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The Traces

The Traces

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By Mairead Small Staid

The Traces is a ranging inquiry into the seductions of memory and travel, the fragile paradox of desire, and the art of making meaning from a life.

A Publisher's Weekly Fall 2022 "Writers to Watch" Pick 

Publication Date: November 1, 2022

Paperback: 9781646052004
eBook: 9781646050079 


The Traces is a work of memoir and criticism that explores the nature of happiness in art, literature, and philosophy, structured around a season spent in Italy and a reading of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities.

Poised between plummeting depressions, the author considers the intellectual merits of joy and the redeeming promise offered by the beauty, both natural and manmade, that surrounds her. Traveling from Florence to Rome to Venice, drawing on the fields of physics, history, architecture, and cartography, and spurred by thinkers from Aristotle and Montaigne to Cesare Pavese and Anne Carson, The Traces is an ecstatic, insightful, and original debut. 

Biographical Note

Mairead Small Staid is a graduate of the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan and the recipient of fellowships from MacDowell, the Minnesota State Arts Board, and Phillips Exeter Academy, where she was the Geoge Bennett Fellow. Her essays have appeared in AGNI, The Believer, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Minnesota.


“A stunning exploration of happiness and memory. These brilliant, beautiful essays challenged and delighted me. A transcendent debut.” —Brit Bennett, author of The Vanishing Half

“Lyric and enigmatic, The Traces hints at every turn some imminent parting of the veils. Mairead Small Staid wraps her personal narrative in rich speculative cloth. Italy crowds the senses. Reading, I remembered my delight as a child watching iron filings moving slowly into design as the magnet approached the sheet of paper from below.” —Sven Birkerts, author of Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age

“Mairead Small Staid is an exceptionally delightful critic, with a lavish, forceful intellect and a style marked by cross-disciplinary ignition and pointillistic grace. In The Traces, which is the kind of book that'll be passed around like a good secret, she pursues happiness as a magic aberration, a subject as fraught and consequential as its well-trod opposite. Immortalizing one golden season in Florence, she captures the flux of her own personhood and potential—and ours, too—under the influence of time, art, weather, love, and chance.” —Jia Tolentino, author of Trick Mirror

“Staid plumbs her travels in Italy as a college student to examine ‘happiness, both intensive and sustained’ in her beautiful debut… Staid’s evocative prose and insightful analysis are tough to forget. Readers will be eager to see where she goes next.” Publisher's Weekly 

“[E]xceptional… an intellectually rigorous rebuttal… The Traces is a place I will revisit often.” —Cory Oldweiler, The Minneapolis Star Tribune