a book about how dictionaries are made and the stubborn, chaotic, ever-changing English language. Stamper is funny and frank, denouncing most “grammar” as the preferences of a few dead white men and constantly making room for English to change its meaning and functionality (irregardless is now in the dictionary) without bitterness.
“Humanity sets up rules to govern English, but English rolls onward, a juggernaut crusting all in its path.”
Going to begin by embracing the collective you: In most books you read there’s probably something, small or large, you don’t morally agree with. But it’s likely you don’t feel the need to distance yourself from it or acknowledge it. I’ve never heard someone say, “read this book, but watch out, they steal something in chapter three and that’s uncool.”
Typically the things that are uncouth, that don’t mesh into polite society or our specific worldview, are described in a sanitized way, and especially when you’re talking about affairs, or desire, or sex in general, they’re often described from a male perspective. This book is different. It’s a little bit shocking, it’s supposed to be. But if you are disgusted by it, you’re sort of proving her right.
But really, this book is about a lot more than that. it’s about women, as people existing in the world. It’s about literature and art. It’s about marriage and affairs, and it’s about desire. It’s one of the books that strung together a lot of broken pieces that were already floating around my brain, and I think pretty much everyone should read it.
“This presumes that there’s something inherently grotesque, unspeakable, about femaleness, desire. But what I’m going through with you is happening for the first time.”
“I want to own everything that happens to me now,’ I told you. ‘Because if the only material we have to work with in America is our own lives, shouldn’t we be making case studies?'”
I love Shauna, and, simultaneously, I acknowledge that everything she writes is basically the same thing. It’s always exactly what you need to hear, though, so we can’t fault her.
This is my favorite of her books, every chapter tells the story of a meal with the recipe at the end. She managed to teach me how to make salad dressing (and that it was even possible to make salad dressing) and how be less neurotic in a single swoop. Any time I host in any capacity I perform a Shauna Niequist Mental Wellness Check: am I letting the ‘performance’ cloud the event? Am I making food I can’t pronounce the name of? Have I yelled at Caleb simply for being a living being in my spotless home? She always lets me know when I’ve gone too far.
“I’m not talking about cooking as performance, or entertaining as a complicated choreography of competition and showing off. I’m talking about feeding someone with honesty and intimacy and love, about making your home a place where people are fiercely protected, even if just for a few hours, from the crush and cruelty of the day.”
Rating: 8/10 (Actual sticky notes for actual meals I flip back to consistently)
When I first discovered entire books of essays existed with Sloane Crosley’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake during Spring Break my junior year of college (it really took me that long), it felt like a miracle. It was like blogs in a book. It was the kind of writing I wanted to do, written by the kind of authors I wanted to befriend. I read nothing but essays for about a year. But the thing about essays is that they have to be good. They either have to be very informative, very poignant, or very very funny, and either way they have to be so well written that you don’t feel like you’re wasting your time. They have to fight to prove themselves in a way that novels and traditional non-fiction get a pass on.
All that to say, this one lost the war. The first essay was electric, about her and her best friend growing up in Florida, and I wanted the rest of them to follow suit, but they were too long, too detailed. They were interesting enough topics, but she couldn’t get back to the humanity of the first essay. And it wasn’t really that much about Florida. I really wanted it to be more about Florida.
“In late August a baby was born, or, as it seemed to me, a puma moved into my apartment, a near-mute force, and then I noticed it was December.”
Rivka Galchen has the kind of name that gets stuck in your head for the rest of your life. I regularly find myself whispering it when I’m stuck in traffic or trying to do math in my head or walking to get the mail. This book has the scattered, wry puzzle piece, anecdotal feel of Lydia Davis, which you either love or you don’t really get. I would rather die a slow and painful death than deprive the world of Lydia Davis, so one can assume I fall on the love side.
So the book is about her baby, the puma, and other babies, and literature, and a lot of other things. It is good.
Rating: I originally started to put this book up here because Caleb told me that I couldn’t have all books that were rated 10/10, I had to do some that I liked less. Unfortunately, upon further consideration, this book is also a 10/10.
I, like you, have read 1,000 ways to Be On Your Phone Less. I have switched it to greyscale, I have really thought hard about turning off notifications, I have snuck off to the bathroom to check it for the 30th time to appear less rude than I was actually being. But then came this book!!!!!
It is maybe made of witchcraft, but it is witchcraft that has changed my life. All of the sudden I, who’s thumb automatically swung to Instagram every ten minutes, on the second, is sleeping with my phone in another room, has turned off all my notifications (besides messages and phone calls), and forgets that I even have a phone for large swaths of a day! The book is structured in two parts, the first part explains why you’re so addicted to your phone and why it’s so important that you become less addicted, and the second part is a 30 day plan with a small task each day that get you to Phone Freedom. I have hours on my hands that seemingly sprouted from nowhere, I feel more focused and less spacey literally all the time, I have sprouted wings and I now use them to travel instead of my car. This is sounding more and more like an infomercial, but they’re not paying me or anything.
Oh last thing! She does a very amazing job of addressing the benefits our phones bring to our lives. She’s not trying to get you to never be on your phone, or delete all your apps permanently. The goal is to get you in a relationship with your phone that is healthy and that you control.