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Essays reveal a deeper thought process

By Rebecca Hyde

Rowan Public Library

For some of us, self dialogue comes and goes, and it’s often annoying and exhausting. Sven Birkerts crafts his conversations into essays, linking the present moment, a detail or item, to the past through self-questioning.

A photo, a lighter, a stone shard – these are objects Birkerts picks up and examines as he reconsiders his life. For the reader, the objects are clues that reveal Birkerts as the bookseller, son, parent, young writer and middle-aged author who can be funny, regretful, astute or meditative.

The first essay, “The Other Walk,” is an introduction to his style of self-examination. The time is “this morning,” and a middle-aged Birkerts sets out on his routine early walk. But “going against all convention,” he turns right instead of left and takes his circuit in reverse.

What was routine is now re-examined from a new perspective, which gives rise to new questions. Why hasn’t he written about this topic (his early morning walks) before? He used to walk because of sleeplessness (“edgy, anxious midlife”), not to see anything but to get into the day, in a way he could tolerate. Why walk now? He walks to set up his writing day, to start his thinking, testing the hardness of a thought against the rhythms of walking, or simply get the sense of the day, a prelude.

“Lighter” is an examination of things lost and found, of memories accumulated and deleted. Birkerts plays with a cigarette lighter, which appears in a package from his brother, who found it among the accumulated stuff in the old family home that’s to be sold. He feels “the quick flash of wires making first contact,” and it’s the lighter of 50 years ago, his father’s old prize from the war, which Birkerts took apart for study on the drafting table. There was a scene, when his father came home from the office.

That second-guessing fizzled when Birkerts saw his engraved initials. A gift from whom? There’s no pulse of recollection. But there are questions like “What kind of friend am I?” or “If this, then what else?” How much of his living has moved out of reach? It’s like a memory film, “a whole forgotten existence rustling over the sprockets of the projector and flowering there on the screen.” His son Liam brings it to an end. He’s impressed with the lighter: “Wow – who gave it to you?” Dad can only say, “I’m really not sure.”

If you’re interested in the essay as a genre, see John D’Agata’s “The Lost Origins of the Essay.” The anthology begins with “The List of Ziusudra” and concludes with John Berger’s “What Reconciles Me.” For D’Agata, the art of the essay is an alternative to nonfiction read for information.

Summer reading:  Every Hero Has a Story! Reading hours may be tracked through Aug. 8. Prizes for children who read one, five, 10, 15 and 20 hours. Children who read 20 hours get a special certificate and are entered in the 20-Hour Reader Raffle on Aug. 10. Door prizes raffled at weekly programs. To enter, children write and submit a Super Reader Review before the start of the program.

Weekly programs run until July 30.

Mighty Readers: 3- to 5-year-olds — Through July 30. All at 10:30 a.m.; Headquarters, Tuesday; East, Thursday; South Rowan, Monday.

Super Readers: Rising first- through fifth-graders — Through July 30. Headquarters, Wednesday, 2 p.m.; East, Wednesday, 10:30 a.m.; South Rowan, Tuesday, 2 p.m.; Cleveland Town Hall, Thursday, 10:30 a.m.

Performer lineup — July 20-24, Mother Minter; July 27-31, Lee Street Theatre.

Teen summer reading: “UnMask” Summer Reading Program through July 31, all rising sixth-graders to 12th-graders may participate. Teens can earn library dollars to be used to enter raffles on prizes provided by Friends of Rowan Public Library and other local organizations.

Programs are 3:30-5 p.m. on Tuesdays at Headquarters; Wednesdays, East; and Thursdays at South Rowan.

Prize raffles will be drawn at the National Teen Lock-in at Headquarters on Friday, July 316:30-10:30 p.m.

UnMasked: Mask-making and t-shirt designing — Headquarters, July 21; East, July 22; South Rowan, July 23.

National Teen Lock-in: End of summer celebration — Headquarters, July 31, 6:30-10:30 p.m.

Adults summer reading: Adults ages 18+ may “Escape the Ordinary” at the library through reading, movies and more.

To participate, adults must sign up at www.rowanpubliclibrary.org. Reading hours may be tracked through Aug. 8. Prizes include gift cards and two tablet computers. Prize winners will be announced at the end of summer celebration, Be Your Own Hero; participants do not have to be present to win.

Adults may attend special programs including Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find, led by Andrew Mansell, local comic book enthusiast. Monday, July 20, 6:30 p.m., headquarters; Tuesday, 6:30 p.m., South Rowan Regional. Mansell will discuss the importance of comics and how they have changed but remained a popular and sometimes controversial source of reading for people of all generations. Mansell is passionate about four things: his family, classical music, baseball, and of course, great comics.

Summer movie series: All movies start at 6:30 p.m. Headquarters. July 21, “Captain Phillips” (PG13); July 28, “The Boxtrolls” (PG). Aug. 4, “Indiana Jones: Last Crusade” (PG13); Aug. 11, “Captain America” (PG13). Movies are free and all ages are welcome. Children should be accompanied by an adult. Free popcorn and lemonade.

On Wednesdays at 2 p.m. at South Regional: July 22, “The Incredibles” (G); July 29, “The Boxtrolls” (PG).

Book Bites Club: July 28, 6:30 p.m., “The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. Book discussion groups for adults and children at South Rowan Regional Library meet the last Tuesday of each month. Open and anyone is free to join at any time. There is a discussion of the book as well as light refreshments. For more information, call 704-216-7841.

Displays: Headquarters, Piedmont Players; South, North Carolina photography by Aaron Cress; East, lunch boxes by Sharon Ross.

Literacy: Call the Rowan County Literacy Council at 704-216-8266 for more information on teaching or receiving literacy tutoring for English speakers or for those for whom English is a second  language.

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