When we consider the quality of our lives, rarely do we think in quantitative terms, instead choosing to measure and remember moments by how they made us feel, who we were with and why we did it. In her debut collection of essays, “Beyond Measure,” Rachel Z. Arndt shares with readers a detailed, calculating perspective of life. Her essays explore the ways in which numbers, data and facts consume our everyday lives and how we interact (or don’t) with these measurements.
Arndt’s essays range in topic from weighing in at judo tournaments and the performance of taking a sleep exam, to the mechanics and stigmas tied to using the elliptical at the gym and what it means to be waiting. In each essay, she pontificates on the mundane with humor and an air of anxiety as her detailed and obsessive examination of measurements and data in her own life forces readers to begin doing the same.
The most striking moments in the collection happen when Arndt aims her ideas at the intersection of measurements and being a woman. While data, technology and measurements are prevalent in most twenty-first century lives, Arndt investigates how measurements impact the female body and psyche. In her essay, “Disembodied,” Arndt explores the subject of weight through her experiences of preparing for and performing in judo tournaments, before progressing to how women are expected to interact with weight and food in American culture. She moves through the fragmented essay in a calculated and intentional way, considering American standards of beauty and size, analyzing how men react to her own eating habits, and the politics of discussing weight as a woman. “When the numbers change, so does the woman,” Arndt writes, wondering what women can do in a world where their bodies represent their worth.
One hallmark of Sarabande Books is authors who transform everyday personal narratives into exciting and contemplative works, a skill which Arndt performs effortlessly. Arndt’s voice is evocative as she muses, causing me to consider how I navigate through Chicago and what I do in the liminal spaces and my rare pockets of free time. (Negesti Kaudo)
By Rachel Z. Arndt
Sarabande Books, 188 pages, $15.95
Rachel Arndt launches “Beyond Measure” with guest Aviya Kushner, April 11 at 7:30pm, Women & Children First Bookstore, 5233 North Clark, (773)769-9299.