Hi everyone–Yes, I’m pulling another all-nighter! I want to share with you some information about a book I just purchased. It is called The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory by Kenny Fries. I happen to know some inside information about this book! I know that the original title didn’t include Darwin’s theory. So the title went through an evolution of its own. I heard Kenny read from his book long before it was published. The excerpt was about rock climbing and (please forgive me here) it was indeed a cliff-hanger as the piece described Kenny and his friend attempt a very difficult section of rock–and their circumstances are unusual–you’ll just have to read the book….
I was honored to have Kenny as my advisor for two semesters when I was at Goddard originally. It was 2004 and it seems like eons ago. I will never forget those Advising Group meetings with Kenny; I even remember the room where the meetings were held; supposedly the laundry room was in the same building. There was a woman named Jane in the group. He called her Juana, which she hated (this she confided to me before lunch one day). I could never figure out why she was writing a thesis about the Son of Gilgamesh, but “whatever floats one’s boat,” as they say….There were three people with last names that began with Z in the group. Then there was me. He called me Gail by accident, and from then on, he referred to me as “Not Gail.” I’ve never liked the name Gail. We got off to a great start.
But really, advising group was great. We looked at both poetry and prose, and we also workshopped people’s pieces. I know, I know, “workshopped” isn’t a word–that is, it isn’t a word unless you’re in an MFA program. It means you sit around in sort of a circle and discuss someone’s work, while that person remains silent. Hopefully you all say nice things about it at first, constructive stuff, ways to improve it, problem areas, all tactfully of course, never criticizing the person, always talking about the work itself. So that’s what we did. We also talked about published works. We all got very passionate about writing; the whole week was like that, a bunch of nutty people in the freezing Vermont countryside getting revved and ready to sustain that enthusiasm, writing like a bunch of enthusiastic scholarly nuts for five months, only to return to Vermont, this time in the blazing heat, to get recharged and obsessed yet another time. We’re all bonkers. And Kenny, along with the other faculty, was wonderful enough to be responsible for allowing all this to happen.
Yes, I know exactly what Kenny is going to tell his advising group when he meets with them this summer: “Don’t base your character on your mother. Just don’t.” Because that’s what I did with my former thesis. Readers, you know my relationship with my mother is strained enough. Basing my character, Irma, on my mother, Erna, turned out to be–well, you guessed it. Not a good thing. Don’t base your character on your mother. Just don’t.
I think the reason for this problem is because a character is a being (being with a lower case b)–that is, a person you can attach a personality to, and an appearance, etc. But the main characteristic of my mother, to me, is not her presence, but her absence. It isn’t so much what she did for me or to me that hurt me. It’s what she didn’t do. She didn’t pick me up from Hebrew School on time. She didn’t love me. She wasn’t close to me. She didn’t listen–she never, never listened. So in writing about a character, I was writing in the wrong direction. I needed to write about a void. Irma had a dead husband. Maybe it was Irma who should have been the one who was dead.
At any rate, here are excerpts from the reviews of The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory, by Kenny Fries. And here’s the link to the book on Amazon:
“An amazing book–beautiful and unique. Kenny Fries makes dazzling connections between the most intimate details and the most sweeping panoramas, and left me changed by his insights.” — Joan Silber, author, Ideas of Heaven
In The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory Kenny Fries tells two stories: the development of the theory of “survival of the fittest,” as articulated by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace; and the history of his ever-changing, made-to-order, orthopedic shoes. The famously important first story, as told by Kenny Fries, is a condensed and colorful account of the race between Darwin and Wallace to formulate their groundbreaking theories. At the same time, Fries tells a deeply personal story of the evolving consciousness of his own “adaptations,” represented by his shoes.
Although only the “fittest” may survive, Fries learns that adaptation and variation are critical to survival. What is deemed normal, or even perfect, are passing phases of the ever-changing embodiment of nature in our world. In the end, Darwin and Wallace’s discoveries resonate with Fries’ own story, inextricably leading us into a new world where variety and difference are not only “normal,” but the ingenious origins of survival itself.
“In this quietly revolutionary book, Fries gives us his own story, side-by-side with that of Darwin’s. The juxtaposition is startling, revelatory, and ultimately redemptive. Big-hearted, generous, deeply human, this is the next wave in identity politics, and you’re going to love it.”– Alison Smith, author, Name All the Animals
“Kenny Fries explores both ‘able-bodiedness’ and the legacies of Darwin’s theory while literally traveling the world. There is no book quite like this and no one who reads these pages will ever forget them. This is a history of our bodies and a travelogue through landscapes and cultural signs that everyone should read in our post-colonial millennium” –Stephen Kuusisto, author, Planet of the Blind
Kenny Fries is the author of Body, Remember: A Memoir and editor of Staring Back: The Disability Experience from the Inside Out. He has been a Creative Arts Fellow of the Japan-US Friendship Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as a Fulbright Scholar to Japan. He teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Goddard College. Visit him online at www.kennyfries.com.
The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory
By Kenny Fries
Carroll & Graf | May 2007 | Trade Paper
0-7867-2007-7 | 224 pages | $14.95