The twelve essays that comprise The Only Sounds We Make by Lee Zacharias (Hub City Press, 2014) do not add up to an autobiography, and she doesn’t use a chronological timeline to arrange her personal essays. The collection explores various subjects—writing, family relationships and idiosyncrasies, illness, divorce, racial injustice, white flight, writing, photography, home ownership, death of one’s parents, travel, etc.—in ways that invite introspection. Zacharias makes her essays universal by inviting her reader to connect his/her own memories of similar (related or maybe even dissimilar) subjects with those she writes about. She’s a thinker who invites us to think, too.

Zacharias’s initial attraction to reading and writing was “the atmosphere that books created,” she writes (page 34) in “Geography for Writers.” Later in same essay, she asks, “What is a book’s cathartic moment?” (page 43). All good books have them. How can exploring healing words fail to make a reader think back on books he/she has read— favorite and otherwise— in search of comfort? “A House in Florida” is “coded into [her] memory by [unsettling]sound[s]…. “The little gray house [in which her father, who loved attention, hung himself] whispered worries” (page 57), standing in it she recalled “the first time [she] ever told him she loved him” (page 65).
Our surroundings can certainly evoke memories.

“Mud Pies” examines a brief friendship across racial lines from the viewpoint of a five year old white girl. Now old enough to lament the “irreclaimable land of the exile” (page 117), she writes, “They had lost …faith …that a locked door could keep anyone safe” (page 121). She quotes from Pete Hammill’s Downtown: “Sentimentality is about lies, nostalgia about “real things gone” (page 130). Who are we? Who are they? Who is anyone? Can a locked door keep anyone safe? Who asks these questions? The real question, it seems, is not who started racial injustice? but rather how can we end it?

In “Morning Light” Zacharias tells us, “All photographers are spies”(page 139) who try “to hold that which cannot be held…to make permanent the passing moment.” Photographers tiptoe into the starry darkness, wait for the perfect shot. Oh, how we dreamers understand: “ images are routine…photography is about the light” (page 146). Zacharias “learned to read light” (page 150), when she need something other than words to spur herself on.

As sound, light and mud’s texture etc. summon the past, Zacharias stimulates us to think back on what we believe, the troubled history of our nation, our loved ones no longer with us. Reverie runs deep, but our triggered memories are no more chronological than her carefully-written essays. The Only Sounds We Make is a book I recommend to all who enjoy thinking, learning, and reexamining life in ways Zacharias intended and maybe in some that never crossed her mind.