Recent reading: Gravity, by W. Scott Olsen

A couple of days ago I finished reading Gravity, The Allure of Distance, by W. Scott Olsen. I bought it a few years ago. It called to me for all the predictable reasons. It’s a paperback. The cover shows an empty highway, a sign for Exit 0, and the kind of big-distance, big-sky terrain that felt like home the first time I saw it (and promptly got heat-induced delirium, because that was in the Mojave and it was the first time I’d spent real time in the desert, but that’s another story).


The book took me a long time to read.

It puzzled me that that was so. The writing is beautiful. The terrain described is beautiful. The author’s sense of what it is like to get on the highway and just keep going, the pull of six or eight big lanes and semi trucks running seventy or eighty miles an hour and motels in the middle of nowhere that you pull into late at night, of gas station rest stop food and diners in the middle of nowhere, seems like a relative of mine. The pull of empty roads through deserted passes, the exhilaration of steep cliffs and jagged rock formations in the middle of nowhere (but is it really nowhere, if the pull is so strong?), is familiar too.

And that’s when I realized: the trouble I had with this book is that it made too much sense to me. It was like reading the inside of my own head, or recalling my own memories. Not to say that I’ve driven the Dempster highway, or stepped over the Arctic circle, or have any desire to – I haven’t been to the Yukon, and thus far when it comes to big deserted open spaces I bias more toward heat than ice. But the mental and emotional perspective of heading for out there, of defining home as how far I can get driving in a day (how long is a day? is it from waking to sleeping? variable, then – and I recall the time I made it from Albuquerque to Indio before stopping for a hotel, then successfully negotiated a bargain because it was so late at night), makes sense to me.

So I read the book. And as I read it, I kept putting it down, because it covered territory already known to me.

Get Your Sh*t Together: A (Very Rambling) Book Review

Warning: there is benign & perhaps humorous swearing in this post. Also, this post is not about gardening.

Sometime after the Marie Kondo craze began and everyone started eyeing their socks and asking if those socks sparked joy, I encountered Sarah Knight’s The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck. I read it. I thought it was hilarious, and also incredibly on-target. It wasn’t so much making fun of Kondo’s book, as turning it into a metaphor for gently, thoughtfully, and with much profanity letting go of the elements of one’s life about which one did not, in all sincerity, give a f*ck. I considered which of my friends should receive this book as a present. I tried to read bits of it aloud to my husband, but was hampered in this by laughing too hard to speak coherently.

This brings us to 2020. 2020 has been a year when it seems impossible not to give, to borrow a phrase, way too many f*cks. 2020 has been a year that vastly overspent far too many people’s f*ck budget, including mine. Early December, and I at least cannot remember the last time I felt this exhausted.

A couple of weeks ago, I was eyeing my bookcase, looking for something suitably lightweight. Did I have any humorous graphic novels I hadn’t read? No – but I did have Knight’s second book, Get Your Sh*t Together, and it caught my eye. I took it off the shelf. I read it mostly sitting in the backyard under a tree, moving the chair around as needed to catch the sun. And once again, I kept trying to read bits of it to my husband, but found myself laughing too hard to be able to get all the way through a sentence.

Partly Knight’s writing is just funny. Partly she’s about my age, and so her jokes referencing cultural miscellanea from earlier decades just make sense to me (also the one about remodeling a house, which ends with: “buy a throw pillow. Throw it at your contractor.”). And partly –

Partly she’s right.

I’m overwhelmed. I’m tired. But the stupid thing is, I’m tired based on dilemmas and problems of my own d*mn making. Is my to-do list too long? Fine. I am a grown-up. Either I can make a plan to do the things on the list, or I can decide they don’t need doing. Use a must-do list for the things that have to be done today. Do just those things, and then move the f*ck on.

The profanity helps.

All of this is a long way of saying: the book is funny. If you’re in your early forties and you share at least some of the author’s cultural context, it might be extra funny – but I suspect it’s funny either way.

On top of that – and this is the part I hadn’t quite expected, but I live in hope and in this case it actually paid off – the book is also useful. I found myself staring at my to-do list earlier today, muttering “strategize, focus, commit.” Then I made a list of things to do, and then I did them.

And then I was done, and I stopped working for the day, and went and ate an ice cream bar.

Also known as, and for the last phrase-borrowing of this post, winning.

I recommend the book.

I’m about halfway through reading Discontent and Its Civilizations, by Mohsin Hamid, and already I want to go right out and read all the other books he mentions. Also, I want to figure out how to write like this. This is a hell of a book, in the best way!