Usually I don’t review a book I haven’t yet finished. I definitely don’t review books that I don’t plan to finish (for whatever reason). I’m making an exception here.
This weekend I started reading Kevin Brennan’s memoir-in-vignettes, In No Particular Order. Readers of this blog already know I’m a Brennan
groupie fan and I’ve pretty much snatched up everything he has written. Most of the vignettes are actually from his blog, previously published so-to-speak, so I’ve already read most of them; however, reading them as part of a collection is a different experience. Even though I remember the few I’ve read so far, having these writings in context adds a depth that one usually doesn’t get from the untethered blog post.
Before I go on to explain why I’m writing a review now, when I’ve only read a quarter of the vignettes, I do want to note that while this collection could be read in a weekend, you could also take your time with it. Which is what I plan on doing. Each vignette is only a couple of pages long. So, for example, if you have a few minutes to kill before your next meeting (and you really, really don’t want to check your email again), you have time to read one of Kevin’s vignettes in its entirety. You can read one of these vignettes in less time than it takes to smoke a cigarette (if you’re so inclined) or boil an egg or preheat the oven. So you can read In No Particular Order as fast or as slow as you like.
Now, why am I writing about this book when I haven’t even finished it?
“Everybody has at least one book in them. The book that is their own life.”
As Brennan notes in his preface, “most people’s lives don’t add up to a narrative that would interest many readers […]”; and yet, he’s managed to reflect on various experiences in his own life that, while not necessarily out of the ordinary of many others’ experiences, are still unique experiences because they happened to him, not them. In reflection he adds layers to the experience that assist the reader in understanding how even the experiences of a teen-ager shape the mature man or woman we later become. He ends his preface with the quote above and my first thought was, “Yes!”
“When you indulge in a personal nostalgia trip you have to be ready for some revelations that might shock or disturb … Understandings that you might be remembering people inaccurately, or that you weren’t as meaningful to them as they were to you.”
Throughout my life I’ve kept a journal of one sort or another. Some of the very earliest ones I either destroyed on purpose (watching it burn in the trash barrel at the far edge of our backyard) or simply lost (oh, to have that record of my first few months in California!). Reading (or trying to remember) old journals allow me to engage in nostalgia. They bring to mind people I haven’t had contact with in 40 or more years; experiences that make me pinch myself in wonder that I’m still alive. For the most part, that “personal nostalgia trip” is a precursor to an episode or two of depression. Nostalgia turns to self-berating for all the stupid decisions I’ve ever made, all the bad behavior I engaged in.
I’m taking this collection slow because of my own propensity to wallow in the past. Brennan’s writing, his reflections and remembrances, are short enough to be a jumping off point for me, if that makes sense. With a novel, I’ll get sucked into the plot and characters and their world and maybe even forget about my own world for a while. With a memoir, especially one of vignettes, I tend to reflect on my own experiences in-between. I don’t just read the vignettes; I consider them for lessons on how to look back, how to integrate (or let go of) experiences that are not fond memories. I have a tendency to dwell on the negative in my life, although …
“[w]hatever the case, here I sit now, happy as a panda in the bamboo grove, having made a series of decisions that led to a personal kind of heaven.”
Kevin could have written that for me. Despite all the negative experiences I’ve had, I’ve wound up (through no calculated intelligence of my own) in an enviable situation: happily married, a home to call my own, and a new horizon awaiting my husband and me.
So if you’re still on the fence about whether you should plunk down 99 cents for Kevin Brennan’s memoir-in-vignettes, well, all I can say is, I’ve certainly gotten a lot more out of In No Particular Order than the 99 cents I put down, and I’m not even finished.