On his stroll through memory and mind, Madden has invited along many other amiable and compelling friends: indeed, a great pleasure of this book is Madden’s rich compilation of relevant passages from other (mostly) writers, (mostly) essayists, spanning the centuries and providing dense fodder for his own essaying. As many a blurb writer has pointed out, Madden is indeed a scholar of the form and combines the expert’s frighteningly vast knowledge of the field with the warm love and exuberance of a fan. He is the proprietor of the website quotidiana.org
which is, among other things, an “online compendium of 420 public-domain essays.” Both Madden and the above-mentioned Lopate (along with countless other essayists) have pledged their allegiance to sixteenth-century Frenchman and godfather of the contemplative personal essay, Michel de Montaigne (you can read fifty of his essays right now on quotidiana.org
), who famously wrote, “I have never seen a greater monster or miracle in the world than myself.” Madden continues in this vein, harnessing the energy of both the miraculous and the monstrous actions, reactions, and ideas that form the contours of our mostly banal and ordinary lives. (Admittedly, I think Madden is stronger on miracles than on monsters, but this is not a failing as much as perhaps a function of being a middle-aged American Mormon father, something I can certainly identify with.)
Montaigne makes many appearances in these essays, as exemplar and standard-bearer, and I think there is a decent case to be made that Madden is, for all intents and purposes, the Mormon Montaigne (he will probably hate and deny that moniker and I don’t blame him; forget I ever said it). The point being, however, that while Madden is not usually concerned with highlighting his Mormon-ness, he is exactly the kind of writer that Mormons need right now—someone whose interests, questions, and concerns, not to mention audience, transcend sectarian cultures and doctrines, but who still represents a recognizably spiritual point of view, maintains hope in Christian ideas and ideals, and cultivates an openness and humility with regard to things like family, forgiveness, tragedy, friendship, creativity, and redemption. Madden is a seeker, a collector of fragments, and a generous companion in print, as his form practically dictates; those wanting a preacher may need to head elsewhere.