The other night I went to a reading by Sven Birkerts of his new memoir at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass. It was a nice reading for a number of reasons, not the least of which was observing how he has structured the book and his reasoning behind doing so.
Essentially, the memoir is written as a series of short essays, no more than a few pages each, and discuss snippets of memory that struck him as interesting of offering some telling explanation of human nature, writing, relationships and so on. Often, an essay is initiated by seeing some physical artifact that reminds him of a moment in time.
The essays were interesting and sometimes pretty funny because they are good at capturing experiences many of us could easily relate to, but rendered in such a way as to be compelling.
I thought this mode of writing was a pretty good way to approach memoir. There is certainly a place for long rambling bits of memoir prose, but the spareness of the writing and directness of it was appropriate to the material and, let's face it, in this world being able to pick up a book of interesting, well written, tight essays is a time management benefit.
When asked how he came to write the book in this way, he said he really just starting writing the essays as something of an exercise. Before long he had about five and then there were 12 and it dawned on him that perhaps there was a book in it. He also said that as he wriote he felt as if he could have continued in that vein for quite a while, but soon enough the well ran a bit dry and he was done.
At any rate, the book is well worth picking up (The Other Walk: Essays) and in its writing there are probably a few good lessons for all writers.
I would also put in a plug for the Harvard Book Store. A very nice and appealing place that is modest, despite its location and rather full history. It is also an independent book store and as such is worth checking out.
Of course too, adding to the experience was the lovely young woman who joined me and the Raspberry Lime Rickey she introduced me to. Very nice.
Causes James Buchanan Supports
Expanding health care in the US, ending war as a viable tool of foreign policy, and issues related to social justice in general.