I loved this book. I loved how its stories are meaningful but also speckled with Miranda July’s dry humor (“As with the whole-grain bread, Carl did not initially leap into the idea with enthusiasm”) that stops them from ever being too pretentious. I love that these stories are about relationships that don’t always work. I love that July’s characters undergo real emotional turmoil. I love how there are things about these stories I don’t understand, and that I’m OK with that. Finally, I love that this paperback comes in five different colors and that mine happens to be orange.
Demetri Martin’s wordplay-filled humor translates ridiculously well to book form, as this collection of drawings and short humor shows. His best pieces expose absurd situations with exaggeratedly forthright reactions (a man obsessed with speaking into a megaphone, a Rashomon-esque recount of a bee sting that includes inanimate objects) while the least successful ones run with simple concepts far longer than necessary, such as the list of bugle performances that all include reveille or the protagonists’ hospital where male action heroes get treated for superficial wounds. Fortunately the hilarious far outweighs the lame, making this book a damned funny read.
Things I learned from reading/rereading these four stories:
- In the original tale, Aladdin, far from being a purehearted street rat, is an “idle, careless” boy who through the adventure of the lamp becomes a responsible, skilled adult man.
- The forty thieves dismember Ali Baba’s greedy brother into four separate pieces so that the local cobbler has to sew him back together, which is badass.
- The Sinbad stories are kind of repetitive, and made me want to watch the Ray Harryhausen films.
- Like in all good stories, servant girls are always more clever than their masters.
This 600-page tome from the McSweeney’s journal packs a hard punch—not just because of how much they’ve crammed inside, but because the writing is straight-up good. There’s a comics section, a play starring three cavemen, an account of a NASCAR weekend by a man who knows nothing about racing, a list of facts about Spokane, Washington, two stories based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s notebooks, and a scattering of 20-minute fiction. Extra points go to the fine design: the dustjacket folds out into a poster and the bonus materials include a box of postcards and colorful booklets.
In general, I enjoy collections (short stories or essays) less than novels because the act of repeatedly beginning anew is less fulfilling than starting a single story and following it to the end. That said, 2013 was a good year for essays, and Strayed’s selections are astute. My favorite ones (about a tour through a Nazi storehouse, a highway serial killer cold case from the 1980s, and a new mother watching her neighbor’s infant through a crossed baby monitor signal) hit hard, with raw, succinct power. There are some losers here, but the good ones far outweigh the bad.