cover image Get Me Through the Next Five Minutes: Odes to Being Alive

Get Me Through the Next Five Minutes: Odes to Being Alive

James Parker. Norton, $23.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-324-09163-9

Atlantic staff writer Parker (Turned On) gathers gemlike tributes to “the essence... the quality worth exploring and if possible exalting” in childhood memories, day-to-day irritations, internet videos, fictional heroes, and anything else “that gets me through the next five minutes.” Entries celebrate a squirrel’s wild “pouncing runs”; fictional spy Jason Bourne as an exemplar of the “absurd condition of man”; and, in a decidedly unsentimental poem, meditation as an experience that can feel like being enclosed in “a warehouse of mental din/ pursued by a grinning zilch, with two ravens tugging at your intestines.” Prizing linguistic particularity over sentimentality, Parker offers some loose advice for living (give money to panhandlers whole-heartedly, because doing so means participating in “the same divine economy that big-banged you into being”), but is at his best when poring over life’s strange resonances. For instance, his wistful ode to crying babies recalls the “bitter clarion” of his infant son’s voice (“In the night, it would rouse me like an electric shock”) and ends with a reflection on the shortcomings of speech: “Soon you’ll be talking, and language will betray you.... But right now your voice is very direct, very effective. It’s going right through my head.” This pays vivid homage to the beauty of the mundane. (June)