A Woman is a Woman – 2/5
The issue with this collection is that it’s barely a collection. Like a lot of narrative nonfiction or that kind of blend of memoir and analysis, there’s an article here that was expanded into a book and that expansion weakens the overall book and waters down what was otherwise potentially something very good.
A book is a book and this is 2-3 essays and a lot of half-formed filler.
So the actual essays that form the core of this book are good, but suffer from the same kind of thing that’s been happening in publishing for a while now. Educated (mostly white) women whether they have kids in their 20s, 30s, or 40s who maybe never thought that they would have kids are now writing about motherhood as if they’ve invented it. And so while often the writing is fine and interesting, it’s almost insultingly privileged, or in the case of someone like Sheila Heti’s book Motherhood, there’s 300 page coin flip happening, and it’s directly insulting in a way.
This book is among the least of the offensive, but it falls into other traps. These traps mostly include being written in a style of personal academic analysis that is neither personal enough (too many ideas are borrowed from more realized texts or attributed to more famous writers) nor is it academic enough. This is not a study of motherhood and so the analytical texts don’t provide a lot of insight otherwise.
There’s even a point in which conventional ideas are attributed to a more famous writer in a way that almost feels like either a callout to a mentor or an attempt to garner positive favor or reviews. It’s something short of shameless.
I’m the One Who Got Away – 3/5 Stars
This is a series of narrative essays about the personal experiences of the author Andrea Jarrell. She only has about three or so but tells them in multiple ways that are often interesting and insightful and come with a mature and reflective voice.
The stories are: she had/has (it’s not clear by the end) an alcoholic abusive father who was a failed actor, she married a secret alcoholic, and she had children and a marriage.
I thought the narrative voice here was perfectly strong and adequate to the task and while many of the individual essays were in fact, this does not work as a book, so much as the total of the essays. And it’s very short, so I probably wasn’t the only one who thought so. There’s a lot of discussion of her being a hot young redhead, and maybe a little too much, throughout the book, and that can only really work when someone is older and looking back because it usually comes with the right dose of age-earned humility. And this book does have all that. I found the essays about her father to be authentic and real, but not particularly the most compelling of the book, and the essays about figuring out her marriage to a secret alcoholic much more interesting.
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much – 2/5 Stars
This is a very solid audiobook but not a great book. Like with the Larry McMurtry books on books I was also drawn by the subject matter on book collecting, the idea of how much of a potential collector I might become if I dedicated myself to it (almost not one at all actually) and I rejected that for myself. I also reject Allison Hoover Bartlett in that role. I don’t care about her that much as a narrator. She’s the least interesting part of the book and the book isn’t that long. So what I wish this book was more of was the stories of the collectors and the thief and not the story of the person who got interested in the story. It reeks of insecurities to not allow the book’s real story to tell itself and what should have been some easy reportage was squandered on this one. It’s also probably true that this is a long article’s worth of material and not a book. Larry McMurtry’s book barely holds together and he’s a famous writer and also someone who spent 30 years doing this. There’s some attempts to be The Journalist and the Murderer here, but it does not really work. So I think reading about rare books is super cool and so is thievery, but meh. So instead, I say go check out Janet Malcolm books.