Beyond Measure is a compulsively readable collection that has measurement at its heart. Arndt’s attempts to control and hone her physical body serve as metaphor and manifestation of the neoliberal self under capitalism: the body as physical experience becomes the body—and person—as marketable product. What is most unnerving about the essays’ tightening focus on selfhood is their slow but inevitable realization that every time we go to the gym or take a pill or make a purchase at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, we are also making ourselves into a product—we are doing it to ourselves.
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 ... 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.
Across 19 brief essays, Arndt probes our insatiable need to reduce our lives to numbers, from gym routines to dating apps, sleep cycles to body weight ... something deeper haunts the pages of these often personal essays: the specter of anxiety, the fear of vulnerability ... Arndt is a thoughtful, deliberate writer—one might say measured—infusing her prose with wit and flashes of poetic insight. (She is the assistant poetry editor at McSweeney’s.) And Beyond Measure is an elegantly structured book, its flow and recurring motifs reminiscent of Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams. What’s missing, though, is something like a coup de grâce, a moment when the collection connects its various dots to reveal the bigger picture—and thus elevate its 19 interwoven essays from a clever conceit to a profound, overarching point about the way we’ve chosen to live our lives.