Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Vanishing Point

Maybe what memoirs offer us is another fiction: that of understanding. By reading memoir we can pretend to comprehend a life. Which means our lives have meaning, a thing that we might extract and present to God if and when we have the chance to do so. And if others can step back from their lives and can process them as stories, as effects with traceable causes and rising actions and epiphanies, then we are convinced we might also do so.
--Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir by Ander Monson.

I liked Vanishing Point. I'd been wary of it ("Not a Memoir" sounds rather pretentious and unnecessarily rebellious, doesn't it?), but it won me over. Monson's voice is amiable and endearing, funny and casual, insightful. At least that's what I think; a peer spoke of the book's "pomposity and douchebaggery."

This is a book of essays, with different subject matters, different styles, and even different formats and fonts. However, books of essays don't sell so Monson had to make the essays talk to each other, allude to each other, build off each other to some degree, like they're chapters. So you can read the individual essays, but reading straight through ain't a bad idea.

There's an essay on artificial food flavoring that was fascinating and oddly appealing. There's an essay on YouTube (and I'm assuming that since you're reading my blog you're a fan of YouTube culture, probably a nerdfighter). There's an essay on the Biggest Ball of Paint in the world. There's an essay on Dungeons & Dragons (I think you'd appreciate it, Katie) (bonus points because Monson alluded to musician Final Fantasy). Scattered throughout there are essays of what Monson calls assembloirs, assembled memoirs, chapters filled with nothing but quotes from assorted memoirs gathered together to make a whole. I thought assembloirs were a good idea, but these chapters were actually my least favorite in the book.

And through all these chapters Monson is examining the genre of memoir, it's points of failure and its appeal. He's examining solipsism, the obsession with I, both in American culture and in memoirs.

I didn't like all the essays; some I skimmed through. But some I very much liked. If you read only one essay from this book, read "Transsubstantiation." I very much recommend it. Especially if you have an interest in food.

If you want a taste of Monson (and I think you do!) but don't have the book at hand, read one of the first incarnations of his essay "Solipsism." The essay evolves and expands each time it is reproduced, from internet to print, from website to magazine to book. I read its fourth incarnation, and it was one of my favorite essays of Vanishing Point.

One last fun fact: Monson uses the word queue an awful lot for being an American.

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