The Book of Formation

It starts when a journalist accepts what he believes will be a softball assignment: a profile of Mayah Isle, a powerful talk show host and the queen of a popular self-transformation philosophy called the “personality movement.”

But the reporter quickly intuits that Mayah’s adopted son Masha—who is hidden from the public—is the real story. And over the next two decades, Masha becomes a leading voice for personality transformation, and the reporter enjoys better access to him than anyone.

That access becomes an increasingly fraught position as the movement crosses into questionable legal and ethical territory, even as Masha and Mayah become steadily more famous and influential.

Artistically innovative, darkly funny, and morally complex, The Book of Formation peers into the subconscious desires of our culture, and the celebrities and spiritual leaders we believe will save us.

ROSS SIMONINI is an writer, artist and musician living in Northern California. He is the interviews editor for The Believer and executive producer of The Organist. He contributes to the New York Times, Art in America, McSweeneys, Interview and frieze. He occasionally teaches seminars on oral literature at Columbia University.

“Hypnotic, genre-bending.” —Interview

“Ross Simonini is a deductor. One who deduces — or uses deduction as a primary mode. As in — to examine the world on the basis of some set of principles and know it through their application. His truth is therefore adjacent to the truth we pretend to know. Here in The Book of Formation, self-invention, reinvention and their elaborate culture go under the knife.” —Jesse Ball, author of How to Set a Fire and Why


The Book of Formation is about the deformation and reformation of not just the three main personalities in this book, but the idea of personality, in general. This modern-day Kaspar Hauser story is told in as a series of interviews (the interview being the form we have created for the worship of personality) in a sincere and surprising attempt to come to terms with the pain of having a body, and the unnecessary burden of being oneself; and with the discomforts of being famous, loved, despised, and just an anonymous member of the audience. If you want a book unlike any  you have ever read, but like so many of the delicious things in our culture (The Oprah Winfrey show, Interview magazine) you have no reason not to begin the original, fascinating and humane Book of Formation.” —Sheila Heti, author of How Should a Person Be