Books

The story behind the book

Writing — and reading — for the ear

Melissa Febos
DAVID WILSON for the Boston Globe
Melissa Febos

A girlhood obsession with words — their meanings, their sounds — was “the earliest symptom” she would grow up to become a writer, said Melissa Febos. “As a kid I used to read the dictionary for fun and would also repeat words that interested, troubled, or otherwise captivated me. Just to really dig into their contours in my mouth.” Now the author of two books and a teacher of creative nonfiction, she added, “I still read with partners, and I read to my students. Such a principal part of receiving a work of literature is experiencing the way that it sounds, out in the air and into your ear.”

Like her first book, “Whip Smart,” “Abandon Me,” Febos’s recently published second book, is a lyrical work of first-person nonfiction that tackles complicated and often painful family stories and tracks the beginning and ending of a love affair. “I think of it as an essay collection,” she said. “Structurally, craft-wise, they’re autonomous narratives.” At the same time, she added, the pieces come together to tell a story — one that includes not only words and their music but also love, loss, addiction, pain, identity, and yearning.

“Before the book was ever published, I showed it to every member of my family and had some of the most intimate interactions of my life,” Febos said. “I didn’t say, ‘Tell me if I got this right.’ I said, ‘I’m interested in your response to this, and I’ll do the best I can.’” As difficult as those conversations were, she added, “I wouldn’t change any of it. I have a more honest, complex, intimate, and deep relationship with everyone in my family — myself included — than I did before I wrote these books.”

Advertisement

Febos will read with Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (“The Fact of a Body”) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Papercuts, 5 Green St., Jamaica Plain.

Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.