The Bookworm: Limber

Limber, by Angela Pelster. 154 pages. Sarabande Books. 2014.

Some days at the grocers, the stacks of yellow bananas next to the Granny Smith apples, next to the pink dragon fruit next to the heaped tangerines next to these mangoes fills me with such delight that I think the word “delightful.” “Delightful fruit.” “Delightful color.” “Delightful world.” What is this place where food grows on trees like gift-wrapped presents strung on a branch? How could this be? How could I ever be unhappy with these colors in piles around me? (p. 63)

As part of my New Year’s resolution to get rid of things I no longer want or need, I have gotten rid of a ton of books. Most have been novels or collections from my English and writing classes in college, books I never liked and would never read again — like Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein. (Why did I keep that book for so long? I have no clue.) College textbooks and books I no longer want have been resold or recycled, too.

Needless to say, most of the books on my bookshelves are now books I want to keep, want to enjoy again in the future. Angela Pelster’s Limber will not be among them. Instead, I will either sell it to the Haunted Bookshop, if possible, or place it in a free library.

I bought Limber last year at a book fair for small publishers. I can’t remember if it was part of the Mission Creek Festival or not, but it was a very cool event either way; a number of local publishers I never knew existed were there and I was able to chat with a lot of friendly people who share my love for writing and books. (If I loved writing and books so much, you would think I would write and read more.) Limber, a collection of personal essays that “charts the world’s history through its trees” (back cover), piqued my interest as an environmentalist and lover of personal essays.

Unfortunately, it’s not my cup of tea.

The essays in Limber range from sublime and insightful to abstruse and head scratching. While some are truly personal essays, others could be considered literary journalism or history, which I liked. Others, though, read more like short stories, which annoyed me; I had a hard time wrapping my mind around them, especially since they are included in a collection of essays.

Overall, Limber is overly wrought and the writing lacks rhythm and flow. Many of the essays reminded me of the obscure, inaccessible stuff we sometimes read in college, the pieces we were told were incredible by our nonfiction teachers but that many of us thought were pretentious, stoned nonsense. (Coincidentally, Pelster is a graduate of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program.) In that way, much of Limber reminded me of poetry. Even the literary journalism in Limber is inefficient and awkward. Many of the essays lack propulsion, power, and coherence. And though some of the essays are personal, they are not accessible or easy to connect with; Pelster’s writing does not engender empathy.

All in all, Limber is a weird, unsatisfying book that I am happy to have finished.

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