Essays and Elisions

We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider

Grade: B+

Tim Kreider is an essayist and cartoonist, and We Learn Nothing is a collection of essays and related cartoons. The book begins with the essay “Reprieve,” which is about how he felt about life after being stabbed in the neck and nearly dying. He writes,

Maybe people who have lived with the reality of their own mortality for months or years are permanently changed by it, but getting stabbed was more like getting struck by lightning, over almost as soon as it happened, and the illumination didn’t last. You can’t feel crazily grateful to be alive your whole life any more than you can stay passionately in love forever—or grieve forever, for that matter. Time makes us all betray ourselves and get back to the busywork of living. Before a year had gone by, the same everyday anxieties and frustrations began creeping back.

This excerpt should give you an idea of his writing style, but the essay is an exception within the collection, in a way, because the jumping-off-point is an event (the stabbing). Many of the other essays focus on people from his life, including Skelly (a good friend who lies all the time), Ken (who’s obsessed with the idea of “peak oil”), Jim who transitions into Jenny, his half sisters (unknown to him until he was in his 40s), his mother, and his Uncle Lee (the black sheep of the family). It’s an interesting cast of characters.

Kreider is close in age to me, liberal, introspective, and slightly immature, so we got along pretty well as author and reader. I enjoyed the collection as a whole, cartoons included. Sometimes I even laughed out loud and shared excerpts with my husband.

But some of the essays were too long and self-absorbed. One essay completely failed to capture my interest, and I didn’t finish reading it. There were a few times when Kreider seemed to deliberately leave out the juicy details that he knew we’d want to read (like how and why he got stabbed, for starters). So my feelings about the book are mixed, which is why I gave it a B-level grade.

On a side note, Kreider deserves special credit for using the word “elide” no less than five times within the book. I see the word often in crosswords, but rarely anywhere else, so five usages is remarkable. Bravo!

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One Response to Essays and Elisions

  1. sprite says:

    Excellent review!

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