The Futilitarians
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A memoir of friendship and literature, chronicling a search for meaning and comfort in great books, and a beautiful path out of grief.

Excerpt —

All is Vanity

Nearly everyone showed up on time, odd for a New Orleans social gathering. Friends parked and turned off headlights, or shackled their bikes to our old iron fence. The wooden porch collected and amplified their footsteps. The 7:30 convergence was rung in by the off-key bells of the church tower near the corner on Dauphine Street. A few years earlier, the church had changed its name to Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, in honor of a local priest who died tending to yellow fever victims after the Civil War. Although he was a near saint, in canonical limbo, the legitimacy of his alleged miracles had yet to be ratified by Vatican bureaucracy. The records agreed he was deeply beneficent, holy even, but was he magic?

Wine bottles congregated on our living room’s low table, and bodies settled onto the couches and oversized pillows on the floor. Our project seemed to call for some good scotch, an elevated example of human production—the species proving its worth—and Brad and I had bought a bottle of single-malt Aberlour. The first meeting did not have any clear expectations, though, much less a definite agenda, so no one knew quite how to start.

Drinks were poured and names were traded among the dozen of us. With the exception of my younger sister Susan, and Chris, whom I’d met during the dark years around my sisters’ deaths, the others were all people Brad and I befriended since we’d met each other about eight years ago. We knew them from different spheres in our lives—work, art, kids. In addition to Chris’s eclectic resume, we had a few writers/teachers, poet/musicians, a couple of visual artists, a construction manager and former journeyman plumber, and one psychology professor with a private practice on the side who'd long referred to himself as an “existential plumber…” 

Praise for The Futilitarians —
The Futilitarians sets out a search for meaning in grand terms and solves the search in the beauty of loving detail. From suicide to set painting, lunch pies to Death Row, from decayed eternity to the complex rebirth of New Orleans, this book never loses the treasure of abiding doubt. Plus, spoiler, it ends in fireworks and a reading list you do not want to miss.”
— LOUISE ERDICH, National Book Award–winning author of LaRose
“This is a shattering and very important book—and will, if there is justice (and there must be justice), be considered one of the best books of this year. There is an ocean of hurt here, but Gisleson manages to sail through it and show us everything that’s beautiful about this sea of pain. If you love existential literature, or New Orleans, or your family, or are curious about the meaning of life, then you will find The Futilitarians to be an essential book.”
— DAVE EGGERS, New York Times bestselling author of The Circle and What Is the What

“After Katrina, New Orleanians became experts in resilience. Anne Gisleson has captured that spirit poignantly in The Futilitarians, which explores how we can find meaning in our lives by struggling back from tragedies. Whether as communities or as individuals, she shows, we do it by holding hands and moving forward together.”
— WALTER ISAACSON, New York Times bestselling author of Steve Jobs and Einstein: His Life and Universe

“This is a beautiful book about the things that matter—love, death, grief, anger, regret, renewal, the life of the mind, the life of the heart, and the life of the world round you. Anne Gisleson is a brave and gifted writer, with the wisdom to embrace empathy and connection, not to Mention intellectual curiosity, in an existence that can only ever be filled with uncertainty. I just wish I could join her reading club.” 
— SAM LIPSYTE , New York Times
bestselling author of The Ask

“Boozy, brilliant, beautiful, tragic, and deeply affecting, The Futilitarians is my favorite memoir of the year.”
— JAMI ATTENBERG, New York Times
bestselling author of All Grown Up
“I absolutely loved The Futilitarians, a wonderful and profoundly moving personal memoir of loss and resilience, and an unforgettable tribute to the great good that comes from reading great books (and talking about them!). I underlined passages on just about every page, following with intense hope and desire every move made by Anne’s Existential Crisis Reading Group, a book group like none other. This book will move you to tears, to laughter, and to joy—and will leave you with renewed awe for all the unexpected gifts that being alive allows, including the special joy of finding a great book like The Futilitarians.”
— NINA SANKOVITCH, author of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair