A New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and a Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of 1999
Every family has its odd character, the one member who never seems right with the world. For John Vernon, that person was his brother Paul, whose unexpected death left him to settle Paul’s affairs. A Book of Reasons is a memoir that combines family history with the history of civilizations in an attempt to discover, in the life of Paul, the extraordinary sources of ordinary things. When Paul died, John came face to face with a life he’d never suspected. His brother’s house was in a state of squalid disrepair: piled high with trash, unheated and decrepit, pitifully unlivable. Yet Paul had been living there for years. An assembly worker and amateur inventor, Paul had managed to keep his sad and strange world hidden from his family and acquaintances. Paul’s life cried out for reasons. Why does a normal childhood turn wrong? Why do we clutter our lives with things? How do we make and understand our world? A Book of Reasons seeks answers in unexpected places and events. Buying a hammer at Wal-Mart triggers a history of tools, nailing up a thermometer gives rise to a history of central heating, and Paul’s wake kindles an investigation of embalming, all in an effort to “comprehend a life that left behind not splendid monuments but ordinary wreckage.” The result is a book of reasons: reasons for Paul’s way of life, reasons for John’s response to Paul’s death. Reasons, John discovers, enable us to understand the world and its mysteries but also to accept what can never be explained.
“An artful lamentation of two remarkable worlds.” ‒ The Village Voice
“Vernon’s writing is so agile, and his grasp of history so absorbing . . . Paul Vernon left a deep mark on his brother’s consciousness, and John Vernon has passed it on to his readers.” ‒ New York Times Book Review
“Both a description and an example of how a writer’s mind forges a web of connections among the objects and ideas of the world. It is a beautiful performance lit by stark, revealing bursts of language and delivered with the gravity of liturgy.” ‒ Publisher’s Weekly [Starred Review]
A “heartwarming tale of brotherly love” ‒ The Wall Street Journal