- - Tuesday, March 9, 2021

On the first day of the various college science courses that I teach, I ask each student to introduce themselves and include the major they are pursuing at school. Of late, more and more students are declaring majors in Writing. 

A major that focuses on writing has struck me as odd, since writing is a subset of other academic and professional disciplines. Yet, writing is an art form in its own right and every bit as admirable as painting, sculpture, theater and music, as Eric Metaxas in “Fish Out of Water: A Search for the Meaning of Life” so ably demonstrates. 

Mr. Metaxas, a five-time New York Times bestselling author, has penned many highly acclaimed books, such as his biographies on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther and William Wilberforce. 

In “Fish Out of Water,” Mr. Metaxas delivers a memoir of his own life that meticulously details ordinary and extraordinary personal events with charismatic finesse. From an early age, Mr. Metaxas pondered the meaning of life becoming increasingly aware of the necessity of substantive purpose. He went from general wonder to embracing and then eventually shunning the zeitgeist and finally encountering a life-changing event. 

“Fish Out of Water” vividly illustrates a coming-of-spiritual-age journey with a range that includes deep insight and laugh-out-loud humor, sometimes the conflation of both insight and humor. 

At a very young age, Mr. Metaxas demonstrated a literary talent, writing pensively about such heady topics as creation versus evolution in fourth grade to answer an assigned question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Throughout his early career, he won multiple writing accolades and had a couple of his works published in the heady magazine The Atlantic. 

At Trinity College, before transferring to Yale, Mr. Metaxas describes some of what impressed him about what he was learning vis-a-vis centuries old personalities and their writings. Especially, “how the ideas we were studying mattered to the people at the time, so that they would fight and die for them. As though life had real meaning, and the people then were truly alive.” These impressions have apparently carried through his life and successful writing, broadcasting and speaking career. 

“Fish Out of Water” is peppered with curious and quirky chapter titles and their content. Early chapters include: “I Am Born, Etc.,” an obvious nod to nascence; “My American Idyll,” regaling some important childhood moments; and, “‘Because He’s Your Father’,” where important lessons on fatherhood are learned and, like in “A Christmas Story,” young Metaxas finally gets a BB gun, “but only after years of focused whining.” 

Then, among many other chapters, there’s “The Meaning of Meaning,” “The Last Bladder Ball,” “Onion Skin and Nothingness” and “As I Lay Dying,” undoubtedly one of the shortest content chapters in all of literature. 

Engaging vignettes abound. For serious humor, not to be missed is Mr. Metaxas’ recall of his time in the cheap seats at a London theater when he toured Europe with one of his Yale classmates after graduation. Or, his rail travel through Italy on his way to reconnect with his Greek roots in Cephalonia. Or, his recollection of boyhood embarrassment over “Greek Haircuts.” 

Early on while reading “Fish Out of Water,” I began using a smiley-face emoji in the margins when particularly funny expressions or stories emerged. I ended up with dozens of such flaggings along the page borders. 

Detailed descriptions of characters throughout his school and work years are equally captivating for their lucid entertainment. Although quite negative characteristics are sometimes portrayed, Mr. Metaxas always shows respect for individuals even those with whom he takes strong umbrage. 

“Fish Out of Water” is a thoroughly delightful read, a top candidate for anyone’s summer (or even spring) reading list. And, thanks to Mr. Metaxas, I now know the grandeur my college students are striving for when they major in Writing. 

• Anthony J. Sadar is an adjunct associate professor at Geneva College, Beaver Falls, Pa. 

• • •


By Eric Metaxas

Salem Books, $32.99, 416 pages

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