Skeletal proseBarbara Berger pares her feelings to the bone in a new essay.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:37 PM
"Barbara Berger is known for her children's books, but Bones, the essay she reads at Eagle Harbor Books Feb. 22, was written with adults in mind. Bones is published as part of a new anthology, Healing, with authors Anatole Broyard, Oliver Sacks and Tracy Kidder among others.Children's-book authors hate it when people say, 'When are you going to write a real book?' Berger said. I never did regard children's books as a training ground - but the truth is, during 20 years I have learned so much about writing, about story. Bones is a tribute in essay form to Berger's father and to their mutual love for art. Berger describes her father drawing and painting a skeleton she ultimately inherits as both object and subject matter.While writing about making visual art - rendering that non-verbal process into language - is not easy, Berger's ambidextrous career illustrating her own stories serves her well. Berger writes: Day by day a drawing grew on the canvas. Then a painting grew on the drawing. I dabbled and scumbled and glazed, shaded the curves and colors of bone, faintly gold like old ivory, the spaces between and around the bones a humus of deep umbers. Day by day, in layers of paint, a vine grew up between the skeleton's feet.Through Berger's passages, the reader understands the life that animates works-in-progress, how one move, one choice by the artist, links organically to the next. In a long series of complex decisions that many artists can neither predict nor explain after the fact, an artwork grows. Like bone, the finished work can have a completeness and an integrity that can be instantly apprehended by the viewer.Artists, like the vine between the skeleton's feet, also need to grow. Sometimes they must move beyond the successful body of work with which they are identified, if they are going to continue engage the creative process in a vital way.Berger, who decided early on not to have children, notes that her 20-year career writing children's books parallels what would have been childrearing years. In her fifth decade, Berger, while still wishing to write books for a young readership, feels the need to branch out into painting and creative nonfiction.She wants to discover what art has to show her.You live with a painting inside and out, Berger said, and it grows into a kind of mirror. It comes into being by the work of your own hands and yet this image, a new life, looks back at you with more than you know. What I see there is always more than myself. * * * * *Berger reads her essay Bones from Healing, an anthology edited by Lee Gutkind and published by Tarcher/Putnam, at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at Eagle Harbor Books. Call 842-5332 for information. "