Shelf Life

Today’s Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog post, “Shelf Life” by Sarah Marie Wells, touched me on many levels. First was her mention of attending the Festival of Faith and Writing a decade ago (I went in 2016). Wells wrote about meeting Brian Doyle (one of my favorite essayists) there. But the heart of the essay begins with her confession about buying Quotidiana by Patrick Madden at that festival and just starting to read it—this week!

Wells says Madden is a friend of hers, and I suspect he doesn’t take offense at Wells’s admission. I recently received similar news from a friend who had just finished reading my 2017 memoir, Hiking Naked. If Madden’s like me, he’ll be delighted to know someone read his book, especially when reader/author Wells suggests books have “shelf life.” A life that we authors can’t control. As I await the March 22 release of my forthcoming book, Writer in a Life Vest, I especially appreciate this reminder from Wells:

“The point is, you can only do what you can do to get the word about your book into the world. You can only show up, bring the self you put on the page, mention that you have a book, and hope it lands on their front porch in a brown package.”

And for us readers, it’s worth looking at our shelves now and then; there’s probably a title there ready to come to life for us. And when it does, we shouldn’t hesitate to let the author know.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

By Sarah M. Wells

Today, I began a book a writer friend of mine wrote over a decade ago (he published it 12 years ago, so probably it was written even more years earlier). I bought it in 2012 at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing, where we met (I think for the first time?) and walked with Brian Doyle past tennis courts along thinly shaded asphalt paths in search of the auditorium. We took the long way (we were lost).

I have been meaning to read Quotidiana by Patrick Madden ever since, but it’s sat on my shelf, sandwiched between Mackall and Mairs, its spine uncracked, its pages still pressed together. Other books have been read and finished in the decade since I bought this, probably hundreds of books, even, but yesterday, when I finished reading Bewilderment, a novel by Richard Powers that reaches far into the…

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