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VP and Editor in Chief, Andy Ward, on Shame and Wonder by David Searcy

Jan 4, 2016 Editor’s Desk

The origin story of Shame and Wonder, as brief as I can make it:

I was sitting at my desk, four years ago, when my phone rang. It was the writer John Jeremiah Sullivan calling. “This is going to sound weird,” he said, “but I did a reading in Texas last night, and I met a guy there. He handed me a copy of an essay he’d written. I think it might be good. Can I send it to you?” This happens a lot, when you’re an editor, people sending you “good” things to read, and the track record isn’t great. But the essay John sent me that day – five typewritten, hand-corrected pages from a guy in Dallas named David Searcy, who’d only started writing nonfiction in his late sixties – was unlike anything I’d read before.

An hour later, I was on the phone with David Searcy.

A month later, we had a book deal.

Four years later, we have Shame and Wonder.

But my love for this book goes beyond its unusual beginnings. I love it for the beauty and strangeness of David’s sentences: “I can remember being a child and being blank. Without opinion. Walking around like that. Complete like that. All fear and desire with not much in between. I think of it now as an experimental setup. Like a cloud chamber – where you’ve got this otherwise empty vessel filled with a sort of mist through which events, the passage of subatomic particles, leave evanescent trails.” I love it because of the feelings of deep longing he is able to conjure in, say, a pair of initials (“little heart-shaped memories of love”) carved into the trunk of an old tree or, even, the prizes at the bottom of cereal boxes. I love it, too, because it is funny.

But maybe most special of all, in the end, was being a witness to David’s process, which is not exactly typical, and to be honest, probably not advisable. Below, how a David Searcy essay – this one, titled “How to Color the Grass” — comes to be:

David writes on yellow legal pads, in long hand, with a ball point pen. Here’s what his first draft looks like. (Two ways to look at this, as an editor: Fascinating or stressful.)

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Here’s what his second or third draft looks like, i.e. when clarity begins to assert itself:

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And here’s what happens when he puts his pen down and commits to a final draft, which he commemorates via a Swiss-made Hermes 3000 typewriter, circa l959, with standard serif pica font. As David says, “It’s like typing on a Steinway – just the right mechanical resistance to make you mean what you say.”

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Finally, David also takes photos of the things he writes about, and several of these photos appear in the book. Think W.G. Sebald… if W.G. Sebald lived in Dallas… and drove a truck… and said things like “holy crap”… and spent a lot of time thinking about the venality of Scrooge McDuck. Though I love the title, the overall effect is: no shame, all wonder.

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Find out more about Shame and Wonder here:

Shame and Wonder by David Searcy

Shame and Wonder

By David Searcy

For fans of John Jeremiah Sullivan, Leslie Jamison, Geoff Dyer, and W. G. Sebald, the twenty-one essays in David Searcy’s debut collection are captivating, daring—and completely unlike anything else you’ve read before. Forging connections between the sublime and the mundane, this is a work of true grace, wisdom,... Read more >

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