Ben Busch… Marine, actor, artist, and author is a very likable fellow. His straight jaw and firm handshake exude a Marine’s confidence and his unassuming air would make anyone comfortable. His voice and vocabulary resonates with the gift of the storyteller… he easily mixes the word “fuck” with “dichotomy”… there is no doubt this is a man of letters and a man of manual labor… both done with obvious love. If you have seen HBO’s The Wire… then you know Ben as Officer Colicchio… yeah he was the pissed off muthafucka with the goatee. Here is a clip of Ben acting pissed off.
I had lunch with Ben today, along with several other men of my book club. We met at the Tune Inn on DC’s Capital Hill… it is an appropriate dive bar with history and character that sets a perfect environment for the pursuit of talking literature… plus it was fun to see President Obama’s former press secretary Robert Gibbs waiting on a table as we continued to gab about Ben’s book. Ben agreed to meet us for lunch because he is an old high school friend of one of the book club member’s wife… the wonders of Facebook allows the mixing of old friends and modern literary pursuits. Ben agreed to join us because we had just finished reading his memoir Dust to Dust and is on a book tour to promote it… seems the idea of selling books is not as easy as some would assume. Hitting the pavement, conducting readings in book stores… and meeting a bunch of goobers who work at the Library of Congress are all parts of his work day as an author.
It is not easy to pigeon-hole Dust to Dust… it is not a war memoir even though Ben writes and reflects on his combat experiences in the book… it is not an autobiography even though Ben tells us compelling stories from his childhood. Members thought it may be more accurately described as a metaphysical or meditational dialogue on life and the pursuit of understanding one’s self… Ben agreed somewhat but mentioned that using the words “meditation” or “metaphysical” on a book’s cover doesn’t lead to readership or sales… “memoir” seemed to fit both the book and the marketing. Political scientists, economists, and librarians aren’t exactly the best group to provide marketing information.
Dust to Dust is not linear… it is a book that categories chapters around physical elements such as water, metal, soil, wood, and blood. Ben is not only a man who works in letters and words, but a man who works in stone and wood… he is an artist. His desire for physical contact with the elements… a desire from an early childhood of digging, wading, and collecting the mish mash of these elements… permeates throughout the book. Ben stated the book is about looking at our life’s journey and trying to understand who and what we are. In this journey, Ben weaves… carves… builds stories and memories from different moments in his life centered around the elements in the titles of his book’s chapters. One would be grossly disappointed if one thought that a memoir… a story of an author’s thoughts and life… should be a step-by-step retelling of biographical material.
I believe a book is a dialogue between the author and reader. It is a very rare instance when the author and reader are allowed to engage in a real and face-to-face conversation about a book. Usually, this conversation is kept to a series of monologues that switch from author to reader. Author writes a passage, a paragraph, page, and chapter… providing a story… information… insight, and the reader, in turn, absorbs this information and then thinks and speaks back with thoughts and understanding. Each reader comes away from these conversations with their own personal recollections… their own personal take on what was just said in this conversation.
Ben talked about how his memories of building forts and participating in war play were more than just play but, in his mind, training for his future as a Marine and combat veteran. Obviously, he was unaware of his future as a Marine in Iraq… but he was able to reflect and reconcile. This discussion… this personal journey… of his childhood love for exploration and imagining the heroics of war struck a chord with me… I too have expounded on how my childhood of playing soldier had led me to a time in uniform.
Talk of parenting, deaths of parents, and the idea of remembering one’s youth struck a familiar chord with other book club members. The three fathers of the group nodded in agreement when Ben discussed how he sees his daughters and his responsibilities as a father… and reflecting on one’s life is important in parenting. A resounding chuckle went through the group when Ben talked about his own father, a published novelist, being a man who made shit up and told stories… who doesn’t have a dad like this?… and how his a mother, a librarian, was quick to provide the facts for any question. Fathers and mothers… truly a definition for dichotomy.
This lunch with Ben was unique experience to continue a conversation that each of us had begun with his book and completed at the Tune Inn. Very rarely do you stumble across a book that defies categorization in the typical literature genre-setting attempts by book publishers… even more rarely does one get the opportunity to sit down and ask the author about his book, his life, and his opinions. Interestingly, Ben understood that once we had purchased and read his book that the ideas and stories within its pages were no longer solely his… he had given a part of himself… he had invited us to go on a journey with him. No longer was the conversation singular… instead it had become one where reader and author got to discuss, in person, views and thoughts… for this I want to thank Ben for agreeing to sitting down with a bunch of goobernuts.