I review books. I review a lot of books. But very few books manage to come into my life with the kind of spot-on, pitch-perfect, insert-other-heartwarming-hyphenated-cliche-here (and to think I’m spending tomorrow teaching my students to avoid cliches!) timing as Ramsey Beyer’s Little Fish.
Little Fish: A Memoir from a Different Kind of Year is Ramsey Beyer’s tale of her first year of college – uprooted from sleepy small-town Paw Paw, Michigan (which is just down the road from my hometown and which my high school regularly played – and often lost to – in football) to big-city Baltimore and art school.
But it’s not merely “a different kind of year.” Little Fish is also a different kind of memoir, told in zine form – combining the artwork of a graphic novel with the typed lists, real-life journal entries, and other paraphernalia that filled the zines Beyer created in her first year of art school and that bring the entire book to life.
In that spirit, here is a list of Reasons This Book Could Not Have Arrived in My Mail At a Better Time:
- I just got back to my hometown (the one that often played, and frequently lost to, Paw Paw in football) after several years of being a “little fish” in college, law school, and legal practice myself;
- I came back for graduate school, which is so weirdly like starting undergrad again – except this time I have a husband and a Real Job(TM) – that I sometimes wonder how I don’t wake up 18 years old every morning;
- I’m teaching a first-year writing class that culminates in a project we call the “unfamiliar genre” project. Its mission: pick a genre you know nothing about, learn its conventions, and produce a piece in it about something personally meaningful. ….You know, like a zine-turned-memoir. About going to college.
Oh, and two weeks ago I cut off all my hair.
This book is very likely to end up on my classroom document camera this semester – probably more than once. It’s not merely that I’m in love with it, although that helps me teach just about everything; it’s that it’s a wonderfully honest and open guide for people like my students, who are also mostly 18 and have left home for the first time to jump into a pond much bigger than themselves – a pond that most of them don’t even realize is as large as it is. Even though I went from a small Michigan town for high school to an even smaller Michigan town for college, Little Fish took me right back to what it was like to make that leap for the first time. And it reminded me that, as terrifying as it was, I was never really as lost as I felt – as long as I had myself.