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Book Review: Escape Into Meaning

Escape Into Meaning: Essays on Superman, Public Benches, and Other Obsessions
By Evan Puschak
Atria Books
August 30, 2022
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By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Evan Puschak is otherwise known as the YouTuber "Nerdwriter," who makes thoughtful, essay-like videos on a wide range of topics, from his popular "How Donald Trump Answers a Question," to videos on movies, music, comedy, philosophy, art, etc. These are patient, deeply thoughtful, and well-reasoned. (One, "Why Did Ozu Cut to a Vase?," is a beautiful study of the Japanese film Late Spring.) His new collection of eleven written essays, Escape Into Meaning: Essays on Superman, Public Benches, and Other Obsessions are equally so. While the topics range from cinema (Blade Runner, Quentin Tarantino, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Superman, etc.) to Ralph Waldo Emerson and the beauty of public benches, they are all of a piece, rolling from one to another and each recalling the writing that came before. The collection seems to have been largely written, or at least fleshed-out, during COVID as Puschak found himself grounded in Barcelona, and the self-reflection that many of us experienced during those months of lockdown comes into play; it's easy to relate. His prose is intelligent, but relatable, with little asides, little pauses for breath, like "that's the problem" or "depressing, right?" He gets us excited about his early, college-age discover of and obsession for Emerson, and then uses that mindset to dissect a scene in Blade Runner. I especially appreciated his take on Superman, and his simple solution as to how to tell a modern Superman story while still making the character human. Yet, even though I decided to review this book based on its movie-related essays, the one that sticks with me is "Ode to Public Benches." He describes these as little oases, different from all the places that we need to "get from or get to," and a place to simply observe and ponder. Now that I'm finished here, I think I'd like to try that...

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