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.

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