The Unreality of Memory
‘A work of sheer brilliance, beauty and bravery’ Andrew Sean Greer, author of Less
‘Masterly… Her essays have a clarity and prescience that imply a sort of distant, retrospective view, like postcards sent from the near future’ New York Times
We stare at our phones. We keep multiple tabs open. Our chats and conversations are full of the phrase “Did you see?” The feeling that we’re living in the worst of times seems to be intensifying, alongside a desire to know precisely how bad things have gotten.
Poet and essayist Elisa Gabbert’s The Unreality of Memory consists of a series of lyrical and deeply researched meditations on what our culture of catastrophe has done to public discourse and our own inner lives. In these tender and prophetic essays, she focuses in on our daily preoccupation and favorite pasttime: desperate distraction from disaster by way of a desperate obsession with the disastrous.
Moving from public trauma to personal tragedy, from the Titanic and Chernobyl to illness and loss, The Unreality of Memory alternately rips away the facade of our fascination with destruction and gently identifies itself with the age of rubbernecking. A balm, not a burr, Gabbert’s essays are a hauntingly perceptive analysis of the anxiety intrinsic in our new, digital ways of being, and also a means of reconciling ourselves to this new world.
‘One of those joyful books that send you to your notebook every page or so, desperate not to lose either the thought the author has deftly placed in your mind or the title of a work she has now compelled you to read.’ Paris Review
A work of sheer brilliance, beauty and bravery. * Andrew Sean Greer, author of Less * Moves fluidly from disaster to dislocation to political upheaval, offering a kind of literary road map to our tumultuous era. * Kirkus, starred review * With poetic precision, The Unreality of Memory lays bare the truth, beauty, and pain of living in our era. Examining disasters both manmade and natural, Gabbert's essays perform a beautiful autopsy of our fears, showing us what it means to exist in a time of eternal apocalypse. Breathtaking in its scope and thought and captivating prose, Unreality is a necessary and vital handbook for anyone experiencing the existential dread of everyday modern life. * Lyz Lenz, author of Belabored * Wildly fun and casually brilliant, this book will make you feel happier while you're reading it and smarter once you finish. * Sandra Newman, author of The Heavens * Amid impending disasters too vast even to be perceived, what can we do-cognitively, morally, and practically? Gabbert, a tenacious researcher and a ruthless self-examiner, probes this ultimate abstraction in her essays, goes past wordless dread and comes up with enough reasoned consideration to lead us through. Do you feel-and how can you not-as if your emotional endurance is exhausted by horrors already well underway? Then you should read this book. * Sarah Manguso, author of 300 Arguments * Elisa Gabbert is one of my favorite writers, but how I wish her new book wasn't so timely! I mean this as the highest praise: I had to go lie down in between essays. * Austin Kleon, bestselling author of Steal Like an Artist * Whatever the chosen topic, Gabbert's essays manage to be by turns poetic, philosophical, and exhaustively researched. This is a superb collection. * Publishers Weekly * Elisa Gabbert's essays are always worth reading ... Not necessarily uplifting, but personally, I find reading the meditations of a brilliant writer, particularly meditations about the dread I can't shake, both soothing and invigorating. * Lit Hub * Elisa Gabbert's The Unreality of Memory is one of those joyful books that send you to your notebook every page or so, desperate not to lose either the thought the author has deftly placed in your mind or the title of a work she has now compelled you to read. The essays encompass sickness and trauma, anesthesia and memory, politics and political apathy, but owing to the force of Gabbert's attention, the book remains determinedly cohesive. Written before COVID-19 altered all our lives so irretrievably, it is also a work of uncanny prescience. * Paris Review * [A] searing essay collection that takes place at the intersection of devastation, technology, and memory. In shattering essays, Gabbert explores if and how and why certain threats register more than others, and how even seemingly immutable facts are subject to spin from our imprecise recollections. * Vulture * The true mark of a timeless book is that it feels timely no matter when you read it; Elisa Gabbert's new essay collection - full of provocative, prescient meditations about politics and illness and memory and identity- has just that kind of exquisite urgency. Gabbert looks at both the past and present to contemplate and probe at what may become our future. Unafraid to explore the darkest reaches of our minds and behaviors, Gabbert still offers a glimmer of hope amid all the anxiety and terror of our age. After all, if there's writing like this to keep us company, maybe things aren't so bad after all? * Refinery 29 * Absolutely stunning... a book for our times. * BookPage * Masterly... Her essays have a clarity and prescience that imply a sort of distant, retrospective view, like postcards sent from the near future * New York Times * The worst thing about neverending eschatological dread is how lonely it makes you feel. This book by Elisa Gabbert is like having a calm, brilliant, clear-eyed companion to talk you through your end-times horror. (I needed it.) * Lauren Groff, via Twitter * Poet and essayist Elisa Gabbert's voice is calm, playfully engaging and clear - a voice for our anxious, wired times, if ever there was one. This second book of nonfiction functions as a field guide to digital anxiety, its subjects ranging from computer-animated recreations of the sinking of the Titanic to "mirror delusions" and a history of psychosomatic disorders. Each diligently researched essay seems to evolve organically and if she doomscrolls her way down a rabbit hole, you know it will lead somewhere not just pertinent, but poetic and philosophical too. * Observer *
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