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AUSTEN YEARS

A MEMOIR IN FIVE NOVELS

A nuanced portrait of a writer and reader.

How Jane Austen’s novels can guide readers through joy and grief.

“Criticism and memoir have always been near neighbors,” writes essayist and biographer Cohen (Creative Writing/Univ. of Chicago; Bernard Berenson: A Life in the Picture Trade, 2013, etc.); “the gift of a pronounced personal point of view leads to deeper readings, and to new ones.” In a thoughtful meditation on the interweaving of literature and life, Cohen recounts her reading during years when her life altered dramatically: Her father died, she married, and her two children were born. Those profound experiences made her vibrantly alert to Austen’s themes: “families and friendships and changing history, how we go back over what we have lived, and whether we can hand it on.” Although Austen never married or had children, she “did not forget that her books would be read in rooms where babies had just been born, and where parents had breathed their last.” Rooms, and the objects within them, reverberated with memories and life. Cohen brings to her analysis a thorough familiarity not only with Austen’s unforgettable characters, but also with her critics and biographers, including the “restrained but insightful” memoir written by Austen’s nephew. These works help her to contextualize the novels, which she analyzes with astute sensitivity. Austen’s characters, in fact, emerge more vividly than many individuals from Cohen’s own life. Except for her father, a kind, imaginative man “full of wit” and generosity, others remain shadowy: her mother, a theater director and teacher; Cohen’s husband—their convoluted 15-year courtship, a friend remarked, seemed “very Jane Austen”; her sister, son, and daughter. Cohen’s father was a professor whose research focused on organizations “and the ways people work and play together.” The author remembers him laughing “with delight and with surprise,” and she portrays the family’s home as “a place of tenderness”—though it was not without mysteries (her father’s sudden decision to give all their books away, for example) that, along with treasured memories, came to shape her reading.

A nuanced portrait of a writer and reader.

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-10703-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

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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