KNOWING WHEN TO STOP

A MEMOIR

Wordy half-a-life story by tireless composer and tiresome raconteur and diarist Rorem (The Nantucket Diary, 1987, etc.). Rorem is one of the great 20th-century composers of art songs: brief, pithy, and often witty compositions that have become a fixture in the vocal repertoire. Sadly, his writing is as verbose and overwrought as his music is to the point. In this bulky tome, he is only able to recount the first three decades of his life, up to 1952. Raised in Chicago, he devotes the first third of the book to his young life, mostly focusing on his precocious gay cruising in the city's parks. The narrative then turns to music school at Curtis and Juilliard; his early days in New York City; and his artistic roamings in postWW II Paris and Morocco, where he encountered such luminaries as Leonard Bernstein, Virgil Thomas, Jean Cocteau, Tennessee Williams, and Paul Bowles. Rorem is such an egotist that his portraits, even when sympathetic, are often reduced to sometimes pithy, sometimes annoying aphorisms (Bernstein ``forever combined generosity with competitiveness''; John Cage is ``a fake...but a fake what?''). When he's not expounding barstool philosophy (``the artistic tendency is not there from the start...what is there...is the gene of quality'') or overblown, ponderous prose (``I examined the world in a grain of sand, the civilizations in the furrows of that porous brick an inch from the eye, and wept at the limitless melancholy latent in this new perspective''), he's offering a catalogue raisonnÇ, as it were, of his sex life—and incidentally of his musical works. His attempts to explain away his often blatant anti-Semitism and his use of coy asides (``I never told Dora, and hope you won't tell her now'') are just two of this memoir's more irritating features. A Ror-ation full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Stop already. (b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-671-72872-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1994

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MASTERY

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...

Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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BRAVE ENOUGH

These platitudes need perspective; better to buy the books they came from.

A lightweight collection of self-help snippets from the bestselling author.

What makes a quote a quote? Does it have to be quoted by someone other than the original author? Apparently not, if we take Strayed’s collection of truisms as an example. The well-known memoirist (Wild), novelist (Torch), and radio-show host (“Dear Sugar”) pulls lines from her previous pages and delivers them one at a time in this small, gift-sized book. No excerpt exceeds one page in length, and some are only one line long. Strayed doesn’t reference the books she’s drawing from, so the quotes stand without context and are strung together without apparent attention to structure or narrative flow. Thus, we move back and forth from first-person tales from the Pacific Crest Trail to conversational tidbits to meditations on grief. Some are astoundingly simple, such as Strayed’s declaration that “Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard.” Others call on the author’s unique observations—people who regret what they haven’t done, she writes, end up “mingy, addled, shrink-wrapped versions” of themselves—and offer a reward for wading through obvious advice like “Trust your gut.” Other quotes sound familiar—not necessarily because you’ve read Strayed’s other work, but likely due to the influence of other authors on her writing. When she writes about blooming into your own authenticity, for instance, one is immediately reminded of Anaïs Nin: "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Strayed’s true blossoming happens in her longer works; while this collection might brighten someone’s day—and is sure to sell plenty of copies during the holidays—it’s no substitute for the real thing.

These platitudes need perspective; better to buy the books they came from.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-101-946909

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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