It is perhaps likely that someone, somewhere, wishes to buy a book whose writer makes it clear on every page that they are more knowledgeable, more sage, more seasoned, and generally wiser than the reader. I will be generous and say that there are bound to be readers out there who can heartily connect to material that lectures and condescends to them, readers who understand that they can only really identify with Writer The Almighty if they, too, hold an AARP card. But I am not one of these readers. Simply put, I don’t have what it takes to read This Möbius Strip of Ifs by Mathias B. Freese.
Although I don’t think that confession will come as a surprise to Mr. Freese, who seems to expect ineptitude and personal failure from anyone who went through the “broken” public school system between the years of 1970 and 2012, and who is now – God forbid! – a book blogger. I’ll be transparent about the fact that we DBC book bloggers were approached, unsolicited, to read Ifs, and then I will quote this passage from Freese’s entire essay-length diatribe about said bloggers:
Narrowness prevails for these bloggers, revealing a weak background in the very subject matter they presume to evaluate. These are not critics…nor readers, nor reasonable evaluators; rather, they are Costco customers rummaging through jeans or sneakers. The pretense at being educated and well-read is pronounced and in hilarious poor taste. The personal posturing they give to themselves is worthy of a Swiftian barb. They are cultural boors.
(And you all wondered where I got such great jeans and sneakers.)
I could go on, because Freese offers many more pages of chastisement on this particular subject, but I’ll stop there for two reasons. One, there is a vast array of other things Freese takes the time to excoriate and it’s best not to forget that. Two, I should fairly point out that Freese casts this whole essay in a light he deems “hyperbolic.” Well, okay, but hyperbolic toward what sort of redeeming end? There is no concession made toward bloggers throughout, being young and (by extension) ignorant as they are. No matter how Freese chooses to cast the tone of each essay, the core is that of ranting, and the result is stacked heavily against us, no matter who comprises that “we.” I can see the literary gesture outward toward someone who must agree with his insular sentiments, someone, somewhere, but I can’t see where that narrative gaze falls.
While I appreciate that Freese doesn’t gravitate towards the rosy, “children are our future”-type idealism associated with our nation’s youth (a sunniness that can be dangerously unproductive), I felt as I read that his years spent as a teacher ought to give him a less crotchety view of adolescence, or at least one that isn’t so matte and universally dismissive. Surely he’s seen exceptions to the rule that he has derived without being asked, the rule of thumb about pubescent ignorance that he insists on pouring thickly over class after class of pupils? He does, in fact, beg the youth of today to become something and to be their best:
Perhaps the best inheritance you can give to close ones is the way in which you lived, as opposed to how well you saved and planned…so, choose.
…but this kind of entreaty only comes after a litany of insults that shockingly, in the mind of this particular recently-adolescent reader, fail to motivate:
The last book read, they seriocomically inform me, was the one I assigned as a book report…Some have “bravely” ventured into Greenwich Village. Many are bereft of any cultural context. They are unglued, disparate, like scree kicked up by a hiker’s boot. History was half an hour ago. They have little knowledge of film, less of books…They read them only for the extra credit, teacher scrip. Consumed with grades…they are not stupid (far from it) but ignorant. They are victims of their affluence…they are simply money-oriented, crassly so…they merely reflect the emptiness of their parents…
And on. And on. And on.
Freese has the impassioned indignation and more than enough occasion to want to write something motivational, enlightening, instructive. He wants, clearly, to get us all to a better state of mind, one that he believes will heal what’s broken about our society. But his ratio of complaints to proposals feel perilously stilted, and most of This Möbius Strip of Ifs reads like a stone weight being lifted off Freese’s chest, and subsequently rolled right onto our own. Its 164 pages offer a mix of complaint and self-congratulation, the latter term all I can really muster for whatever motivates someone to provide a hefty snippet on page 13 of an adoring email sent by a former student to our writer himself, an excerpt that includes phrases like “your class was a bright light in the mind-numbing bleakness” and “you changed the way I experienced literature, art, and life.”
Ultimately, I don’t need to be a Freese fan; his devotees are an enthusiastic crowd. More than one review for this book deemed it “remarkable,” and it is, genuinely, pretty nice to see the exchange system this book creates. For those that do, in fact, connect to the material, what they feel they’re really doing is having a conversation with Freese, and the flash-length essay format of many pieces in this collection enacts the way good conversations generally do evolve, subject to subject, just conclusive enough to move from one to the next. Many Amazon reviewers, I was impressed to find, gave the book five stars while saying openly that they didn’t agree with the stance Freese takes on certain issues. Personally, it is not my disagreement with Freese’s sentiments that taints this collection for me, but rather the commanding, rhetorical, overwhelming harrumph with which each sentiment is expressed. There’s really very little climactic discussion that can follow a sigh so heavy.