Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Stalking Books

Even when I'm not reading as much as usual, I'm still stalking books--or they're stalking me. It's a two-way obsessive relationship for the most part.

This weekend I spent some time having lunch and running around with my mom since she was close to our neighborhood here in Dallas. When we were done with our frivolity, I took off home, but I only made it as far as Barnes & Noble.  I had every intention of taking my Nook for a spin on the in-store wi-fi to catch all kinds of miraculous deals, but the battery was dead, so my plan was foiled. Instead, I perused the shelves and happened upon Ann Patchett's memoir, Truth and Beauty. If you're not familiar, though I suspect most of you have beat me to this one, it's about her friendship with poet Lucy Grealy. Grealy was most famous for her book, Autobiography of a Face, which chronicles her struggles with cancer of the jaw as a child and throughout the rest of her life. She died in 2002.

I've long been a fan of the idea of Ann Patchett's writing. I've listened to her on NPR, I've collected her books Bel Canto, Run, and The Patron Saint of Liars. Somehow I never get around to reading them, though. I can't say that I had very good luck with Bel Canto after all its critical hoo-hah, so it sort of deterred me.

Looking back, I had much the same luck with Paul Auster until I read his memoir, Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failure. That sent me off to another memoir, The Red Notebook, and finally I jumped into his fiction with The New York Trilogy and Man in the Dark. Now I consider him one of my very tippy top favorite authors, but I wouldn't have "met" him properly without his memoirs. I'm hoping the same will happen with Patchett.

Here's one passage from Truth and Beauty that I thought was nice and summed up her view of Grealy during their college relationship.

Lucy, not a television star, occasionally a triumph, went back to work on her poetry, leaving drafts around the house the same way she left her scattered clothes. She gave me xeroxed copies of the poems she read and loved. She ripped pages out of literary magazines and taped them to the refrigerator. Poetry defined her, saved her. There were times it seemed to be the only thing that made perfect sense.
So far what I like most about this book is the budding creative relationship between writers. Certainly they struggle through normal friendship highs and lows, each gestating their own insecurities and daily life problems, but it's also interesting to read about the writing process and how it shows itself in their relationship.

Patchett is a master of words and raw emotion, and I just love this book so far.

If you'd like to hear Patchett discuss writing, try this NPR interview.

Of if you're interested in Grealy, try this video from her appearance on Charlie Rose to discuss Autobiography of a Face.

17 comments:

  1. I haven't read this one, but it sounds like one I'd like. The cover is gorgeous too.

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  2. Isn't it?? It's one of my favorite covers I've seen in a long time. I couldn't resist adding it to my collection. It's been ages since I bought a book!

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  3. I loved this book. I enjoyed Bel Canto and Run but Truth and Beauty was incredibly personal and touching. It was an emotionally exhausting read by the end, but memorable.

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  4. I saw this on our Buy Two Get One Free table and considered grabbing it, as I really like Patchett. I loved Bel Canto (reminded me a bit of Blindness) and liked The Magician's Assistant pretty well. I have Run in my stacks and keep meaning to pick it up. Thanks for the link to the NPR interview. Off to have a listen...

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  5. I read Run for book club and it was decent and I've had Bel Canto sitting on my book shelf for months and months and have yet to pick it up. I can't wait to hear how you like this memoir. I think that can totally push you to read more from an author if you like them as a person first. :O) Looking forward to your review!

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  6. I adore Ann Patchett, and her memoir may be my favorite of her books. Autobiography of a Face was one of the most heartbreaking books I have ever read.

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  7. I've had Bel Canto on my TBR shelves for the longest time. Maybe I should just give up and read this one instead!

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  8. Claire, I love getting under authors' skins. I'm also fascinated by the fact that so many of them manage to be good buddies and travel in the same circles long before they hit it big.

    Les, it's interesting that you say it reminded you of Blindness. That almost makes me want to try again (though, I have to say, I'm addicted to the idea of Blindness and too darn scared to read the book). Run has been staring me down lately from the shelves. Enjoy the interview! I just love listening to Patchett talk.

    Amen, Funky. That's exactly it: liking them as a person first. I had a total crush on Paul Auster by the end of those memoirs, and it made the fiction all the more enriching to see what he'd woven in from his personal life.

    KnittingReader, I'm glad to know she's one of your faves because that gives me a boost! Definitely want to read Autobiography of a Face now, too.

    LOL, Kathleen! I can't say I disagree. It's wonderful so far!

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  9. Truth & Beauty is an excellent memoir. In my opinion, it surpasses the fictional works that I've read by her (Bel Canto & The Magician's Assistant.) I like how she doesn't shy away from describing the more difficult aspects of her friendship with Lucy. Also, the book is an interesting inside look at the lives of writers and how they make their living.

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  10. I failed at Bel Canto...twice. But I did love Run.

    And I can totally relate to that stalking thing. Although I swear all the stalking is by the books. I'm the innocent party.

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  11. Andi, I have to warn you that Autobiography of a Face is one of the hardest books I've ever read. There were times when I had to skip a few pages because I was devastated for what Lucy went through.

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  12. I just had to pop in and let you know that in catching up on my google reader, I am falling in love with your blog all over again :) Every entry is making me think, laugh, or both. Thank you for that!

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  13. I had some issues with Bel Canto but I really liked this book. The only thing I regret is that I didn't read it back to back with Lucy's book. I'd read Lucy's book years before but I think it would have been a great way to look at two different viewpoints. Are you going to read it?

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  14. Luckily I read Bel Canto before the hype and loved it. Since then I have read every book she has penned including this one. I found it sad and beautiful. Overall I think Patchett is a wonderful writer and a great story teller. Oddly, although I still like her, in interviews I find her pretentious, or at least precious, in a way that her books are not.

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  15. I've long been fascinated by this friendship and, like you state, the idea of their relationship. I totally intend on reading both memoirs - someday, someday. PS - saw your pics on facebook and you are one glowing pregnant woman!

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  16. My friend gave me this one, with a lovely note inside about the power of frienship. I enjoyed it all the more because of that :)

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  17. I haven't yet read anything by Pratchett but I do want to read Bel Canto. I haven't really read too much about it other than a blogger review here and there. Truth and Beauty sounds like it will be good.

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