What are you sorry for? Do you ever wish you could apologize to an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend you mistreated, or to your parents whom you undoubtedly offended so many years ago? Brooklyn writer Dave Bry certainly has…and after reflecting on years of regret, he’s decided to do just that.
In his debut memoir “Public Apology: In Which a Man Grapples with a Lifetime of Regret, One Incident at a Time” (Grand Central Publishing; March 19, 2013), Bry confesses to numerous actions he wishes he could erase from his past. Even more, he directs each remembrance at the particular recipient to whom he is apologizing.
Bry begins with a chapter titled “Junior High: Or a time in my life that might best be rendered as one long apology to everyone I came into contact with. And also to myself.” In this section, Bry writes letters to old friends, romantic interests, camp counselors, and teachers, among others, apologizing for lying to, pranking, and disappointing these figures who may or may not have been important to him in the long run.
He later expresses his remorse to those he insulted during his college years in a section titled “College (Or the six longest years of my life.)” Bry then tackles his post-college regrets in a chapter called “New York (Or Stumbling into the Real World.)” Here, he apologizes to neighbors and to residents of entire buildings, and, most notably, to his wife Emily, for wearing sweatpants on their first date and for getting high before meeting her parents.
Bry concludes his apologies with a section titled “Adulthood (Or in my thirties, approaching middle age, but more often than I wish, still doing things that leave me feeling like a goofy twelve-year-old.)”
In his unflinchingly candid collection, Bry manages to win over his readers by confessing to every screw-up and obnoxious action he can remember committing. At once hilarious and touching, “Public Apology” is an exceptionally distinctive memoir that reminds us of what it means to be human.
On Thursday, March 21, Bry will appear at Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene as part of ‘Steamboat: A Literary Humor Series’ hosted by author Bob Powers. The following evening, March 22, Bry will appear at Cobble Hill’s BookCourt for a launch party, reading, audience Q&A, and book signing. In celebration of the book’s release, Brooklyn Eagle checked in with Bry. He talks about the beginnings and development of “Public Apology” and reveals to us his one concern about the book’s confessional content.
This book touches on so many phases of your life. Had you been writing – or at least mentally compiling – these apologies over the course of several years, or did you write the entire book in a concentrated period of time?
I started writing the apologies that became the book in 2009 for a website called the Awl. They started as just a fun thing to write about on the internet. I'd never written on the internet before, so I sort of just wanted to practice.
Originally, I just wrote out a list of ten of them—like, just the titles—that were basically funny anecdotes from my life. I wasn't thinking of them as a book. But when I first sent the idea to one of the editors of the Awl, Choire Sicha, he said, "Oh, this will be the fastest blog-to-book-deal ever signed." So I guess he saw how it could make for a book structure. But for the first year or so of doing it, I wasn't thinking that way. I just wanted each one to stand as its own satisfying story.
Had you already apologized for any of these incidents in the past, or is this the first time you’re expressing remorse to the people mentioned in the book?
I have already apologized for a couple of the apologies in the book. But I think only a couple, or three or four. So for the most part, this is the first time I've expressed remorse to the people mentioned in the book.
Since writing “Public Apology,” have you reached out to any of the people mentioned in the book to notify them of your apology?
My policy in publishing the apologies on the Awl, and then in the book, has been that if I can easily contact the person to whom I'm apologizing, I do so and ask whether or not it's okay that I write about them in public. Most of the people that I contacted didn't mind. A few did, and there are a few names that have been changed in the book for that reason. But only very few. It was important to me to keep this book as close to one-hundred-percent true non-fiction as I could. It felt like honesty – even difficult, awkward, uncomfortable honesty – was at the core of the project.
Your writing is extremely confessional…did you have any doubts about the unwavering honesty in this book?
My only doubts about the confessional aspects of the book would be in regards to my kid. Like, I would hope he won't be freaked out or embarrassed to read these stories when he's old enough to read them. My kid is eight years old. My wife and I have not let him read any of the book yet. We say that it is "a grown-up book." But I have no doubt that he will read it one day. And I hope it doesn't scar him too badly. Sometimes I wonder if we should maybe start putting away money for future therapy sessions. But no, I think it'll be all right. We're pretty good at talking about stuff with him. Oh, my mom and my in-laws, too. I hope they're not embarrassed by anything in there. But it’s not something I worry about a lot.
After publishing short pieces for so many years, was it difficult to produce a full-length book?
Arranging the various shorter pieces into a whole book, one that I hope has a broader arc beyond that of each individual apology, was a challenge. But a fun one, and one that my editor Helen Atsma really helped me a lot with. She helped turn the book into something that I think, and that I hope other people will think, is more than just a sum of its parts.
Where in Brooklyn do you live?
I live in Park Slope. But right at 4th Avenue. So I think maybe some people would call it Gowanus.
What’s your favorite Brooklyn book store?
I will name two favorite book stores: Book Court on Court Street in Cobble Hill, and Community Books in Park Slope. They're both really terrific book stores, I think.
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Dave Bry has worked for the past 18 years as a music writer and editor for the magazines Vibe, ego trip and XXL. He also writes for The Awl. Dave lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.
The March 21 event will begin at 7:30 p.m. Rosie Schaap, comedic author of “Drinking With Men: A Memoir” will speak as well. Greenlight is located at 686 Fulton St. in Fort Greene.
The March 22 event will begin at 7 p.m. BookCourt is located at 163 Court St. in Cobble Hill.