Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Essays: Because who has time for a whole novel right now anyway?

I'm part of a pretty informal online book club, and I just posted this for them. This recommendation isn't just limited to that group, however, so I'm posting this here, as well.

Well hello there, fellow book-sharers. Schmei here. (It's pronounced like "pie", which, incidentally, is something I like to eat.) Most of you know who I am in real life, but I have this delusion about trying to remain somewhat anonymous on the interwebs, so humor me.

Because I, in turn, will humor you, with my best book recommendation of late.

Over Christmas, my librarian brother-in-law, Jon, gave me a book I'd never heard of. This is always a Good Sign. Jon is a master of the well-selected book, and I'm always excited when it's a complete unknown to me.

As I hoped, he hit this one out of the park. So I'm sharing it with you, and I hope you'll have a chance to read it soon, so I can talk about it with someone other than my long-suffering husband who hasn't had time to pick it up yet.

I should note that I greatly enjoy journalistic writing, and for a brief time in a past life I considered becoming a features writer, so there's a part of me that essentially wants to beGene Weingarten, without the facial hair. And damn, people, the man can write like I've never seen before. These essays made me laugh out loud and cry... more quietly, only because I didn't want to startle people around me. The essays about his father managed to do both at once, perfectly. The final essay - and the title piece - made me think about life.

I mean Think. About Life.

(Though I have to throw out that DC is a crazier town than Chicago. Things would have been different here, I just know it. I'll leave it at that.)

Oh, and don't skip over the introduction. Weingarten gives some insight into his way of looking at life, and you can see how that informs his writing. It also offers some of the best writing advice I've seen since Stephen King's On Writing. Which is saying plenty.

I feel that I should also note this: the essay entitled Fatal Distraction - Weingarten won a Pulitzer prize for it - is extremely difficult to read. I had heard about this essay from a few folks who read it when it was originally published because the subject matter is troubling. Weingarten gives a warning before the piece, and if you have a small child in your life, or, hell, if you're human, you may have some difficulty getting through it.

But you should try. Because he manages to find some redemption there, in a painfully arbitrary, irredeemable situation.

And then he follows that up with a funny essay, because he knows what he just did to you. He's a man who respects his readers, that's what he is.

So please, go check out this book, and read the whole thing, and when you've finished, and then after you re-read a few of the essays three times (that's not just me, right?) - let me know what you think of it.

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