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The Unreality of Memory

9780374720339 fc
Paperback, FSG Originals, 2020
Releases 08/11/20
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Elisa Gabbert

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"Terror, disaster, memory, selfhood, happiness . . . leave it to a poet to tackle the unthinkable so wisely and so wittily."* A literary guide to life in the pre-apocalypse, The Unreality of Memory collects profound and prophetic essays on the Internet age’s media-saturated disaster coverage and our addiction to viewing and discussing the world’s ills.

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—and each new catastrophe distracts us from the last.

The Unreality of Memory collects provocative, searching essays on disaster culture, climate anxiety, and our mounting collective sense of doom. In this new collection, acclaimed poet and essayist Elisa Gabbert explores our obsessions with disasters past and future, from the sinking of the Titanic to Chernobyl, from witch hunts to the plague. These deeply researched, prophetic meditations question how the world will end—if indeed it will—and why we can’t stop fantasizing about it.

Can we avoid repeating history? Can we understand our moment from inside the moment? With The Unreality of Memory, Gabbert offers a hauntingly perceptive analysis of our new ways of being and a means of reconciling ourselves to this unreal new world.

"A work of sheer brilliance, beauty and bravery.” *—Andrew Sean Greer, author of Less

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  • "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.

    Robin Jones, The Paris Review (staff pick)"Searing . . . 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. There’s a chapter on pandemics, and yes, it is chilling."
  • 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 . . . As it stands, the book somehow manages to be a germane contribution to today’s—and tomorrow’s—conversations while still existing as an uneasy cultural artifact of a time just recently past.

    Robin Jones, The Paris Review (staff pick)"Searing . . . 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. There’s a chapter on pandemics, and yes, it is chilling."
  • 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 . . . As it stands, the book somehow manages to be a germane contribution to today’s—and tomorrow’s—conversations while still existing as an uneasy cultural artifact of a time just recently past.

    Robin Jones, The Paris Review (staff pick)"Deeply contemplative but accessible . . . Whatever the chosen topic, Gabbert’s essays manage to be by turns poetic, philosophical, and exhaustively researched. This is a superb collection." -- Publisher's Weekly"These deeply researched, prophetic meditations question how the world will end—if indeed it will—and why we can’t stop fantasizing about it." --The Rumpus"If it seems that the world is falling apart, and you think you might be losing your mind, this book is here to reassure you: it is, and you are. There can be no better companion in these bewildering times than the crystalline mind of Elisa Gabbert; she delivers the bad news with the ardor of an aria and the rigor of a clinical trial." -- J. Robert Lennon, author of Broken River "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 The Guardians"The Unreality of Memory fearlessly entertains taboo thoughts, but with the unaffected honesty of intimacy rather than the attention-seeking of a gadfly. Gabbert has the magical ability to make an essay feel like a best-ever conversation with a best friend, the kind of conversation that changes the way you think about things forever. Wildly fun and casually brilliant, this book will make you feel happier while you're reading it and smarter once you finish."
  • "Deeply contemplative but accessible . . . Whatever the chosen topic, Gabbert’s essays manage to be by turns poetic, philosophical, and exhaustively researched. This is a superb collection." -- Publisher's Weekly"These deeply researched, prophetic meditations question how the world will end—if indeed it will—and why we can’t stop fantasizing about it." --The Rumpus"If it seems that the world is falling apart, and you think you might be losing your mind, this book is here to reassure you: it is, and you are. There can be no better companion in these bewildering times than the crystalline mind of Elisa Gabbert; she delivers the bad news with the ardor of an aria and the rigor of a clinical trial." -- J. Robert Lennon, author of Broken River "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 The Guardians"The Unreality of Memory fearlessly entertains taboo thoughts, but with the unaffected honesty of intimacy rather than the attention-seeking of a gadfly. Gabbert has the magical ability to make an essay feel like a best-ever conversation with a best friend, the kind of conversation that changes the way you think about things forever. 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 Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done“Terror, disaster, memory, selfhood, happiness . . . leave it to a poet to tackle the unthinkable so wisely and so wittily. A work of sheer brilliance, beauty and bravery.”
  • "Examining disasters both man made 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. The Unreality of Memory is breathtaking in its scope and thought and captivating prose. This is a necessary and vital handbook for anyone experiencing the existential and not-so existential dread of everyday modern life."

    Lyz Lenz, author of God Land
  • “Terror, disaster, memory, selfhood, happiness . . . leave it to a poet to tackle the unthinkable so wisely and so wittily. A work of sheer brilliance, beauty and bravery.”

    Andrew Sean Greer, author of Less
  • "The Unreality of Memory fearlessly entertains taboo thoughts, but with the unaffected honesty of intimacy rather than the attention-seeking of a gadfly. Gabbert has the magical ability to make an essay feel like a best-ever conversation with a best friend, the kind of conversation that changes the way you think about things forever. 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 Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done