3 out of 4 stars
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Although most memoirs tend to follow a similar formula in presenting a life story, there are many ways one can choose to relay the lessons and stories in a lifetime. Paul Winder, in his book The Long Passages (Paths of Self Discovery) presents the memorable moments of his life, along with some of his other writings, in a collection that goes beyond just a simple memoir. In his simple, straight-forward conversational style, the author tells the story of his life through a series of memories, broken up into short and easily-digestible pieces, almost like a series of vignettes or a collection of fictional short stories. The title is rather ironic, since many of the stories are only a page or two long, and several other memories are relayed in no more than a simple paragraph. This format allows for a quick and breezy reading experience, with plenty of space to pause and incorporate the message and lesson of the story before moving on to the next.
The majority of the book is comprised of these tidbits, which fit together to form a more complete picture of the overall history of Paul Winder’s long life. Some readers may be discouraged by the fact that the timeline is not chronological, and the stories bounce around from Mr. Winder’s early childhood, his adolescence, his college years, his experiences working as a teacher and school counselor, as well as some of the travels and experiences of his later adult years and post-retirement. Though the stories do fit together, and some themes recur throughout the collection, each memory is also entertaining and informative as a stand-alone piece, making the timeline (and chronology) unnecessary for the reader’s enjoyment.
These stories include many of the author’s experiences growing up on various farms, memories of his father, animal escapades, hunting adventures, and his experiences and close-calls with hitchhiking and sailing. Others tell of some of the memorable students he counseled, as well as his own learning experiences as a teacher and psychologist, and his personal experiences with Christian faith and religion. After the compilation of personal history, the author also includes a collection of some of his other writings, such as persuasive essays, poems, a prayer of gratitude, a letter to his daughter, copies of writings he submitted for his PhD program, editorials sent to newspapers, articles that were printed in magazines, and even a short work of satirical fiction. As several of these pieces are mentioned throughout his related life stories, having a chance to read them contributes to the full picture of the author’s personality and his opinions on the political and social issues of the past several decades.
Although the book is not easy to define within one particular genre, it is nonetheless an interesting and engaging read about a man who has lead a rich and diverse life. I personally would have enjoyed it more if the writings had a bit more cohesion and interconnectedness, but this is a personal preference, and other readers may enjoy the stand-alone nature of each piece. Several of the stories would also have benefited from being fleshed out farther, specifically the writings that dealt with emotional and philosophical issues, like faith and life/death. The reader was given a glimpse into the nature of the author’s own parents, but I believe the book would have benefited from going deeper into these relationships, as they were quite significant in shaping the author’s outlook. A few of the stories in their current state feel like a superficial tease rather than a complete picture of events.
Nonetheless, this collection is amusing, with several humorous anecdotes spacing out the more pensive and serious pieces. This is a book that has something for almost any type of reader, and the benefit of this format is one does not need to read the entire book to find something of value. I rate this collection 3 out of 4 stars, and recommend it to readers who enjoy memoirs and short stories, and would be interested in a merge of the two genres.
The Long Passages
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