I’m currently engaging in that ritual of publishing, filling out the “Author Questionnaire” my publisher’s marketing department seeks for my upcoming book The Most Famous Writer Who Ever Lived — an essentially hopeful act imagining all the vast audiences who theoretically will run on book stores and internet retail sites to purchase multiple copies, and all the media who will devote yards of type and gigabytes of content to cover it. Here I’ll share just one of the 53 items on the questionnaire (I live to spell this word) and my response to it:
- 31. Please write a paragraph or two on how you came to write this book — including any interesting or newsworthy anecdotes about researching it, writing it, or getting it published.
Until two years ago, I had spent my entire life dismissing, ignoring, or denying my mother’s attempts to impress on me the significance of her father. His many books on my bookshelf went unread. The boxes and boxes of photos and letters my mother kept for decades were felt only as dead weight. When my mother died, if it hadn’t been for my sister’s stubborn insistence, they all would have been headed to the incinerator. For 17 years, I have lived within 25 miles of a repository of 50,000 items consisting of many hundreds of thousands of pages documenting every aspect of my grandfather’s life in shockingly intimate detail, and yet it never occurred to me it might be interesting to look into those 148 boxes sitting in federal storage space in the Library of Congress. As I neared the age of 60, with old age and death peeking ominously over the horizon, I began to wonder increasingly about my grandfather, and his influence on my life and career. Again and again questions formed in my mind, only to butt up against the reality that all those who could have so easily answered them were gone, and that the knowledge itself was vanishing from the face of the earth. I knew that many, if not most people face that same sad irony at some point in their lives. And then the bulb lit in my mind: I had a unique advantage, the mountain of material that would answer all my questions, and many more I never could have imagined.
Ironically, after two years of intensive research and reading in the world’s greatest library, of going through all those boxes my sister had clung to after our mother’s death, just as I was finishing the manuscript for the book, I made one final discovery that would shine a unique light on all that I had learned – in the unlit far corner of my own basement closet.