Content Tagged ‘Vladimir Nabokov’

Gornick’s ‘Fierce Attachments’

September 30, 2013 | 19 Comments

Fierce Attachments stands with another classic literary memoir, John Updike’s Self-Consciousness, and surpasses by dint of its warm humanity Vladimir Nabokov’s chilly Speak, Memory. I’m embarrassed it has taken me so long to read it, especially since I’ve read Vivian Gornick’s short book of memoir theory, The Situation and the Story, many times. I’ve always found the latter rather slippery—seemingly too simple, it suddenly drops into murky depths—but Fierce Attachments’ brilliant use of the memoirist’s dual persona brings it into focus.

All the same, my current reading of Fierce Attachments, originally published in 1987, is shadowed by disaster. I have two classes of freshmen reading it and they hate it. That may be a slight overstatement, but they aren’t enjoying it—it’s not a book for kids. They want events, plot. In a word, story.

What was I thinking? There’s a story here, but one it takes an adult to see: a woman trying to understand her mother, herself, and how her past forged her. Gornick was affected especially by her mother—mercurial, unlettered, brilliant—and by Nettie, an overripe, artistic, emotionally damaged widow next door.

Freshmen can’t relate. How can they, when most don’t yet own their material? Their parents, for instance aren’t yet people, let alone people who can be forged into characters. For juniors and seniors, if they’re writing majors or at least avid readers, Fierce Attachments would be a good risk. And all MFA students, especially those in creative nonfiction, should read it. Not to mention all self-taught adult memoirists. For it’s a wonder of a book, as good as they say.

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Richard Russo’s ‘Elsewhere’

February 4, 2013 | 20 Comments

Review: Narrative risks & rewards in a talky memoir about Mom. “You do know your mother’s nuts, right?”—Russo’s father to him when he was twenty. Elsewhere by Richard Russo. Knopf, 243 pp. Rather dense, slow-moving, and expository, Elsewhere isn’t a memoir I’d make students read. Smoothly written, interestingly structured, a complex portrait of mental illness, love, and lower middle class life in a wretched town, Elsewhere is a book I’d recommend, with caveats, to adults. They must be serious readers, …

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Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’

January 17, 2013 | 29 Comments

Storytelling & spirituality in Virginia Woolf’s classic feminist text. Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time.—A Room of One’s Own A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. Harcourt, 112 pp. As last year when I was at the beach, where I’ve been for the past few weeks, I remember I should have brought Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, what with …

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Salman Rushdie’s new memoir

September 24, 2012 | 10 Comments

Joseph Anton is a splendid book, the finest new memoir to cross my desk in many a year.—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Salman Rushdie is in the news again. Not because he’s living under a new Muslim sentence of death, which sent him into hiding for a decade after the publication of his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, but because he’s written a memoir about the period. With the fatwa now almost fifteen years behind him, Rushdie has perspective from which …

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On hating a memoirist

July 28, 2012 | 43 Comments

Another nonfiction issue: judging a book by its author?  I know of nothing more difficult than knowing who you are, and having the courage to share the reasons for the catastrophe of your character with the world.—William Gass As my previous three posts indicate, I admire Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. I devoured it as a reader and also loved how I could raid her techniques for my own memoir. So …

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The 100 best nonfiction books?

February 26, 2012 | 14 Comments

The Modern Library on its website lists the “100 best” English-language books in fiction and nonfiction. Alongside each are the best according to an online poll—and the readers’ choices consist of much trash: the top three slots of each list, fiction and nonfiction, are filled by Ayn Rand and L. Ron Hubbard. Modern Library’s own considered nonfiction list is fascinating because it’s wildly diverse, reflecting the genre’s diversity, no doubt. It mixes histories and works of philosophy that have had …

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Woolf’s ‘A Sketch of the Past’

December 14, 2011 | 11 Comments

From it all I gathered one obstinate and enduring conception. That nothing is to be so much dreaded as egotism. Nothing so cruelly hurts the person himself; nothing so wounds those who are forced into contact with it.—Virginia Woolf, writing about her relationship with her father in “A Sketch of the Past” Having posted so much lately on scenic narrative, I do penance by featuring Virginia Woolf, a most reflective writer. Toward her I feel a kinship, which for some …

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