Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Riding Lessons, the Summary

I soldier on in my attempt to complete the "marketing questionnaire" for the University of Iowa Press, which is the next step in the journey toward publication for my memoir. This time I'm asked for a ...
Summary of your book: In approximately 250-300 words, please describe your book as if you were writing a promotional piece. Consider what is most significant about your book, what special contributions it makes to your field, and what features make it attractive to potential readers. Without oversimplifying, this should be as accessible to the general reader as possible.

Such a task, so much to be said, so little space to say it. What is the most important thing about Riding Lessons? What would entice a person to read it? The fact that I've spent nearly 48 years riding through life on my fanny without resorting to drugs, alcohol, or extraordinary self-regard comprised almost entirely of self-pity.
Riding Lessons is a frank and intimate story that begins with what is euphemistically termed a vaccine accident and then evolves into wryly-told, intimate history lesson about disability in America.

A week after receiving the final inoculation in the Salk series, the author woke up in an iron lung with both lumbar and bulbar poliomyelitis burning away his spinal cord. In 1959, there were no attorneys eager to sue the pharmaceutical companies, no government funds to allay the costs a severe permanent disability inflicts on a middle-class family, and no instruction manual for living as a disabled person.

Riding Lessons explores the idea that in a wheelchair or on our feet the sanest among us realize we sometimes must be sad, angry, or hurt to recognize and appreciate happiness.

Freed from the iron lung and sent home to navigate a wheelchair through an inaccessible world, the writer survived self-pity, isolation, and the lack of disability resources because his family refused to pamper him and because his frustration turned to stoicism and his emotional pain to an existentialist perception of the world from his seat on the sidelines.

When he was released from the March of Dimes Rehabilitation Center, the author came home to a ramp leading up to the concrete porch of his family's house. His father nailed it together from two-by-fours and one-by-tens. That ramp took an afternoon to build. It was forty-two years before the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted into law to assure access and accommodations for people with disabilities.

Attitudes evolved over that period, both the author's and society's, and Riding Lessons relates the journey of a boy who left an iron lung as a cripple, became a shut-in and an invalid, and transformed himself into a man who refuses to be defined by disability and a writer with an appreciation for whimsy, irony, and the mystery of coincidence and chaos.

That's 334 words, which is more than 20% too long, which means I enter edit mode tomorrow.

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