Inspiring recollections of love, literature, and a search for meaning.

MEANING A LIFE

AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY

An expanded edition of a 1978 memoir about poetry and one’s purpose in midcentury America.

Originally published by Black Sparrow Press and now saved from obscurity, this sonorous autobiography (and only prose publication) from painter and poet Oppen (Poems & Transpositions, 1980, etc.) chronicles the lives of two literary soul mates. Born in 1908 in Kalispell, Montana, the author grew up with a desire not only to leave her rural lifestyle but to pursue a lifelong conversation, learning “as much as we are able of the universe we are part of.” She went to Oregon State University, where she met her future husband, George; although she was expelled after their first date for breaking curfew, their bond was cast. “Our joined lives,” she recalls, “seem[ed] to us both choice and inevitability.” Oppen’s narrative shifts seamlessly into a collective memoir as she chronicles the couple’s travels from San Francisco to New York, Paris, and Mexico, tested on their way by the hardships of World War II. Of their many travels, Oppen quotes Sherwood Anderson: “we wanted to know if we were any good out there.” Although George won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1969, Mary’s memoir is by no means in his shadow; their love and intellectual union is rhapsodically mutual and an inspiring achievement to behold. Midcentury poetry aficionados will enjoy another layer: George was part of the “objectivist” poetry movement, and Charles Reznikoff and Louis Zukofsky appear throughout the Oppens’ travels. While these poets challenged the conceptual side of their craft, Mary looked to the entire literary canon for her voice. On Virginia Woolf, she writes, “Virginia herself found in her writing what life meant to her, and reading her works I found a little more of what life meant to me.” The author divined meaning and guidance from the literary lives around her and channeled those forces into a passionate memoir that will continue to resound with readers even decades after its publication.

Inspiring recollections of love, literature, and a search for meaning.

Pub Date: April 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2947-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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

NIGHT

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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