The first time I tried to write a review for this book, I was going to stick to the facts. I was going to marvel at what a coincidence it was that I’d read T.H. White’s The Once and Future King only a few weeks before this (review here) and comment on my mixed feelings towards its author. I was going to draw comparisons to Moby-Dick and the daemons in His Dark Materials. I’d planned to wax philosophically about how the hawk functions as a mirror in the narrative, reflecting Macdonald’s own emotions back at her, cutting her hands with its razor sharp edges.
The second time I was going to comment on how, even though my own father survived his heart attack earlier this year (which I touched upon in my review of Pyramids), I still felt that I could relate to her story of loss and bewilderment in a way that I would not have been able to before. I would have brought in other memoirs of loss, including personal favourite Heaven’s Coast by Mark Doty, and knowing me, there probably would have been a reference to the Book of Job at some point.
But the picture still felt incomplete. It felt dishonest. The truth is that I could not have picked up this book at a better (or worse) time; as I was reading about Macdonald’s mourning process and her struggle to train a goshawk, I was sinking deeper and deeper into a hole of my own, clawing at the walls, unable to find my way out.
Picture Credit: Der Irische Berliner.
Dave Eggers and I go way back. It all started when one of my friends got me A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius for my twentieth birthday – I fell in love instantly. In a very short period of time, I bought You Shall Know Our Velocity, How We Are Hungry, The Wild Things, and even hunted down a secondhand edition of Short Short Stories in a desperate attempt to keep my Eggers momentum going for as long as possible. The only book that was left for me to read was What Is The What, just one more… But I couldn’t bring myself to read it. If I finished that novel, there would be no more Eggers for me to read, and I couldn’t bear the thought of it. For some reason, seeing that book in stores, knowing that it was right there, waiting for me, was comforting. There was still one left.
As years went on, Eggers kept writing and publishing books, but I still couldn’t bring myself to read his new work. At university, I had spread my wings as a reader and I was afraid that I had built him up too much in my head, that I wouldn’t be nearly as impressed now as when I was younger. Would the thrill be gone?
I think I finally understand the true meaning of the phrase “one step forward, two steps back.”
Don’t get me wrong: this is not a bad book – even worse, it is disappointing. Stiefvater showed me in The Dream Thieves that she can create something exciting and thoughtful, but where this previous installment in the Raven Cycle series was focused and coherent, Blue Lily, Lily Blue is all over the place and flies right past a few crucial loose ends without looking back. The two-star rating is harsh, but it comes from a place of love, because I know that this could have been so much more.
Celebrity memoirs are a curious thing. They are usually written by people who are not writers, heavily edited by the publisher (again: not writers), and tend to be strictly paint-by-numbers works. There is a certain formula the public expects you to follow and all you have to do is fill in the blanks.
My childhood was _____ because my parents were _____. I grew up in _____ but always longed for something more. I discovered my passion for _____ when I was _____. I got my big break when I was ____ and now I am best known for ____. Working with ____ was absolutely amazing and I totally fangirled when I bumped into ____ at the ____ awards. So embarrassing! Anyway, here are some pictures of me as a kid. Look at that hair. What is up with that hair?
In many ways, Yes Please follows this script to the letter. Poehler writes about dreaming of adventure as a child, discovering the joys of improv comedy in college, working on SNL and Parks and Recreation, and drops a fair number of names that either mean something to you or go completely over your head, as expected. However, where this book gets interesting is the chapters where she goes off the beaten path. Whether you will enjoy this work depends on how you feel about Poehler, of course, but also on your expectations of the comedy memoir.
This book reminded me a lot of a That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch where David Mitchell is planning out the next episode of their show: “I think it should go: hit, miss, hit, hit, miss, miss, miss, hit, miss, hit, hit.” When Robert Webb asks him why they even have to include the misses (because they are such a bother to write), Mitchell replies that they have to “perversely include about 50% deliberately unamusing material” because that is what people expect from a sketch show.
B.J. Novak’s One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories reads a lot like a sketch show, consisting of one “wouldn’t it be funny if” scenario after the other: what if an Ugandan war lord went out on a date? What if there was a Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela? Appropriately, One More Thing has about 100 pages of misses that could have, and should have, been cut.