Lauded Author Says Thank You to Fans of BWB

Guest post from Author Christopher Barzak. Barzak’s message below is a significant shout-out to Better World Books fans who chose his book as one of their favorite stories about America. In it, he discusses the meaning of Place and how it informs his work.


A couple months ago, Better World Books posted a list of books people could read in order to see different parts of the world through the perspectives presented in literature.  I was really honored and thrilled that my first novel, One for Sorrow, was included on the list of books for the United States.  Not only was John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Stephen King and F. Scott Fitzgerald on that list, but there was me and my first novel!  How could my little novel be one selected as book through which a reader could “see” the United States?

Place, I think, is the reason why One for Sorrow might have been selected for the list.  As a writer, I’m inspired by the places I’ve lived and those I visit for any length of time that allows me to sink my roots into the soil for a bit, to draw on the stories that surround and infuse any particular patch of earth.  My second novel, for instance, The Love We Share Without Knowing, is set in Japan, where I lived for two years teaching English in rural elementary and middle schools.  If I’d never lived in Japan for that long, I might never have written a story set there.  Some writers can write about anywhere, but I don’t think they always capture the feeling or spirit of a place as a writer who has been somewhere in particular, or especially lived somewhere.  They capture a setting, but not the place, and these are two different degrees of narrative, I think.

When I write a story or novel, place is often the source of inspiration.  I collect photographs of inspiring locales, I collect stories that rise up out of the locals of a place, the folklore of urban and suburban and rural people, I gather artifacts—talismans—that represent a place for me.  The first time I visited Seattle a year ago, for instance, I brought home three white shells from the beach, and an eagle feather.  When I look at them, I still see the shoreline and the mountains rising over the ocean, somehow, as if by magic, in the distance.  I see the towering trees of Seattle’s rainforest, and it’s because of these items I brought home with me that I can access those images and sensory details more easily.  They are not magical, but they act as if by magic in the way that they provide me with an immediate access to past memories.

Like that, I also collect talismans and other sorts of evocative artifacts in the stories I write.  In One for Sorrow, the story is set in a small, dying mill town in America’s Rustbelt, a setting that is not often explored in fiction.  It’s still a new landscape, and very misunderstood by most other Americans, I think, and sometimes when I look at the bookshelves at my local bookseller, I see a great absence for this place I call home.  It seems everyone is reading about L.A. and NYC, or other megalopolises that have been represented over and over again in books.  There’s a particularly American story to be gotten from stories and novels set in those great, hulking cities, but they are only one part of the American story.  A lot of other parts of the American narrative aren’t as visible, and I think telling the story of one of America’s ghost towns through the eyes of a young man who can see the ghosts, thus being able to tell some of their stories of a American town that has disappeared over the last generation, is the reason why One for Sorrow made that list.  

America is more than bursting-at-the-seams-with-dreams hyper-urban places.  There are many places in America where dreams have fled, or died, or have been forgotten.  And their stories tells as much a tale about America as the cities that dominate our American imaginations.

What place do you think is overlooked in modern-day literature? How would you write about it?

*Note* The above blog post is a guest blog from author Christopher Barzak. This content does not necessarily reflect the views of Better World Books (as our lawyers make sure we say). We love having guest bloggers and invite you to email if you are interested in covering a book or topic on the BWB Blog. Thank you, Christopher, we appreciate the insight on your novels. For more info on Christopher, visit his blog.


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