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Around the World in 52 Words: Ritual Writing for the New Millennium by Rob Burton
Daily entries of ancient gods to love and despair, from personal memories to public histories, each 52 words long.

Comments by the author

Why have I written a book comprising a year’s worth of daily entries, each one 52 words long? The answer, ironically, will require more than 52 words to explain.

Firstly, I am attracted to the structure and discipline required of the 52-word format. Strangely enough, the more practiced I became with this format (a version of the “short-short” genre that has become popular with fiction writers) the more I discovered that it does, in fact, allow for considerable flexibility and experimentation. While it is a challenge to contain an idea or an event or an experience in such a short space, I became attracted to the double-need for conciseness and preciseness in my writing. Like other literary forms, such as the Japanese haiku (3 lines, 17 syllables), the Persian ghazal (rhyming couplets), or the English sonnet (14 lines), the 52-word format gives the author a certain comfort and security in its tightly mandated prescription.

Secondly, I believe in the value of ritual practice whether it be prayer, running, or writing a short prose piece every day. I tried to be as regular in my practice as a devout worshipper or an athlete. This meant getting down to the business of writing by 5:30 every morning. And I came to enjoy this routine. Many times, I couldn’t wait to wake up and face my morning page, knowing that sixty minutes later I would have carved out 52 words on some topic or theme that had presented itself to me.

Thirdly, I wanted to keep a journal in which I could bear witness to the symbolically-charged turn-of-the-Millennium. As I was going to be dealing with a topic that treated deeply felt cultural myths and practices, I decided to take the symbolic quality of my enterprise one step further. I decided to write seven sets of 52-word prose-pieces on 52 preselected topics. I would start on May Day (an obvious symbol of new beginnings), work through the calendar year and the new Millennium, and finish 52 weeks later at the end of April. Furthermore, I decided that many of my topics would either center directly on the Millennium itself, or would have an indirect bearing on it (such as “Quest,” “Beginnings,” “Endings,” “Gods,” “Goddesses”). On the other hand, I wanted also to write on topics that were less auspicious and more commonplace (such as “Dialogues,” “Descriptions,” “Narratives,” “Parodies”).

Some of these entries were written in airplanes while I was flying across time zones. Some were written in hotels, or a summer vacation-home, or while visiting relatives. Most, however, were written on the kitchen table, where I now sit, with a cup of tea by my side, and a collection of pencils next to an open notebook. It was meant to be a simple setup for a simple yearlong communion between pen and paper.

But hopefully I have tapped into profound feelings and truths.

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Comments by the publisher

Working with this gentle intelligent man was an experience that can only be partially felt reading his book. Two weeks after he saw the galley proofs, Rob Burton flew to North Carolina and donated his kidney to an ailing brother. Burton is now working on a new book based on 75.

Update: Stansbury Publishing has published two more of Rob Burton's books since Around the World in 52 Words: Hops and Dreams, The Story of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and London Spirits: Short Stories.

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Around the World in 52 Words, ISBN 0-9708922-1-7, $13.95

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