Last month, I finished a book called Start with Why, written by entrepreneur and motivational speaker Simon Sinek. His TED talk and insightful Q&As had been popping up on my YouTube for a while. But it wasn’t until his book was chosen for our company’s book club that I gave it a chance. Now, long after I finished reading it, its main lesson still blows my mind. Start with why.
The kind reader already knows I tend to begin with preambles and prologues. Still, allow me to state why you should read THEY LIVED THEY WERE AT BRIGHTON BREACH. Later, you can follow the link to the book’s opening pages for a sample. After all, this post does aim to spark your interest.
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The reason for writing this book is complicated, a fact felt between the lines of the prose. Part of it stems from the book having served as my thesis in graduate school. I read a bit of it at the commencement ceremony, turned it in for a grade, and workshopped it with my advisor and peers. You could say that the version you hold is the result of two years of concentrated effort to become better at telling stories. Thus, it is my most story-driven story to date. Reading any two pages of it confirms this fact.
Another part of its reason for being has to do with the biggest criticism against my first novel, The Summer Abroad. Reviewers, readers, even peers in my workshop at The New School, all criticized the book for containing Spanish. Not only is it a language I have known since birth, readers felt I was cruel to exclude them from the story by using it. In other words, they loathed to skip important passages written in a language they did not grow up with, as I had done so effortlessly, without struggle to own it at all.
“Footnotes?” they suggested. I refused. “No translating?” they asked. I tried my best. And so Mikaíl Fantasma left a wake of frustration behind him. “What’s the point if I don’t understand,” some travelers would say, before turning to me: “such good writing deserves to be read and understood by more than a blessed few.” It was a justified statement. I knew I had written something personal to me, but not close enough to the general American reader. In short, I had taken a risk, and lost. Even though I did learn something.
I learned that for the next book I wanted to cut this problem (Foreign-Personal) in half. They Lived They Were then features a multicultural protagonist, but not from Argentina. The novel does contain a foreign language, but not in my native Spanish. With this second book, I wrote predominately in English, but included lines in a language I had to teach myself. That language is Russian, and I did it purely out of joy. Now, readers do not have the excuse that I wrote in my own secret code. No. If I taught myself this language, even a little bit of it, then readers should also put in a little effort, for the chance to get twice as much out of it for trying.
But that’s just me saying it. Whether the book is worth the effort of trying to read the Russian, or even the English, that’s up to you to decide.
The last raison d’être of the book, at its core, is that it has no ultimate reason. The first two are merely incidental. The only real reason for this book to exist is that I see myself as an artist. This book was bound to happen, just as it is only natural for it to try to fly. And because of this, if you see yourself as an artist, then you will empathize with what goes on in the protagonist’s head. You will feel what he feels. You will love life just a little bit more.
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I can’t imagine you not completely sparked to read this book yet. But for the curious minority who have read this far, and are still on the fence about spending the price of two beers at a club for 400 pages, then dig this:
Why should you read this book then, ye artists, ye readers, ye friends, ye family and foe? Because it will make you want to go and strike a pose for Creativity yourself, to build something new, to write a song, or a novel. My deepest wish for They Lived They Were is like what happened to the Velvet Underground when they first performed. Legend has it that only a hundred people showed up to their show. Yet all one hundred of those people started a band. And so, if you are one of the few who support this one writer, then I hope it gives you the fuel to become an author of your own adventure, wherever it may be.
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