How do you even start reviewing a collection of short stories/essays? Story by story? As a whole? Both? The Boring Index comes to the rescue!
Who wrote these? According to Goodreads, Meghan Daum is this generation’s Joan Didion. She’s a writer of all trades, working as a reporter, columnist, storyteller and all-round wordy person. This is her second collection of essays, but she’s also written a novel and a book about her journey to finding the perfect house.
How many essays do I need to read? There’s 10, not counting the introduction. The Unspeakable; and Other Subjects of Discussion contains essays about things people ‘shouldn’t’ talk about and most of these clock in at 20-30 well-spaced pages.
What was the least boring essay? Daum has such a strong opening with Matricide, an essay about her mother’s deathbed. The first lines are so good that I completely understand why this essay got turned into an entire collection. Her feelings towards her mother’s death are so real and unflinching, that it’s hard not to be intrigued about the essays that follow.
What was the most boring essay? I hate picking these when I really like a collection, but if I would have to pick my least favorite essay it would be ‘Not What It Used to Be’. It’s about being part of Gen X and looking back to your college years and missing that time. The essay didn’t really stick with me, so that’s why it gets to be the most boring. However the anecdote about Katie Couric, Bryant Gumbel and Elizabeth Vargas talking about ‘the internet’ and how to pronounce @ is still hilarious.
Short Story Boring Index: Thinking about The Unspeakable, I keep coming back to the word unflinching. Daum talks about all of these subjects that people don’t want to talk about in such an honest way that you will either want to slap her for being indecent or want to applaud her for opening up. I fall into the latter category, finding her honesty and matter of fact way of storytelling fascinating and inspiring. Her work made me think about what a writer ‘should’ be like, about breaking barriers and addressing subjects people are afraid to talk about. Besides finding the collection inspiring in that sense, I also found Daum to be a damned good writer. She’s funny and clever and creates the perfect mix of personal story and ‘universal message’ every single time. It doesn’t matter if she talks about playing charades with Nora Ephron and the cast of Bewitched or about how she loves her dog as much as people love their children. Even though most of us will not encounter these situations, she manages to make her story moving and touching without coming across as too amazing or cool or knowing so many famous people. Instead the whole collection feels sincere and daring and smart. This is again one of those books that makes me want to write and also hide in a corner because I will never produce anything that’s this interesting.