When Rose Metal Press asked if I would consider writing a review of a forthcoming book entitled The Best of Brevity, I thought, Why not? I favor brevity. After all, that famous line, “Forgive me for writing you such a long letter, for I didn’t have the time to write a short one,” is one of my favorite [mis]quotations, even if we’re not exactly sure who first wrote it. Was it Montaigne? Cicero? Machiavelli? Pascal? Wilde? Twain? Mencken? Does it matter?
So the book arrived and I noted the cover read, “Twenty groundbreaking years of flash nonfiction.” I was intrigued; having written flash fiction for years and years, I was embarrassed to admit I knew little about this genre. But flash nonfiction? Now I wondered, Hmmm, this might be boring. Then I began flipping pages, reading different works, and promptly realized I had been quite wrong.
“Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction” is the name of an online litmag that’s specialized in nonfiction works no longer than 750 words since 1997. After perusing at least a dozen of its pieces, I knew I had a very special anthology in my hands. So I sat in my favorite reading chair and began again with number one, Brenda Miller’s “The Shape of Emptiness.” The college professor is telling the story of a boy student whose mother has died and who needs to miss some classes. But the story quickly morphs into a literary-cum-philosophical exploration of white space, and that into a class exercise in the mindfulness of playdough, which inevitably curves back around to the shape of emptiness.
We may write and write, but what is it we say? Or, what are we to think about our writing when we don’t realize how profoundly we have thought about an instance of life and subsequently understand how truly profound our writing about it was? See what I mean? That’s what happens over and over in Brevity.
And equally important is, how best to say it? Would Ms. Miller’s story have had its empathic denouement had it not been written in the first-person present tense?
I’ve read Brevity cover to cover three times. To call these works flash, to my mind, does not give them full credit for their depth, their humanity, their profundity, their wisdom. Nor enough credit for their writers’ skills in storytelling.
I won’t tell you my favorites. They’re mine. They are secrets I share only with their authors. You’ll find your own favorites soon enough, and you will embrace them, sigh, concur, delight, dab at your eye without any encouragement from me. These works are slices of real life; you don’t have to wonder if the author concocted them from imagination or transcribed them from experience. They are incredibly interesting as well as entertaining. Don’t deny yourself. Buy this book of uncommon essays.
The Best of Brevity: Twenty Groundbreaking Years of Flash Nonfiction. Edited by Zoë Bossiere and Dinty W. Moore. Rose Metal Press.com, Paperback, November 17, 2020. 256pp, $16.95. Please buy your copy at your local independent bookstore.
Next week: A Season’s Greetings gift for you!
Two weeks hence: A review of Madeline Miller’s Circe