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A mixture of pompous braying and insightful, quiet moments of magic.

Editor Benedict (The Practice of Deceit, 2005, etc.) presents a collection of 30 pieces by writers of varying ability, accomplishment and fame who recount “a moment when an authority figure saw talent in them, or when they came to believe they possessed it themselves.”

A couple of the weaker essays are by contributors who prate and prance (John Casey) or who make certain that we know that a mentor once called their writing wonderful (Julia Glass). Not all memories are in soft focus. Mary Gordon recalls an unkind cut from Elizabeth Hardwick that resulted in a 21-year estrangement. Edmund White writes wryly and eloquently about ambivalence, focusing on the prickly-pear personality of Harold Brodkey, who once raged that Updike had stolen his persona and plopped him into The Witches of Eastwick as the diabolical Daryl Van Horne. The most appealing pieces are reflective and self-deprecating. Michael Cunningham summons a moment from high school when an unusual adolescent girl told him he was stupid and that he should read Virginia Woolf ASAP. Alexander Chee, remembering Annie Dillard, notes that great teachers help you see the path you’re already on. Several writers confess to falling in love with other writers (mostly from afar). Cheryl Strayed wept when she finally heard Alice Munro at a reading. Samantha Hunt says she felt flayed by the words of Breece D’J Pancake. Joyce Carol Oates shines with her realization that she’s never had an actual mentor (her late husband, she reveals, rarely read her fiction); instead, she’s had colleagues she’s admired (John Gardner) and books she’s loved. Several contributors, Oates among them, write about formative books from childhood (are we surprised that she liked Poe?). Jane Smiley gets the last word in a sharp-edged piece about the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the 1970s, noting that “desire sparks imagination, imagination generates details, details take you from the beginning to the end.”

A mixture of pompous braying and insightful, quiet moments of magic.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4391-0861-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2009

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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