Monday, June 22, 2015

Book Review: The Other Serious

The Other Serious: Essays for the New American Generation
By: Christy Wampole
Published By: Harper
Publication Date: July 7th, 2015
Page Count: 288
Source: ARC Kindly Provided By Publisher
Audience/Genre: Adult Nonfiction
 Buy it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.

One of the nice things about collections, essay or otherwise, is that if you don't like one entry, you know a new topic is right around the corner, or page. Wampole's collection absolutely covers a WIDE variety of topics, from sterilization to hipsters, but I found nearly all the essays fell short of the "whimsical" collection promised in the synopsis.

There are a few gems in this collection, namely the essay ("You Have No Power Over Me") on the gender bias in the movie, Labyrinth. The collection is worth it to read just that essay. The second essay, an interesting take on hipsters, sarcasm, and generational connections, was much easier to digest than the introduction and first essay, but like many of the pieces, it lost me with 5-ish pages to go. The essay about patina is great, perfect length and an interesting slant on aging. The essay on Southern Niceness has a promising start and point of view, as do the essays on sterilization and awkwardness, but they suffer from focus and length issues.

The consistent problem with the entries in this collection is maintaining focus. Wampole veers off into an unrelated/difficult to believe connections in many essays when it would've been better to wrap up an already well reasoned, well presented, and well substantiated claim. In several cases the essays would have benefited from a shortening the length by just a few pages or splitting the essay into two distinct topics. For example, a Mac vs PC essay turned into an essay about slackers, the Southern Niceness essay turned into a commentary on social and economic classes. In each essay, both topics work and I enjoyed Wampole's take on them, but the length at which they're developed lends itself to separate essays. The topics and her point of view are worthwhile reads, but know going in you may abandon or skim to get the heart of the essay. ;)

Summary via Goodreads

An original collection of incandescent cultural criticism, both whimsical and personal, full of practical insights and paradigm-shifting advice for how to live a considered, joyful existence in our era of fiber optics and hipster irony, by a Gen-X Princeton professor and contributor to the New York Times.

The essays in The Other Serious examine the signature phenomena of our moment: the way our lives contradict themselves, how exaggeration and excess seep into our collective subconscious, why gender is becoming more rather than less complicated, and how we interact with the material things that surround us. It is a book about the delicacy and bluntness of American life, about how pop culture sticks its finger deeply into the ethical dilemmas of our time, and how to negotiate between the old and new, the high and low, the global and local, the sacred and the profane. At the heart of these reflections lies a central question: What should you do when you don’t know what to do?

Taken together, these essays comprise a razor-sharp critique of “the administrativersity” of contemporary American life—the idea that we exist in a constant state of escapism and self-protection, fearing confrontation and embracing randomness and absurdity. These pieces investigate the writer’s own way of thinking—putting forth new ideas, questioning them, and urging the reader to adopt the same spirit of re-examination. Full of sage advice and staggering insights, The Other Serious offers us a new understanding of the everyday.

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