Cover Image: The Unreality of Memory

The Unreality of Memory

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Member Reviews

Gabbert writes short essays on a huge range and variety of contemporary topics. She has a keen, incisive mind, and although many of the essays are kind of depressing, I implicitly trust her perspective. She's a great essayist.
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I enjoyed this book -- the initial essays about disasters are well done and the author's clear genuine curiosity about the edges of our perceived reality -- memory, consciousness, disaster -- ties everything together. There was a clear editorial choice not to update anything in light of the pandemic, which I think was probably a good move.
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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.
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Essays covering interesting topics like disasters, pandemics, risk perception, memories, hysteria, the self, and compassion fatigue. Full of solid quotes and research, but I wanted Gabbert to make more of her own points. Sometimes it felt like the first time we really heard from her was in the last few paragraphs of an essay, where she would poetically wrap things up and I'd feel slightly confused about what conclusions had been drawn. 
I thought her discussions about climate change were great ("Global warming is happening everywhere all the time, which paradoxically makes it hard to see, compared to something with defined edges. [...] How do you fight something you can't comprehend?")
The third part of the collection was the weakest; it completely pivoted to weak, unremarkable essays about how overwhelmed she was by the Trump admin, without adequate discussion of race or privilege.
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A fascinating group of essays.Thought provoking a book that made me stop and take time to think about what I just read.A book that would be perfect for book club discussions .Will be recommending.#netgalley #fsg
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This was a mind-blowing book and collection of essays.  It was so engaging and I could not put it down!
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A phenomenal look at the anxiety and fascination of disasters in society and the world at large today, I'm not a huge non-fiction reader outside of historical stuff, but I was drawn to this title immediately. And it didn't disappoint! It actually falls into my collection at the library, too, and I added it to my cart immediately. I definitely plan on telling a number of people about it as well. A must-read! It definitely helps that it is so relevant to discussing and internally reviewing so many current goings-on in the world today.
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I really enjoyed this collection. The essays are organized thematically and I found them fascinating and thought provoking. The writing really resonated with me - the pieces offer a great blend of information, opinion, and perspective. They were engaging and thoughtful. I've never been a fan of short - form fiction, but am discovering that I thoroughly enjoy short - form non - fiction!
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The Unreality of Memory is a collection of essays from Elisa Gabbert ranging several interrelated topics: disaster obsession, compassion fatigue, perception of pain, etc. It is undoubtedly contemporarily relevant, addressing Trump-era disillusionment, global warming inaction, and even pandemics. Regardless when you might be reading it on the COVID-19 timeline, this book offers a sort of out of body experience (a separate essay topic itself) into a more general context to the crisis.

Much to my delight, the author's prose flows quickly, such that it felt like I breezed through this book. I never got tired of it as I progressed (as I sometimes do with nonfiction). This title would make a great single-day read. Gabbert makes excellent usage of quotations, which I always enjoy. She also pens some excellent quips of her own. 

A compelling aspect of this work is how Gabbert is ever-aware of the seeming contradictions of the minds of society, individuals, and even herself. She's keen to interesting, what I'll call "almost summarizations." For example: "it's almost as though we're acting with a higher collective intelligence -- a hive mind, employing folly as strategy. But perhaps it's too generous to all it intelligence; perhaps it's just a mechanism, like whatever make the parasite that drives the ant suicidally up the grass blade 'want' what it wants'".

Because of the varied subject matter, I learned a little bit about a lot of topics by reading this book. But my one related, albeit small, criticism is the entirety didn't feel entirely cohesive. The book is written in three parts. The three parts are related, but there's not a whole in explicit discussion bridging between them. This is not entirely surprising, as many of the essays have appeared previously in periodicals.

Overall, this is a book I'd recommend to nonfiction readers, looking for something feels all too relevant. It is quick, insightful, and well-written.
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This essay collection, as others have mentioned, feels incredible prescient during the current public health crisis. And, the pandemic essay along with the title essay were my favorites of the collection. Others were especially difficult to read from the point of view of stay at home orders. I was new to this author’s work and would absolutely pick up her writing again.
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I expect to cover this book in my July column, assuming the pub I am writing for still exists. Anyway, it’s breathtaking and extremely timely, with an entire section on pandemics.
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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.
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I absolutely adored this book. The characters were so real that it sucked you in and made you feel a part of the story. You didn't want it to end!
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This collection of essays will really make you think about what it means to live in the times we live in now. This was a beautifully written and captivating novel. Definitely a must-read. Gabbert writes with such prose and validity that captures you.
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