I was a non-believer of Gretchen Rubin for a long time. She became famous with her book The Happiness Project, in which she realized she was unhappy and so spent a year investigating and doing things that would make her happier. Theoretically this sounds like a nice pursuit until I learned that she basically had it all already – a beautiful family, a loving and handsome and wealthy husband, a posh home in New York City, etc. I still respected her pursuit of happiness because I wasn’t about to begrudge anyone of that, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t roll my eyes at her “woe is me” situation.
This is probably one of the most underrated books I’ve ever read! I rarely hear it discussed anywhere, and think I only discovered it via NPR’s Book Concierge, which is an amazing tool and everyone should check it out (it’s also a lot of fun). The scope is enormous – from Joe’s origins in Nazi Europe to joining his cousin Sammy in New York City to create popular comic books, to their involvement in World War II, and finally ending with them as adults with families.
I like this book for what it is: simple and straightforward. To all the people who try to seek deeper meaning and symbolism from this story, I have only this quote from Hemingway himself to offer:
“There isn’t any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.”
Hemingway, despite all his issues, just can’t be denied as a great writer – it’s evident in the sheer amount of storytelling he can do in 120 concise pages. The narrative has always been disappointing to me, but only because we all want the happy ending where he returns home with the marlin intact and is hailed as the village hero. But life is rarely that perfect, isn’t it? This ending is much more realistic, and Santiago nonetheless still gets some recognition when the other fishermen see the skeleton of the marlin on the beach. I always leave it not happy, but satisfied.
P.S. This 1-star review on Goodreads made me laugh out loud:
This is an outstanding collection of essays examining different aspects of our society. I really enjoy Tolentino’s sharp, incisive cultural critique, even if it tends to digress into side topics and lose the original train of thought, and her writing is very distinctly hers. In particular, her writing is dense. She comes off as intimidatingly intelligent and well-spoken through these essays (and she is – she went to UVA and was accepted to Yale) – the kind of writing that makes you wonder if you’re just not smart enough to understand what she’s saying – and doesn’t shy away from tackling complicated topics with sophisticated language and strong opinions. At the same time, she’s quite graceful in admitting when her perspective is limited, whether because she’s young and attractive (not her words, she’s too diplomatic for that), or because she’s Asian and can’t speak to the white experience, etc.
An odd and – dare I say it? – boring little book. The book blurb – glimpses into the lives of ordinary Dubliners – is very accurate…the short stories cover the extremely mundane lives of working-class city folk, and you’d be sorely disappointed if you went in expecting any interesting action.