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"Terror, disaster, memory, selfhood, happiness . . . leave it to a poet to tackle the unthinkable so wisely and so wittily."* A literary guide to life in the pre-apocalypse, The Unreality of Memory collects profound and prophetic essays on the Internet age’s media-saturated disaster coverage and our addiction to viewing and discussing the world’s ills. We stare at our phone "Terror, disaster, memory, selfhood, happiness . . . leave it to a poet to tackle the unthinkable so wisely and so wittily."* A literary guide to life in the pre-apocalypse, The Unreality of Memory collects profound and prophetic essays on the Internet age’s media-saturated disaster coverage and our addiction to viewing and discussing the world’s ills. We stare at our phones. We keep multiple tabs open. Our chats and conversations are full of the phrase “Did you see?” The feeling that we’re living in the worst of times seems to be intensifying, alongside a desire to know precisely how bad things have gotten—and each new catastrophe distracts us from the last. The Unreality of Memory collects provocative, searching essays on disaster culture, climate anxiety, and our mounting collective sense of doom. In this new collection, acclaimed poet and essayist Elisa Gabbert explores our obsessions with disasters past and future, from the sinking of the Titanic to Chernobyl, from witch hunts to the plague. These deeply researched, prophetic meditations question how the world will end—if indeed it will—and why we can’t stop fantasizing about it. Can we avoid repeating history? Can we understand our moment from inside the moment? With The Unreality of Memory, Gabbert offers a hauntingly perceptive analysis of our new ways of being and a means of reconciling ourselves to this unreal new world. "A work of sheer brilliance, beauty and bravery.” *—Andrew Sean Greer, author of Less


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"Terror, disaster, memory, selfhood, happiness . . . leave it to a poet to tackle the unthinkable so wisely and so wittily."* A literary guide to life in the pre-apocalypse, The Unreality of Memory collects profound and prophetic essays on the Internet age’s media-saturated disaster coverage and our addiction to viewing and discussing the world’s ills. We stare at our phone "Terror, disaster, memory, selfhood, happiness . . . leave it to a poet to tackle the unthinkable so wisely and so wittily."* A literary guide to life in the pre-apocalypse, The Unreality of Memory collects profound and prophetic essays on the Internet age’s media-saturated disaster coverage and our addiction to viewing and discussing the world’s ills. We stare at our phones. We keep multiple tabs open. Our chats and conversations are full of the phrase “Did you see?” The feeling that we’re living in the worst of times seems to be intensifying, alongside a desire to know precisely how bad things have gotten—and each new catastrophe distracts us from the last. The Unreality of Memory collects provocative, searching essays on disaster culture, climate anxiety, and our mounting collective sense of doom. In this new collection, acclaimed poet and essayist Elisa Gabbert explores our obsessions with disasters past and future, from the sinking of the Titanic to Chernobyl, from witch hunts to the plague. These deeply researched, prophetic meditations question how the world will end—if indeed it will—and why we can’t stop fantasizing about it. Can we avoid repeating history? Can we understand our moment from inside the moment? With The Unreality of Memory, Gabbert offers a hauntingly perceptive analysis of our new ways of being and a means of reconciling ourselves to this unreal new world. "A work of sheer brilliance, beauty and bravery.” *—Andrew Sean Greer, author of Less

30 review for The Unreality of Memory: And Other Essays

  1. 5 out of 5

    julieta

    I loved this book! I hadn't read Gabbert, and knew nothing about her, and I found her way of thinking and following those thoughts provoking and just brilliant. This is just great essay writing and will definitely look for more books by her. Truly recommended. I loved this book! I hadn't read Gabbert, and knew nothing about her, and I found her way of thinking and following those thoughts provoking and just brilliant. This is just great essay writing and will definitely look for more books by her. Truly recommended.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Vincent Scarpa

    A fucking phenomenal collection of essays from one of the most engaging and perceptive thinkers I’ve ever come across. I’m a Gabbert completist and I think this is her best book yet. So, egg on your face if you sleep on it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Basia

    4.5. This will be a lasting book. Sure, Elisa Gabbert's essay on the next pandemic, published almost two years before our current global sickness, left me windswept and chilled. But so did Gabbert's essays on past/impending disasters and how we respond (or fail to), news overload, insomnia, the pathology of "hysteria," compassion fatigue, and how we see ourselves (or again, how we fail to). Gabbert taps into a wire live with the disorienting buzz of 21st century life, albeit with a sometimes diz 4.5. This will be a lasting book. Sure, Elisa Gabbert's essay on the next pandemic, published almost two years before our current global sickness, left me windswept and chilled. But so did Gabbert's essays on past/impending disasters and how we respond (or fail to), news overload, insomnia, the pathology of "hysteria," compassion fatigue, and how we see ourselves (or again, how we fail to). Gabbert taps into a wire live with the disorienting buzz of 21st century life, albeit with a sometimes dizzying amount of quotes and references. Still, this is a book I look forward to rereading for its candidness, confessions, questions and surprises.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I devoured this. rtc

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sam Glatt

    An absolutely mindblowing collection of essays that I started at 5:30am on the front stoop of my apartment and finished at 3:30pm in my bedroom. I don't remember the last time I was so truly taken by an essayist's thoughts, experiences, and perceptions, so as it fall so deeply into their world. Of course, as everyone else has already pointed out, these essays have an eerie prescience about them, which makes reading them right now (even though they were previously written over the last several ye An absolutely mindblowing collection of essays that I started at 5:30am on the front stoop of my apartment and finished at 3:30pm in my bedroom. I don't remember the last time I was so truly taken by an essayist's thoughts, experiences, and perceptions, so as it fall so deeply into their world. Of course, as everyone else has already pointed out, these essays have an eerie prescience about them, which makes reading them right now (even though they were previously written over the last several years) all the more intriguing. The throughline of these essays is perhaps best defined as "Well, what can we really do?" when it comes to the inevitable cataclysms that surround our day-to-day lives, and have permeated throughout history and will continue to infect our lives into the future. Gabbert leans into this question in every single essay with her own brand of wit and humor (or perhaps, rather than meaning to be funny, she is simply leaning into the absurd nature of the inevitability of disaster) and does so in a way that calms and soothes the reader, even in the face of the horrors that exist within her explorations. Some will find comfort in these essays, some will likely be horrified by them. The sure thing is that you won't forget them, and you won't be able to stop reading them.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Maya Sophia

    Just an absolutely fantastic collection of essays. I loved how it was written, I loved how Gabbert synthesized so many different disciplines, and her arguments were clear and well supported. I find things on the nature of mind and perspective to be so fascinating and so this was just right up my alley. My favorite essays were all five in the first part about disaster and our ability (or rather lack thereof) to conceptualize disaster (thanks for reminding me of The Big One, which as a Seattleite Just an absolutely fantastic collection of essays. I loved how it was written, I loved how Gabbert synthesized so many different disciplines, and her arguments were clear and well supported. I find things on the nature of mind and perspective to be so fascinating and so this was just right up my alley. My favorite essays were all five in the first part about disaster and our ability (or rather lack thereof) to conceptualize disaster (thanks for reminding me of The Big One, which as a Seattleite I do my best to completely ignore), The Little Room, and The Vanity Project.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    It’s so unfortunate that the release date of Elisa Gabbert’s collection of essays “The Unreality of Memory” is August 11, 2020, because as I was reading the ARC in March 2020, I never felt so strongly how appropriate a book was for the current zeitgeist; I was overwhelmed and even a little unsettled by how prescient and eerily of-the-moment her words were. When I requested “The Unreality of Memory,” I knew nothing about Elisa Gabbert or her work; I was simply intrigued by the promise of “provoca It’s so unfortunate that the release date of Elisa Gabbert’s collection of essays “The Unreality of Memory” is August 11, 2020, because as I was reading the ARC in March 2020, I never felt so strongly how appropriate a book was for the current zeitgeist; I was overwhelmed and even a little unsettled by how prescient and eerily of-the-moment her words were. When I requested “The Unreality of Memory,” I knew nothing about Elisa Gabbert or her work; I was simply intrigued by the promise of “provocative, searching essays on disaster culture, climate anxiety, and our mounting collective sense of doom.” And of course I didn’t foresee that the kind of worldwide pandemic that Gabbert describes in an essay called “The Great Mortality” was imminently upon us. But as I sped through the book’s earlier essays about disasters such as the Titanic, the Challenger and Columbia space shuttles, and Chernobyl, I was carried along on Gabbert’s page-turning prose straight to our current disaster, the Covid-19 pandemic. Referring to the book “Pandemic” by Connie Goldsmith, Gabbert notes that “Goldsmith lays out how five global trends—climate change, disruption of animal habitats, increased air travel, crowding and megacities, and overuse and misuse of antibiotics—all increase the risk of a pandemic” and quotes Goldsmith as saying that “Scientists do not yet know what will cause the next pandemic. It could be a new bacterium that resists all available medications. Or it could be a mutated virus to which people have no immunity. What scientists and epidemiologists do know is that human activity is largely responsible for the spread of disease.” Never for me has a book been more perfectly suited to the moment I read it in than this one. To say that this is a pandemic book, however, is to grossly shortchange it. Gabbert is curious about so many things—psychology, witchcraft, the concept of pain, compassion fatigue—that each of her essays on these varied subjects is bracingly intelligent and insightful. I found myself highlighting practically half the book, but these quotes in particular are staying with me in this moment: “I feel this way all the time now. Nothing is safe. Everything’s fine.” “To be clear, I do worry that civilization is doomed. (The word “worry” seems inadequate; I almost wrote “believe.”) But I’m not sure the doom will occur like a moment, like an event, like a disaster. Like the impact of a bomb or an asteroid. I wonder if the way the world gets worse will barely outpace the rate at which we get used to it.” And maybe most of all, the final words of the book: “ [A]s long as there are books and a couch to read them on, we’ll be okay, we can be happy.” Many thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing me with an ARC of this title in return for my honest review. I will recommend it to absolutely everyone.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    What pretty much every review has said about this book, that it feels borderline prescient, doesn't quite do it justice. To poorly paraphrase from Don Delillo's Paris Review interview, when he was asked why his writing has often been dubbed as prophetic/prescient, his response was along the lines of "I pay attention to world affairs every day;" he studies history, he pays attention. Elisa Gabbert is someone who pays attention, who does her due diligence with every topic she explores. She is neit What pretty much every review has said about this book, that it feels borderline prescient, doesn't quite do it justice. To poorly paraphrase from Don Delillo's Paris Review interview, when he was asked why his writing has often been dubbed as prophetic/prescient, his response was along the lines of "I pay attention to world affairs every day;" he studies history, he pays attention. Elisa Gabbert is someone who pays attention, who does her due diligence with every topic she explores. She is neither a scientist nor a psychologist, but she has proved throughout her young career to be an excellent thinker and skilled researcher. This is her second essay collection; she has three books of poetry to her credit as well. What you get from a poet who writes prose equally well is the ability to make connections between the exterior and interior world of humanity that others would not think of, and that is the unique accomplishment of this book that makes it great. The book starts with an essay called "Magnificent Desolation," and it covers in about 20 pages a broad spectrum of manmade disasters, ranging from the sinking of the Titanic, to 9/11, to Chernobyl. It's the broadest, most meandering essay in the collection, but it is the perfect opener because of the way it broaches the themes that weave through the remainder of the book. The final two essays of Part 1 (the book is divided into 3 parts), address global warming and pandemics, and they are perhaps the essays that make this book seem so tailor-made for our current situation. They make mention of what scientists call "slow violence," things that are happening on such a large scale (global warming, pandemic) that we can't see them with our naked eye, and psychologically our tendency is to disregard it while simultaneously feeling unnerved. My two favorite essays in the collection are back-to-back in Part 2: “Vanity Project” and “Witches and Whiplash.” The former addresses the topic of reflections and how we identify ourselves by how we recognize ourselves in the mirror, and the various ways in which mental disorders such as dementia distort our ability to recognize ourselves, and what we lose because of it. It’s an essay I’ve thought about off and on for years since it was originally published in 2016, and have probably read 6 or 7 times. I’m not entirely sure what draws me to it, partly because of what draws me to Gabbert’s writing overall. She doesn’t try to go over your head at all; she writes as though having a conversation over dinner. She shows just the right amount of personality, like one of your smartest, funniest friends who is trying to explain something important to you. I have regularly had the sensation while reading Gabbert that I have had similar thoughts, but was not able to put them to words. That’s another significant aspect of her writing talent, her subject matter is completely relatable, but nobody else can put it into words like she can. The other essay, “Witches and Whiplash,” which covers the history of “hysteria,” conversion disorder, the centuries-long witch hunts of Europe vs. the Salem witch trials, collective emotion (what drives groups of people to blame plights on smaller things, like witches, instead of bigger things, like the environment), and so forth. I am not doing it justice with this description; it’s a great essay. Despite their bleak subject matter, these essays soothed me in their analysis of the way humans process, have processed, and may continue to process man-made disasters. There are repetitions of certain details throughout the essays partly to remind us that some things are just too big for us to process adequately. Much of what we refuse to let in is blocked out in order to protect our incredibly fragile sense of self, which can also be lost in an instant. But instead of giving us more reasons to be afraid, Gabbert instead pushes towards the conclusion that none of us are alone in these loneliest of times.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tessy Consentino

    It’s like these essays were written just for me.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chad

    Fantastic group of essays focusing on our cultural obsession with disasters; climate anxiety; compassion fatigue; and mostly, how we live in a day and age where social media doomscrolling has taken over our psyche and distorted our sense of history and reality. Just about all of these essays were written during 2016-19 including one about pandemics and viruses which was simultaneously fascinating and terrifying to read given our present circumstances living in the age of coronavirus. Gabbert’s wr Fantastic group of essays focusing on our cultural obsession with disasters; climate anxiety; compassion fatigue; and mostly, how we live in a day and age where social media doomscrolling has taken over our psyche and distorted our sense of history and reality. Just about all of these essays were written during 2016-19 including one about pandemics and viruses which was simultaneously fascinating and terrifying to read given our present circumstances living in the age of coronavirus. Gabbert’s writing is a perfect mix of personal experience and secondary sources, I found The Unreality of Memory to be a superb read with a lot of food for thought. 5/5

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jay Sandover

    Chapter after chapter of honest grappling with fascinating contemporary subjects. 4.5 stars.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    This essay collection is smart and timely as hell. At times I felt like I couldn’t keep up with Gabbert’s thinking! It’s astonishing how prescient her writing seems- there’s an entire essay about the next pandemic 😱 Reading about how we think about disasters was distressing at times, but as I sank into the book, I found it more and more fascinating. There are tons of fantastic pieces in this collection, and it feels super relevant for These Unprecedented Times! Definitely pick up a copy and do s This essay collection is smart and timely as hell. At times I felt like I couldn’t keep up with Gabbert’s thinking! It’s astonishing how prescient her writing seems- there’s an entire essay about the next pandemic 😱 Reading about how we think about disasters was distressing at times, but as I sank into the book, I found it more and more fascinating. There are tons of fantastic pieces in this collection, and it feels super relevant for These Unprecedented Times! Definitely pick up a copy and do some hard thinking. It’s worth it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Steven Capatosto

    I feel as if people will read this book with the light on in their car instead of going inside a parents house during a trip home. I did just that. This book presents a highly intuitive (2018 buzzword) approach to essays and (never) erroneous information. Erroneous is a fun word to use because I use it to describe conversations with newfound sexual partners. See essay regarding witchcraft. The majority of this book I read while riding the excercise bike. I wear monochromatic sweatsuits. A site to I feel as if people will read this book with the light on in their car instead of going inside a parents house during a trip home. I did just that. This book presents a highly intuitive (2018 buzzword) approach to essays and (never) erroneous information. Erroneous is a fun word to use because I use it to describe conversations with newfound sexual partners. See essay regarding witchcraft. The majority of this book I read while riding the excercise bike. I wear monochromatic sweatsuits. A site to see? Not like Zion or a west coast sunset; but more comparable to seeing a license plate that says in all capitalized letters “DROP OUT.” Would this license plate be more/less fragile if the written word was in French? Idk, nor do I care. Also, I can’t stop thinking about how/when people choose to wear either white/navy/black t shirts as their go-to. I forgot gray. I didn’t manage to not converse about AOC tonight. Tonight I was happy to answer. 2020! The collection of essays regarding the vitality of sleep deprivation and visual vanity of oneself are amongst the best collection of thoughts put together on paper. Gabbert is a star. Without looking up her pedigree I can merely assume her education/experience has been worth every penny and painful experience. Required reading of the highest pedigree.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Allie

    Damn, girl 🔥🔥🔥

  15. 5 out of 5

    Andre Bagoo

    Nothing is safe. Everything is fine. — Elisa Gabbert. EVERY TIME I look at myself in the mirror I now think of Elisa Gabbert. Specifically, I think of her essay ‘Vanity Project’, which deals, literally, with how we see ourselves— included in this essay collection. “Photos often capture unfamiliar angles, but taken head-on, like a mug shot, they show us our true face, not the reversed face we see in the mirror. It’s the reflection that’s inaccurate.” Plato’s Cave looms large in this book. It’s a com Nothing is safe. Everything is fine. — Elisa Gabbert. EVERY TIME I look at myself in the mirror I now think of Elisa Gabbert. Specifically, I think of her essay ‘Vanity Project’, which deals, literally, with how we see ourselves— included in this essay collection. “Photos often capture unfamiliar angles, but taken head-on, like a mug shot, they show us our true face, not the reversed face we see in the mirror. It’s the reflection that’s inaccurate.” Plato’s Cave looms large in this book. It’s a compelling assemblage of science, social theory, memoir, history, and philosophy that reminds me of another poet, Marianne Boruch, who once observed, “Both poetry and the essay come from the same impulse—to think about something and at the same time, see it closely, carefully, and enact it.” What Gabbert thinks about will freak you out. Just as the individual has trouble reckoning with self, in these pages humanity seems stuck in a kind of denial on a range of catastrophes that could easily end it all. So on the unfolding climate catastrophe, “we’re like the proverbial frog in a pot of boiling water, lulled into inaction” (that “we” is also persuasively deconstructed and critiqued in a later essay). On the terrible fallout from contagion, “it was war with no enemy”. On the assumption of the world as a benign, benevolent, albeit mysterious, thing, “the earth is not a vengeful God—just an indifferent one.” Even on the media the insights are jarring, “What about the ethics of consuming the news?” Gabbert’s arguments are rigorous and accute, reminding me of Heathcote Williams in how the gradgrind transforms into something mesmerising. At the same time, her vantage point often folds inwards in a kind of wry deprecation acknowledging the limits of knowledge itself. Along the way, she draws on figures as diverse as Susan Sontag, Carl Schmitt, Einstein, Winston Churchill, her husband, her friends who send her links. Essays are studded with social media references and punctuated with images. One essay is like a chaplet: divided into smaller related sub-chapters. The range is seamed together by a strong sense of the Gabbert herself. Of all the existential threats we face none are more likely to exterminate us than climate change, she worries. The book closes on a profoundly complicating note that only a poet could write: “This point in history does feel different, like we’re nearing an event horizon. How many times can history repeat itself?… Even the first time we live through X, we are already experiencing our warped version of X.” While the Global North demurs, the Caribbean has already begun to pay a price for climate change and so I also recommend this for #ReadCaribbean. (Tituba also makes a surprise appearance.) When I look back at my memories of 2020, this book will be forefront among them. Forgive the pun: it’s unforgettable.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca H.

    I loved Elisa Gabbert’s essay collection The Word Pretty, so I had confidence this would be good, and it is. It’s a fascinating look at disasters past and present, and, although written before the current pandemic, is eerily relevant. Even more than a book about disasters, it’s a book about how we think about them. Gabbert discusses the ways our minds make sense—or fail to make sense—of large-scale catastrophes like climate change and personal experiences like physical and emotional pain. She wr I loved Elisa Gabbert’s essay collection The Word Pretty, so I had confidence this would be good, and it is. It’s a fascinating look at disasters past and present, and, although written before the current pandemic, is eerily relevant. Even more than a book about disasters, it’s a book about how we think about them. Gabbert discusses the ways our minds make sense—or fail to make sense—of large-scale catastrophes like climate change and personal experiences like physical and emotional pain. She writes about the Titanic, Chernobyl, and the Challenger and Columbia shuttle crashes. She contemplates memory, hysteria, witch trials, compassion fatigue, and more. Gabbert is an intelligent, companionable, trustworthy guide through some of our worst personal and collective experiences. https://bookriot.com/new-nonfiction-b...

  17. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Jackson

    At some point in the last month, the author or the name of the book must have popped up in a social media newsfeed or podcast (now since forgotten), and I must have jumped onto my library's website to immediately reserve it. Whatever its source, the recommendation was an excellent one; the name or cover of the book would not have stood out to me if seen on a shelf, but the book's content is stand-out thought-provoking, often arresting. The essays in the book explore a range of questions, such as At some point in the last month, the author or the name of the book must have popped up in a social media newsfeed or podcast (now since forgotten), and I must have jumped onto my library's website to immediately reserve it. Whatever its source, the recommendation was an excellent one; the name or cover of the book would not have stood out to me if seen on a shelf, but the book's content is stand-out thought-provoking, often arresting. The essays in the book explore a range of questions, such as: What is so compelling about disaster, and how do we understand/interpret it? What is the sociology behind preparations and response, and can we trust human perceptions in this regard? How do we deal with the onslaught of disaster reporting that is today's news cycle? Gabbert wrote the essays in the lead-up to and aftermath of the 2016 US election, which was unquestionably a disaster for many. In reflecting on the questions above, she gets into everything from the sinking of the Titanic, to witch trials, to anaesthesia and consciousness. The book offers no answers to the questions, but provides great material to help us contextualise disaster in our own lives.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Zuri

    I haven’t read Gabbert’s poetry, but after hearing her read at a few book events this year I was interested in reading some of her work. I listened to the audiobook (not read by the author) and it is a great collection of essays about disaster (from Chernobyl to earthquakes), and disease (not even including our current pandemic, which was wild to listen to), witch hunts, insomnia, beauty, true crime, global warming... Gabbert is a great writer and the essays are wonderful, I learned a lot and ou I haven’t read Gabbert’s poetry, but after hearing her read at a few book events this year I was interested in reading some of her work. I listened to the audiobook (not read by the author) and it is a great collection of essays about disaster (from Chernobyl to earthquakes), and disease (not even including our current pandemic, which was wild to listen to), witch hunts, insomnia, beauty, true crime, global warming... Gabbert is a great writer and the essays are wonderful, I learned a lot and our communal obsession with the end of the world isn’t something I’ve really dwelled on so it was an interesting topic for this well written collection. I listened a while ago though, so I can’t remember my fave essays..

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jill Mackin

    My favorite essays were on the subject of disaster culture.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Greg Bem

    What an epic and exquisite collection of essays. I've never before been a page-turner of nonfiction, perhaps beyond the occasional lyrical essay, but Gabbert's keen mind had me swimming through rivers of ideas and enjoying every moment. This was my first of her books, and won't be my last! What an epic and exquisite collection of essays. I've never before been a page-turner of nonfiction, perhaps beyond the occasional lyrical essay, but Gabbert's keen mind had me swimming through rivers of ideas and enjoying every moment. This was my first of her books, and won't be my last!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia Arrieu-King

    This book wrestles with all the bigger questions we long to discuss, to explore, but which we are all too exhausted to contemplate and pursue. I think I saw Gabbart say on Twitter that she'd quit Netflix and suddenly she was getting a lot of writing done. I personally appreciate the scrupulous research and the unflinchingness with which she addresses the quality of evil, and the Umwelt, what we can know. This book wrestles with all the bigger questions we long to discuss, to explore, but which we are all too exhausted to contemplate and pursue. I think I saw Gabbart say on Twitter that she'd quit Netflix and suddenly she was getting a lot of writing done. I personally appreciate the scrupulous research and the unflinchingness with which she addresses the quality of evil, and the Umwelt, what we can know.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Elaina

    Oh I adore this book. It's not an easy one, the topics are heavy especially against the backdrop of what feels like so many slow disasters coming to a head but this was a great read. It's so well researched and well articulated. It feels like the perfect blend of Gabbert's own meandering thoughts and concerns and careful tellings and retellings of disaster stories and psychological phenomena. Check out my favorite review of the book, which is much better than mine: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08 Oh I adore this book. It's not an easy one, the topics are heavy especially against the backdrop of what feels like so many slow disasters coming to a head but this was a great read. It's so well researched and well articulated. It feels like the perfect blend of Gabbert's own meandering thoughts and concerns and careful tellings and retellings of disaster stories and psychological phenomena. Check out my favorite review of the book, which is much better than mine: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/11/bo...

  23. 5 out of 5

    shelby

    this essay collection was so brilliant and smarter than me that i feel the only way i can review it is by obnoxious blurbs, so here goes: brilliant, tastefully nuanced, thought-provoking and thought-challenging; a must read!!!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bridget H

    This collection of essays felt like a taxonomy of worries that already keep me awake at night, so naturally, I read The Unreality of Memory right before bed. My boyfriend would see my face and ask with concern, "What are you reading about now?" Catastrophic climate events (superstorms, tidal waves, something called a caldera which WILL haunt me forever), disastrous manmade accidents (the Titanic, Chernobyl), and plagues (this particular essay was somehow penned in a pre-Covid world). I actually This collection of essays felt like a taxonomy of worries that already keep me awake at night, so naturally, I read The Unreality of Memory right before bed. My boyfriend would see my face and ask with concern, "What are you reading about now?" Catastrophic climate events (superstorms, tidal waves, something called a caldera which WILL haunt me forever), disastrous manmade accidents (the Titanic, Chernobyl), and plagues (this particular essay was somehow penned in a pre-Covid world). I actually felt a sense of relief when I reached the essays in the second half of the book that focused on comparatively soothing topics like memory, insomnia, the effects of trauma on the body, and the 2016 election. Despite all of this, Gabbert, who is intensely perceptive and able to conjure some killer prose, does not seem like the type of person who becomes immobilized or nihilistic by the encroaching end of the world. (She does seem like she would be fun to awfulize with at a party, but we are birds of a feather). Instead her work seems like an essential first step, not even in combatting climate change, but in recognizing its reality-altering effects. By mining our long history, she imagines a resilient (although unimaginably different) future in spite of impending catastrophe. And so despite finishing this book with several newly adopted lifelong fears and anxieties, I resolve to do the same.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Charlie Mumford

    Incredibly relevant and spectacularly written and researched. Intensely good.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jon Paul Roberts

    A stunning, if not terrifying, collection of essays about our responses to major disasters and inevitable doom. The writing is so crisp and smooth that I didn't care that it was putting the fear of god into me, because damn it was so good. A stunning, if not terrifying, collection of essays about our responses to major disasters and inevitable doom. The writing is so crisp and smooth that I didn't care that it was putting the fear of god into me, because damn it was so good.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ml Lalonde

    Elisa Galbert has a talent that few people have. She takes an incredible amount of data and synthesizes it into a clear, compelling and engaging essay on a variety of topics. She weaves her personal story through it in a seamless and compelling way. This is a must-read for the pandemic, particularly around disaster. I was one essay in and already thinking about who should read this. @Wendy Jackson, this is one for your list.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Leif

    Thoughtful personal essays on the limits of consciousness that take into their wings the imponderables of climate change and political decay as well as the historical bones of hysteria, empathy, trauma, memory, and other such structures of feeling, thought, and identity. Compulsively readable.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Very thought-provoking book of essays about memory, the appeal of facial symmetry, the effect of disaster on human psychology, human behavior in groups, pandemics (pre-2020), and the lack of human response to "big" but non-dramatic problems, like famine and global warming, as opposed to more dramatic short-term disasters like fires, floods, etc. (ones that lend themselves to TV). Like: we are enraged at SOME cases of human trafficking, sweatshops, and other ways in which people are taken advantag Very thought-provoking book of essays about memory, the appeal of facial symmetry, the effect of disaster on human psychology, human behavior in groups, pandemics (pre-2020), and the lack of human response to "big" but non-dramatic problems, like famine and global warming, as opposed to more dramatic short-term disasters like fires, floods, etc. (ones that lend themselves to TV). Like: we are enraged at SOME cases of human trafficking, sweatshops, and other ways in which people are taken advantage of and treated inhumanely. Yet we don't seem to mind the same practices that likely go into producing the smartphones we are all addicted to. We are masterful hypocrites. It's a really fascinating set of musings on human foibles that got me thinking, and thinking, and thinking... in a good and slightly disturbed way. The ways in which humans are flawed is uncountable.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    I was baffled and frustrated by this book. Overall, the author seems very well-read, but these essays didn't bring additional insight to the sources and at times seemed unclear, imprecise, and unformed at best, and misleading at worst. This was the quote that led me to put the book down*: "It made me think of a conversation I had years ago with an ex-boyfriend, a physics major, who told me that temperature is not as simple a concept as it seems. It is not synonymous with heat or energy, he said. T I was baffled and frustrated by this book. Overall, the author seems very well-read, but these essays didn't bring additional insight to the sources and at times seemed unclear, imprecise, and unformed at best, and misleading at worst. This was the quote that led me to put the book down*: "It made me think of a conversation I had years ago with an ex-boyfriend, a physics major, who told me that temperature is not as simple a concept as it seems. It is not synonymous with heat or energy, he said. Temperature, essentially, is what thermometers measure. I never really understood this, but I think about it often. Or maybe I should say, what I think about is the elegant way the construction reduces what we understand." - I would be happy to have a more in-depth probing of this thought - how is temperature reflective of energy? What does it mean to our thinking when we narrowly consider the world based on what we can measure? How does this influence and limit us? Maybe advocates of this collection would say that's what this book does. But to me, this quote stands for the book itself - notes on topics that other people have thought about a lot, and works that the author has read, but has never really understood. My comments are likely nit-picky, but I could not stop thinking this way at every turn in the book: "An Associated Press photo dubbed “The Falling Man” captures one of these jumpers: a man “falling,” as if at ease, upside down and in parallel with the vertical grid of the tower. (It’s a trick of photography; other photos in the series show him tumbling haphazardly, out of control.)" - Is it a "trick" of photography to show a single still/image? Maybe this was the case when photography was first invented, but I think it's an accepted feature of the medium now. After a long and thoughtful quote from Theodor Adorno about "survivor's guilt, sometimes known as concentration-camp syndrome" (which, already, is a strange framing): "This syndrome, along with post-traumatic stress disorder, goes some way toward explaining why so many Holocaust survivors have committed suicide." - DOES IT?? And wait, how many/what fraction of Holocaust survivors committed suicide??? Why is this statement here, and then immediately abandoned? Writing about reactions to 9/11: "Jonathan Franzen wrote: Unless you were a very good person indeed, you were probably, like me, experiencing the collision of several incompatible worlds inside your head. Besides the horror and sadness of what you were watching, you might also have felt a childish disappointment over the disruption of your day, or a selfish worry about the impact on your finances, or admiration for an attack so brilliantly conceived and so flawlessly executed, or, worst of all, an awed appreciation of the visual spectacle it produced. I find Franzen’s moral hierarchy here questionable, that “worst of all” most puzzling. Because to me, more than worry, or admiration (!), the most natural and undeniable of reactions would seem to be awe." - I find the author's writing here puzzling - even if "the most natural and undeniable of reactions would seem to be awe," that is not, to me, contrary to the fact that it the reaction can be terrible. And my reading of Franzen's comment is not that the response was just "awe" but "awed appreciation." The author alludes to Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster and then says "As a whole, Alexievich’s book is stunning, but difficult to take." I mean, I can't disagree with that, but it's also an incredible book, and of course a book about Chernobyl should be difficult to take!! I would send a reader to that book rather than the essay in this collection. "(Seattle’s weather in July is uncharacteristically perfect: The sun was streaming through the tall windows; it wouldn’t set, and then gorgeously, until after 9:00 p.m.)" - wait, why is this uncharacteristic? Is this based on the idea that Seattle is always rainy or has "bad" weather? But... it's not usually rainy there in the summer... so why is this uncharacteristic? "With diseases, prevention is better than cure—there’s no cure for polio, so we need the vaccine. " What does this mean? What is "better" in this context - at a public health level? Is it "better" to prevent HIV infection than to cure it? Wouldn't both be valuable? If there is a "cure" available for something, is prevention still better? "More to the point, I can’t imagine a scientist or philosopher in the twenty-first century worrying about the eventual fate of the greater universe. A different kind of heat death—global warming—is a far more imminent existential threat." - Really? The author can't imagine this? I guess this is not meant literally, but this seems very short-sighted. Clearly there's lots of thought on non-imminent existential threats. This just made me think about an excellent book on this very topic: The End of Everything. "The United States spent huge sums of money on a campaign to eliminate malaria in the so-called Third World—an act of charity, in a way, since malaria was not a threat in affluent countries." - Yikes. This is broken down a little bit afterward but... eek. There ARE a few nuggets in the book that I liked, mainly gleanings from other works. I was enjoying this passage: "William Wordsworth’s long poem The Prelude, in which the poet recalls rowing a boat, at first in peace and then with dread, under a “craggy ridge” that appears at first “an elfin pinnace” but seems to grow and even chase him as he rows away. This impression is due, Morton writes, “to a strange parallax effect in which more of a suitably massive object is revealed as one goes farther away from it.” and then it's soon followed by a mention of a really cool-looking book, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, with a cover described as "like a science museum diorama by Thomas Kinkaid." This genuinely confused me - I wondered who Thomas Kinkaid was - someone who made cool dioramas?? Sounds neat! Well the only Thomas Kinkaid I could find was this guy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_... so I guess it's supposed to be Thomas Kinkade but...why would the cover look like one of his works? I guess because there are sunbeams in it? But it's a huge iceberg, not a cozy house or trail or anything associated with Kinkade... This last issue is obviously petty, but clearly this book was just not for me. *after seeing other reviews mention how prescient this book was (having been written prior to COVID19) and that it quoted Dr. Fauci, I did have to read the rest of that essay!

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