Ben Tanzer, Lost in Space: A Father's Journey There and Back Again
I'm starting to think that if fiction writers really want to leave some sort of legacy, to let future readers know their true selves, they should publish at least one work of nonfiction. With fiction, even though a writer weaves a little bit of themselves into most of their characters, the writer still sort of hides behind the characters. In other words, the reader never quite knows how much of a character echoes the writer's personality and experience, and how much is totally invented.
Since I'm incredibly fortunate to know Ben Tanzer as well as I do, when reading his fiction I can usually spot the various aspects of the narrative that reflect his real life. But for those not as fortunate, it's harder to tell what's real and what's invented. Which is why, if you want to know the real Ben Tanzer without actually meeting him, you should absolutely read his latest book, the excellent essay collection Lost in Space: A Father's Journey There and Back Again.
In this book, Ben bares his soul over the alternately wonderful and terrifying experience of parenting. Through a succession of lively, entertaining and often very funny anecdotes and commentary, he describes the exhilaration, satisfaction, frustration, anxiety and confusion of being a parent: giving your kids guidance and protection while not stifling their individuality; exposing them to the real world while sheltering them from its scarier elements; holding onto them tightly and cherishing them while being able to let them go and live their own lives. And while he revels in seeing his oldest son do his first running event (Ben is an avid, borderline-obsessive runner), or savoring something as simple as the way his kids smell, he also doesn't shy away from describing the anger that a frazzled parent inevitably confronts. Parenthood is far from a perfect experience, and Ben openly and unflinchingly shares both the good and the bad. Anyone who has raised children will find much here to empathize with and enjoy.
This is Ben's best book so far, partly because it's such a thoroughly entertaining read, but mostly because it is such a true expression of his life. Extremely well done. Highest recommendation.