of Wally Lamb's recent We Are Water, which bounced around to lots of different characters, some who received unexpected chapters. It's a solid book. The coincidental meeting toward the end is what really knocked a star off the review for me.
Profile Image for Jason Makansi.
Author 16 books9 followers
November 15, 2014
I had very high hopes for Want Not, so high I was hoping Mr. Miles would become another member of the pantheon of highly regarded Jonathan-named authors (Jonathan Lethem, Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Safran Foer). Miles' novel is about New York (always pulls me in), the waste and excesses of modern society (I live with this professionally), and alternative lifestyles (e.g., Freegans). Mr. Miles also has the second most sought after pedigree in literary fiction, as described on the back flap he is "a long time resident of Oxford, Mississippi." Only the three vowels and one consonant, which I remember learning in elementary school can sometimes be a vowel, of I-O-W-A seems to do more for putting you on a buggy, train, or plane bound for literary glory in New York.

Despite the frenetic pace of the prose, I managed to keep pace. I barely gasped at the scene where one of the characters eloquently describes a perfect turd, takes a photo, and sends it out to, well, you know. Hey, it's a book about waste, from bowel movements to nuclear fuel rods. Then something very finite happened on p. 165. The bloat of the prose exploded. So much backstory is pumped into three pages of one character's life that, for me, the story became a caricature of itself. I mean, from page one, it sweated with a message, not the one you might think, "Oh all this waste and excess of modern life is awful," but "think about this excess in all its glory and gloom." It's like the garbage barge to nowhere (I remember in New York once a barge filled with garbage had nowhere to go) became the rocket propelled solution to pollution out of earth's atmosphere.

I gave it a few more pages, tried to sift my way to the end, and gave up. Ultimately, I cared about these characters far less than I have cared about (like I wrote, I deal with the issues of energy production, and the solid, liquid, and gaseous waste byproducts left behind) humankind's waste generation and how to manage and better yet limit it. Any human relationships portrayed through the story were buried in the landfill of an overly clever and hyperactive prose style.

Still I give the author much credit for the effort. I wanted Want Not to work. But it didn't.
Profile Image for Patrizia Galli.
148 reviews24 followers
January 29, 2016
Il romanzo narra tre storie, tutte accomunate dai detriti, reali o metaforici, che riempiono le vite dei protagonisti. Talmadge e Micah vivono come squat, cibandosi degli avanzi che trovano nei bidoni dell’immondizia; Elwin è un linguista di mezza età abbandonato dalla moglie, che deve affrontare la malattia del padre; Sara è una vedova dell’11 Settembre, che deve affrontare, oltre alla scoperta del tradimento da parte dell’ex marito, un nuovo matrimonio e i problemi di sua figlia.
In quasi 600 pagine di romanzo Miles riesce a comporre un bellissimo e agghiacciante affresco della società americana odierna, dove gli scarti sono i protagonisti, oltre che una potenziale risorsa per alcuni (a parte, probabilmente, quelli di cui si occupa Elwin assieme al Progetto Interramento: ossia escogitare il modo migliore per liberarsi di 350mila fusti di scorie radioattive). Se, infatti, dalle storie dei protagonisti pare uscirne una qualche morale positiva sul riutilizzo, difficilmente il lascito complessivo dell’umanità potrà esserlo altrettanto: la nostra società sta lasciando dietro di sé nient’altro che immondizia.
Miles ci racconta di tutto quello che non dovrebbe servire più a niente, immondizia o persone allo stesso modo, ma che a un certo punto può ritornare utile, innescando una serie di imprevedibili conseguenze. Non dobbiamo fermarci all’apparenza, però, perché questo romanzo non è un’invettiva contro lo spreco di una società consumistica come quella americana, quanto piuttosto una coralità di voci che ci mostra come in ogni ambito c’è sempre qualcosa che viene lasciato indietro, che viene abbandonato, messo da parte e, per contro, riutilizzato e trasformato in risorsa: non solo spazzatura, ma anche emozioni, sensazioni ed esseri umani.
Personalmente credo che, tutto sommato, ogni personaggio del romanzo abbia a disposizione una via d’uscita, una seconda chance per riscattare la sua vita. Tutti questi bizzarri personaggi hanno voglia di vivere, e Miles li guida egregiamente alla ricerca del loro riscatto. “Tutto può essere recuperato” dice Elwin verso la fine del romanzo: è un po’ il senso dell’intera opera: non solo gli scarti di cibo ingiustamente buttati nell’immondizia, ma anche e soprattutto le loro stesse esistenze.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for saradevil.
395 reviews
November 6, 2014
My life is to short and I have no desire to continue reading a book that literally takes a dump on the reader less than half way through.

Are you consumerist animals entirely tied to our need to accumulate things? Would you like to read some amateur philosophy on how our decadent lifestyle is destroying your soul? Do you want to read about soulless people so you can genuflect at the alter of self-hatred, finishing with a desire to throw out all your stuff and truly live in the moment? Really, then go read Walden 2, because it is better written and you can get the same take-ways.

This book was a waste of my perfectly good time. We are done here. Read anything else.
Profile Image for Maria Di Biase.
314 reviews75 followers
January 2, 2021
Scarti è un libro molto ambizioso, che utilizza la questione ecologica per criticare il sistema-società in senso lato. È un libro di denuncia, che qualche volta cade nella sua stessa trappola, prendendo le sembianze di un manifesto pseudo-politico. Ma nel complesso è un esperimento riuscito: è un romanzo di sentimenti autentici, grandi ideali e un finale tutto da scoprire.

Continua qui:
Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,548 reviews602 followers
September 1, 2017
I was surprised by how much I liked Want Not. Three "sets" of people are loosely linked by a theme of trash, discards, waste, extra stuff - depending on the person. I didn't like most of the characters in the beginning, but gradually they all grew on me. At times, the writing blew me away.
21 reviews1 follower
March 28, 2018
Halfway through and really cannot force myself to finish this book. There is not a single character whom I can care about. Every character in the book is miserable. I don’t mean just miserable by my standards; they are all miserable within their own.
This author conjures up so many revolting visual images that I can only hope will eventually be flushed out of my memory...and truly with no redeeming reason or value behind it.
If you want to wallow in hideous misery with people you wouldn’t want to know, read this. It is the worst I’ve ever come across...a waste of money and time.
Profile Image for Julie.
64 reviews1 follower
January 22, 2014
I'm an avid reader. I read everything. Lots of genres. This book DROVE ME CRAZY and I quit in the middle. Save your time and money and don't waste it on this book.
Profile Image for Sue.
177 reviews19 followers
October 26, 2021
I met Jonathan Miles at the last Booktopia before the pandemic. His 2018 novel, Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles Anatomy of a Miracle was the book we read for the event, and which he read from and discussed. It was a great book, and he was a pretty cool guy, so I bought his earlier book, Want Not, and, two years later, cracked it open. something completely different from Anatomy of a Miracle. Anatomy of a Miracle was written as narrative non-fiction. It had a steady, slow at times pace, and a touch of authentic dryness that worked well with its journalistic style.

Flash backwards to Want Not. It's remarkable how different it is in every way, which is a testament to Miles' range and brilliance as a writer. Want Not is a riotous bullet train of a book, every well crafted, crazy sentence crashing into the next. Characters so vivid it’s like they’re sitting next to you. And through the manic, hilarious chaos of it all, pulses a coherent and devastating theme, a warning, a cautionary tale about how much we waste, through our voracious and careless consumption, through the time we spend avoiding what’s important, through the relationships we fail to value.

A prescient, magnificent, laugh out loud, devastating book for these crazy times.
913 reviews409 followers
March 7, 2014
As I read this I kept thinking of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft where Stephen King warns idealistic authors not to focus on themes in their fiction. Just write a good story, he says, and the themes will evolve. I wondered whether Jonathan Miles followed this advice. Certainly the novel didn't suffer for this, but the themes were prominent and it's hard to imagine he didn't work from theme --> story as opposed to the other way around.

The aptly titled Want Not focuses heavily on themes of wasting and wanting. The book is constructed of three narratives which intersect at the end. One narrative follows a young couple whose lifestyle is a conscious rebellion against excess and waste; on principle they squat in an abandoned Manhattan building and live off food scavenged from dumpsters. While they are highly idealistic about their lifestyle, the events that follow call their ideals into question for the reader which was an interesting thing with which to grapple. Another narrative follows a sad and lonely professor of dead languages who is commissioned to work on a project related to waste. The professor begins to find rewarding relationships in surprising ways, which actually felt satisfying to read as opposed to Disney-movie-happy. And the third narrative follows a blended family where the focus is less on waste and more on wanting, although certainly their lifestyle is rather excessive materially. The stepfather is a fascinating character, evolving from wholly unlikeable to actually having a bit of moral fiber.

This book had many wonderful qualities. The characters were richly developed, if largely unsympathetic. The dialogue felt authentic. The plot actually moved, which is not always something I can say about literary fiction. The writing was wonderful if dense. In fact, the latter (and the fact that I didn't really get the ending) is my only reason for withholding the fifth star; although I certainly appreciated this book as a quality book and enjoyed the process of reading it when I picked it up and got into it, the denseness of the writing made it a book I had to think about picking up as opposed to a book that called out to me and seduced me to abandon my other responsibilities. So while it may objectively be a five-star book, my subjective assessment is closer to four. Still, from me that's a pretty enthusiastic rating. Definitely recommended.
Profile Image for Chaitra.
3,536 reviews
March 20, 2014
It's a book that gave me a lot of trouble. I would pick it up, inch forward in terms of pages even though I'd be reading for hours, set it back down and forget about it for a number of days. But ultimately, I ended up loving it. So much that I'm not even docking a star for the initial drag-a-thon.

There are three different stories, intersecting very little, if at all. A freegan couple, Micah and Talmadge, experiencing change in their relationship towards each other and towards their ism when a new character crashes in their home. A linguist, Dr. Elwin Cross Jr., specializing in dead languages, is invited to a panel for a radio-active waste marker, while also mourning the loss of his wife and caring for his Alzheimer inflicted father. A pushy debt collector, Dave Masoli, and his relationship with his step-daughter Alexis forms the third storyline. Bracketing this is human waste. Trashcans and dumpsters are never far away - we are what we throw away being the motto of this book.

Soapboxing is almost inevitable, given the theme. The characters wax eloquent about the corrupt system, waste, consumerism, more waste, life in general etc. But, in the end, structure and theme aside, it's a very human book. It draws a compelling portrait of every single character that graces its page. I can't even say which was my favorite story line, because I loved all of them equally. It's laugh out loud funny in parts. It is wordy, densely packed almost, which accounts for the slow reading. But the story they tell is so engaging that it's easy to forgive them. And the ending - this more than makes up for all the wordiness, and the drag.

It maybe one of my favorite books of last year, and one that I'm really glad I stuck by. 5 stars, and a new favorite author.
Profile Image for Jeff Buddle.
267 reviews11 followers
March 3, 2014
"Want Not," is half of a well-known aphorism. But as the title of Jonathan Miles's new novel it has another layer of meaning that shades the darkest thread of this fine work. To tap into another aphorism, an alternate name for the novel might be "Another Man's Treasure." Or perhaps more appropriately for at least two characters in the book, "Another Woman's..."

Miles populates his fictional world with a cast of disparate characters: an obese professor of lingustics that studies dead languages, a brash harvester of junk debt and his wife and stepdaughter, a pair of East Village freegans who live in abandoned squat. Along the way are other examples human detritus that find themselves washed up on the diminishing beachhead of American capitalism. Their stories have little overlap. Two of the characters eventually do cross paths and, whoo-boy, it makes for one of the most emotionally powerful sections of the novel.

At the outset of the book, I was put off by Miles's style, philosophical and a little poetic, reflective and intelligent, it struck me as another MFA novel, digging down deeply into situations and strip mining them for language. While this is appealing, it often saps a novel's characters of believable humanity, they become little representatives of authorial themes. However, Miles conquered my skepticism. With a few exceptions for very minor characters, the characters are fleshed out, believable, deserving of sympathy. Frat boys, cold-hearted business types, Birkenstock-wearing hippies and drunken New Jersey rednecks are all given layers of motivation that feel (for me) entirely true.

This novel gets my highest reccomendation. One of the best new works of fiction I've read in recent memory.
Profile Image for Scott.
516 reviews60 followers
July 1, 2014
I liked Jonathan Miles's slight-but-incisive 2008 novel, Dear American Airlines, quite a bit, and the basic theme of Want Not--material (over)consumption, and how it doesn't make anyone happy and produces terrible amounts of waste--is something I think about all the time. I was predisposed, then, to enjoy this book, and I did. Miles is a terrific writer, especially adept at the quick character sketch, the provocative/evocative image, the rollicking set piece. Some of his narrative choices in Want Not confused me--why are we spending so much time HERE, inside of this guy's head, instead of back THERE, where those other people were; and what happened with that thing that seemed so important earlier?--but at least two-thirds of this sucker really sings. Bonus: much of it takes place in New York City, which Miles clearly knows.

The plot follows three different family-ish groups whose connection with each other is unclear until the end. The best of these, I thought, were the Alphabet City freegan/dumpster-diving/squatter couple Micah and Tal and their third-wheel guest Matty. Miles constructs their world--physically, emotionally, philosophically--with such dead-on accuracy that it made me wish HE had written the disappointing Ten Thousand Saints. The other two strands are good too, with most of the comic relief coming in the form of Christopher, a 20-something New Jersey slacker (overall, there's much less humor in this book than in Dear AA) who cluelessness falls juuuuuust on the right side of being charming. I do think Miles missed some opportunities with the Dave, however, the inelegant head of a sleazy collections agency. Overall, though. Want Not earns its 400-plus pages, and ends strong. I will read whatever Miles writes next.
Profile Image for Jax.
865 reviews35 followers
September 20, 2016
I’ve been working to declutter my house for the last six years, ever since the death of a loved one made me see the burden we leave behind for others to deal with. It’s been a painful process, examining one's feelings about each item and deciding what to keep, for practical or sentimental reasons, and what to get rid of. And it’s definitely easier to trash than donate, but I just can’t send useful things to a landfill. It’s a big job after a lifetime of thoughtless accumulation.

Still, I wasn’t so much struck by the big themes here, although it has interesting things to say about the value of what we discard and the need to discard in order to move on, as I was by the detailed precision of the writing. Maybe my ongoing personal experience with the issue of waste blunted the effect of the book’s message, but on a cellular level, on a word by word and sentence by sentence level, this was some of the best writing I’ve read.

There are some excellent character studies here and many of the chapters are vignettes that could stand alone as short stories. Miles is incredibly insightful and observant of human motivation, behavior and speech so his characters really come alive (even if I would’ve liked to know more about the outcome for a couple of them).

The only possible flaw for me was the decidedly one-sided look at only the dreary side of things; no one’s life is working well here. But then contentment doesn’t make good drama, does it? While not exactly haunted (as the blurb promises) I was left mostly melancholy, but the wonderful writing is so worth it.

NOTE: I also highly recommend his Dear American Airlines.

Profile Image for Tracy.
36 reviews1 follower
December 14, 2013
If this isn't on your "Best Novels of 2013" list, your "Best Novels of 2013" list is defective.

This book was exactly what I wanted to read right now, in part because of my growing distaste for the rampant materialism of American culture. It's a book about stuff -- what we have and what we want and what we throw away and how one person's trash is another person's dinner. And it's amazing.

It's truly a character-driven novel, and the awesome thing about it is that I like even the characters I don't really like. That probably doesn't make sense. What I mean is that even the characters I don't particularly like -- Dave, the glorified bill collector, for example -- are people with whom I'd like to get a beer and talk for hours. Micah, the freegan squatter, is inspiring and fascinating but also a cautionary tale about not becoming so hard-core in your beliefs and behavior that you're too tedious to be around. She's one of my favorite characters of all time.

You should read this book.
Profile Image for Joan.
3,303 reviews10 followers
May 7, 2017
This is the story of three separate groups who do not meet or know each other. The characters are well developed and unlikeable. The theme seems to be trash, consumerism and finding a family. However, the book is often unnecessarily crude - graphic description of skinning the deer, taking pictures of poop in the toilet. Emotions seem to be missing for the character. They move through life without connecting even when they are supposedly connected. I would not have finished the book, if it was not the book selected for Book Club. I think the author didn't have a plan for the book so he just wandered around.
The saving grace of the book was this sentence:
”Garbage was the only pure crop that civilization produced because no one owned it, no one wanted it, no one fought over it, no one had ever launched a war to claim it. Land, air, water, people, animals: all these had been commodified, sacked with price tags, and enslaved on that vast plantation known as civilization.”
1,009 reviews8 followers
May 7, 2018
Between 2 and 3 stars. I respected where the author was trying to go, but didn't think this came together in a cohesive or satisfying way. Any story told from multiple perspectives runs the risk of some characters being less interesting than others, and that was definitely the case here, where I was completely bored by at least one of the storylines for the entire book. Most of all, though, I had a real issue with the inauthenticity/underdeveloped female characters in this book and the way the male characters reacted to them.
Profile Image for Elalma.
804 reviews82 followers
June 5, 2016
Tre storie che si intrecciano intorno al tema degli scarti, che possono essere intesi come spazzatura, cose accumulate o scorie da smaltire. L'idea è molto buona, mi piace anche come è sviluppata e come segue il filo conduttore. Però ne avrei eliminato volentieri almeno la metà; lo stile, che ricorda molto quello di Dave Eggers, ironico e a volte ridondante, in alcuni punti mi ha irritato. Tuttavia mi tornano in mente con piacere i personaggi e le scene paradossali in cui si vengono a trovare.
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