An Alphabetical Life

I have been feeling a little off lately, for a variety of reasons which I will not get into here (nor elsewhere on the blog). I haven’t been doing much, but I have been reading, and I recently completed “An Alphabetical Life,” a memoir by Wendy Werris.

Werris has worked as a publisher’s sales rep to bookstores since she was in her early twenties (I think that was in the late-70s, but I had to return the book and don’t have it here to double-check), and the book is a fascinating look at what it’s like to live that life. Overall, I enjoyed it — it was neat to learn about the publishing industry along with her growth within it, and her writing style strikes a good balance between journalistic and more essay-like. She has known a lot of interesting people, and we meet and learn about a lot of them, which was pretty interesting. But this is where the book sometimes veers off track (though that is not to say that these diversions are not entertaining).

The book walks a strange line between talking about the publishing industry through her experiences, and talking about her life outside of work. There are several things that I’ thinking about here, and to me they point to a big rewrite that would have made an even stronger book. First, her friends. They are interesting and wonderful people, and the stories she tells are great. But some of these stories go way, way off the beaten track of a memoir about the publishing industry. Second, two parts of her personal life are mentioned in passing (drug addiction, massive financial problems) and there is no explanation or follow-up. Then there are some things in her personal life that are delved into for reasons that are muddy (a break-in and rape, dealing with the deaths of friends and parents). Lastly, there is something that I was really interested in that is mentioned here and there and occasionally elaborated on a bit — the fact that when she started to be a sales rep, there were very few, if any, women doing this work. It could be my own politics, but I wanted more about that.

My best guess is that some things had to be cut out for length, and the drug addiction and financial problems were taken out (but references to them were left in) and some of the longer stories about her friends were left in more for emotional reasons than editorial reasons. I personally feel that the book could have been stronger if there was either more or less of a focus on her personal life outside of work, but that’s just me. (Perhaps she really had two books she wanted to write? Who knows.)

In any case, it’s not too long and it moves fast, so if you like memoirs and are interested in books and publishing, it’s worth grabbing at the library.

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