Sunday, February 25, 2018

Book Review: 'There's a Hamster in the Dashboard' by David W. Berner

Chicago author David W. Berner has been around the block - he is an award-winning journalist, writer, documentarian, and an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago where he teaches Writing for Radio, Radio Storytelling, and Radio/Audio Documentary in the Radio Department at CCC. His essays and his books are highly respected and highly consumed. But the manner in which he approaches the problem under discussion is unique. In his words, `I first experienced how important a writing space could be when I was given the opportunity to be the writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, Florida. It's the modest home he lived with his mother after all the attention of On the Road, and where he wrote The Dharma Bums. The three-month experience of writing in such a revered place, allowed for a renewed attention to "place" in a story. Setting can be as much a character in a work as the voices heard in those spaces. When I started writing Any Road Will Take You There: A Journey of Fathers and Sons, my memoir of a 5000-mile road trip and the struggles and triumphs of fatherhood, I rediscovered the importance of space, setting, and place. Where the story happens, why it happens in that location, in that house, on that road is crucial to the story. Each of the stops along the long journey in Any Road Will Take You There evokes a memory, a moment that fuels the trip and the story. Just like the places where I write, the places in my stories have meaning, something true and honest and revealing.'

Having read and been deeply moved by David's ANY ROAD WILL TAKE YOU THERE, reading and chuckling and enjoying THERE'S A HAMSTER IN THE DASHBOARD opens a new vista of appreciation for his gift of writing. Rather than a novel, this book is a series of essays about the various animals with whom David has come into contact, and they are irresistible. As the synopsis distills: `Berner shares stories of "a life in pets"--from a collie that herds Berner home when the author goes "streaking" through the neighborhood as a two-year-old, to a father crying in front of his son for the only time in his life while burying the family dog on the Fourth of July. And from the ant farm that seems like a great learning experience (until the ants learn how to escape), to the hamster that sets out on its own road trip (but only gets as far as the dashboard). Along the way, Berner shows that pets not only connect us with the animal world, but also with each other and with ourselves. The result is a collection of essays that is insightful and humorous, entertaining and touching.'

An element that s a constant in David's writing is his enormous sense of humanity. He is as much a philosopher of the porch swing variety as anyone writing today. Read, smile, think, read again and enjoy. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, August 15

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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