When I decided to go the discussion of the writer’s craft by Scott Russell Sanders (dragging my decidedly conservative best friend with me) it was because I had read and loved his essay “Under the Influence.” This essay painfully and realistically describes his own experiences with an alcoholic father. The essay was masterfully crafted, simultaneously heartwarming and tragic. When I came to the card table with the shiny orange stacks his new, overpriced, first edition book, I bought it without a pause for the main purpose of getting it signed. After hearing his talk I knew that I had bought, not a book of personal essays about his family, (though “Under the Influence” is featured) but a book of environmental preaching.
I did get the book signed, obviously. As it sat on my shelf, my third signed first edition in my collection, I stared at it warily. To read or not to read. That was the question. Of course I read it. As any carnal lover of books knows, a book’s purpose is to be read, regardless of its autographed or first edition status. They are nothing but shells unless their pages are perused. Sander’s writing, though brilliant in its craft, did have the tendency to put me off, especially when he went off on environmental tangents. Don’t get me wrong, I love the environment as much as the next girl (though not as much as my good friend Charlotte Gorman), but I hate, hate people preaching. Several of his essays adopt an accusatory tone, which as a reader, I find very unattractive. Passion is lovely, but molding that passion into a cohesive thought provoking suggestion (as opposed to a command or reprimand) takes artistry. Luckily, there were just as many essays with a tone of true inquiry, showing a man who is using the essay in its original sense of the word, “to try, or “to attempt.” Sanders tries and attempts to answer questions that truly bother him: Why is there inequality between men and women, what has happened to my relationship to my son, why do I write, is there a God? It is these essays, rather than the soapbox ones that led me to be an admirer of Sander’s writing.