In this brief and characteristically pithy collection, critic and memoirist Gornick (The Odd Woman and the City) considers how her responses to particular books have changed over time. What interests her is not discovering that she’d misremembered details of character and story, but finding a new comprehension of a book’s subject, such as realizing that her long-held impression of D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers’s “overriding theme—of sexual passion as the central experience of a life—was wrong.” With her perspective changing due to time, age, and shifting cultural landscapes, the mature Gornick finds former fonts of wisdom such as Colette now “narrow and confined” and learns she only appreciates Doris Lessing’s Particularly Cats after acquiring two tabbies and realizing she “had to grow into the reader for whom the book was written.” Through steady, sculpted prose and elegant readings, Gornick concludes the work of great literature is less about “the transporting pleasure of the story itself” than revealing readers to themselves, a process of self-discovery she relates to her description of Israeli writer A.B. Yehoshua’s characters as “women and men, just out of Plato’s cave... moving blind toward some vague understanding of what it is to be human.” The insights in this rich work will be appreciated by Gornick fans and bibliophiles alike. (Feb.)
Gornick (The Odd Woman and the City) describes herself as someone who reads to "feel the power of life with a capital L." In nine essays, the author candidly discusses her rereading of literary works during different moments in her life by authors such as Elizabeth Bowen, J.L. Carr, Colette, Marguerite Duras, Natalia Ginzburg, Thomas Hardy, and Doris Lessing. Synthesizing the various writings, while simultaneously describing how her interpretation of the texts has changed with each rereading through a personal, feminist, and postmodern lens, Gornick expounds on D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers and the experience of identifying with a different character each time. Books she disliked or misunderstood decades before were appreciated after a second reading as a result of life experience or change (including the adoption of two cats). Gornick recognizes that in that initial encounter, one might not be emotionally ready to appreciate a work fully, but with each rereading will recognize a new literary element or better understand a particular protagonist no matter how many times the book has been perused before. VERDICT A delightful entry for lovers of literature and literary criticism.—Erica Swenson Danowitz, Delaware Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Media, PA
Gornick's (The Old Woman and the City, 2016) ferocious but principled intelligence emanates from each of the essays in this distinctive collection.
Rereading texts, and comparing her most recent perceptions against those of the past, is the linchpin of the book, with the author revisiting such celebrated novels as D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, Colette's The Vagabond, Marguerite Duras' The Lover, and Elizabeth Bowen's The House in Paris. Gornick also explores the history and changing face of Jewish American fiction as expressions of "the other." The author reads more deeply and keenly than most, with perceptions amplified by the perspective of her 84 years. Though she was an avatar of "personal journalism" and a former staff writer for the Village Voice—a publication that "had a muckraking bent which made its writers…sound as if they were routinely holding a gun to society's head"—here, Gornick mostly subordinates her politics to the power of literature, to the books that have always been her intimates, old friends to whom she could turn time and again. "I read ever and only to feel the power of Life with a capital L," she writes; it shows. The author believes that for those willing to relinquish treasured but outmoded interpretations, rereading over a span of decades can be a journey, sometimes unsettling, toward richer meanings of books that are touchstones of one's life. As always, Gornick reveals as much about herself as about the writers whose works she explores; particularly arresting are her essays on Lawrence and on Natalia Ginzburg. Some may feel she has a tendency to overdramatize, but none will question her intellectual honesty. It is reflected throughout, perhaps nowhere so vividly as in a vignette involving a stay in Israel, where, try as she might, Gornick could not get past the "appalling tribalism of the culture."
Literature knows few champions as ardent and insightful—or as uncompromising—as Gornick, which is to readers' good fortune.
Gornick’s new book is part memoiristic collage, part literary criticism, yet it is also an urgent argument that rereading offers the opportunity not just to correct and adjust one’s recollection of a book but to correct and adjust one’s perception of oneself . . . Lively, personable . . . sneakily poignant . . . It is one of the great ironies of consuming literature that as much as we read to expand our minds, we often take in only whatever it is that we are primed to absorb at a particular moment. Do not, Gornick says in this brief, incisive book, let that be the end of it.” Chloë Schama, The New York Times Book Review
"Vivacious and highly recommended." Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
"A thoughtful and far-ranging collection of essays. Gornick, one of the great essayists of our time, writes about one of life’s simple pleasures with tenderness and wit.” Jenny Offill, Parade
"Unfinished Business is all about different ways of looking, a chronicle of the protean perceptions and interpretations . . . Gornick certainly is convincing when she takes the perceived textual qualities of realness and life and brings them to bear on her own life . . . In each case, the new reading leads to a different destination; in each case, Gornick is guided by a yearning that has remained as constant through the years as a star." Christopher Sorrentino, Bookforum
"Reading Gornick rereading, there is the persistent feeling that wereaders, writers, authors, charactersare all in it together, trying to grasp the bigger, ever-shifting picture of why we do what we do and to find the tools to illuminate, reveal, question, mourn, and grow." Emily LaBarge, Los Angeles Review of Books
"[An] enchanting and addictive little bookwhose size and shape make it feel like it contains epigrams and instructions for life when in fact it contains not so much instructions for life, but life itself." Thomas Beller, 4Columns
"These essays glow with Gornick's sharp intelligence . . . Whatever a reader may think of Gornick's tastes and interpretations, it must be recognized that few champions of literature and reading are as passionate and uncompromising. Would that there were more." Bill Thompson, The Post and Courier
"Gornick’s ferocious but principled intelligence emanates from each of the essays in this distinctive collection . . . The author reads more deeply and keenly than most, with perceptions amplified by the perspective of her 84 years . . . Literature knows few champions as ardent and insightfulor as uncompromisingas Gornick, which is to readers’ good fortune." Kirkus (starred review)
"A delightful entry for lovers of literature and literary criticism." Library Journal (starred review)
"Through steady, sculpted prose and elegant readings, Gornick concludes the work of great literature is less about 'the transporting pleasure of the story itself' than revealing readers to themselves . . . The insights in this rich work will be appreciated by Gornick fans and bibliophiles alike." Publishers Weekly