You or Someone Like You (P.S. Series)

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Overview

Anne Rosenbaum leads a life of Los Angeles privilege: the wife of a Hollywood executive, Howard Rosenbaum, and mother of their teenage son, Sam. Years ago Anne and Howard met studying literature at Columbia—she, the daughter of a British diplomat from London; he, a boy from an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn.

When one of Howard's friends asks Anne to make a reading list, she agrees and soon finds herself leading a book club for the industry elite. But when a crisis of ...

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You or Someone Like You

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Overview

Anne Rosenbaum leads a life of Los Angeles privilege: the wife of a Hollywood executive, Howard Rosenbaum, and mother of their teenage son, Sam. Years ago Anne and Howard met studying literature at Columbia—she, the daughter of a British diplomat from London; he, a boy from an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn.

When one of Howard's friends asks Anne to make a reading list, she agrees and soon finds herself leading a book club for the industry elite. But when a crisis of identity turns Howard back toward the Orthodoxy he left behind, Anne must set out to save what she values above all else: her husband's love.

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Editorial Reviews

David Ebershoff
You Or Someone Like You is a pitch-perfect, often very funny novel about why, in this crazy world, we still bother to read. It’s for anyone who defiantly clings to the belief that a book can change our lives.”
Fresh Air - NPR
"Provocative...weighs in on the issue of identity politics and also makes a powerful case for why great books are a great danger to small minds."
Wall Street Journal
“An ambitious debut novel...suggests the literary scope of Harold Bloom and the thematic concerns of Bernard Malamud...Mr. Burr may be the scent critic for the New York Times, but the ideas he tackles in his novel are hardly airy confections...”
The Daily Beast
“...This new novel questioning the merits of religion comes as a bit of a surprise from The New York Times’ perfume critic...but Burr has proved to be much more than a hack with a good sense of smell...Chandler Burr: Renaissance man. Who knew?”
New York Magazine
“The highbrow humanist name-dropping book of the summer.”
Time Out New York
“[Burr’s] field work serves the novel well, with depictions of Los Angeles culture that feel spot-on...It’s a genuine thrill to read what people like Albert Brooks, to give just one of many examples, might think of Jude the Obscure...”
NPR's Fresh Air
“Provocative...weighs in on the issue of identity politics and also makes a powerful case for why great books are a great danger to small minds.”
Jewish Book World
“In his first, well-crafted and thoroughly enjoyable novel, New York Times scent critic Chandler Burr presents a sweeping spectrum, set in Hollywood, of contemporary religious and social issues. . . . It is well worth the read.”
Washington Post
“Chandler Burr’s challenging first novel is many things: a glimpse into Hollywood culture, an argument about religious identity, a plea for the necessity of literature. This is a roman that needs no clefs, and it’s generally an interesting mash-up.”
Flavorpill.com
“You or Someone Like You finds trend-loving Hollywood in a bookish trance and a certain studio exec’s wife as literary guru du jour....Burr’s tale touches on marital strife, prejudice, and identity struggles with intoxicating realism.”
Jerusalem Post
“Burr luxuriates in word play...You or Someone Like You is loaded with smart and sassy insights about writers and writing.”
Publishers Weekly

With this academia-obsessed novel, New York Times perfume critic Burr branches out from his nonfiction scent-based books. Howard Rosenbaum is a Jewish powerhouse in Hollywood with an Anglo-Saxon wife, Anne, whom he met at Columbia University, where they both earned Ph.D.s in literature. Now they live among "pathologically narcissistic" people with an "utter disdain for the written word." But when narrator Anne is solicited to compile a book list for Dreamworks CEO Stacey Snider (Burr weaves actual Hollywood bigwigs into the tale), the list becomes a small book club, then morphs into a huge gathering with Anne the literary guru to virtually all of Hollywood. Anne and Howard's only child, Sam, travels to Israel, and Howard's initial delight sours when Sam is rejected by a rabbi in Jerusalem for an intensive study "program" because he is not officially Jewish and therefore "unclean." A true celebration of intellect, Burr's tale does, occasionally, misstep into a pedantic bog, but ultimately examines the personal decision each of us must make to run from, or embrace, our identity. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

A love story rolled up in literature lessons makes New York Times scent critic Burr's (The Emperor of Scent) fiction debut a truly novel work. The narrator is the incandescent, opinionated, very well read, and professorial Anne. Born in England, the child of diplomats, Anne marries the Brooklyn-born and equally erudite Howard Rosenbaum, and they produce a very precocious son, Samuel. Anne's natural sense of otherness, heightened by her Jewish in-laws' lack of enthusiasm at their marriage, is further stretched when Howard accepts a studio executive position and moves the family to Los Angeles. Anne struggles to find a niche for herself, finally meeting success the moment she sets up a book club at the behest of a couple of Howard's colleagues. Anne's brilliance in running this salon fuels Hollywood's boundless hunger for the next great screenplay. Soon Anne is dividing her book readers by film industry types, multiplying the number of groups, and her business is born. What of the love story? The differences of faith between Anne and Howard surface after their son returns from a trip to Israel, and Anne must work her literary magic to retrieve their love. If only for the lessons in linguistics and literature, this is recommended for all fiction collections.
—Sheila Riley

Kirkus Reviews
In this fiction debut, journalist Burr (The Perfect Scent, 2008, etc.) offers the tale of a movie executive's wife leading a book-discussion group. Anne Hammersmith met Howard Rosenbaum at Columbia University, where they both received their doctorates in English literature. Soon after graduation he got an opportunity to produce movies in Hollywood, and after negotiating some difficult fertility issues, they had a son, Sam. Eventually Anne is able to indulge her love for literature in an unusual way, by starting a book club for people in the movie industry. This would seem to be an uphill battle, for even though the air is full of talk about scripts, as one of Howard's acquaintances informs Anne, "Nobody reads in Hollywood." Anne is one of those people able to discern literature's connections to her own life, so the books she chooses for the discussion group serve as a commentary on her family relationships and social position. Tolstoy on dinner parties (in Anna Karenina), Auden on "namelessness" and identity in the modern age, George Eliot on anti-Semitism and what to do with one's life (in Romola) all elucidate Anne's increasingly frayed social and domestic bonds. Sam, a preternaturally precocious boy who grew up doting on the clever wordplay and allusions of his literary parents, as a teenager reveals that he's gay, but also becomes increasingly interested in the religious heritage of his father. Howard, previously a thoroughly secular Jew, begins to move toward orthodoxy, which both hurts and frustrates Anne. The religious divisions Howard erects are barriers to their marriage, she contends: "If you are now a Jew and I am now a Gentile, you have now placed me in a fundamentallydifferent category of human beings from yours. We are divided."A savvy novel that deals with Hollywood from a cultural rather than a tabloid perspective. Author tour to Boston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C. Agent: Eric Simonoff/Janklow & Nesbit
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061715679
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/8/2010
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 319
  • Sales rank: 1,457,354
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Chandler Burr

Chandler Burr is the New York Times scent critic and author of The Perfect Scent, The Emperor of Scent, and A Separate Creation. He has written for the Atlantic and The New Yorker. He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

You or Someone Like You

Chapter One

It is 4:18 a.m. when I realize Howard has come home.

I watch his outline in the still, dark bedroom stripping off the trousers of his navy suit, stained with sand and Pacific salt water. After a moment, I ask, Who has the life he wants?

He says nothing, standing in the shadows. I say, Wystan Auden did, one could argue.

Howard cuts in, "We're not fucking talking about Auden, Anne."

I am, I say with a calm I do not at all feel, talking about Auden.

We wait in the dark, in the silence, and I realize Howard is crying, his shoulders shaking beneath his stained, unbuttoned dress shirt, the tie gone, his chin down almost to his hairy chest, bobbing up and down with every sob, his eyes closed, his fists clenched. I am so stunned I cannot move for a moment, this big man in his underwear, crying, but then I jump out of the bed. I take him in my arms. He is large enough that his jerky, rough sobs push me back and forth, as if I was grasping an oak in a storm.

Howard, I say. Howard.

He is wiping his nose on his sleeve. He turns away from me.

"It's bad," he finally says, his back to me.

I retreat the tiniest bit. What do you mean, bad?

"No," he says. "I mean it's really bad. I've thought a lot about it."

He fills his lungs, and he looks out and down over Los Angeles. The fury in his head and the pain that almost cripples him baffle me. He frowns, turns his eyes from L.A., and I watch him riding it out as they wash through him. They push him, shipwrecked, onto some distant mental shore. After a moment he manages to say, "I can't help feeling like I did somethingwrong."

I say after the briefest moment, You mean we.

He doesn't reply. Then he says, "No, actually I mean I."

Too small for a commercial flight, out the large dark windows the taillights of a tiny plane draw a dashed line across the sky.

I hear the "I." I feel something very cold start to climb.

The suddenly strange man who is my husband says, "There was something wrong before, and now I see it." He raises a hand like Caesar and adds in a loud voice, "Don't argue with me, Anne."

His anger is gasoline vapor filling the room.

I already know, of course, what the anger is: I am now, for him, a different kind of person. Howard discovered this only recently, when he picked Sam up at LAX after our son's flight home from Israel. Simply by telling him what had happened in Jerusalem, the boy made Howard realize that Sam, too, is a different kind. It was inadvertent—Sam, who is asleep down the hall, never intended to lead Howard to the conclusions that have brought him to standing here in the dark, covered in sand and half-naked and sobbing—but inadvertent hardly matters now.

I watch Howard get the suitcase down from the walk-in closet, go to the dresser, and start taking out the soft white T-shirts Consuela folded yesterday. On my bedside table I look at my Modern Library W. H. Auden: The Collected Poems. I was reading it last night as the hours ticked by and Howard didn't come home. I have selected it for my next book club—the studio executives—for one very specific reason: Unlike Howard, Auden, the adamant universalist, saw all ­people as the same kind. He called the human species "New Yorkers," and to him they were, otherwise, nameless.

I hear Howard murmur. I have to focus on it to clarify the words. "There's something missing, Anne."

I cast about for the thing to say. I say, as quietly as if I'm afraid of shattering something, There was never anything missing before.

He merely breathes for a moment, wincing. Then, "There is now."

He is walking to and from the suitcase in the shadows. The sun will be up in about fifty minutes. I hear his feet.

Howard, I say.

(I can't bear the silence.)

Oh, Howard! I implore him, please talk to me.

"It's not necessarily rational," he says, his eyes on the things in his hands, and adds, his jaw tense, "To you that means it's suspect. I used to feel that way. Now I don't."

As he packs, he begins to speak about having left an island long ago and wandering in the wilderness but the little island never forgot him, about a home that he betrayed, about a man in exile (in exile? I ask; in exile from what, Howard? but he doesn't stop), and about longing without realizing he was longing—and my saying, How can you long without realizing it? and his digging in his heels at this, putting his head down, his voice rising by several decibels as if sheer willpower could win the argument.

He wraps some black shoes in felt. There is a suit bag. He is leaving our home.

Who will you be staying with? I ask.

He is struggling with the suitcase. "I'll be in touch," he says through gritted teeth, working on the lock. He snaps shut the case, hefts the suit bag. Glances heavily at the dresser to check that he hasn't forgotten anything.

Who will you be staying with?

It takes an instant for his feet to begin to move.

I hear his footsteps going down the hall. The kitchen door opening, a moment of auditory void, then the sound of it closing. An eternal period, and the car's powerful German engine wakes again, calm mechanical equanimity. I listen to the recessional down our driveway. The faint sound of gravel crunching under tire comes through the open window, then the engine, the car leaps forward, and Howard vanishes into what is left of the night.

The movie cliché is the woman reaching out her hand, touching his pillow, and only then remembering. But I, when I wake again, find by contrast that my brief sleep has been entirely drenched in a blue distillate of his departure, such that even awake I confuse waking with sleeping and believe dreams to have become merely mundane. Unlike in the movies, there is never a single instant I don't know that he's gone.

In the silent living room (the sky is pale white-blue now) I search the vast, clean, neat shelves for a large dark-blue children's book. The search is merely movement, an attempt to rein in the vibration of my emotional state. I am a very rational person, even though I am at the moment, not altogether rationally, searching up and down for this children's book that is at the moment incidental.

I have a thought in my mind like my pulse, not under my control, and though I am shattered, the thought is crystalline, coherent: Everything that I have done has been connected. All these pieces of literature, the poetry, the novels, all of it. The lines that I spoke to express what I felt instead of using my own words because, to me, the authors were just better. And that connection, that thread, was, in every case, Howard. Now that Howard is gone I realize with a terrible clarity that the quotations were really always and only my way of talking to my husband. Throughout the book club I was speaking to them, yes, of course, and everything I said was meant for them, but it was also meant for Howard. This narrative, this conversation I have had with Howard from the very start, if it was imperfect and at times obtuse and, most recently, interrupted, it was entirely our own. And those authors' words: When I used them, Howard always interpreted them the way I did. Or I thought he did.

When Sam was a very small boy, I would open the tall French doors of our house up in the hills from which we looked down over Los Angeles and sit him next to me and read to him from a big dark-blue children's book of Bible stories, one my mother had found at Camden Market when I was a girl in London, called The Lord Is My Shepherd. I read all the stories to him, as my mother had to me, but his story, and Sam made clear the possessive, was Samuel's.

"?‘Hannah was barren,'?" the story began.

(It means she couldn't have children, Sam. She wanted to, so very, very much; she wanted a little boy, like you. But she couldn't.)

"?‘And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life.'?"

The Lord answered Hannah's prayers. "?‘And she called the boy Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the Lord. And Hannah took him to the temple in Shiloh and gave the child to Eli, the priest. And the child Samuel grew on.'?"

"The sleep part!" Sam ordered, four years old, looking at the book. (I heard a laugh and looked up. Howard was leaning against the doorway, amused. He uncrossed his arms briefly to make a saluting gesture, "Yes, sir!")

You or Someone Like You
. Copyright © by Chandler Burr. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.\
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Customer Reviews

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( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 26, 2009

    Sounded Good...

    ...but didn't live up to its promise. From the description, I thought this book would be a compelling read. Instead, I found myself struggling to get through it, even putting it down for a week and then picking it back up again. There's nothing wrong with the plot itself; it's an interesting story. But I found the characters to be stereotypes, and not written well enough to make me care about what happened to them. I give it 2 stars for the plot.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This is a very thought-provoking character driven tale

    Jewish Howard Rosenbaum and Christian Anne Hammersmith met at Columbia when both were Ph.D. candidates in literature. They moved to Los Angeles when he became a movie producer and they have a son Sam. Both still love books, but in LA-LA land everyone seems to have "disdain for the written word" except in a script or an exposé bio.--------------

    Dreamworks CEO Stacey Snider hires Anne to compile a book list for a book club. She selects classics that reflect how she sees her life especially her relationships. Soon everyone who is in wants Anne to pick their next book to read as she becomes more popular in the literary realm than Oprah. Sam goes to Israel to study, but is rejected by the rabbi in charge of admissions as being "unclean" because his mother is a gentile.------------

    This is a very thought-provoking character driven tale that will have readers admire and emulate Anne with reflection on our lives. Interestingly as Sam turns deeply into his father's religion, Anne feels like an outsider kept from the tent by her spouse, her son, and the rabbis in American and Israel; she feels at best second class. YOU OR SOMEONE LIKE YOU is a fabulous deep contemporary that uses literature as an entrance into the soul of Anne the narrator.------------

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 17, 2010

    Who we really are

    I picked this book up because the idea of a book club in Hollywood was intriguing, but that is really just a wonderful plot device. The ideas this book raises about culture, identity, and being true to oneself sort of blew the top of my head off by the end.

    It's not an easy read, but it is a rewarding one.

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  • Posted October 30, 2009

    Pretentious

    This novel is pretentious, ignorant, and downright insulting. The main character is extremely cold, and, by the end of the book, insulting to a entire religious group. The author should have given us the point of view of some of the other characters. Constructing an entire book around this bitter, unlikeable character was a huge mistake.
    Also, it is glaringly obvious that the author is bitter about things that happened in his own youth, and decided to channel his feelings through this character and write a novel about it. That was a waste of time, and I advice against anyone wasting their money on this piece of junk.

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  • Posted June 23, 2009

    Very thought provoking

    I really enjoyed this novel for several reasons. It seemed very adult. The choices, decisions and actions of the characters seemed considered and realistic; never maudlin or overwrought. The literary components were stimulating and the word choice often challenging. Lastly, as a non-religious person, many of my feelings were echoed in Anne's character.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted August 26, 2010

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    Posted January 18, 2010

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    Posted August 1, 2009

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    Posted October 31, 2010

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