If this were 2012 or 2013, I would not be writing a review of this book. Back then, I was reading at a ridiculously rapid pace and only reviewing between a half and three quarters of what I read. I was so hungry to read more that sometimes I just couldn’t force myself to write reviews – even when I had interesting things to say. But I’ve made a promise to myself that in 2014 I will review every book I read. Short reviews are OK; skipping the review, not OK. That’s Article III of the Bookblogger’s code.
Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings was an assigned text for the workshop I took last month. We read Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter (which I loved and reviewed here), and then we read this book, which is a memoir tracing the paths through which Welty developed the senses of a writer: the ability to see the world as a set of details on which meaning can be imparted, and the sense of voice and the ability to hear human speech for what it is and then capture it on the page. Reading this book helped me to understand which parts of The Optimist’s Daughter are autobiographical and which are not – but, honestly, I don’t care much about that. The Optimist’s Daughter is a great novel whether it is partly autobiographical or not.
Welty’s writing is wonderful, of course, and the academic in me can understand why this book is important to study (its origin, by the way, is in academia; it is published by the Harvard University Press as part of the William E. Massey, Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization). Of course it’s a good idea for universities like Harvard to solicit coming-of-age memoirs like this one and then publish and archive them.
But for the most part, this book bored me, and I take full responsibility for my own limited sensibilities. I had a hard time getting through it – and it’s only 104 pages long, for God’s sake, just 1/93rd the length of the seven extant novels in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, all of which I’ve read. Reading this book, I remember a professor of mine in grad school stopping the flow of his lecture one afternoon, leaning in, meeting the eyes of each student one at a time, and then intoning, “You. Are. Allowed. To Hate. Hamlet.” What he meant is that readers are free. We can choose to seek out books and classes and professors and more experienced readers to help us hone our sensibilities, but we are also allowed to send the middle finger off in the direction of said authorities.
I’m not suggesting that I want to give Eudora Welty the middle finger. What would that accomplish? I have no wish to offend her, although if there’s one thing The Optimist’s Daughter demonstrates, it’s that Welty is tougher than she looks. She’d probably just laugh at the hubris of a silly bookblogger who dares to find fault with her specially-commissioned Harvard University Press memoir. And she would be right – but only in the sense that I’m right too.
To sum up: I didn’t like this book, but that’s my fault, not Welty’s. I’m glad that this book exists. I’m grateful for Welty’s wonderful fiction, and also for the freedom to decline to enjoy any book I want – even or especially the ones stamped with the approval of a major university.
P.S. When I was searching for an image of the cover of this book, I found THIS – which has got to be some high school English teacher’s template for some kind of horrible cookie-cutter essay on Eudora Welty. If you ever start to long for your halcyon youth, take a look at this chart: