The Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn
Coming up with a structure for writing a book is the toughest part. At least for me, the last (and I insist, the final book) has been in the works for over a decade, an odyssey if you will. This project involves a set of personal narratives, not an academic work filled with research and citations. So far, I have tried four or five different structures and none of them worked well.
But sometimes ideas for structure pop up in surprising ways. One can read books about writing and publishing, and one can simply read lot of books. But I discovered this week that reading a book (The Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic) about a book (The Odyssey) reminded me of a structure that just might work well for what I’m trying to put together: Chiastic structure. Chiastic structures (or ring composition) contain words, sentences, or even longer texts in a symmetrical pattern, such as ABC…CBA or ABCDCBA. Not only that Chiastic structures are found in classic literature and religious scriptures, but also in modern works such as Star Wars or Harry Potter. As a result of this delightful reminder, I printed off my old narratives and cut them up into strips. I reordered them in a Chiastic pattern and realized I just might be on my way with this project again.
But for those who are not endeavoring to write, the story about a mathematician father who enrolled in his professor son’s college literature class on The Odyssey and then later retraced the mythological adventures of Odysseus on a Mediterranean cruise was a delight to read. The stories are filled with parallelism, gentle humor, endearing exasperation, and love.