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Book Reviews257 Carol Spindel I teach a writing workshop for coUege freshmen on the personal essay. Many of the essays I love are written from a reflective, midlife perspective, and they leave my students shrugging their shoulders. These two memoirs, both written from a young point ofview, work weU for me and my students. Lost in Place: Growing Up Absurd in Suburbia, by Mark Salzman. Vintage, 1996. 269 pages, paperback, $13.00. The disclaimer in the front of this book gives a good sense of Salzman s wit: "Although this is a work of nonfiction and represents the whole unsuUied, objective truth, I am advised of the sUm chance that some of the people described in this book might remember things differently. To accommodate that absurd possibüity, all ofthe names except for those ofmy immediate fam- üy have been changed." This book covers Mark Salzman s Ufe from age twelve, when he saw his first kung fu movie and dedicated his life to becoming a wandering Zen monk, to his experiences at coUege. He looks back with witty, self-deprecating humor at his teenaged search for truth in unlikely places. Never one to do things by halves, Salzman studies kung fu, learns Chinese, and goes barefoot in winter, aU in hopes of finding enlightenment in suburban Connecticut. His teenage angst is teUingly observed and described in fast-paced prose that never strikes a false note. The real heart of this memoir, however, is the loving relationship between Salzman and his father, a social worker by profession , a painter and astronomer by avocation, and a pessimist at heart. Autobiography of a Face, by Lucy Grealy. HarperPerennial, 1994. 223 pages, paperback, $13.00. At the age ofnine, Lucy Grealy was diagnosed with cancer and a third of her jaw was removed. Afterward, she endured chemodierapy and numerous operations to reconstruct her face. For years, she aUowed herselfto be defined by the anomafies ofher face. One day in a café, she realized that she must stop 258Fourth Genre waiting to have a perfect face and simply Uve her Ufe. This is a remarkable account. Grealy pairs a poet's attention to language with a particularly insightful and mature self-awareness. The emphasis on appearance in our culture gives Grealys insights a significance far beyond her own unique experience. Daniel Minock Ifyou enjoy nonfiction nature writing at its best, I recommend the Credo Series edited by Scott Slovic for Milkweed Editions. Each ofthe seven short books consists of a 40- to 50-thousand-word essay (or series of essays) by an established writer, often with accompanying photos or drawings, foUowed by a 7- to 10-thousand-word "Portrait" of the author by Slovic and a bibUography of the author's work. Included, to date, are Scott RusseU Sanders, Ann Raymond Zwinger, Pattiann Rogers, Rick Bass, Robert Michael PyIe, WiUiam Kittredge, and AUson Hawthorne Deming—and I'm glad to have read each ofthem, but here are two ofmy favorites: Taking Care: Thoughts on Storytelling and Belief, by WiUiam Kittredge. Mflkweed Editions, Credo Series, 1999. 130 pages, paper, $12.00. WiUiam Kittredge was raised on a ranch in southeastern Oregon in a family "deep into"—not the land, but "agribusiness." How he moved past that life into a new life as writer (of western novels, movie scripts, and creative nonfiction), thinker, environmentalist, teacher, and resident of Montana, but owner of no land, is told in detaü in Owning It All (Graywolf, 1987). This abridged version, Taking Care, is equaUy powerful. Kittredge knows weU how not to make too much ofhis story, not to exaggerate the distance he has traveled or the convictions that he feels. There is a quality of understatement in his prose that gives an accurate impression ofthe slow-talking, balanced man working familiar ground. It is clear, though, from what he says and from what Slovic says in his "Portrait" that Kittredge struggled to achieve his calm clarity , and he was at various times neither cahn nor clear. Halfway through his book, Kittredge explains what he taught about essay writing at the University ofMontana: that a work "began with an experience and then attempted to transcend the personal, writing that began...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1544-1733
Print ISSN
1522-3868
Pages
pp. 257-258
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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