#CBR7 Review #178: This I Believe ed. by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman

There are two types of people in the world: those who remember high school with great fondness, and those who remember college with great fondness. I fall into that latter camp. I hated high school with my entire being, and I found the person I was meant to be in college. I knew that I had wanted to be an English major, but I didn’t know the incredible potential resting within me until my incredible faculty and friends helped me unleash it. I never even considered graduate school until several of my professors encouraged me to consider it. I have them to thank for the career path I’m on today. So, yeah. College is the time of my life I remember with incredible fondness (not to mention that I met The Chancellor when I was finishing up my BA in English and he was enrolled in the MA program…).

It’s in college that I received This I Believe, a collection of essays written for NPR and collected by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman. When I graduated with my Bachelor’s in English in 2009, my beloved faculty gave all the graduates a copy of this book, and I asked them all to sign it for me. Several wrote incredibly kind notes, because I was on my way to my MA program. I had the book on my shelf for years and years before actually reading it this fall. [Sidenote: um, it’s been awhile since I actually read this book. Commuting three times a week to a job, plus juggling other part-time work has been not-so-great for the reading front, and even worse for my CBR reviews. Bear with me.] I think for me this is one of those books that I’ll remember more for the people who gave it than the quality of the book itself, if that makes sense.

This I Believe is a long-running NPR segment that airs (aired? I don’t listen to NPR much) each week, and features an essay about “This I Believe,” with a short, pithy, meaningful punch. Some people who are featured are famous, others are not. But there’s always a personal story, and always something meaningful to the person writing.

If I’m being completely honest, I have to admit that I like the idea of the “This I Believe” essay more than the actual style and format of the essay. I realize that a radio genre should be short, which is why a 200-300 word essay makes sense. But for reading, I felt rushed a lot. I got a little bit tired of the shtick of the essay, and wanted more. I would have liked a word count of about 1000, to further develop the story or ideas present in the essay. And when it comes to belief or advice-giving, there is no equal to the raw honesty and radical empathy you find in Dear Sugar’s Tiny Beautiful Things. But the one essay I highly, highly recommend is Deidre Sullivan’s “Always go to the funeral.” Fantastic. This is a collection I’d use to teach personal narrative writing, especially as a warm-up to a longer essay.


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