The Book of Knowledge and Wonder is a memoir about claiming a legacy of wonder from knowledge of a devastating event. In some ways it has the feel of a detective story in which Steven Harvey pieces together the life of his mother who committed suicide when he was eleven, out of the 406 letters she left behind. The memoir is framed by references to the 1952 set of The Book of Knowledge and the mobiles of Alexander Calder, which become tools for the author to understand and reconstruct the life of his mother, but as son and mother collaborate in the creation of their story it is the perennial theme of abiding love despite the odds that fuels the tale.
After my mother died I forgot the sensation of her touch and the sound of her voice. I could not hug a shadow. I could not fill her silence with my words.
Who is suicide? She was suicide.
She became her death.
And the pictures, hundreds of curled shavings of the past in a basket, did not bring her back. Even when my mother gazed directly into the camera, I knew that she was looking into a future that was already over with shadows like gun smoke folded into the glossy black-and-white. I needed a voice, speaking in her present, not one whispering to posterity, a voice animated by the desire to capture the present for someone alive. That is the voice I heard in the letters. When I read them, I got to know her—for the first time, really—know her and miss her. Miss her, not some made up idea of her. The letters do not bring her back—I know the loss is permanent and irrevocable—but while I read them the pain, that had been nothing more than a dull throb, changed in character, becoming softer, more diffuse, and ardent, like heartache.
From the Forward: “Watch the writer of nonfiction as he illuminates his craft. By asking himself the original “wonder qustions” of his childhood, Harvey ignites a curiosity that takes him back into memory—but also allows him room for inference and imagination…. In the end he emerges with a kind of knowledge to which he adds the well earned word ‘wonder.’” –Judith Kitchen
Steven Harvey is the author of three books of personal essays: A Geometry of Lilies, Lost in Translation, and Bound for Shady Grove. He is a professor emeritus of English and creative writing at Young Harris College and a member of the nonfiction faculty in the Ashland University MFA program in creative writing. He lives in the north Georgia mountains where he writes and sings and plays banjo, guitar, and ukulele with the musical group Butternut Creek and Friends. He is also the hardly humble creator of The Humble Essayist, a site on-line for promoting personal essays and reflective memoirs. You can learn more about Steve and his work at his web site: the-humble-essayist.com.
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