Monday, June 2, 2008

Book Review: "65 Poor Life Decisions" by Ryan Zeinert

Ryan Zeinert writes stories--personal essays often laced with humor that is somehow both self-deprecating and megalomaniacal. Through these tales, Zeinert reveals all sorts of personal, sometimes embarrassing details about himself and his life. It's possible to gain a great deal of insight into this man's head, but in the end, still know almost nothing about him.

That's a rare feat for any personal essayist, let alone one that started out as a blogger.

Yep, I said it: Ryan Zeinert started his writing career as a lowly blogger, founding the rather popular, a humor site dedicated to two things: Ryan Zeinert and the TV show Lost. That he's managed to take all of that and turn it into a book is nothing short of impressive. That the book is actually good brings things to a whole other level.

I've only met Ryan in person once, and I can't say that we engaged in any great, meaningful discussions about life, the universe and everything. Instead, we made introductions and chatted for a bit before me and my cohorts creamed Ryan and his cohorts at a Lost pub quiz. It was good times, and despite the thrashing we gave him, Ryan seemed like a nice, agreeable person. Still, I feel fairly secure in saying that my opinions about his book are almost entirely bias-free.

So, about that book: 65 Poor Life Decisions, a "collection of essays from from 2004-2007" self-published by the author and apparently pretty well-sold, is a solid freshman effort. It has its flaws, but the entertainment value far outweighs them. There's a great deal in the book that just about anyone can relate to on some level--call it essays for the everyday schmo (and in the end, aren't we all everyday schmoes?).

Zeinert's writing shows an intriguing lack of self-consciousness on a par with essayists like David Sedaris, covering everything from childhood delusions to disastrous dates to what can only be described as a special type of twenty-something senility.

At its best, 65 Poor Life Decisions is a fascinating and somehow familiar romp through growing up, making mistakes, and heartfelt revelations. The only places where the book falls short are where its blog origins manage to show through what is an otherwise well-edited and written collection. There's a fine balance between informal essays and journaling, and it seems at times like Zeinert is wobbling back and forth from one to another. Happily, the trend is toward the former, and even the spots where things seem a bit amateurish are, for the most part, enjoyable.

I'll even forgive the occasional lapses into regional colloquialisms, as is the case late in the book when Zeinert makes reference to a time when he "borrowed a bunch of albums to a friend." He is from Wisconsin, after all.

For the most part, though, the collection provides a very entertaining glimpse into a unique life, offering the chance to take it a tidbit at a time or to plow through and read the whole thing like one, big, slightly disjointed novel. And it shows promise: a great deal of promise that Zeinert, who plans to have more books published in the future, will continue to grow into a really great humorist and author. All this, too, from such humble and much-maligned roots. Perhaps he'll end up being the exception that proves the rule about bloggers, or perhaps he's just part of the first wave of a new generation of successful DIY writers.

But who cares, right? Just so long as he keeps up with the loudly boning neighbors and bull goring jokes, everyone's happy.

65 Poor Life Decisions is available for sale through


Hathery said...

Great review! And thanks for the big ups to my editing :)

The CDP. said...

I'm sincerely glad that you enjoyed the book; if I didn't thank you in the acknowledgements, know that I probably will in the next one.

One of the things that me and the Missus talked about during the editing process was the difference between 'Essays' and 'Blog Posts.' Some of these stories transfer brilliantly onto paper, and others come across as slightly more informal. This was totally recognized and understood by me going in, which is one of the many reasons why my next book will be 100% new and created specifically for print.

Also, I'm amazed by the amount of people that think I have an aloof or mysterious quality about me, considering that I constantly write about the minute, inner workings of my life and mind. Despite that focus, I've always tried to maintain personal distance between the essays and my physical existance, which sometimes feels detached enough to create a gap between the two. This is something I'm always purposely trying to do; I like to find a way to make these personal stories stand apart from the actual person, and I'll be damned if it actually works sometimes.

Great review; I bow deeply in your honor.

Emily said...

Both of you - Thanks, and you're welcome. :)

This was totally recognized and understood by me going in, which is one of the many reasons why my next book will be 100% new and created specifically for print.

Which I think is great. Hence my mention of your growth and future book plans.

Also, I hope this didn't come off as me saying I thought you seemed "aloof" - simply that you manage to pull off a rare feat in that though you write so personally, you manage to keep yourself relatively private. I think that's a good quality.

The CDP. said...

I think it's a good quality, too, and I took absolutely no offense to it. It's kind of my goal, and I'm really glad you noticed it.

The Lost Albatross