My first book, STRATEGIES AGAINST EXTINCTION, has now been out in the world for one week since October 2nd, the “official” publication day.
For weeks now, people have been asking me how I feel about this, and for weeks, I have shrugged off the question. It’s my nature to not call attention to myself. I don’t like attention, and never have, and probably never will. I also know that talking about the book, what the stories mean to me, what questions I try to explore, is worth talking about, is incredibly important to me. I’m not, though, always sure how to approach it, how to discuss with people, even those that know me quite well, what publication of this book means.
A fellow writer, Marie-Helene Bertino, also published her first story collection, Safe as Houses, this week. On her website, she wrote an elegant and moving tribute to her grandfather and acknowledged how it took her nine years to write the stories that ultimately landed in her book. I’ve never met her. I’m familiar with her story “Great, Wondrous” which appeared here on Five Chapters. Her new collection is in my To Be Read pile. But what she wrote in her blog about her grandfather resonated with me.
My grandfather was Edward Sharkey; he was a World War II navigator, a businessman, a father of three, grandfather of nine. I realize this doesn’t really tell you anything about him. Instead, maybe, this: from the front porch of his home that he lived in for fifty years, I could see into the living room. He often had just the screen door between him and the world. There was his recliner, the fabric permanently shaped for his body, a reading lamp with a stem that could be tapped to turn on the light (this never worked). Next to his recliner was a TV cart. It was filled with books. Books on astronomy, on economics, on politics, physics, mathematics. His Walkman usually was there, too. My grandfather preferred nonfiction over fiction, but his office did have books of poetry and fiction; usually, the criteria was that the author had an Irish surname.
This doesn’t tell you anything either. Nor does telling you that there was a right way for him to do everything, including refolding the bag of rye bread, and the right way to put it in the bread drawer. There was a right way to do the crossword, grocery shop, play bridge. He was a quiet man, a private man, and one of the things I always loved was seeing him sit with us at meals, his hands folded across his stomach, his eyes above our heads, thinking. Maybe he was worrying. I don’t know of course what was on his mind, but his presence meant comfort and warmth and home.
I dedicated my book to my grandfather. And I’ve thought of him frequently during this first week of book publication. I hope that tells you something.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye