Book Review: Weather, by Jenny Offill

Lizzie Benson slid into her job as a librarian without a traditional degree. But this gives her a vantage point from which to practice her other calling: she is a fake shrink. For years she has tended to her God-haunted mother and her recovering addict brother. They have both stabilized for the moment, but Lizzie has little chance to spend her new free time with husband and son before her old mentor, Sylvia Liller, makes a proposal. She’s become famous for her prescient podcast, Hell and High Water, and wants to hire Lizzie to answer the mail she receives: from left-wingers worried about climate change and right-wingers worried about the decline of western civilization. As Lizzie dives into this polarized world, she begins to wonder what it means to keep tending your own garden once you’ve seen the flames beyond its walls. When her brother becomes a father and Sylvia a recluse, Lizzie is forced to address the limits of her own experience–but still she tries to save everyone, using everything she’s learned about empathy and despair, conscience and collusion, from her years of wandering the library stacks . . . And all the while the voices of the city keep floating in–funny, disturbing, and increasingly mad.


There is a lot going on in this little, 200-ish-page book that’s written almost like a collection of tweets. Each (short) page consists of maybe four paragraphs that are made up of just a few sentences. It immediately reminded me of Twitter and how the novel felt like Lizzie had collected her tweets over a series of months and put them in book form. I could have read Weather in just a few hours, had I not been under the weather (pun totally intended, heh).

I knew this was going to be a five-star book when I was maybe ten pages in.

What I loved:

— The format. The short paragraphs and the way they’re written read like the way my brain works — bouncing from one thought to the next, some thoughts taking my brain down a rabbit hole until I’m thinking about something totally different (and sometimes off the wall). It felt totally natural, like Lizzie was just writing her thoughts down as they were happening. But as a whole, they are organized in a way that makes sense and keeps the story flowing.

— I love that Lizzie works in a library. Be still, my heart. And I love that she’s called a “feral librarian” by her colleagues because she doesn’t have her MLS. [EYE ROLL] Whatever, dudes. The patrons don’t know the difference between someone who has their MLS and someone who doesn’t, and you’re all doing the same job. Get over it. Hahahaha!

— Lizzie’s answers to some of the more “out there” emails are fantastic.

— Lizzie avoids other mothers at her son’s school the way I used to when my kids were in school. I could never be a “soccer mom” or one of those mothers who gossiped with other parents. Nope.

— Offill is so good at capturing people in one short sentence. “…begins to act and she does not stop acting until the problem is solved” says so much about a person in so few words. You can picture that kind of person, right?!

— So much more, but no spoilers!

The title of the book has a double meaning, I think, because one of the main topics in Weather is climate change, but it can also refer to the changing social and political climates of this country after the election of Trump. And these two things together — answering doomsday emails and listening to people talk about where the country is headed — begin to affect Lizzie to the point of wondering how far she could carry her son on her back if it came down to that, and starting to think about who she would invite to live on her “Doomstead.”

It’s hard for me to put into words exactly how this book made me feel. It’s delightful even while the subject matter is sometimes very serious. One minute I would laugh out loud, and the next minute I would feel very contemplative. The way the novel is written and organized forces the reader to fill in the blanks, while it feels like Offill has already done that for us somehow. I give Offill all the props for making such a small book feel so large and powerful.

I borrowed this one from the library and I think I might read it again before I return it. I am contemplating purchasing it for my personal library so I can go back to it in the future.

Highly recommended.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Weather, by Jenny Offill

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