‘With A Zero at its Heart’ by Charles Lambert – A New Way to Tell Your Life Story

‘With A Zero at its Heart’ by Charles Lambert   (2014) – 147 pages


GetImage (1)In ‘With a Zero at its Heart’, Charles Lambert has come up with a powerful new way for each of us to describe his or her life.  There are rules to the method; let me explain the rules.

First he chose twenty four different aspects or subjects from which to view his life including ‘Clothes’,  ‘Money’, ‘Work’, ‘Home’, ‘Sex’, and ‘Language’.  For each category, he posts exactly ten items that have meaning for him.  Sometimes these are early memories from childhood.  For example for ‘Clothes’ he tells how as a young teenager he wanted for Christmas a velvet frock coat just like the ones worn by the music group the Kinks.  Instead his parents bought him a dark green corduroy double-breasted jacket “which he hangs in the wardrobe that evening and will never wear again.”  In ‘Animals’, he remembers the three white mice in a plywood box he was given as a child and their tragic end.

We all have these very early memories, memories that sometimes go back from even before we started school.  My very first memory was when my mother took a picture of a few kids including me when I was four years old sitting by some of her tulips which had just come into full bloom that spring.  I vividly recall those bright flowers, or is it the photograph that I remember?

My mother told me that even when I was three or four I memorized the song names that were on each of their records and could recognize the record associated with each song, so would yell out, “Play this one, ‘How Much is that Doggie in the Window’, again!”  I don’t recall this at all.

In Charles Lambert’s book, an item can deal with any part of his life, young or old.  Each item must be about 100 words long.  Why this limit of 100 words?  The limit has several beneficial effects.  First this rigor keeps the writer from getting too long-winded on certain subjects which is always a danger in autobiography.  Second each item at 100 words has equal weight so that no single item is given a disproportionate weight.  That becomes important because of the next unstated rule.

The unstated rule is that one must be honest.   One item in ‘Sex’ shows Lambert’s early disinterest in girls.  An item in ‘Danger’ tells about his wild sex “with men whose names he doesn’t know and doesn’t ask.”  For each of us, our items would surely be of a different nature, but all the items together would hopefully achieve an accurate picture of our life.

I found this a brilliant method of autobiography, a rigorous honest approach to conveying a life, the bad stuff as well as the good stuff.  It approaches what we do in our own minds when we look all the way back to our earliest memories up to our current situation.  Each of our life stories would be different, perhaps not unique, but with tremendous variety.

The best method for understanding the items is to read each item – a paragraph – twice, first to get the main idea and second to fully appreciate it.

In the afterward to ‘The Zero at its Heart’, Charles Lambert thanks his publisher for taking an enormous risk in publishing this book.  No risk, no gain.


3 responses to this post.

  1. This sounds absolutely great. I’m really glad you brought this to my attention.


    • Hi Caroline,
      ‘With a Zero at its Heart’ is something new and different which I’m always on the lookout for. ‘New and different’ happens to be the definition of ‘Novel’.


  2. […] Tony’s Book World: “…a rigorous honest approach to conveying a life…” […]


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