Bad Vibes Only by Nora McInerney (Memoir)

McInerney’s memoir-in-essays takes us from her largely technology-free childhood through to the reality-TV and social media reshares infused present. A cross between Anne Lamott, Florence King, and Nora Ephron, the book is both insightful and hysterically laugh-out-loud funny. Or is it? This woman is self professedly neurotic and an incredibly intuitive writer. What I found both instructive and a little depressing is how closely some of my own neuroses match hers — reading her descriptions made me realize how incredibly neurotic (in just these TINY little ways) I really am — and maybe those aren’t quite as funny as the rest. Still, I totally laughed my way through.

McInerney is the creator / host of the podcast “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” I haven’t listened to it (because podcasts don’t unreel as fast as I can read) but I bet it’s great.

Some great quotes:

“Memory loss was a problem for future me, and I trusted she’d be able to deal with the consequences of my actions. That trust was entirely misplaced, because I’m not even forty yet and on a good day I’ll walk into a room and ask Matthew, ‘What was I about to say?’ as if he’s a searchable database with a Bluetooth connection to my brain.”

“ ‘Good Vibes Only’ makes a cute saying for a mug, but a pretty ominous interpersonal standard.”

“It doesn’t take a psychology degree to understand that some things are just more pleasant than others, and that as comfort-seeking mammals with disposable income we are attracted to the pleasant, the easy. And yes, we know that ‘life is hard’, but we also really want it to be hard in ways that are manageable and more inconvenient than difficult.”

“Because no, this is not what happens on my version of the internet, where opinions are either inconsequential (what does your coffee mug really say about you?) or authoritative, loud and devoid of all nuance.”

“I hate to describe critical thinking as a privilege, but take a look around: life is hard, and people are tired, and the small doses of camaraderie and dopamine we get from clicking “reshare” on a hot take will always be easier and more satisfying than reading a well-researched piece of reporting and thinking aloud to yourself, ‘Well, it certainly seems like a complex issue.’ “

“Our children — God willing — will grow up and move out, will establish their own lives shrinking and shifting so that we are no longer the sun but some outer planet that upon further inspection actually may just be a defunct satellite stuck in their orbit.”

“At nine she had realized that our memories are the only things keeping us here; a weak Velcro preventing us from being ripped from the history of time. We want to remember because we too fear existential obliteration, shudder at the thought of being lost to an endless sea of unforgettable moments long forgotten.”

Thank you to Atria Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on October 11th, 2022.

10:04 by Ben Lerner

Writing: 5+/5 Plot: 2.5/5 Characters: 4/5

A literary tour-de-force — fascinating, though not necessarily enjoyable, to read. Beautifully written with intriguing sub-stories and descriptive prose (social, internal and external) to rival the best. It’s very difficult to describe what it is “about.” It feels like a loosely disguised description of portions of the author’s own life, complete with self-referential discussions of selling the idea of the book to the publishers, the art scene in New York, relationships and vignettes on various inspirations that resulted in “him.” Lerner explores the boundary between fiction and non-fiction and the fact that there is no such thing as something which is fully one or the other.

The writing is the real star of the show — this was one of those books that I had to read slowly so as not to miss any of the insights or the brilliant prose. Lots of stream of consciousness, but far more coherent than Joyce or Pynchon. As individual sentences went off on tangents and lasted longer than any sentence has a right to, I found myself actually caring about what would be at the end (of the sentence). Plenty of sharp, Tom Wolfe-style social commentary, though less acerbic and more focussed inward than outward on others. A more modern and neurotic version of Proust. I had to read this book in stages — it was absolutely worth reading but definitely a lot of work.

I tried to find some of my favorite lines but it was a bit difficult to find lines that were good out of context. My favorite was a description of the moment Lerner knew he wanted to be a poet. It was while listening to Ronald Reagan’s post Challenger disaster speech. In the speech, Reagan quoted from an inspiring poem written by young flyer a few weeks before his death. When Lerner researches this later he finds that the poem was actually cobbled together from stolen bits of other poems in what he calls “a kind of palimpsestic plagiarism.” I just love that phrase.

A few of other good lines:

“She chose you for your deficiencies, not in spite of them, a new kind of mating strategy for millennial women whose priority is keeping the more disastrous fathers away, not establishing a nuclear family.”

“Art has to offer something other than stylized despair.”

“…not to mention a checkout system of radical, willful inefficiency.”

“…but I could dodge or dampen that contradiction via my hatred of Brooklyn’s boutique biopolitics, in which spending obscene sums and endless hours on stylized food preparation somehow enabled the conflation of self-care and political radicalism.”

“Most desire was imitative desire.”
Also, an astonishing number of words that were new to me:
nosological — the branch of medical science dealing with the classification of diseases.
craquelure — a network of fine cracks in the paint or varnish of a painting.
prosody — the patterns of rhythm and sound used in poetry.
poeisis — from ancient greek: the activity in which a person brings something into being that did not exist before.
chenopod — russian thistle, waterhemp, or pigweed
pareidolia —psychological phenomenon in which the mind responds to a stimulus, usually an image or a sound, by perceiving a familiar pattern where none exists.
lachrimal — something to do with tear or crying as in a “lachrimal event”