The Unspeakable and Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum
Best for: Those interested in some fairly dark but also interesting personal essays.
In a nutshell: Columnist Meghan Daum writes multiple essays on fairly mundane topics, but with a more unexpected voice.
Line that sticks with me: “I am convinced that excellence comes not from overcoming limitations but from embracing them. At least that’s what I’d say if I were delivering a TED Talk. I’d never say such a douchy thing in private conversation.” (p192)
Why I chose it: My sister recommended it. So far, she’s never steered me wrong.
Review: I’ve previously reviewed a book associated with Ms. Daum; she edited “Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed,” which, if I recall, I mostly liked but found the selections frustratingly focused on a particular type of childfree person. This book contains Ms. Daum’s own essays, covering topics from her mother’s death (which kicks off the book, so you should know what you’re getting into right off the bat) to the love of a dog, to career and life choices.
The topic areas are mostly relatable, but her take on them is unique in many ways. Her thoughts on her mother’s death, for example, are authentic in their honesty. She doesn’t go on and on about their special relationship, or talk about all the things she’s going to miss about her mother; she uses the essay as opportunity to talk about how complicated their relationship is.
My least favorite essay – and what I found unpleasant enough to drop this from five stars down to four – is called “Honorary D**e.” I’ve censored the slur here not because she did, but because as someone who doesn’t identify as a lesbian I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to say. But Ms. Daum doesn’t hold the same opinion, and I find this entire essay extremely tone deaf. She also uses some other words in the book that I feel she might not use if she were to write this today (such as a slur for transgender people), but who knows.
Some of the essays end anti-climatically, with sort of trite, let’s-wrap-it-up-ness, but others end with a perfect gut punch or laugh. And the essays themselves more than make up for the occasional poor ending.
My favorite essay is probably “On Not Being a Foodie,” which the quote above comes from. But I found myself relating to many of the essays, even with their ‘unspeakable’ nature.