by Jerry Waxler
I went to a book fair in Philadelphia yesterday, hoping to find a few memoirists. The book fair was held on the sidewalk surrounding the Philadelphia Free Library on the Parkway, a few blocks away from the Philadelphia Museum of Art (made famous by Rocky Balboa). Driving into the city yesterday down Kelly Drive, I passed Boat House Row, and saw the sculling crews on the Schuylkill River. It was the first sunny day in weeks, and the joggers and walkers were out in force. I parked at the Art Museum and walked down the Parkway past the Rodin Museum, and the Franklin Institute (founded in 1824 as the first professional engineering institute in the US), towards William Penn’s statue on top of Philadelphia’s City Hall brought back memories from High School when I used to take the subway down to the Library to learn about classical music. They had a room full of phonograph players and a catalog of music, and you could go to the librarian and ask for any record you wanted, and she handed you the vinyl record, and you walked to the record player, put on the headphones and dropped the needle into the groove. Wagner and Beethoven were my two favorites. Another time my grandfather asked me to get a book of poetry by the poet Mikhail Lermentov. It was printed in Cyrillic. As a young man, the Parkway offered a wellspring from which I could drink the finest culture, in science, art, music, and literature.
And here I was again, decades later, looking to drink in the culture offered by these books and book people. There were book sellers and publishers, and a few authors. One of them had written a memoir, “That day in September, a personal remembrance of 9/11″ by Artie Van Why. He had been working across the street from the Twin Towers on that day. I spoke with him for a while and asked him how things were going. While I stood chatting several walked over, picked up the book and bought it, looking to share his experiences of that tragic day. I swapped with Artie, giving him a copy of my book “Learn to Write your Memoir” for a copy of his, and when I got home I started to read it. It’s only 84 pages long, and I read half of it in one sitting, my eyes growing wet as his first person account awakened memories in me. When I’m finished I intend to ask Van Why more about how writing the book changed his life. One thing about his memoir writing experience I didn’t need to ask. I could see for myself what efforts he was going through to sell his book. He had rented a booth at the Bookfest, come in from out of town and stayed over night at a hotel in Philadelphia. Certainly selling a few copies of his book was not going to earn him great financial rewards. Like any story teller, he was there to share his story, and to share it, he needed to reach out to readers.