Cover Image: The Observable Universe

The Observable Universe

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๐™„ ๐™ ๐™š๐™š๐™ฅ ๐™ฉ๐™๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™ ๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™œ ๐™–๐™—๐™ค๐™ช๐™ฉ ๐™๐™ค๐™ฌ ๐™ฉ๐™๐™š ๐™ก๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™š ๐™›๐™ง๐™ค๐™ข ๐™ฉ๐™๐™š ๐™ก๐™ž๐™ซ๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™œ ๐™ฉ๐™ค ๐™ฉ๐™๐™š ๐™™๐™š๐™–๐™™ ๐™ž๐™จ ๐™Ÿ๐™ช๐™จ๐™ฉ ๐™ฉ๐™๐™–๐™ฉ, ๐™– ๐™ก๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™š, ๐™ฉ๐™๐™š ๐™จ๐™ข๐™–๐™ก๐™ก๐™š๐™จ๐™ฉ ๐™ค๐™› ๐™จ๐™š๐™ฅ๐™–๐™ง๐™–๐™ฉ๐™ž๐™ค๐™ฃ๐™จ.

The Observable Universe is memoir that leaves me with a disjointed feeling just like grief and trying to make sense of life does. The directions for how to read the book tells us it is an album about grief, โ€˜every fragment like a track on a recordโ€™โ€ฆ the writing is beautiful, but the subject is painful. Where are the ghosts of oneโ€™s history hiding, why is fate a pointed gun aimed at some people and a shower of blessings for others? Is it all chaos? How do we know people who disappeared from our lives, who death took, before our most formidable moments? What happens to the organic matter that they were made of? How in the hell do we observe life, let alone ourselves? Can we grieve a connection, a thing we never had? Must we be content with grasping at ghosts, trying to make sense of fragments that canโ€™t provide us the entire picture?

Aids has run parallel to artist Heather McCaldenโ€™s life, its emergence in1981 (she was born in 1982) and her parentsโ€™ death from AIDS-related complications in the early nineties. She writes about viruses, โ€˜they have changed us, and we have changed them,โ€™ and the rise of the internet (the same can be said about that strange world). The hunt for lineage is one thing, but how do we know what someone thought, felt, how they truly lived with stale facts? Raised by her grandmother Nivia, they were of different natures, a woman who was steely, and intelligent but โ€˜had no time for poetry.โ€™ Artifacts from her mother and fatherโ€™s lives were scarce, the things her grandmother kept were useless, like the crumbling make-up. It was an erasure, and it wasnโ€™t until her grandmotherโ€™s death that any artifacts that remained could truly be dug up, researched but often to dead ends. How can one locate moments that happened before they were born? It is heartbreaking to know more about what killed them than to know about oneโ€™s own parents but that is a large part of what haunts this memoir.

The journey I have been on, in reading this book, is living a moment inside an artistโ€™s mind. One who has lived years without the anchor so many of us take for granted, who has been absorbing grief and trying to find connections between viruses, โ€œthe spread of ideasโ€, what going viral means, its power, the entity that is a place that both exists and doesnโ€™t- not really, itโ€™s not of flesh, but then neither is our memories. It is a collage that includes society, dreams, history, the future, the past, investigations, excavations, our instincts, preservation of ourselves and others. There is really no way to describe Heather McCaldenโ€™s book, but a crack in her heart. It evoked a strange mess of sensations in me, I found myself thinking about life, this moment right here, having been born in 1975 I too was witness to the internet, all that free information, filling us and often emptying something too. Can we rely on memory, so often a trick? McCalden spends her time throwing a line into the past, hoping to catch something that can connect her to her mother and father. What do you do with what you discover if that person is no longer around to question? To explain? There is no one to ask, her grandmother was too practical to stew in memories while she was alive, the keeper of her inheritance.

I know I do not make sense, there is so much to take in, science, art, networking, a Japanese phone booth, the dead, the living, man made worlds, disease, medicine, lineageโ€ฆ Just read it. I spent a month thinking about it all before I could attempt this review.

Publication Date: March 19, 2024

Random House


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This is certainly a unique direction to take in a memoir about grief, that reads like a history book. A well-researched one according to the eight pages of bibliography. A brief history of the internet paralleled with the evolution of a virus, interspersed with personal anecdotes of the authorโ€™s life. So many pieces to this story, but it meandered and seemed to be unconnected making it difficult to follow. Thank you NetGalley for providing the ARC.

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I ended up DNFโ€™ing after 20 pages or so. This book seems very whimsical and is a stream-of-consciousness kind of writing, but the style was not something that appealed to me at all. I hope that this book finds its community that can have its adoring fans!

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This was a beautifully done memoir, it had everything that I wanted from this type of book. It really showed the pain of losing someone to a virus and I appreciated the author sharing their story with us. It was well written and engaging.

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I am so thankful to Hogarth Books, Heather McCalden, and Netgalley for granting me advanced audio and digital access to this title before it hits shelves on March 19, 2024. I really enjoyed the dialogue and narratives of this book and look forward to more of this artist's work to come.

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Rating: โญโญโญ
Genre: Nonfiction

The Observable Universe is a melancholic and poignant memoir that explores the evolution of the AIDS virus and the internet in parallel timelines. In the early 1990s, the author suffered the loss of her parents to AIDS and became an orphan at the age of ten. Her grandmother in Los Angeles then took care of her.

The connection between HIV and the internet is interestingly made through the use of multiple mediums, like scientific studies, TV shows, Wikipedia, and other studies. Along with all this, the author put a lot of her own experiences into this to make it more personal.

I believe that the most appealing aspect of this book is the author's willingness to expose her unfiltered vulnerability, which allows readers to be drawn into her world. Her examination of how she deals with grief comes across as genuine and sympathetic. The use of parallel narratives is another one of the bookโ€™s strengths in this situation. It is something so unique that I have not read anything like that before.

However, where this memoir suffers is in its pacing. There are times when the story wanders off course and loses its concentration. There are some sections that could be improved by more stringent editing. In addition, it took me some time to start putting things together and getting used to the flow of the narrative in this instance. A few more narrowly focused topics would have been of great assistance. Regardless of the cons, this is still a fascinating memoir.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC of this book.

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The Observable Universe by Heather McCalden is a beautifully written memoir.
Such a compelling and thought provoking read.
I really enjoyed McCaldenโ€™s writing. And the more I read I became more emotional throughout.
A wonderful nonfiction novel that sucked me in.

Thank You NetGalley and Random House & Hogarth for your generosity and gifting me a copy of this amazing eARC!

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Thought-provoking and brilliant. I was a little confused at times because of the structure of the book, but I ended up appreciating that in the end. I can recommend this.

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A really beautiful and exploratory piece of fragmented memoir. Formally dynamic in a series of brief vignettes, McCalden manages to use conversational prose to weave between the history of the internet, the history of viruses, and her own complicated personal history. This book feels both reminiscent of other similar modern writers who balance complex research with personal history in the format of vignettes (I imagine this work will find itself in conversation with Maggie Nelson), but there was something fresh and unique about its exploration of science as well as the exploration from the point of view of a non-expert. McCalden is neither an epidemiologist nor is she a computer programmer or internet historian, she is a writer on a personal mission. The fact that she acknowledges and does not shy away from that fact makes a lot of this work and adds to the underlying narrative and the readability. I did have to put this one down and pick it up a few times, and I am going with 4.5 stars instead of 5 (rounded up to 5 stars on netgalley) simply because it didn't 100% come together for me as a book I see myself returning to over and over. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful work, one I would recommend.

Thanks NetGalley and Hogarth/Random House for the early look!

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a fragmentary exploration of grief and the concept of the virus, both online and in the body. it follows a lot of different threads (many of the sections being only a paragraph or a few pages long), discussing virology, the history of the internet, her own memories, and detective tv shows. and the book is her own foray into detective work in a way - both of heather mccaldenโ€™s passed away from HIV/AIDS when she was incredibly young, shattering her life. the observable universe is her attempt to put the pieces back together and figure out who her parents were, how the disease that took them came to be, and how to cope with the reality of what she finds. 3.5 stars!

i got along really well with the longer pieces in the book and will keep an eye out for mccaldenโ€™s future work, but i did struggle to get into it at first because of how much it jumps around. i would recommend this if any of the themes sound interesting - the medical/technological themes feel unique for this kind of creative nonfiction. lots of beautiful sentences and thought provoking ideas in here.

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I wasn't in love with this book, but the idea of it was attractive. I read a ton of memoirs and this one seemed like a bunch of super short stories. I didn't make a connection with the author. Great cover though. Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.

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This book basically asks the question - how do we, as humans, deal and grow in a world that is increasingly relying on technology and yet, a real virus develops in the world and we see how easily our society can be thrown to the wolves.

This book is hard to read because there is such an undertone of everlasting sadness. It is a memoir and the author brings up some very interesting things - making me look at life after one of the most difficult periods of human life.

Pacing is good and I was engaged, including all my emotions, reading this book.

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This book is a DNF for me. I was so excited to read a novel about HIV/AIDS because I love learning more and more about it. But I could not finish this book at all because I felt that it was not organized at all. Especially with the author's writing style I just could not get into the book at all.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

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The Observable Universe is the memoir of debut author Heather McCalden. Containing compelling writing, an exploration of universal concepts and interesting parallels and ideas, and an unconventional format, I did find it to be a bit meandering in the middle, but the strong themes of identity, grief, absence and loss resonated strongly and carried me through. And perhaps it's a play on the process of grief itself, something that is too easy to get lost in, or overcome by, or to mistake it for the end in itself?

I was surprised and ultimately delighted by the unexpected golden thread that wove its way into this darker themed tapestry; a message of hope, of overcoming pain and trauma, not letting them completely co-opt one's life trajectoryโ€”and the encouragement that you too can do thisโ€”was deftly handled.
If you've grappled with grief, suffering, uncertainty or might enjoy these deftly woven together fragments in this memorable book which I had a hard time putting down and whose pieces I keep turning over and over in my mind.

Heather McCalden is an author to watch and I look forward to reading more of her work.

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