Book Review | Alibis: Eassays on Elsewhere by Andrew Aciman


I super loved Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere by Andrew Aciman when I started reading it. I’m talking about super love here! It is a collection of essays about his traveling but what I especially loved about the first few essays was the unique and totally relatable way he talked about the weirdness of time and the passing of time and memory and creating a sense of self we’re comfortable with and all this great stuff. Here! Some of my favorite quotes, you’re welcome!

“It is habit not character that makes us who we are.”

When his mother dies he spends some time going through her vast array of perfumes, each one reminding him of a specific moment in time.

“This is the scent of early spring when they called to say things had gone my way. This of an evening with my mother, when she came to meet me downtown and I thought how old she looks – now I realize she was younger by ten years than I am today. This is the night of the A-minor. ‘And this?’ they’ll want to ask. ‘How about this one?'”

Oh, this one sums me up in an excruciating way.

“There are places I bid farewell to long before knowing I must leave, places and people whose disappearance I rehearse not just to learn how to live without them when the time comes but to put off their loss by foreseeing it a bit at a time beforehand. I live in the dark so as not to be blinded when darkness comes. I do the same with life, making it more conditional and provisional than it already is, so as to forget that one day my birthday will come around and I won’t be there to celebrate it.”

And this:

“I would give years, not to unwrite this evening or to rewrite it, but to put it on hold and, as happens when we bracket off time, be able to wonder indefinitely who I’d be had things taken another turn. Time, as always, is given in the wrong tense.”

And finally, there is this thing about wanting to escape from the things we love, just for a moment:

“[I’ll] seek out the one person whose friendship I always neglect and take for granted: me. With that self I want to spend an entire day each week, an imaginary eighth day that begins when I take out the garbage and ends when I’ve returned – no one even suspecting that if I look so chipper or am whistling something by Bach or am dying to discuss Russian masters with my wife, it’s because, like the moon, I temporarily vanished. I spent a whole day in a sealed, air-conditioned bunker where I’ve slept late, vegged out, paced about, rereard Oblomov, brewed coffee, downed all manner of high-cholesterol snacks, thought of no one, missed no one, caught up with the paper, my life, my work, my self, and am now ready to return from an imaginary day off to a world that may never understand that if I end up saying grrr-eat to those who’ll ask about my weekend, it’s because, for a few imagined seconds, and just when I thought Monday was almost upon me, I was finally able to run away from those who I couldn’t be more grateful to love.” 

So yes, this book is full of great prose and memorable quotes. That said, it started to drag about 1/3 of the way through. It picked back up again but I found myself skimming entire essays – and I’m not a skimmer – because when the subject matter was something I wasn’t interested in, I just wanted him to get on with it – to get to the point. He is not a “get to the point” type of writer. I would recommend this to a friend, but with reservations.

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