Off to the Side: A Memoir [NOOK Book]


Selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Off to the Side is the tale of one of America's most beloved writers. Jim Harrison traces his upbringing in Michigan amid the austerities of the Depression and the Second World War, and the seemingly greater austerities of his starchy Swedish forebears. He chronicles his coming-of-age, from a boy drunk with books to a young man making his way among fellow writers he deeply admires — including Peter Matthiessen, Robert Lowell, W.H. Auden, Truman Capote, ...
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Off to the Side: A Memoir

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Selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Off to the Side is the tale of one of America's most beloved writers. Jim Harrison traces his upbringing in Michigan amid the austerities of the Depression and the Second World War, and the seemingly greater austerities of his starchy Swedish forebears. He chronicles his coming-of-age, from a boy drunk with books to a young man making his way among fellow writers he deeply admires — including Peter Matthiessen, Robert Lowell, W.H. Auden, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Allen Ginsberg. Harrison discusses forthrightly the life-changing experience of becoming a father, and the minor cognitive dissonance that ensued when this boy from the "heartland" somehow ended up a highly paid Hollywood screenwriter. He gives free rein to his "seven obsessions" — alcohol, food, stripping, hunting and fishing (and the dogs who have accompanied him in both), religion, the road, and our place in the natural world — which he elucidates with earthy wisdom and an elegant sense of connectedness. Off to the Side is a work of great beauty and importance, a triumphant achievement that captures the writing life and brings all of us clues for living.
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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
This is a sprawling, impressionistic memoir as roundabout as one of the author's famous road trips.
Publishers Weekly
"I'm not sure I'm particularly well equipped to tell the truth," writes Harrison. But with such a colorful life, there's not much need to tell lies. Bus boy, gardener, gourmand, novelist, screenwriter, drunkard-Harrison has done it all. Now add successful memoirist to that list. After a rugged outdoor childhood in Michigan, where an accident left him blind in one eye, Harrison moved to New York with vague ambitions to be a poet. Denise Levertov soon recognized his talent and launched Harrison on a literary career that eventually included teaching at SUNY Stony Brook, writing for GQ and Esquire, authoring several popular novels (The Road Home; Legends of the Fall) and writing Hollywood screenplays. Throughout, Harrison befriended an impressive gang of fellow free spirits: Jack Nicholson, Jimmy Buffett, Tom McGuane, among others. He swingingly recounts trout fishing with Richard Brautigan, bingeing with Orson Welles, arguing gay poetry with W.H. Auden and drinking with just about everybody. Alcoholism, Harrison writes, was his constant enemy, the writer's "black lung disease," as his friend McGuane once said. But he had other vices, too: strippers, cocaine, hunting, long walks in the woods by himself-all of which fed into Harrison's characteristic mix of freewheeling boho sensibilities and earthy western melancholy. A man as willing to shoot a grouse as trip on psychedelics-he claims to annually experience God-like visions and swears that he was once transformed into a wolf-Harrison is never less than intriguing. This fine memoir is a worthy capstone to a fascinating career. Agent, Bob Dattilla. (Nov. 19) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Poet, novelist, and screenwriter Harrison is perhaps best known for his novella Legends of the Fall, which was made into a blockbuster movie by the same name. In this odd memoir, much of which is written in the second person, he uses biographical incidents as a springboard for his ruminations on a wide variety of topics, including alcohol, food, strippers, hunting, fishing, religion, and travel. While his remarks on these subjects can be trenchant, they are too often banal, resulting in superficial, mind-numbing prose. The third part of the book, "The Rest of Life," which recounts the tragic loss of his father and sister in a car accident, his tenure in the English department at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and his adventures in Hollywood, is more interesting and includes allusions to friendships with celebrities like actor Jack Nicholson and singer Jimmy Buffett. Even so, libraries would do well to skip this title and spend the money instead on Harrison's poetry or fiction.-William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An oddly insouciant and rambling memoir from the poet, novelist, screenwriter, and essayist (The Raw and the Cooked, 2001, etc.). Much is conventional here. Harrison rounds up the usual suspects (venal politicians; despoilers of the environment; religious fundamentalists; dolts of academe and Hollywood; bigots of assorted stripes). Structurally, he begins at the beginning (parents, childhood, adolescence) and ends near the present (there are allusions to 9/11 and to President Bush, whom Harrison disdains). If these segments are the white bread of his sandwich, the fixins' in between are about his "seven obsessions," comprising alcohol; strip clubs; hunting, fishing, and dogs; private religion; France; travel; and American Indians. The sections on these permit him to move freely in time, dropping myriad names and bons mots-blue laws, for example, were "enacted by dead-peckered suits." Harrison hooks nothing rare or sizeable in his Hollywood segments but fillets the familiar (studios that need but hate writers, producers who fear talented directors) and offers dull lists of famous friends-Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Sean Connery. He sometimes attempts and achieves self-deprecation, confessing, for example, that his Warlock is weak and that he wrote some "haughty" reviews for the New York Times Book Review. Throughout, he revisits some of his worst moments, telling us a little more each time-losing vision in an eye in boyhood, losing his father and a sister in a car crash caused by a drunk driver. He also rehashes his own heavy drinking and drug use, his depressions, his visits to prostitutes. (He declares that politicians would be better people if they spent more time in whorehouses.)Much of this is fun, some just tiresome macho populist swagger, and some careless. Harrison repeats allusions to Dostoyevsky and Whitman, repeats examples and anecdotes, and needs to check his Funk & Wagnall's for sojourn and hopefully. His blade uncharacteristically dull, Harrison more often scrapes than slashes. First printing of 65,000; $50,000 ad/promo; author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555846473
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/1/2007
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 561,726
  • File size: 3 MB

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2003

    Natural World

    After Dalva, I didn't think Harrison had another good book in him. I enjoyed reading this book on the rough life. I, too, need the natural world and encounters with beautiful young women, in his novels, always brings up the moral conflict inherent in his novels.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2002

    Inside Information

    If you like Jim Harrison's books, you can't go without reading his memoir. It's chock full of all the items you love to read about this unique American man of letters, in the style we have all come to love. There will be a great deal you've already read, but the bits and pieces that are tucked away like minute items of a lapidary are worth the time. Like a familiar walk in the woods, it never gets old, but changes with the seasons. Pure wisdom from the self-named "daffy" poet.

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