Although the words of David Giffels in “The Hard Way on Purpose,” recalls how the author grew up in Akron, it is intended for a national audience.
The writing of Akron author David Giffels “won over my class ... within five pages,” said Malone University assistant professor of English John Estes.
“He makes you feel as though you know him,” said the professor, who brought Giffels to the school to speak to his creative writing students.
Readers who became acquainted with Giffels through his previous book, “All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House," now can strengthen their literary relationship with the author through his latest offering, “The Hard Way on Purpose: Essays and Dispatches From the Rust Belt.”
Called a “coming-of-age” book by its author, “The Hard Way on Purpose” collects observations about Akron and elsewhere in northeast Ohio that Giffels began making while growing up in the western section of the city.
“I came of age in a city at its worst, but still I had this sense of possibilities,” said Giffels while speaking at a recent Malone University Writer’s Series lecture. The author said his favorite adjective for Akron is “unbeautiful.” It’s not necessarily a derogatory term.
“Ruins are in their own way attractive.”
Giffels said that people of the Rust Belt possess an incongruent combination of pride and humility that leads to a defensiveness when dealing with outsiders, and in its extreme, a suspicion of how Akron is seen outside its confines.
“We’re used to being misunderstood and ignored,” explained Giffels in his lecture, “which is why we have this penchant for explaining ourselves.”
Although the words of Giffels in “The Hard Way on Purpose,” published by Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, recalls how the author grew up in Akron, it is intended for a national audience.
“It’s been interesting to see how people from other areas perceive us,” said the author, who joked about pitching the book to his New York publisher. “Try walking into a publisher’s office and saying, ‘I’m going to write a book of essays about Akron.’ ”
Giffels, who for years was a columnist and feature writer for the Akron Beacon Journal, said the challenge was showing the city “in a way that’s real,” writing about it in a manner that resonated with both fellow Midwesterners and readers outside the region.
“A lot of this book is about identity,” he said. “I was born right about the end of Akron’s reign as an industrial power. For a half century Akron was known as the ‘Rubber Capital of the World.’ So, it’s about the void in identity I felt growing up. It seemed that if anything had value, it left.”
LEBRON AND BURGERS
As if to instantly stress that theme, Giffels began his book with perhaps the most notable recent departure in a chapter entitled “The Chosen Ones.”
“The first essay in the book is all about LeBron James, and very little of it is about basketball,” said Giffels, who said that the star has retained his ties to the city and his interest in assisting the community. “He’s very aware of his brand, and by that I mean he knows what his talent in basketball can allow him to do, and he’s doing some of that in Akron.”
Other essays speak of Akron’s claimed connection to the origin of the hamburger, the contribution of bowling to the culture of the community, and the connection of Chuck Taylor All-Stars basketball shoes to a hoop team called the Akron Firestone Non-Skids. Giffels even includes a piece he wrote about answering an ad that said “poet in need of an apprentice” not long after he earned an English degree.
The tone of Giffels’ writing is light, despite the fate of Akron sometimes seeming heavy and dark. In summary, the author, calls his book a love story.
“It’s about what it is to love this place that has been downtrodden.”
From the publisher
“‘The Hard Way on Purpose’ explores the touchstones and idiosyncrasies of a region where industry has fallen, bowling is a legitimate profession, extreme weather is the norm, thrift store culture dominates, and sports is heartbreak.” — Publicity material from Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster