Book review: Small Things Considered by Joel Schwartzberg

3/5 stars

This collection was very uneven. It’s advertised as an essay collection, and though technically correct I feel most of the texts lack the depth and analysis I would generally expect from an essay. I’d rather call it a collection of anecdotes. It’s also very personal which isn’t a problem per se, but if you don’t relate your personal thoughts and experiences to some kind of bigger picture, they become somewhat lacking.

Part of the problem is that most of his stories are so short they don’t really have time to develop, to go anywhere. They’re kind of the literary equivalent of Seinfeld opening monologues, along the lines of “I went to the store yesterday and this funny thing happened”. Nothing wrong with that in itself, it’s just that there wasn’t enough meat on the bone to hook me. For instance he has this story about his grandfather where he says he didn’t ask anyone else about his grandfather’s life or what he was like before writing the story, because he wanted to write about him only as he remembered him. He wanted to write something unique and personal that only someone that knew him could write, not something a historical biographer of someone famous would write. In other words not just the facts. And I was enamoured by that idea and looking forward to a close personal portrait. But he just didn’t really follow through. To my mind the story was kind of bland and didn’t contain any unique personal insights or observations.

I often didn’t really see where he was going with what he wrote. It was as if he was being funny more for the sake of being funny than because he had an actual point to convey. Humour can be a great literary tool, but in my opinion it should not be an end in itself.

That being said, there were definitely parts of this book that I loved. And he endeared himself to me forever by 1) being a cat lover and 2) although being a parent understanding that having a kid does not magically give you the right to demand unreasonable things from perfect strangers and 3) hating people who talk in movie theatres as much as I do (in the words of Shepherd Book, they’re going to the “special hell”).

His writing is genuinely funny and had me chuckling several times, and it is a quick, easy, enjoyable read. But I would have liked to see some more depth, some sort of plan, or a point to the stories apart from a snappy punchline (he is a master of punchlines). While I definitely found this collection worth the read, I have the feeling that Mr Schwartzberg is not (yet) living up to his full potential.

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