OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD by Stephen Lorch


An Alphabetical Odyssey
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A collection of personal essays organized alphabetically.

In Lorch’s richly personal, utterly beguiling book, letters of the alphabet prompt ruminations on a wide range of subjects, from the pragmatic to the metaphorical—G for gestalt, I for imagine, J for Jackie, as in Jackie Robinson, etc. The project originated with a series of emails Lorch sent to friends and acquaintances while he recovered from surgery to remove a melanoma from the top of his head (hence the title). The entries mainly consider different aspects of Lorch’s medical experience, but they invariably branch out from that initial starting point. E for exhaust, for instance, has a medically oriented core—“One way to think about cancer, kidney failure, heart problems, etc. is to see them as failures of our body to properly exhaust the wasted material it has produced”—but quickly expands to discuss not only matters of ecological and technological waste but also of personal benefits, from expelling waste products like worry or tension. The essays exhibit considerable variation: N for numbers is a fairly straightforward examination not just of the efficiency of Arabic numerals, but of the ubiquity of number crunching in modern technological society; O for opera, option and organization is far more personal, with Lorch reflecting on listening to the old Saturday Metropolitan Opera broadcasts hosted by Milton Cross and reflecting on opera itself, about which he says, “When properly done, it is hard to believe that what you are seeing and hearing is real and taking place before your eyes.” Lorch’s repeated mantra is “never worry alone,” but his book is far from preoccupied with worry; instead, it’s a fascinatingly wide-ranging feast of autobiographical musings filled with thoughts on numerous authors—from W.H. Auden to Jorge Luis Borges to Dylan Thomas to David Lodge and Daniel Dennett—all of it served with a good deal of humor.

An absorbing, winning tour of one indomitable man’s life and mind.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-0989884006
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: JW Lorbek Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
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