Congratulations, the Best is Over! by R. Eric Thomas: nonfiction review
Thoughts: I wasn't familiar with R. Eric Thomas's previous essay collection before I picked up this one on a whim from a list of recommended nonfiction books. It seemed to fall under the category of books centered around figuring out what you're going to do with your life, though this one with the unique slant of the question following you beyond your twenties. I've enjoyed my share of essay collections, but I've never read one quite like this.
For the things I liked about it, Thomas has a hilarious voice and is able to throw sarcastic jokes in almost every sentence without it feeling particularly overwrought. He's a natural storyteller and very entertaining. That's what propels this essay collection forward. Sentence by sentence, it held my attention and often got me to smile, if not laugh. There's a reason he's had a successful writing career, and it's abundantly obvious.
The issue with this collection for me is that I could never figure out the why. I've read plenty of personal essays and memoirs. I like when people talk about themselves. But, usually, there's some greater points that these stories are working towards. Usually the anecdotes shared are chosen to represent a particular lesson or impactful moment or in the service of the rest of the book. That's not what I found to be happening here. The first essay is the best one as Thomas discusses his baking obsession-hobby as a way to cope with life not going the way he wanted it to and to fill a void that his troubled career did not. He spoke about the importance of maintaining the sanctity of your hobby as a hobby and mined what this period of baking meant within what was happening in his life at the time. It was one of the only essays in the book that has any reflection in it. And hindsight is important, in my opinion, in writing successful personal essays.
This cupcake section is also one of the only sections that felt like an actual essay. Everything else, at least on the audiobook, blurred together feeling like one continuous story. I couldn't tell where one ended and the next began. Someone on Goodreads noted that it read like a novel that happened to be about his actual life, and I agree with this take – though it still lacks the general emotional arcs that novels promise. I'd liken it to a well refined publication of a personal journal. Without the sense of reflection and considerations of what these events meant and their impact – either spelled out in the essay or simply interwound into the story to give the reader a sense of why it was significant – it just seemed like a never ending recounting of a string of events in Thomas's life.
That's not to say there aren't consequential topics discussed here. There was lots of room for this book to seize on the themes that started to emerge in them. There's questions around changing roles in the parent-child relationship as everyone gets older, how to support your partner through grief, and how growing up doesn't end once you're considered a "real adult" by society. The issue is that none of these are ever seen through the unfolding events. I just wished there was more here because the collection is so well adorned by Thomas's sentence level writing gift.
If you pick this one up, I highly recommend the audiobook. It's read by the author, and it really makes all the jokes and sarcasm come alive. Overall: 3.5
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