Oonagh O’Hagan I Lick My Cheese

Sphere, 218 pages, $15.95.

An alarmingly thorough compendium of that monument to passive-aggression, the roommate note, this 218-page gallery sits somewhere between found art and a panic attack. Every possible variant of dysfunctional housing is here: the late fees ("I pay the rent, what do you do?"), the food theft ("I needed that ham! Really needed it"), the bathroom filth ("whoever is pooing on the back of the toilet stop doing it"), the escalating hostility ("Hope you don't mind me cleaning your damp wank rag off the table"). Like any artifact of illiterate misery, most of these notes are too sad to be wholly funny, but once begun, the collection (which started online at flatmatesanonymous.com) is very difficult to put down. If only O'Hagan had let the communiqués speak for themselves—instead, on each page she feels compelled to insert her own lengthy commentary, which ranges from the off-topic to the asinine. She'd be a great companion if she'd only shut up.

Gordon Kerr Goners

Harry N. Abrams, 243 pages, $18.95.

The ghoulish conceit of a bathroom reader dedicated to "The Final Hours of the Notable and Notorious," as the subtitle has it, might have worked if compiler Kerr had concentrated on human behavior in the face of mortality—it could have made a light-reading companion to Julian Barnes' Nothing to Be Frightened Of. Instead, the vignettes are structured like snuff films, with each meager biography (from mob enforcer Albert Anastasia to drowned actress Natalie Wood) impatient for the money shot of a last gasp. Worse still, Brit marketer Kerr can't even provide many titillating details—the information and writing in Goners is about equal to what you'll find on Wikipedia. Actually, the fact-checking online is probably superior. With one delightful missed comma, Kerr suggests that F. Scott Fitzgerald's tombstone advocates eternal clanging: "So we beat on boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

I Lick My Cheese



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