Tag essays

WE LEARN NOTHING by Tim Kreider 2

Dec3

welearnnothing WE LEARN NOTHING by Tim Kreider

Tim Kreider’s We Learn Nothing: Essays and Cartoons (Free Press, 2012) is a remarkable collection. There were points in every one of them where I found myself nodding in agreement and wondering how he could so consistently express my feelings, and express them so much better than I ever could (or ever have). There are essays on how hard it is always to be appreciative of simply being alive (personalized by recounting the days, months, and years following the time he was stabbed in the neck and almost died); gender (made meaningful by his account of keeping his friend, novelist Jim—now Jenny—Boylan, company for her convalescence following Boylan’s gender reassignment surgery); meeting his birth mother and half-sisters (when he was in his 40s); and an especially lovely essay, “An Insult to the Brain” about mortality that was occasioned by spending a good deal of intense time with his mother when she was in the hospital, and reading Tristram Shandy aloud to her. It’s the best analysis of and tribute to Laurence Sterne’s novel that I’ve ever read: if this essay doesn’t make more people want to read this 18th century novel I can’t even imagine what will. This is not a memoir: although we do learn a lot about the author, it’s always in the context of some larger idea. Rather, it’s a splendid example of what my old high school journalism teacher, Mr. J. Rodger Gow, described as “the personal essay.”