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‘A Year and a Day’ By Phillip Lopate: A Brutally Honest Portrayal of Life

3 Stars

Cover of Phillip Lopate's "A Year and a Day."
Cover of Phillip Lopate's "A Year and a Day." By Courtesy of New York Review of Books
By Emerson L. Giese, Contributing Writer

While a year of blog posts might not seem like an impressive feat, the profound and impactful series written and published by Phillip Lopate reinvents the genre of nonfiction and the perception of a blog. “A Year and a Day” is an original and introspective work of nonfiction that explores the life of Lopate, renowned essayist, poet, and professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Arts. His work transcends the traditional style of nonfiction; while this collection of essays and diary-like entries may not be definite in structure, this work is defined by its witty, conversational, and fluid form.

Lopate describes “A Year and a Day” as “blog potpourri” — a product of his writing one blog post a week for a year and then compiling the pieces together. While initially he was skeptical of the blog form, “A Year and a Day” succeeds in finding his voice and establishing Lopate as a profound and funny thinker. From the beginning of the collection, the reader immediately grasps Lopate’s perspective on the endeavor: He is anti-blog and skeptical about this experiment. There appears to be no rhyme or reason to the topics chosen for each post, and while the blogs are all fairly interesting in their own ways, it is the interesting and varied full collection that manages to captivate the reader.

The absence of a plot, distinct setting, and characters that are constant throughout the work frees this writing from the confines of traditional nonfiction. The essays flow as they please, and often explore fun yet profound tangents. In this way, Lopate’s wit is showcased to its full extent, even in more serious contexts like life and death. The lack of structural boundaries allow Lopate to be open and honest with the reader, making his collection an extremely human, flawed, and relatable piece. Ultimately, Lopate suggests that blog-style writing can be a flexible, fun, and profound genre.

Lopate’s pointed opinions limit the readership to a very specific set of people. Because of his profound thoughts and references to art and literature, it seems like his ideal audience would be older and educated. His political statements are also unequivocally anti-Trump, and any reader that finds a connection with the former president might find difficulty in reading this work. Lopate further narrows his audience by making statements about sexuality and women that might be received negatively by some readers: For example, he makes assumptions about a now-deceased friend’s sexual orientation and talks about sexualizing his students and women that he passes on the street. However, Lopate acknowledges the problematic nature of these thoughts to present himself as an honest man who will depict all of his flaws.

Along with the profound life perspective and unwavering honesty, the comedic value of the collection makes up for some of Lapote’s controversial statements. Lopate integrates wit into hard-hitting subjects to create a read that is simultaneously comfortable and provocative. Lopate further develops his comedic value through his use of a confident self-deprecating humor. Through a long tangent writing style, Lopate depicts himself as honest and whole. To lighten the air of his blunt and honest perspective of humanity within the pieces, Lopate ensures that he does not take himself or the things which he describes too seriously.

Overall, this piece is a profoundly moving depiction of a life well-lived — it is the story of age, experience, curiosity, intelligence, and a man aware of his flaws. Ultimately, this work may encourage readers to view and present their experiences in a more honest light.

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