Creative types are always looking for some sort of inspiration, something that will help them get the juices flowing. Having been an aspiring writer for some time (I mean fiction-wise, not blogging – I seem able to that pretty easily!), I can totally understand, and often take a look at books that offer to help me create. This was my motivation for buying The Moment on my last trip to Portland’s amazing Powell’s City of Books, probably my favorite bookstore. What with teaching, being a dad, and trying to keep up on all my hobbies, I often don’t have enough time to write for myself, let alone read motivational works – so I figured that the bite-sized approach of Larry Smith’s collected wisdom gathered from writers and artists would fit the bill very nicely.
This book is edited and compiled by Smith Magazine co-founder Larry Smith, whose magazine is the same place where the series of Six Word Memoirs books originated. These collected anecdotes are longer in nature, hence the new format, yet each can be read in a very short time, making them accessible to even those with pressing demands on their time. The stories run the gamut from childhood memories, to recollections of parental choices, to illness that shaped part or all of a life, to jobs taken and turned down. Among the more interesting anecdotes are the story of how Cheryl Della Pietra learned to live in the moment by applying to be an assistant to Hunter S. Thompson, and that of Jessica Lutz, who found that risking her life covering stories in dangerous war zones didn’t make her life particularly meaningful, but that being embraced by her own infant daughter did. There are stories by famous people, and by those touched by fame, but also plenty of stories by regular Joes and Janes who have moments to share, moments that changed their lives and made them reassess who they are. The terms in the subtitle, Writers and Artists, are flexible, covering everyone from people who have worked professionally as same, to those who work on blogs, take photographs, or write essays at school. In this sense, we’re all writers and artists, and it makes the book the more sympathetic for that realization.
There is a lot of emotion, and a lot that can come across as overly self-aware or even maudlin; this is, however, the nature of personal writing. Not every event or life choice is going to resonate with each reader. While I bought this book initially thinking it would be inspirational for my own writing projects, I found that in fact its effect on me came from a different angle: that of how I experience the world. It is far too easy to take the things we have – jobs, health, loved ones – for granted; The Moment, while mostly positive, also deals with how these things with which we surround ourselves can easily be gone in a moment, or changed forever (such as the story in which one writer deals with her mother’s growing dementia by deflecting around the topic and talking about medications as a way to deal with her grief). With 125 stories to choose from, any reader would be hard pressed not to find her or himself represented here.
The only downside is that, with 125 different voices come 125 different writing styles and approaches to storytelling. There is some unevenness, and the one area I think could have benefited from a heavier editorial hand would have been organization. There are no sections to the book. Instead, it presents the anecdotes one at a time with no particular thematic cohesion, meaning that if you wanted to, say, find an inspirational story about dealing with bullying, you’d pretty much have to guess based on short titles rather than being able to turn to a particular section of the book. While this encourages the reader to peruse the whole book, it does lend itself to a bit of frustration when you want to revisit a particular story or find pieces related to its topic.
Still, overall I recommend this book to those looking for quick inspiration, and connection with the stories that, when added together, make a life.
Steve’s Grade: B
A slightly uneven ride, combining the uplifting with the sad, the banal with the profound, but providing stories and anecdotes of enough variety that every reader will find something personally relevant with which to sympathize. Don’t use this as an inspirational book; rather, use this as a way to connect with the human experience.