What’s the best book you’ve ever read? If you’ve also read what is arguably the best book I’ve ever read, then you most likely will have already exclaimed when seeing the title of this TriumphOfTheNow.com post: “Oh, that’s the best book I’ve ever read! I wonder what mentally ill, barely alive, poet-blogger scott manley hadley has to say about it!”
That’s right: Only Americans Burn In Hell by Jarett Kobek is not just quite possibly the best book I’ve ever read but it is almost certainly the best book I’ve ever read. It’s certainly the best Jarett Kobek book I’ve ever read and – as Jarett Kobek is the best literary practitioner currently working in the English language (I’d suggest you name a better one in the comments but you’d be wasting my time and yours if you tried – does anyone else accept that digital ubiquity is real and then write as if it’s not something they weirdly believe they can stop with… like… fiction or poems or something? – though I am yet to read the writers recommended by Kobek (in this book) who he insists are better than him, so perhaps there are competitors out there (as, to be clear, writing like Kobek’s writing is the only kind of contemporary writing that doesn’t feel nostalgia or confusion driven (“old man shouts at clouds”)) it’s unlikely there’s much out there to match this.
Only Americans Burn In Hell is, let’s be blunt, fucking brilliant.
Only Americans Burn In Hell was published in 2020, here in the UK (typing that phrase caused a very urgent waive of suicide ideation, but as I’m already dead inside by being here it seems relatively pointless to be dead outside too 😜) by the very mixed-bag mainstream indie Serpent’s Tail, and in the US by what all evidence (except an easy-to-find direct statement) tells me is Kobek’s own press, We Heard You Like Books.
Why is no major publisher pushing, promoting and lauding the only English language writer I’ve encountered who is producing ground breaking, post (“post” as in “in the time of”, not “post” as in “after”) digital ubiquity, literature?
It’s because – something I forget a lot (which is helped by the fact that I avoid people as much as possible) – most people interested in/invested in literature are empty headed conservative bores. I mean, that’s true for many things in many places, but in the UK & America, it’s very much a dry kinda person who’s into books. (I heard Tories like books, innit?)
But where are the people who want literature to continue to evolve and develop while still remaining a written, visual and vital medium?
Those people are not working at major publishers, are they?
No. No, they’re not.
But they do exist! They are in the world!
And one of them – maybe the best of them – is Jarett Kobek.
How to describe Only Americans Burn In Hell?
Is it a novel? Is it non-fiction? Is it an essay? Is it memoir? Is it realist? Is it fantasy? Is it satire? Is it cultural criticism? Is it comedy? Is it serious? Is it plot-driven? Is it digressive? Is it widely tight and impressively structured? Does it answer all the questions I’ve previously raised about Kobek’s weirdly not stratospheric career? Does it contain a description of documented sexual harassment Kobek received from a famous and named individual? Does it contain allusions to more famous yet not named people behaving in much worse ways? Does it contain main characters who are fairies based on the mythology of a minor Renaissance play? Does it describe the adventures of a [comparatively] woke Saudi prince?
Is it about the media and the publishing industry? Is it about Los Angeles? Is it about all the rest of the world, too? Is it about capitalism and digital ubiquity and the horrors of immortality and the horrors of a full human lifespan being far closer to immortality than it really should be? Is it about success and the importance of dignity, pride and a sense of self and a word I can’t quite remember which is important because I don’t have any – INTEGRITY, lol, I genuinely forgot it, which is not ironic as I lost any and all I had when I moved back to a country I fucking despise and-
Kobek has integrity. Kobek has creativity. Kobek writes as if the internet exists (because it does) and he uses every fucking literary tool that has been perfected over the past four thousand years (longer?) of the written word to sing from the printed page.
(Oh, and the answer to all of the questions I didn’t answer above is yes. Only Americans Burn In Hell is about all of those things.)
Am I being hyperbolic? No, I’m not, I’m accurately describing the potency, power and importance of Only Americans Burn In Hell.
If literature as an art form is to survive and be valid as art rather than as commercial product, then this is exactly the kind of book that needs to be written and needs to be read. This is the first time in a long time I read a book and thought “I wish I’d written that”. I very rarely feel envy, I trained myself as a way to avoid bitterness, but I went so far that I—
ASIDE: the last book I read that I wished I’d written was People I’ve Met From The Internet by Stephen van Dyck and I have already written a kinda similar book to that, the woefully underread hip-hop-o-crit – buy now from Broken Sleep, it is – at minimum – structurally interesting
I’m going round in circles here, but the message is simple and the message by now should be clear: Only Americans Burn In Hell may be a book that only Jarett Kobek could have written (because a lot of it is about Jarett Kobek), but is a book that you – whoever you are, wherever you are – should really really really really really really get round to reading.
Only Americans Burn In Hell is good, it’s excellent, it’s better than I’m making it sound. You’re probably cleverer than me, reader (you have chosen to read TriumphOfTheNow.com so you’re clearly a person with taste and education), so you’d probably enjoy it even more than I did, as I’m a mere bumbling simpleton who doesn’t really count!
Only Americans Burn In Hell is excellent.
Only Americans Burn In Hell is perfect.
Only Americans Burn In Hell is the best piece of prose currently available in English. I think.
Why are you still here? Go, go, get to Kobek!!!!!