Writing in an Age of Silence
by Sara Paretsky

Verso, 2007. ISBN 978-1-84467-122-9.
Reviewed by Linda Wisniewski
Posted on 06/27/2008

Nonfiction: Memoir

There are many things I didn't know about one of my favorite mystery writers, Sara Paretsky. She is nearly the same age as I; her writing began as a way to find her voice in a family beset by violence; she has four brothers; her mother was a librarian. Some of these facts are strikingly similar to my own experiences, making the reading of this memoir, for me, like sitting down with a friend from long ago.

Paretsky's early years were influenced by the rise of feminism. She was told that if she wanted to go to college, she would have to attend the university where her father taught in the town where the family lived.

She vowed to spend her summers away from home. In 1966, she went to do community service work on the South Side of Chicago. Anyone who has read her V.I. Warshawsky novels will now see where and how the best-selling series began. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was organizing in Chicago during that same summer, and Paretsky was "on the periphery of his great work." The civil rights movement and Second Wave Feminism deeply influenced Paretsky's life as well as her writing.

She chose to invent a female private eye radically different from a previous American icon of the genre, Sam Spade. Unlike this male "loner," Warshawsky is intimately involved with her community.

In 2002, Paretsky began speaking to library associations on the curtailing of civil liberties by the Patriot Act. She delivered her lecture, "Truth, Lies and Duct Tape," the night before the U.S. attacked Iraq, at the Toledo, Ohio public library. She had been asked by the library not to deliver the controversial talk because people were turning in their tickets. "My upbringing has made me particularly vulnerable to angry criticism," she writes (and so has mine), "to the implied fear of being a bad daughter, not submissive enough...I gave this talk, but my knees were shaking so badly I had to grip the podium throughout." The five hundred people in the audience gave her an ovation.

As a librarian, writer and feminist, this memoir moved me and made me feel as though I had found a kindred spirit and sister. If you have any interest in American history in the past fifty years and in the writing life as it pertains to women, do yourself a favor: read this book.

Sara Paretsky is credited with transforming the mystery in 1982 through the creation of her female private eye, V.I. Warshawski. In 1986, she founded Sisters in Crime to support women readers and writers in the mystery world. She has received numerous awards and honorary degrees, and achieved a Ph.D. in American History from the University of Chicago. She lives in Chicago with her husband, physics professor Courtney Wright and their wonder dog, Callie. Visit her website.

(See another review of this book, here)

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