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The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  5,052 ratings  ·  678 reviews
Winner of the 2015 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Creative Nonfiction

"Daum is her generation's Joan Didion." —Nylon

Nearly fifteen years after her debut collection, My Misspent Youth, captured the ambitions and anxieties of a generation, Meghan Daum returns to the personal essay with The Unspeakable, a masterful collection of ten new works. Her old encounters with overdr
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Hardcover, 256 pages
Published November 18th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Elizabeth Charlton Every "female-authored" memoir is just as different from other books by women as every male-authored book is different from that of other males, and i…moreEvery "female-authored" memoir is just as different from other books by women as every male-authored book is different from that of other males, and it is reductive to call personal essays "random thoughts."(less)

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Sarah
Dec 12, 2014 rated it liked it
There are 4, and even 5, star essays in this collection, and they were an absolute revelation to read. Right out of the gate, "Matricide" is close to perfect. However, there is also a big ol 1 star-er right in the middle (see mid-book review below*) that angered, befuddled, and mystified me. And, so, I settle on a 3 star review not in the way I give most things 3 stars - "eh, I liked reading it, but can't say it was remarkable" - and instead with a frustrated shake of my head and a grumble. I'll ...more
Grace
Jan 06, 2015 rated it did not like it
I don't usually write book reviews, but elements of this book bothered me so much I had to say something.

There is a reason this book is titled Unspeakable-there are some things that just shouldn't be said. And I'm not referring to not feeling bereft at the death of your mother or not wanting children. My biggest complaint with this book was the essay entitled "Honorary Dykes." Daum says that during a period of her 20s she felt like she was so lesbianesque that she was an honorary lesbian, giving
...more
Elizabeth
Dec 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays, feminism
Sometimes funny, always stylish, clever, and candid.

...Now that I am almost never the youngest person in any room.

But brutal, too.

...To this day, there is nothing I’ve ever been sorrier about than my inability to make my husband a father.

Meghan Daum writes so well in these personal essays! I was riveted. One of her essays Difference Maker made me ache. It was sobering and reasoned and I could not have looked away if I tried. THANK GOD for the moments of levity. I need to read My Misspent Youth:
...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Recommended by SarahK on Episode 072 of the Reading Envy Podcast, I had checked this out from the library in case I wanted to use it in Episode 082, where Scott and I only read books previous episodes had mentioned.

I didn't make it through this one in time but as I stare down various library due dates, I went back to this one finally.

Overall the essays are solid, from a very specific point of view of a woman just past 40. She is honest and writes engagingly. Reading them back to back pointed ou
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thefourthvine
Apr 16, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: essays, non-fiction
This book is appallingly bad. So bad I finished it and took a break from reading published books at all; so bad I hateread the last half, just to see how bad Daum could get.

She gets pretty damn bad. This is the book where the author describes herself as "biologically straight, culturally lesbian," a fascinating phrase constructed of four words that make sense individually but lose all meaning when stitched together this way. It's the book with an essay entitled "Honorary D*ke." It's the one whe
...more
Jessica Mccarthy
Mar 24, 2015 rated it did not like it
Things Meghan Daum likes: using homophobic slurs (because she once had a short haircut and is therefore butch but not really because she can't really get down with lesbians because ew gross but then again, they are so counterculture and awesome but then again, gross, women's colleges are the worst), admitting that she takes black kids to target and on outings so she can feel better about herself, letting us know that she and Joni Mitchell are bffs, and navel gazing.

She made some tasteless lesbia
...more
Ellie
I loved this book! The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum is a collection of essays in which the author shares her experiences as a writer and woman. Whether she's talking about being an honorary lesbian (an essay that I was surprised to discover myself identifying with at many points), living in California, mixing with celebrities at a party (invited by Nora Ephron, Daum was overwhelmed by Nicole Kidman's beauty and dissed by several celebrities I thought were known fo ...more
Marisa Atkinson
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, irl
One of my absolute favorite books of the year, and one of my favorite essay collections of all time. Meghan Daum is brilliant and on point in every way and I can't stop talking about her. There is an actual waiting list at the Graywolf office to borrow my copy--perfect excuse for me to buy several more copies, I think! Do yourself a favor and pick up UNSPEAKABLE, and then start working your way through Daum's backlist, too. You'll be so, so glad you did.
Nicholas
Dec 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A few defensive disclaimers: much of the stuff in these essays is not really "unspeakable," at least not by lots of people I know. And the essay on being an "honorary dyke" is kind of problematic. (I love when writers make funny and sweeping generalizations about our species, but some of the ones in this essay just seemed so reductive and essentialist that I found myself offended on behalf of ladies who share my sexual orientation--and those who don't. Daum's estimation of herself in this essay ...more
Mythili
Nov 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Daum explores a lot of dark places in her own mind and heart but the essays always seem to end on an optimistic note. It's so subtle you don't feel like she's forcing things into some predetermined worldview-- you just come away with the feeling that you've spent time with someone who has reckoned with her demons and weaknesses but still has a hopeful, open heart. The first half of the book is a lot stronger and more incisive than the second half but the whole thing is so very smart and so very ...more
Beth
Nov 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Meghan Daum is my spirit animal.
El
Jul 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an integral part of my personal mythology and I'm sticking to it.
(p53)
This past year I've been working on this sort of half-baked babble-speak version of the intersection between personal and family mythology and, well, reality. When I read Meghan Daum's sentence above it was like a lightbulb went off because, damn, here's someone else who gets it. Whatever "it" is.

This collection is comprised of ten essays of a variety of personal situations, starting with the death of her mother and en
...more
Kathleen
Dec 26, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2014, nonfiction
There's so much we don't discuss, and that's what Meghan Daum wants to talk about: she wasn't patient as she watched her mother die; she actually likes LA; she doesn't want children of her own; she used to affect lesbian style, although she is not gay; she doesn't like to cook.
I respect Daum's impulse to be honest about things that she could just as well hide. But for me the discussion, at least in these essays, is boring. Maybe that's why we don't discuss it.
Dan
Nov 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really struggled over whether to give this three or four stars, but ultimately I went with the higher rating because when Daum embraces her theme she shines. And mostly I wanted to give it three stars for two pieces: the one about how cool Joni Mitchell is (don't care) and how amazing it was to meet her (still don't care) and how can you believe I lost her phone number and address?! (sorry, I drifted off there. Oh, right, still don't care.) and the following essay which was about her dog (all ...more
Abby
Dec 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, essays
From essay to essay, I kept feeling like I might just share a brain with Meghan Daum. For better or worse, I feel terribly similar to her. From the thinly confessed vanity to the mistrust of our ability to mother to our deep desire for lesbians to like us to our general mediocre feelings about food to our overweening adoration for dogs, we exist on the same wavelength. In many of these essays, I kept mentally saying, “YES, exactly, that’s exactly how it is. This is the way the world is in my min ...more
Amy Thibodeau
Dec 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
I related to many of Meghan Daum's essays and there was some genuinely lovely writing in the book. I'm teetering between a 3/5 and a 4/5 because despite devouring this book in a matter of days, something about it, maybe Daum's coolness and distance, kept me a bit removed from everything. I didn't really connect with the material in any kind of emotional or lasting way, though I enjoyed reading it.

The essay about being a fake lesbian was weak and filled with stereotypes. It just stood out as a t
...more
Lisa
Mar 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays
[3.7] The first essay, "Matricide" is so phenomenally good and brave that it is hard to follow. The other essays are mostly just fine - honest and witty with a strong voice - but their impact was dimmed by my hope for another like the first.
christa
Dec 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Some time after college I read an essay in the New Yorker that so resonated with me, that I actually carried it around for a while and pushed it into people’s faces. It seemed like if they just read it, they would know me -- really know me -- better than if they’d flipped through my photo album, critiqued my CDs or listened to me go on and on and on about myself. It was by Meghan Daum, then a young writer who had moved to New York City after college and was living the life she envisioned for her ...more
Michael
Dec 14, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014
A very readable collection of essays, the best of which ("Matricide," "Difference Maker," "The Joni Mitchell Problem") are genuinely illuminating and thought-provoking. And the dog-lover in me connected with "The Dog Exception." But I don't think Daum's points of view (not wanting children, seeking contentment over happiness, etc.) are quite as taboo and risqué as she believes they are, and taken one after the other, I did grow a bit tired of the defensive tone. That said: great cover, plus it g ...more
Michelle
Feb 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, ebooks
"The Unspeakable and Other Subjects of Discussion" authored by Meghan Daum features 10 genuine revealing essays on subject matters ranging from health, diet/food, her personal relationships, family, pets, celebrity and more. Daum examines her guilt over not feeling the way she is "supposed" too, especially in regards to her mothers passing. She discloses "unflattering" things about herself that some of her readers might find "alarming and depressing" and most certainly controversial.

The first e
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Megan
Jun 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
I can't do it anymore. I got to page 128, but I'm going to have to give up on this book because I'm starting to hate it. The author flits through life looking for any humans she finds interesting, offbeat, unique, down-trodden, in misery, etc, and she tries to soak up all that vivacity/drama/quirkiness/trials & tribulations for herself, to add to her own stories to make her life seem more fascinating. She wants to absorb these qualities from others like a leech without ever actually committing t ...more
Candace Hinkle
Dec 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
I am not a raving fan of this collection of critically-acclaimed essays (and yes, I do usually enjoy other essay books). "The Unspeakable" refers to those thoughts and feelings that are so taboo, you normally keep them to yourself. She says that as a society we are basically too cheerful; talking suffering up as something to make you stronger, not simply to be endured. I can agree with that on some levels, and I also enjoyed her candor. However, her stories were so devoid of emotion and characte ...more
Holly
Nov 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Though this is a good collection of personal essays I can't now recollect what made me so effusive when I read it in December 2014. Daum is articulate, insightful, and funny sometimes, but I rarely felt a sense of profundity in her stories - perhaps because I listened to her read it in her own voice (that would be a drawback of an audiobook). I re-read it because I'd forgotten what her dire illness had been (murine typhus contracted from a flea bite), and to hear her best essay about her mother' ...more
Renata
Mar 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is the kind of book where I've heard others talk about the unlikeable narrator (who is the author, since these are first person essays) and I read it and think, "uh oh, if this person is unlikeable, everybody hates me."
Regan
Jan 19, 2017 rated it liked it
The Unspeakable falls into that category of book that I do not trust myself to rate because I find Daum's take on the world so utterly relate-able. It is humbling to find out that (what you considered) your particular brand of antisentimentalism is more likely the result of your culturo-historical context than of your own brilliant particularity. Funny, sharp & occasionally tender; recommended especially to what Daum calls "phantom dykes," the hetero-women who resist pop-culture's idea of the "f ...more
Heather
Sep 06, 2015 rated it liked it
In her introduction to this book of ten essays, Meghan Daum writes that when she was working on this book, she told people that it was "a book about sentimentality" whose pieces, she hoped, would "add up to a larger discussion about the way human experiences too often come with preassigned emotional responses" (4). She also writes that she "wanted to look at why we so often feel guilty or even ashamed when we don't feel the way we're "supposed to feel" about the big (and sometimes even small) ev ...more
Jaye
Apr 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
From the chapter "The Dog Exception" (which was, for me, very painful to read):
" What do we yearn for more than knowledge of what our dog is thinking --- specifically,, what he thinks of us?"

"Maybe only death is more unknown. Maybe the only knowledge more prized than a glimpse inside the mind of another living thing is a glimpse inside the end of life itself. And maybe that's because pets are, in a way, living embodiments of death. They guarantee us nothing other than the near certainty that t
...more
Jafar
Nov 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
I loved Daum’s sharp writing and wicked sense of humor, although there’s nothing really unspeakable about what she discusses in these essays. As she says in the introduction, “… we remain a culture whose discourse is largely rooted in platitudes… To reject sentimentality, or even question it, isn’t just uncivilized, it’s practically un-American.” And as such, you’re not supposed to voice opinions like: you really don’t care for food and you hate cooking, you don’t swoon over every baby that you ...more
Caiti S
Mar 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Overall, this was a great collection of autobiographical essays and I liked it more than many other short story/essay books that I've read recently. It had just the amount of candidness and insight that I enjoy, and they were all tied to the same theme—that being the thoughts and topics that many people consider "unspeakable" and don't often talk about openly. The strongest stories for me were the first essay Matricide, the one exploring her decision to have children or not, and the final story ...more
Constance
Feb 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really loved most of these essays, and think Daum is a fantastic writer. She strikes just the right balance of well-crafted essay and rambling honesty. Although – every time I read one of these collections, I find myself holding my breath and waiting for the huge blind spot of being a privileged white woman who thinks she is enlightened and interesting to expose itself, and it certainly does here. The essays about being an “honorary dyke” and about trying to big sister kids of color are especi ...more
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Meghan Daum is the author of Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House, a personal chronicle of real estate addiction and obsessive fascination with houses, as well as the novel The Quality of Life Report and the essay collection My Misspent Youth. Since 2005 she has written a weekly column for The Los Angeles Times, which appears on the op-ed page every Thursday. She has contributed to publi ...more

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