Content Tagged ‘Patti Smith’

Top reads of 2015

December 28, 2015 | 6 Comments

Sign me, Bemused

December 3, 2015 | 30 Comments

Way back in graduate school I wrote a paper on the misuse of forte. It means a person’s strong suit when pronounced “fort” but refers to a loud musical passage when pronounced as its spelling indicates, for-tey. Or once it did. The distinction has almost been lost partly because people who knew better began mispronouncing forte to fit in.

Which I think is what interested me, that cognitive dissonance. Everyone wants to belong, to be admired by her or his chosen group. So I was upset when I realized recently that I’d misused the word “bemused” several times in my book, Shepherd: A Memoir. The memorable one to me involves our ewe Big Mama and her sardonic attitude toward me. I said she was bemused by me.

But bemused does not mean “extra amused”; it means bewildered or confused; a secondary meaning is lost in thought. The word is so rampantly misused that its meaning may be changing. And even when used correctly, its meaning often is unclear.

Here’s Mary Karr, describing her father as her storytelling model, in The Art of Memoir: “He had a talent for physical detail and a bemused attention to the human comedy.” Karr is a best-selling memoirist and a respected poet, so we must assume she’s using the word correctly here. Or must we? I think so. Yet Karr intends praise, and it’s more flattering to her father to picture him as amused by the human comedy than confused by it. Maybe he’s just a bit puzzled like everyone else in this comedy of errors we call life.

You can see the lack of clarity flowing from this slippery word.

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Review: ‘Half A Life’ memoir

April 4, 2011 | 5 Comments

Darin Strauss’s sad and somber gift to others from his suffering: stunning in its artistry, honesty. Half a Life: A Memoir by Darin Strauss. Random House, 187 pp. Everybody wants life to speak to them with special kindness.—Darin Strauss I was surprised—but pleased—when Darin Strauss’s memoir Half A Life recently won the 2011 National Book Critics Circle award for autobiography. I hadn’t heard much buzz about the book. The judges called it a “brave and heartbreaking account,” placing it ahead of finalists that …

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