Friday, October 30, 2009

David W. Berner

David W. Berner is an award-winning journalist, writer, documentarian, and teacher. His most recent book, Accidental Lessons—A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed, was published by AEG/Strategic in February, 2009. His essays and reporting have been published in numerous magazines and literary journals, and his broadcast work has been aired on National Public Radio, the CBS Radio Network, and public radio stations across the United States.

Berner is an assistant professor at Columbia College Chicago, teaching writing, audio documentary, and radio narrative.

Earlier this week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
On my floor-to-ceiling bookshelf in my living room is a copy of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. I read it in college, reread it about five years ago, and recently with all the talk of going “green” and sustainability, I started thinking again about Thoreau. I used a quote of his in the preface of my recently released memoir, Accidental Lessons. Thoreau’s words fit perfectly into a storyline of self-reinvention and discovery - The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.

Thoreau’s approach to the world and his approach to the art of writing have always fascinated me. But since I had already read a number of the biographies on him, I turned to what you might call the anti-biography. The reporter, Robert Sullivan, has written a wonderful book that peels the layers off the Thoreau onion and tells us more about the real man than any of the legends and half-truths ever could. The Thoreau You Don’t Know: What the Prophet of Environmentalism Really Meant is full of such intimate stories about the man that the reader feels he’s getting all of these tales on the QT, stories revealing the real man, not the myth. And if you’re a writer, Sullivan has a lot to say about Thoreau’s unique writing process. I’m about halfway through, and I already can undoubtedly say if you are at all a Thoreau geek, this is your book.

I tend to be a three-at-a-time reader. I read a little of this, then a little of that, come back to a little of this, and then something completely different after that – three books at a time. The second of the current trio is Philip Roth’s Everyman. Roth never fails in his storytelling and Everyman is no different. His 27th book is a masterpiece in brevity, just 182 pages, and although the story is a bit of a downer, a story of aging and the deterioration of the spirit, it is so gracefully told that the reader will finish the final pages feeling as if he has been in the company of genius. This is not Roth’s most recent work, but it is one of his best.

The final book now sitting on my nightstand is an old favorite. I’m rereading Tobias Wolff's The Night in Question: Stories. Wolff is one of my favorites and this collection is engaging from start to finish, with the best of the bunch coming at the back of the book – A Bullet to the Brain. In it, Wolff describes a bullet searing into the main character’s head with such elegance that you almost forget it’s such a violent moment in the story. I’m still making my way through this book, meandering from one story to the next. It is the best way to read a collection, tasting a bit of the feast and savoring each bite.

What in the world am I going to do about dessert?
Learn more about David W. Berner and his work at the Accidental Lessons website.

--Marshal Zeringue