Book Review: Let Us Build Us a City

Aug 3, 2018

This is KLCC.  I’m Connie Bennett with a book review of “Let Us Build Us a City” by Tracy Daugherty.

There are two schools of thought about summer reading.  One, which I remember fondly from carefree deckchairs of the past, consists of the bigger, lighter, sprawling or fast-paced novels.  The perfect beach-read – a vacation in and of itself.  The other is the small, thin, deeper volume, the kind of book that you read slowly.  The kind of book that invites the travels of the mind. 

As I was browsing through the nominees for this year’s Oregon Book Award, looking for possible books to review, I found the perfect summer read of this second kind:  “Let Us Build Us a City”, by Tracy Daugherty.

On its surface, this is a collection of essays of literary criticism, which makes sense as Daugherty is distinguished professor emeritus of English and creative writing at Oregon State University.  And yes, he does talk about the craft of writing, about how a wide range of authors – Virginia Woolf or Ernest Hemingway, William Carlos Williams, Grace Paley - use words and and spaces and imagination in practicing their craft.    

But the essays go far beyond that.  As Daugherty muses about Hawthorne’s old houses, Dante’s imaginative cosmology, and the patterns of our thoughts as we dismantle the lives of our dying loved ones, he explores the nature of creative practice and its place within American culture.  How the act of creation contains, within it, the possibility of failure.  About the role of liberal arts education in our culture.  And ultimately, how we create and build our community.

“Without community,” Daugherty asks, “Who can tell our stories accurately?”  Who indeed?

This is KLCC.  I’m Connie Bennett, reviewing “Let Us Build Us a City” by Tracy Daugherty.