Learning to Drive: ...and other life stories

Overview

Learning to Drive • Now a major motion picture starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley

Celebrated for her award-winning political columns, criticism, and poetry, Katha Pollitt now shows us another side of her talent. Learning to Drive is a surprising, revealing, and entertaining collection of essays drawn from the author’s own life.

With deep feeling and sharp insight, Pollitt writes about the death of her father; the sad but noble final ...

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Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories

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Overview

Learning to Drive • Now a major motion picture starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley

Celebrated for her award-winning political columns, criticism, and poetry, Katha Pollitt now shows us another side of her talent. Learning to Drive is a surprising, revealing, and entertaining collection of essays drawn from the author’s own life.

With deep feeling and sharp insight, Pollitt writes about the death of her father; the sad but noble final days of a leftist study group of which she was a member; and the betrayal and heartbreak inflicted by a man who seriously deceived her. (Her infinitely patient, gentle driving instructor points out her weakness—“Observation, Katha, observation!”) She also offers a candid view of her preoccupation with her ex-lover’s haunting presence on the Internet, and her search there for a secret link that might provide a revelation about him that will Explain Everything.

Other topics include the differences between women and men—“More than half the male members of the Donner party died of cold and starvation, but three quarters of the females survived, saved by that extra layer of fat we spend our lives trying to get rid of”—and the practical implications of political theory: “What if socialism—all that warmhearted folderol about community and solidarity and sharing was just an elaborate con job, a way for men to avoid supporting their kids?”

Learning to Drive demonstrates that while Katha Pollitt is undeniably one of our era’s most profound observers of culture, society, and politics, she is just as impressively a wise, graceful, and honest observer of her own and others’ human nature.

Praise for Learning to Drive
 
“The kind of book you want to look up from at points so you can read aloud certain passages to a friend or lover.”Chicago Tribune
 
“A powerful personal narrative . . . full of insight and charm . . . Pollitt is her own Jane Austen character . . . haughty and modest, moral and irresponsible, sensible and, happily for us, lost in sensibility.”The New York Review of Books
 
“With . . . bracing self-honesty, Pollitt takes us through the maddening swirl of contradictions at the heart of being fifty-something: the sense of slowing down, of urgency, of wisdom, of ignorance, of strength, of helplessness, of breakdown, of renewal.”The Seattle Times
 
“Essays of breathtaking candor and razor-sharp humor . . . [Pollitt] has outdone herself. . . . [Her] observations are acute and her confessions tonic. Forget face-lifts; Pollitt’s essays elevate the spirit.”Booklist (starred review)
 
“Candid, confessional prose . . . But even at her most intimate, [Pollitt] manages to infuse her tales of dissatisfaction and heartbreak with levity and humor.”San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Pitch perfect . . . painfully hilarious to read.”The Boston Globe

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The kind of book you want to look up from at points so you can read aloud certain passages to a friend or lover.”Chicago Tribune
 
“A powerful personal narrative . . . full of insight and charm . . . [Katha] Pollitt is her own Jane Austen character . . . haughty and modest, moral and irresponsible, sensible and, happily for us, lost in sensibility.”The New York Review of Books
 
“With . . . bracing self-honesty, Pollitt takes us through the maddening swirl of contradictions at the heart of being fifty-something: the sense of slowing down, of urgency, of wisdom, of ignorance, of strength, of helplessness, of breakdown, of renewal.”The Seattle Times
 
“Essays of breathtaking candor and razor-sharp humor . . . [Pollitt] has outdone herself. . . . [Her] observations are acute and her confessions tonic. Forget face-lifts; Pollitt’s essays elevate the spirit.”Booklist (starred review)
 
“Candid, confessional prose . . . But even at her most intimate, [Pollitt] manages to infuse her tales of dissatisfaction and heartbreak with levity and humor.”San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Pitch perfect . . . painfully hilarious to read.”The Boston Globe
Toni Bentley
Her three previous essay collections gathered brilliant commentary on welfare, abortion, surrogate motherhood, Iraq, gay marriage and health care, mostly from the pages of The Nation. But with Learning to Drive, she gets personal, and shameless. She has decided to wave her dirty laundry (among which she found unidentified striped panties) and confesses to "Webstalking" her longtime, live-in, womanizing former boyfriend…It's hard to tell if she's coming into her own, trying to sell more books or has lost it entirely. Or perhaps she's giving up her dignity in a generous motion of solidarity toward the rest of us who have already blown our cover? Whatever the reason, she's entitled.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

This collection of reflections by the Nationessayist and poet Pollitt (Reasonable Creatures) ranges in subject from her philandering boyfriend to a general late-midlife sense of loss. The title essay is the zippiest and most successful, fashioning a canny metaphor about the importance of observation both in learning to drive for the first time at age 52 and in recognizing that her lover of seven years was cheating on her from the get-go. Pollitt plays the conflicted modern woman par excellence, both feminist and feminine; she writes of unabashedly joining a Marxist study group at the behest of her guru-like boyfriend, who padded the meetings with past and present lovers ("In the Study Group"), then wonders with wistful anticipation what kind of life it will be when she has outlived all the men who find her desirable ("After the Men Are Dead"). Familiarity seems to breed weariness, however, and her essays about motherhood ("Beautiful Screamer") and women's tenacious collusion in men's superiority ("Sisterhood") have the feel of oft-tread ground. (Sept. 4)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Pollitt (Virginity or Death!) is unconcerned with making friends: some of her comments, particularly on the subjects of abortion and religion, will anger members of the conservative right. But a close reading of these 11 nonfiction pieces executed with fiercely poetic language and brilliantly placed sarcasm reveals a highly inquisitive and independent voice. Pollitt divvies out clever observations of American culture along with honest moments of self-examination. In "Webstalker," she frankly and humorously describes her voyeuristic obsession with her former partner. Another comical yet endearing essay, "In the Study Group," portrays various members of a Marxist study group. Pollitt writes movingly of her father in "Good-bye, Lenin" and of her mother in "Mrs. Razzmatazz." In the final entry, "I Let Myself Go," she questions how some feminists equate plastic surgery with women's freedom. In one of the collection's most poignant moments, Pollitt describes a black-and-white photograph of writer Iris Murdoch's wonderfully wrinkled and asymmetrical face. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. [The New Yorkerwill feature the first serial.-Ed.]
—Stacy Russo

Kirkus Reviews
A collection of savvy, witty essays, more personal than political, from a feminist known for her social and cultural commentary. In the title essay, Pollitt (Virginity or Death!: And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time, 2006, etc.), a long-time columnist for The Nation, has lost her man and consequently must learn to drive a car, a task fraught with difficulties for a woman in late middle age. In the second piece, "Webstalker," the loss of her man turns her into an Internet addict who compulsively Googles him and anyone connected to him. These two essays, both previously published in the New Yorker, are laced with self-deprecating humor, as is "Memoir of a Shy Pornographer," about her stint as a young, shy freelance copyeditor and proofreader of pornography. There is a darker tone to her wry essay on belonging to a Marxist study group, led by a charismatic leader who was also her philandering boyfriend, and in the several pieces on feminism. A measure of poignancy marks her recollections of her Communist father ("Good-Bye, Lenin"), on whom the FBI kept error-filled files, and of her alcoholic mother ("Mrs. Razzmatazz"), who hid bottles in the kitchen cabinets. Resignation fills "End Of," her meditative piece on a vanishing landscape near her Connecticut home. Love, sex, marriage, mothering, aging, keeping up appearances-all come under her sharp scrutiny. A sardonic observer of human behavior, especially the relations between men and women, Pollitt leaves no doubt about her opinions. She writes that " the stories women tell each other about themselves emphasize the comical, the improbable, the vaguely malevolent but always entertaining twists and turns of fate," acharacterization that fits much of her work here. Thoroughly enjoyable reading for anyone, feminist or not, who likes bright, funny, opinionated writing. Agent: Melanie Jackson/Melanie Jackson Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812989373
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/7/2015
  • Pages: 224

Meet the Author

Katha Pollitt is the author of the essay collections Learning to Drive, Virginity or Death!, Subject to Debate, and Reasonable Creatures and is a poet, essayist, and columnist for The Nation. She has won many prizes and awards for her work, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for her first collection of poems, Antarctic Traveller, and two National Magazine Awards for essays and criticism. She lives in New York City.

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