But when I am discouraged or downcast I need only fling open the door of my closet, and there, hidden behind everything else, hangs the mantle of Michel de Montaigne, smelling slightly of camphor. White goes on to discuss his choice of essays for the anthology and their order, noting of his most famous masterpiece — the exquisite Here Is New York :.
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I wrote about new York in the summer of , during a hot spell. He notes:. I spent a large part of the first half of my life as a city dweller, a large part of the second half as a countryman. In between, there were periods when nobody, including myself, quite knew or cared where I was: I thrashed back and forth between Maine and New York for reasons that seemed compelling at the time. Money entered into it, affection for The New Yorker entered in. And affection for the city. Essays of E. White is required reading, a pinnacle of the form from one of its greatest masters.
Interview with Robert Atwan 3. Editor's Note 4.
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Interview with Jericho Parms 4. Scott Olsen, "In Other Words" 4. Philip Graham, "The Shadow Knows 5. Larks, "Still Playing the Girl" 5. Stabile, "Architectures of Revision" 5. About Masthead Submit Contact. The structure of The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard draws the reader in by the unique, captivating, honest voice and hooks the reader by the relationships caught on the page. Beard reels us in and then flings us back into the water again only to hook us with a different kind of bait in the second half of the book.
The book turns, like an Italian sonnet, at the Big Event, which sends us spinning in a new kind of truth held in contrast with the truths in the first half of the book. Each new detail is a tiny nibble that drives us forward to know more. The reader learns as the narrator learns. It is these suspensions of information that surprise the reader and evoke feelings of delight, compassion, understanding, epiphany, and grief; they draw the reader into the life of the narrator and the other characters; they are what make the story real and true and good and beautiful.
The big events experienced by the narrator appear gradually throughout the book. The reader arrives at them right alongside the writer, with little anticipation or awareness about how this is all going to end. It is enough to be riding along with a compelling voice, a captivating style, an engaging spirit, one we trust to take us wherever she decides to go. These threads, along with the deliberate decision to structure the essays in this specific order, create the sense that this essay collection is greater than the sum of its parts, a superb memoir-in-essays.
As a collection of autobiographical essays, The Boys of My Youth is not bound to proceed in any particular order, nor should Beard expect her reader to move from the beginning of the book to the end. When one first opens up The Boys of My Youth, the title page warns the reader—Autobiographical Essays—thus, Beard is under no obligation, as an essayist, to find order or provide a sequence or narrative arc.
You are just ashamed to admit it. In memoir, the reader expects a clear beginning and end to the story, so the writer must build a narrative from beginning to end, linear or disjointed as it may be.
Yet, there is always an order, even if it is stapled papers tossed in the air and reassembled. The essays in The Boys of My Youth are stand-alone pieces, able to be appreciated and read individually. They do not rely on each other for meaning or context the way that chapters in a memoir must build off of each other. Just as character development places a crucial role in memoir, the recurrence of familiar characters throughout the essay collection helps to solidify the narrative thread across essays.
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Beard reboots her narrative halfway through the book, thus intentionally delaying the details of the narrative. The essays that follow each attempt to clean up what has been destroyed. Essay after essay, the reader gasps, ah, yes , or oh, no , as she experiences events right alongside the essayist.
Here again we see Beard utilizing structure to propel her readers forward in the same way a memoirist positions key details in her storyline. Because Beard writes primarily in present tense, the narrative rarely leans on the reflective voice. All analysis and exposition is delivered through tone, dialogue, metaphor, and scene description. The present tense forces an extreme first-person limited perspective.
These elements of craft create the suspense and provoke curiosity in the reader the same way that a memoir writer must. This intentional structure and order ties the essay collection together in order to create a narrative flow. One device Beard employs throughout the first half of the book, and to a lesser degree the second, is the repetition of a central image: the description of the sky and the way that it changes.
The night sky is a central and binding image that serves as one string that ties the essays together. Throughout the first half of the book, the essays are filled with descriptions of the night sky, often coupled with a source of comfort or a man.
These begin in the Preface, where the frightening night-light of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus glows and Jo Ann turns to Hal, her male doll, for solace. Beard is not thinking about the fact that the boys nearly died; she is preoccupied with her shorts, obsessed with the fact that the boys might be looking at her. By introducing these two parallel threads in the first two essays of the essay collection, thematic continuity is established, and Beard has two key touchstones by which to navigate the rest of the memoir-in-essays.
How will the night sky change? How will her relationship to these men evolve? How will these two threads resonate with each other throughout the book? These are not the common questions an essayist asks herself unless she is looking at her collection as a whole, as a memoir after understanding.
Here are some of the ways in which we see these narrative threads emerge in individual essays. Alone, alone, and alone. In the shuffling crowd the dark curtain of rum parts for an instant, and reveals nothing. These passages that connect Beard to the sky illustrate a longing to be connected to something, specifically to a man, as some kind of constant, but that longing goes unfulfilled.
There are stars by the millions up above our heads. Wendell and I are sitting directly under Gemini, my birth sign, the oddball twins, the split personality.
Here, Beard takes liberties with the sky—they are also situated under a hundred other constellations—but it is Gemini that she identifies. Inspired by Your Browsing History. Related Articles. Looking for More Great Reads? Download Hi Res. LitFlash The eBooks you want at the lowest prices.
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