People sum up grand concepts, thoughts, and plans in six words or fewer every day — in Facebook status updates, text messages, text-message novels, iPhone or Blackberry e-mails, Twitter posts, or analog Post-Its. We Internet-agers are honing our ability to broadcast details of our daily lives with brevity and concision. Perhaps Ernest Hemingway was nearly a century ahead of his time when he wrote one of the first short, short stories: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
In December 2006, Papa's words inspired Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser, who edit the online magazine SMITH ("Everyone has a story. What's yours?"), to ask readers to sum up their lives in six words. Submissions poured in, and the result was a New York Times bestseller titled Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure — the first part of that title is a sixer submitted by Summer Grimes, a hairdresser from St. Paul, Minnesota. Now Smith and Fershleiser are following it up with a new book, Six-Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak (Harper Perennial, 144 pages, $10), upon which they'll elaborate this Tuesday at Brookline Booksmith.
That Love & Heartbreak's February 5 release coincides with the ramp-up to Valentine's Day seems like throwing rotten eggs at the dreaded, greeting-card-company-created holiday. As divorce attorney Raoul Felder states, rather grimly, in the book: "Love almost always leads to heartbreak." That sentiment runs rampant through the collection. "Now I hate hearing that song," writes T'Anna Holst. "We'll break up before this prints," predicts Porochista Khakpour. "Found my ex-husband on Craigslist. Twice," laments Yin Shin.
There are more positive reflections, of course ("He makes me laugh every day," writes Detta Owens), but part of the charm and charisma of Love & Heartbreak lies in its unspoken imaginative possibilities. Reading the book opens a wormhole to thinking up your own summations ("I thought we'd just be friends" was the best one I came up with), and undoubtedly, by now, some creative-writing teacher somewhere has asked her students to pick one of the book's memoirs and craft a longer story from it. (Perhaps one composed entirely of six-word sentences, a feat the New Yorker's Lizzie Widdicombe accomplished when she wrote about the first book.)
Smith says that on a recent vacation his wife caught him counting words in his head on a beach in Mexico. "It tends to become an obsession," he sums up — in exactly six words.
Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser will read and discuss their new edition on February 3 at 7 pm at the Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard Street, Brookline. Call 617.566.6660 or go to brooklinebooksmith.com.
Phoenix Contest: Leave your six-word memoir below as a comment to this article. The winner will be published in the next SMITH magazine memoir book with a chance to read at the Brookline Booksmith on February 3.