Posts Tagged ‘Essays’

For an avid reader, the value of a good book can’t be priced.  That’s because a book provides an escape for its reader, acting as a portal to other worlds both real and imagined.  Books teach us about ourselves and enrich our lives through the adventures, misfortunes, and insights contained within them.  They have the ability to connect readers to one another—regardless of whether they ever meet—through a shared experience, despite the fact that reading (generally) is a solitary act.

As Anthony Doerr puts it in his essay about The Story and Its Writer, “We fall, we drift, we lose ourselves in other selves.”  Books are priceless because of the sentimental and associative values they have for us, both of which are intangible and can’t be sold at auction.

The essays that make up Bound to Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book insist that books in their physical, tangible form also contain a certain level of value that can’t be equaled by digital versions.  Contributors to this collection share stories about the associations they have with bound editions of books that have impacted their lives in one way or another.  These snapshot essays deliver more than a collective crusade for sustaining books printed on paper; they provide an intimate look of how books as irreplaceable objects have shaped these writers.

In the Foreword, Ray Bradbury reminisces about what lured him into reading Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe: it was the sheer size and heft of the book.  Had the massive tome not piqued his curiosity, Bradbury might not have unlocked the key to his own imagination. For Michael Ruhlman, The New Professional Chef, Fifth Edition changed the way he approaches all tasks he sets out to accomplish.  In his essay, he declares that the book “stands smack in the middle of the divide of who I was and who I am.”

Philipp Meyer reminds us that books stand the test of time.  In his own life, he credits the sight of stacked books his parents kept as the reason for reading the collection, the act of which ultimately resulted in his life-changing 180.  E-books, a Kindle, or a laptop, he says, never would have yielded those kinds of results.  Victoria Patterson’s sentiments on digital books run along the same lines: “On a screen, pages disappear.  For me, e-books are like ghosts of books.  They’re not here.”

Sarah Manguso is nostalgic for the book filled with wacky facts and weird pictures.  Her copy of Believe It or Not! gave her the sense of belonging to an exclusive club, a rite of passage reserved for those who made an effort to seek out bizarre knowledge.  Now, with the ease and accessibility of the internet, that exclusivity no longer exists; oddities are just a click away.

Julia Glass explores the connection between reader and story, while recalling her favorite childhood book.  She used the title of this book, Roar and More, in one of her own novels, and when the time came to get permission from the author, she realized that she couldn’t recall who wrote the book.  That’s because children don’t associate books with their authors; children go to books to read about their favorite characters, and in the case of picture books, to see those characters in action.

We put our books through hell, marking the margins in ink, dog-earring their pages in order to hold our spot, or—in Rabih Alameddine’s case—leaving a copy of The Carpetbaggers at his parent’s home in the mountains of Lebanon, which was bombed and looted during a time of civil war.  Sometimes, they return the gesture in various ways.

Shahriar Mandanipour writes about how his book collection, stowed away at a friend’s house, could have gotten them both killed during the Islamic Revolution; and Xu Xiaobin, who didn’t have the access to foreign titles in communist China, relates how alone and unloved she felt until Emily Dickinson’s work became available to her.  For the artist, Karen Green, The Collected Stories of Amy Hempl provided her comfort and companionship following the suicide of her husband, David Foster Wallace.

In one instance, a writer displays a moment of ambivalence toward the shift from print to digital.  While searching for an e-copy of Another Country—a book that has been, and still is, with him in every stage of his writing career—he was unable to find it in the electronic format.  “This makes me sad,” he says, “and extremely happy.”

Bound to Last isn’t meant to denounce or reject e-books completely; rather, this collection is a reminder—almost a rally—to book lovers from book lovers of books’ importance in printed form.  To hold a book in your hands, smell the must it gives off, see the worn binding, feel the page turn—these sensory perceptions can send you back to a pivotal moment in your life, in addition to transporting you into the world of a great story.  Books, in their digital form, can still give you that world, so long as they’re experienced and don’t get lost in the virtual shuffle.

Da Capo Press
October 26, 2010
$15.95

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imsorryyoufeelthatwayREALDiscussing her book, Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids, and Life in a Half-Changed World, writer Peggy Orenstein states, “Motherhood silences women.  The kryptonite words for women are fat, slut, bad mother and selfish.  The words make us lose our powers just like Superman loses his in the face of kryptonite.”  After reading Diana Joseph’s memoir in essays, I’m Sorry You Feel That Way: The Astonishing but True Tale of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother, and Friend to Man and Dog, it’s apparent that these kryptonite words fail to cripple Ms. Joseph.  Instead, she examines the language used by the men in her life, in addition to their actions, to explore themes pertaining to the various roles that define her.

Joseph chronicles her relationships with the men in a series of hilarious character sketches.  And as the subtitle suggests, she profiles her father, brothers, husbands, son, colleagues, friends, ex-boyfriends and, of course, her dog (who can’t quit humping everything in his path).  While the essays focus on males, they uncover more about the writer—her desire to understand these men in an attempt to gain self-understanding.

Raised in a blue-collar Pennsylvania town, Joseph’s father owned a towing and auto body shop.  One of her past boyfriends painted her name in gold on his demolition derby car and proposed to her by hiding the engagement ring in a bean burrito.  She has worked her way up from waitress to college professor, observing differences in class throughout her journey.  As a single mother, Joseph preferred smoking and reading during her son’s Tee Ball games, while the helicopter moms cheered on the team and left her alone.  As an Adjunct Professor, she attended parties where her colleagues discussed nature and talked about their cats.  These people and their conversations didn’t interest her, and she tried to let them know it.

…the phone would ring, and [the boy would] run toward it, crying, It’s Dad! It’s Dad! only he was superexcited so it came out sounding like It’s Sad! It’s Sad!
“That is sad!” a cat-talker said.  She was the trim, fit athletic wife of someone in the math department.  Or maybe geology.  Hers was a happy life.  Her cats were named Cutie, Kiki, and Beaner.  I had interrupted her cat story with my boy story, and now she was empathizing with me, and I didn’t like it one bit.  What was her deal?
“Oh, it’s sad all right,” I said.  “Nine times out of ten, it’s a collection agency calling.  I don’t have any money, so it’s actually tragic.  For them.”

She also contrasts herself with friends and close colleagues.  There’s the Satanist who’s deeply rooted in his family.  Joseph fears for his soul and worries about this young man because her religious upbringing and the people who contributed to it have remained with her since childhood.  And there’s her snarky colleague who wears designer clothing and takes art photos of nude women.  While Joseph tries to conclude whether he’s a pervert or a romantic, she never forgets about her desire to knee him in the balls.

She continues by drawing parallels between situations pertaining to family members.  In separate essays, she writes of the sex talk she received from her dad and the one she gave to her 5-year-old son.  Her dad’s was vague and indirect, while her talk was extensive and included a lesson in mythology.  Joseph also shows how different her two brothers are—one’s a crude police officer, the other’s a quiet doctor—yet, she reveals how they both have similar desires in life: to meet a nice girl, start a family.  Even if she doesn’t know everything about these men, she understands enough about them to show compassion and empathy.

But she still seeks answers, and getting the men in her life to open up isn’t always easy.  Her son often refuses to give her straight answers, while she expresses timidity about asking her father anything too personal.  Her brother, Mitchell, hardly says a word over the phone, while her brother, Bye-Bye, responds obnoxiously, often disclosing the details of his sex life.  Despite the lack of communication that can occur, Joseph provides meaningful insight about her relationships with men.  She questions her effectiveness in each role, while attempting to understand and define the meaning of those roles.  At times, she seeks reassurance that she’s doing a good job, while other times she just wants a break. This memoir shows that Diana Joseph is a person who’s not afraid to poke fun at herself for the purpose of discovery.  Along the way, she invites readers to laugh along with her.