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Wednesday’s Work-in-Progress: The Inspiration of “The Year of Living Autobiographically”

TomHopA couple of days ago, a good friend who is also a writer emailed me to check in on things. The message included an inquiry about what I’m writing these days. I didn’t feel as though I had a whole lot to report (although I do have a cluster of interesting freelance assignments on my to-do list). Instead, I mentioned in my response that I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, and that I’ve found this reading even more inspiring than usual. As an example, I referenced a book that those of you who follow me on Twitter or Goodreads may recall my mentioning: Ayelet Tsabari’s The Best Place on Earth.

But there’s another book that I want to cite here. You won’t find it on Amazon or Goodreads or IndieBound. Not yet, anyway. Its title is The Year of Living Autobiographically, and its author is Thomas Israel Hopkins.

I wish that I’d known Tom and his wife (novelist Emily Barton) better back when we were all in college together, but at least we (re)connected at our most recent reunion. Now, we’re fast Facebook friends! And Facebook is where I discovered Tom’s project, “The Year of Living Autobiographically,” which he has recapped at length on his blog:

The plan: Ditch FB for one year. Reader of the future: Do you know what I mean when I say “FB”? Take FB’s status-update limit of 420 characters and use it as a self-imposed creative challenge. Take my paranoia, my fear of things being stolen, lost, my unease at the Web’s impermanence, add it to my challenge. Write one exactly-420-character status update per day for one year. Privately. Don’t tell anybody. Publish it.

Well, Tom didn’t ditch FB completely. Which is lucky for me, because that’s where I was offered a copy of the privately-published, limited-edition book.

My copy arrived last week (replete with a vivid cover illustration provided courtesy of Tom and Emily’s young son). I read it over the course of two days. It has no ISBN number (hence, its absence from the sites where I normally track and publicize what I’m reading). But it is one of the most intelligent, intimate, and imaginative works that I’ve read in a long time.

Part of what I’m calling the work’s “intelligence” may stem from its premise and structure, but the writing’s honesty and directness also enhance an overall sense of clarity and grace. The adjective “intimate” seems appropriate because we learn so much about Tom through what he reveals about those closest to his heart (including his remarkable father, who passed away during the course of the year in question, and his equally remarkable young son), his dreams, and details taken from his daily life. And I can’t help thinking that the project itself shows quite a lot of creativity and imagination.

For the incredibly generous gift of this book, and all the work that went into writing, publishing, and distributing it, I thank Tom most sincerely. Reading The Year of Living Autobiographically provided some of my most interesting–and inspiring–hours of this past week.

(Tom tells me that plans are in the works to make The Year of Living Autobiographically available to more readers. Stay tuned!)

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8 Responses »

  1. This sounds fascinating! Please do keep us in the loop when Tom shares the plans on publication!

  2. This is fascinating, Erika! Thanks, as always, for the sharp and generous coverage. I met Tom and Emily years back at a One Story event and am eager to see this work once it’s available to a wider audience!

  3. I’m glad to see this post evoking so much interest!

  4. What a cool idea- so much of what we post on Facebook is tied up with our desire for audience, response and acknowledgement – imagine this would be more honest & very moving.

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