Biss, Eula. Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2009. Print.
“In the United States, it is very easy for me to forget that the people around me are my people. It is easy, with all our divisions, to think of myself as an outsider in my own country.”
~ Eula Biss
Essay: Letter to Mexico
Notes from No Man’s Land (93)
It’s hard for me to believe Eula Biss is on a few years older than I or that she could understand, in fewer than 40 years alive, so much about people. I cannot think of a book that has moved me, changed my mind, or affirmed more of what I believe than this collection of essays. It would be easy to gush, to spend pages singing about the remarkable presentation of such treacherous and necessary subject matter, but this annotation will focus on Biss’s writing style – her language, construction, and persona. Through her essays, Biss offers permission to think honestly and express freely. She impressed me more than any writer of this generation both in the bravery of her presentation and in the quality of her writing.
Kincaid, Jamaica. A Small Place. 1988. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000. Print.
“Antigua is beautiful. Antigua is too beautiful.”
~ Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place (77)
Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place is a small memoir with enormous quality. Having read none of Kincaid’s other work and not being familiar with her style, I had no expectations when picking the book up. Once I had it open to the first page, I could not put it down. The prose is direct and accessible, and Kincaid begins her long essay writing to the reader in second person perspective, inviting the reader to visualize Antigua. Within two pages, the beauty of the place is evident but so is Kincaid’s humor, as well as her cynicism. Where I, as a reader, slipped easily into the role of tourist at the start of the book, I quickly felt uncomfortable, guilty, even, for something of which I had neither prior knowledge nor direct responsibility. I felt tricked, but I kept reading. Kincaide swiftly indicts tourists, then Americans and Europeans, then nearly every government the small island nation has ever had. While full of bitter resentment, the book is not a diatribe, not really. It is an education, an observance of something greater than a person, or a place, or even a series of events. Kincaid, with wit and anger, uses the present and past Antigua to write a memoir that ruffles reader feathers by calling on them to examine their lives, to question everything around them by examining her own life and questioning everything around the place in which she was born and raised. Kincaid’s language, her strangely smooth while disjunct approach, and her cynical curiosity empower her writing and make this book one writers can turn to as an example of something that stirs.
Edelman, Hope. The Possibility of Everything. New York: Ballantine Books – Random House, 2010. Print.
“There is something utterly calming about waiting patiently in a warm jungle
clearing with my husband and child while a woman drenches us in prayer.”
~ Hope Edelman, The Possibility of Everything (277)
Hope Edelman’s memoir stirs, raising more questions than it can answer, while at the same time, validating a lack of necessity for some conclusions. Edelman’s prose is distinctively persona driven: that of a woman who is mother, wife, writer, and skeptic. The voice is confident in insecurity and concern. It’s a voice to which many can easily relate. The memoir is not one I would have picked up on my own. In honesty, had I started it on my own, I probably would not have continued after the first chapter or two. Between contract and interest in the subject as it relates to some recent experiences that inspire my writing, I stuck with the work, and I’m damn glad I did. While the story starts slow, the writing and the construction deliver. The work is not just a memoir – it’s a history book, a travelogue, an adventure story, and an unassuming, convincing, world-opening account of mystery. As a writer, I took notes regarding structure, dialogue, research, tense, persona, character development, and spirituality. The title of the book, before reading, sounds almost insistent on itself. But after enjoying the full work, it’s clear it really is about the mystery behind anything and everything being possible. I came to the book curious and studious. Edelman, a gifted writer, is also gifted teacher – possibly more naturally so. She teaches writing through her writing – making an example of her work for structure, research, and earnestness.
Wallace, David Foster. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again Essays and Arguments. 1998. New York: Back Bay – Little, Brown and Co, 1997. Print.
“…human situations are writers’ food.”
~ David Foster Wallace, in the essay: E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction (21)
Tortured. That’s the word I would use to describe David Foster Wallace (from this point referred to as DFW). I try to write my book annotations from an observant, third person perspective, regarding the narrator from a place as both reader and writer. I can’t do that with this annotation. It’s too personal a book, too filled with DFW’s own person – the insides of his head. I came to the collection of essays knowing nothing of DFW with the exception of a few of his titles, that he had taken his own life recently (September, 2008), and that, at least among MFA students, he is revered as something of a demigod writer. It’s a lot to approach his work knowing so little. So little that is, really, so much. That being said, there is no other way for me to write this annotation. DFW’s words and transparency affected me on a personal level. The following will blend a personal response from me as a reader and as a (more humble) writer.
Bryson, Bill. In A Sunburned Country. New York: Broadway – Random House, 2000. Print.
“But that is of course the thing about Australia that there is such a lot to find in it, but such a lot of it to find it in.”
~ Bill Bryson, In A Sunburned Country (303)
Bill Bryson is a man of many words and many interests. He is “that” tourist – the one with the notepad in his shirt pocket and a backpack full of brochures and guidebooks. When cracking his book, In A Sunburned Country, the first few pages (or even chapters) might give readers the idea that he’s pedantic and writes in the way someone who likes the sound of his own voice might write. Yet, given more than just a few pages (or chapters), Bryson’s charm begins to seep into his language. He is not pedantic for the sake of showing off or establishing his place as linguistically and culturally enlightened. No, the sense is an unfortunate and misleading first impression. In fact, Bill Bryson is an authentically curious and keen observer, unable to help keep himself from writing with every word he can call up to tell the reader just how interesting or wonderful (or pitiable), something is. It’s a lot of language, but it’s also a journey, and by the end, the reader (and writer) is exploring alongside Bryson, sharing his joy and waiting for his next anecdotal expression.