This is the most exquisite book I've experienced this year. I say "experienced" because it goes beyond just reading pages. The book is smaller than aThis is the most exquisite book I've experienced this year. I say "experienced" because it goes beyond just reading pages. The book is smaller than a typical hardbound book, reminding me of a personal bible or missal. The cover has embossed birds in flight, white on white, and the endpapers are drawn feathers, tier after tier of black-tipped feathers. Just lovely. There is a tiny silhouette of a bird in the margin of each right-facing page; rifle through the pages for the most elegant flip-book.
So that's just the book as a physical object, just gorgeous. But the prose is at least as gorgeous. I came to this book knowing about Tempest Williams, but never having read any of her other books (that will soon change). The starting premise here is that the author's dying mother left her her journals, to be read only after she was gone. When Williams was ready to read them, she found they were all blank. In brief vignettes, she explores different memories and topics, letting them lead her to possible meanings of the blank pages. Throughout, she interprets and reinterprets the message: My Mother's journals are an act of defense. My Mother's journals are a transgression. My Mother's journals are a creation myth.
I kept putting sticky notes on pages, wanting to go back to lines and passages to read again:
"It is winter. Ravens are standing on a pile of bones—black typeface on white paper picking an idea clean."
"What I came to appreciate was how the transgression of Eve was an act of courage that led us out of the garden into the wilderness."
And, quoting from a speech her mother delivered, "There are two important days in a woman's life: the day she is born and the day she finds out why."
I borrowed this book from the library, but it's one I want to own. I want to have it on my shelf and read it again and again.
An interesting collection of essays, profiles, and reviews about various creative figures in popular culture. Bissell turns his focus on those who makAn interesting collection of essays, profiles, and reviews about various creative figures in popular culture. Bissell turns his focus on those who make films, documentaries, video games, and especially literature. The subjects might be quite famous (David Foster Wallace and his commencement speech, Jim Harrison about the writing life in Montana, Chuck Lorre on the set of his various wildly successful sitcoms-before the implosion of Two-and-a-Half Men star Charlie Sheen). Or they may be famous only in certain circles (the woman who does the voice-over on video game Mass Effect, Tommy Wiseau, the director of the film The Room). Depending on your interest in the topic, you'll be more drawn to some of these essays than others.
I rather like an essay where the author is present but not central, where he is part of the action, but that the narrative doesn't revolve around the writer's thoughts and feelings and commentary. Bissell does this very well. These are not at all "personal essays," but his personal presence makes the writing all the better. My favorite pieces are "The Theory and Practice of Not Giving a Shit" about writer Jim Harrison (Legends of the Fall and scads others), an old family friend and hunting buddy of the author's father. Harrison lived and wrote in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where Bissell grew up, before moving to Montana. Bissell goes there to spend time and talk writing. Another favorite is "Unflowered Aloes," about how some of the literature we now consider American classics was "saved" or rediscovered and passed along through time, seemingly by strange esoteric luck. A side piece to this essay was Bissell's own involvement in republishing Desperate Characters, a novel by Paula Fox that fell out of print. Coincidentally, the book I read just before this one was Borrowed Finery, also by Fox. Another nudge to find and read her fiction.
Bissell has a strong, fluent way with language, and a poet's gift for metaphor. His topics are varying and interesting, some more so than others. He certainly had me jotting down films to put in my Netflix queue and authors and books to check out. An essay that makes you want to explore further is the best kind, in my book, and this book is full of them. ...more