December 17, 2014 at 05:00 AM EST

The Unspeakable

Current Status
In Season
Meghan Daum
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
We gave it an A

Sometimes our feelings — and our reactions to the things that happen to us — go rogue. Emotions are the messy, unpredictable part of being human. It’s those murky corners of the heart that are hardest to acknowledge, let alone talk about. That’s the unnamed place where Meghan Daum’s sharp collection of essays lives. This book, as she writes in her introduction, ”is about the ways that some of life’s most burning issues are considered inappropriate for public or even private discussion. It’s about the unspeakable thoughts many of us harbor — that we might not love our parents enough, that life’s pleasures sometimes feel more like chores — but can only talk about in coded terms if at all. It’s about the unspeakable acts that teach no easy lesson and therefore are elbowed out of sight.”

Daum, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, tackles personal topics large and small with a staunch gaze. ”This book also recounts some pretty unflattering behavior on my part, not to mention a few disclosures about my interior life that some readers will probably find depressing or even alarming,” she warns early on before going there while examining her feelings on marriage, her ambivalence about having children, and her mother’s death.

But there are lighter moments: She writes about dating inappropriate men (think Burning Man and astrology), what it was like meeting her lifelong hero Joni Mitchell, and the period in her life when everyone assumed she was a lesbian. If you’ve been missing Nora Ephron — and who hasn’t? — Daum’s tale about playing charades at Ephron’s house is so well observed and funny it could have been written by the great lady herself.

Look, life is difficult — and so is dealing with all the unpleasantness that comes along with it. Thank goodness The Unspeakable exists to keep you company. A

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