Content Tagged ‘Richard Gilbert’

Shepherd: A Memoir named 2015 Ohioana Book Award Finalist

June 9, 2015 | 20 Comments

Memoir pro & con

June 5, 2015 | 16 Comments

Positive energy is the best energy, certainly the most sustainable. But we must admit the opposite is also true. There’s an odd power in negativity. A roomful of happy folks can be cast into quiet doubt by one vehement naysayer. And yet, when negativity goes too far, as Jonathan Yardley appears to do in his review for The Washington Post of Will Boast’s Epilogue: A Memoir, it kindles defiance in turn. Going beyond what he views as Boast’s inadequacy, Yardley unloads on memoir, youth, and the MFA.

He makes me want to read the book. It’s about how Boast, at age 24, is left alone in the world after his father succumbs to alcoholism—his mother and brother having already died—and he discovers that his father had sequestered a wife and two sons, Boast’s half brothers, in England. The memoir comes highly praised for its artistry, and that’s a clue to Yardley’s choler.

At first I assumed his pique was about amateurs, non-literary types getting their messy life stories into print. Then I realized it wasn’t that, not not entirely. Yardley’s broadside in large part reflects the difference between the world of New York trade books and the world of literary academic books. The camps are permeable—as Boast himself shows, winning a New York imprint (Liveright, his publisher, is a division of Norton)—but they’re very different. And Boast has the gall to straddle them: a trade publisher and artsy content.

A year after Yardley’s broadside, it appears to be the proximate cause of two interesting recent columns, “Should There be a Minimum Age for Writing Memoir” in the New York Review of Books’ series Bookends, where two writers opine on opposite sides of some divide.

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6 years of unused blog posts

July 23, 2014 | 2 Comments

After six years of blogging, I count 66 items in my “To Be Posted” folder. Duds. Unused quotes, started essays, finished posts. Stuff I forgot or abandoned. Yet I’ve run with many a notion and hated it. Or uploaded flops.

No need to pick scabs here. Well, maybe one—my February 2014 post “Art and Suffering,” in part concerning Philip Seymour Hoffman, which helped me decide I disagree with its implication. I doubt his tough roles contributed to his emotional burden and thus his death from a heroin overdose. Writing can be clarifying if only in that way. State something and see if you agree with it.

Yet I can’t abandon completely the sense that there’s often some relationship between troubles and talent. (What about the sensitivity that made Hoffman an actor in the first place? What about all his money and his acres of down time?) All the same, I heard a writer say this recently about a poet who took her own life:

“Writers don’t kill themselves. People kill themselves. Writing is what kept her from killing herself for years.”

My conflict about this old issue, explored at book-length in Edmund “Bunny” Wilson’s classic The Wound and the Bow—the title refers to the gifted Greek archer Philoctetes, who suffered from an unhealed wound—caused me to abort a similar effort after the Hoffman post because it depressed me too much. And I figured readers would hate it.

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Tending what remains

May 13, 2014 | 8 Comments

I was concerned going into my panel Saturday, “Return to Nature: Nonfiction,” at the Ohioana Book Festival. Although farming still brings many of its practitioners into intimate daily contact with the natural world, let’s face it, farming is now seen mostly as hostile to nature. A necessary evil, at best. Yet so much else seems grandfathered in its deleterious environmental effects! Am I being thin-skinned here? I can’t tell.

As a former farmer and author of a book that portrays farming, I’m sure of one thing. Farming has become an exotic activity in America. People have heard too much to fully trust the mainstream, which engages in what’s become mysterious. But those seeking alternatives often seem lost. There they stand, looking at labels—pay extra for organic? what does grass-raised mean? are cage-free eggs better? And I’m among the uncertain: the man who knows too much. I know that organic farms are only as good as the farmers who run them. That such farms can be a sham, abuse the environment. And I fret about monster farms taking over the value-added organic market.

On balance, I’ve decided, a vote for organic-sustainable-pastoral-humane methods, the odd scammer among them notwithstanding, is a vote for a better system and will foster its emergence. Surely we’re all coming to know these things.

Such musing didn’t prepare me for my session with my lone fellow panelist (our third speaker was a no-show). A panel on nature and farming can mean anything. I was wondering about reading one of my rapturous landscape descriptions, when the moderator’s introduction turned me in a different direction.

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Celebrating my book contract

May 3, 2013 | 54 Comments

Shepherd: A Memoir to be published in Spring 2014.  I was fifty and the marketing manager of a university press when one day I decided I would write a book. My own book. The story I needed to tell. There I was, bent over a drawer in the press’s endless row of gray-green filing cabinets, and from the radio perched somewhere overhead I heard a writer, a man my age, talking about his latest book. What am I waiting for? …

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Meet a character in my memoir

April 15, 2013 | 20 Comments

To the memory of Freckles, sheep super mother, and my teacher. In my decade as a grass farmer, as a shepherd, my lambs came in the middle of April. They dropped heavy and wet and wriggling onto the pasture. The spring grass was shiny and emerald green, as billowy as a blanket across the ground, and for a time made southern Ohio look like Ireland. Every morning, such sweet newborn lambs they were, coming into my arms dazed and ethereal. …

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An essay of the empty nest

October 14, 2012 | 33 Comments

My “Wild Ducks,” a braided memoir, appears in River Teeth. The past few years, working on my memoir of farming in Appalachia, I’ve generated tons of material—twice, 500 pages—and have spun some passages into stand-alone pieces. The published ones include an essay on my hired hand who died; another about a legendary pond-builder with a tragic secret; one about the historic first meeting of my future wife and my father; yet another about my father’s return to farming in retirement …

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