The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative

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A guide to the art of personal writing, by the author of Fierce Attachments and The End of the Novel of Love

All narrative writing must pull from the raw material of life a tale that will shape experience, transform event, deliver a bit of wisdom. In a story or a novel the "I" who tells this tale can be, and often is, an unreliable narrator but in nonfiction the reader must always be persuaded that the narrator is speaking truth.

How does one pull from one's own boring, agitated self the truth-speaker who will tell the story a personal narrative needs to tell? That is the question The Situation and the Story asks--and answers. Taking us on a reading tour of some of the best memoirs and essays of the past hundred years, Gornick traces the changing idea of self that has dominated the century, and demonstrates the enduring truth-speaker to be found in the work of writers as diverse as Edmund Gosse, Joan Didion, Oscar Wilde, James Baldwin, or Marguerite Duras.

This book, which grew out of fifteen years teaching in MFA programs, is itself a model of the lucid intelligence that has made Gornick one of our most admired writers of nonfiction. In it, she teaches us to write by teaching us how to read: how to recognize truth when we hear it in the writing of others and in our own.

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About the author

Vivian Gornick's books include Fierce Attachments, Approaching Eye Level, and The End of the Novel of Love. She lives in New York.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Published on
Oct 11, 2002
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Pages
112
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ISBN
9781466819016
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / General
Reference / Writing Skills
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Vivian Gornick
In this deeply etched and haunting memoir, Vivian Gornick tells the story of her lifelong battle with her mother for independence. There have been numerous books about mother and daughter, but none has dealt with this closest of filial relations as directly or as ruthlessly. Gornick's groundbreaking book confronts what Edna O'Brien has called "the prinicpal crux of female despair": the unacknowledged Oedipal nature of the mother-daughter bond.

Born and raised in the Bronx, the daughter of "urban peasants," Gornick grows up in a household dominated by her intelligent but uneducated mother's romantic depression over the early death of her husband. Next door lives Nettie, an attractive widow whose calculating sensuality appeals greatly to Vivian. These women with their opposing models of femininity continue, well into adulthood, to affect Gornick's struggle to find herself in love and in work.

As Gornick walks with her aged mother through the streets of New York, arguing and remembering the past, each wins the reader's admiration: the caustic and clear-thinking daughter, for her courage and tenacity in really talking to her mother about the most basic issues of their lives, and the still powerful and intuitively-wise old woman, who again and again proves herself her daughter's mother.

Unsparing, deeply courageous, Fierce Attachments is one of the most remarkable documents of family feeling that has been written, a classic that helped start the memoir boom and remains one of the most moving examples of the genre.

Vivian Gornick
Tracy Kidder
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY KIRKUS REVIEWS

Good Prose is an inspiring book about writing—about the creation of good prose—and the record of a warm and productive literary friendship. The story begins in 1973, in the offices of The Atlantic Monthly, in Boston, where a young freelance writer named Tracy Kidder came looking for an assignment. Richard Todd was the editor who encouraged him. From that article grew a lifelong association. Before long, Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine, the first book the two worked on together, had won the Pulitzer Prize. It was a heady moment, but for Kidder and Todd it was only the beginning of an education in the art of nonfiction.
 
Good Prose explores three major nonfiction forms: narratives, essays, and memoirs. Kidder and Todd draw candidly, sometimes comically, on their own experience—their mistakes as well as accomplishments—to demonstrate the pragmatic ways in which creative problems get solved. They also turn to the works of a wide range of writers, novelists as well as nonfiction writers, for models and instruction. They talk about narrative strategies (and about how to find a story, sometimes in surprising places), about the ethical challenges of nonfiction, and about the realities of making a living as a writer. They offer some tart and emphatic opinions on the current state of language. And they take a clear stand against playing loose with the facts. Their advice is always grounded in the practical world of writing and publishing.
 
Good Prose—like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style—is a succinct, authoritative, and entertaining arbiter of standards in contemporary writing, offering guidance for the professional writer and the beginner alike. This wise and useful book is the perfect companion for anyone who loves to read good books and longs to write one.

Praise for Good Prose
 
“Smart, lucid, and entertaining.”—The Boston Globe
 
“You are in such good company—congenial, ironic, a bit old-school—that you’re happy to follow [Kidder and Todd] where they lead you.”—The Wall Street Journal
 
“[A] well-structured, to-the-point, genuinely useful, and fun-to-read guide to writing narrative nonfiction, essays, and memoir . . . Crisp, informative, and mind-expanding.”—Booklist  
 
“A gem . . . The finer points of creative nonfiction are molded into an inspiring read that will affect the would-be writer as much as Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird or Stephen King’s On Writing. . . . This is a must read for nonfiction writers.”—Library Journal
 
“As approachable and applicable as any writing manual available.”—Associated Press


From the Hardcover edition.
Vivian Gornick
In this deeply etched and haunting memoir, Vivian Gornick tells the story of her lifelong battle with her mother for independence. There have been numerous books about mother and daughter, but none has dealt with this closest of filial relations as directly or as ruthlessly. Gornick's groundbreaking book confronts what Edna O'Brien has called "the prinicpal crux of female despair": the unacknowledged Oedipal nature of the mother-daughter bond.

Born and raised in the Bronx, the daughter of "urban peasants," Gornick grows up in a household dominated by her intelligent but uneducated mother's romantic depression over the early death of her husband. Next door lives Nettie, an attractive widow whose calculating sensuality appeals greatly to Vivian. These women with their opposing models of femininity continue, well into adulthood, to affect Gornick's struggle to find herself in love and in work.

As Gornick walks with her aged mother through the streets of New York, arguing and remembering the past, each wins the reader's admiration: the caustic and clear-thinking daughter, for her courage and tenacity in really talking to her mother about the most basic issues of their lives, and the still powerful and intuitively-wise old woman, who again and again proves herself her daughter's mother.

Unsparing, deeply courageous, Fierce Attachments is one of the most remarkable documents of family feeling that has been written, a classic that helped start the memoir boom and remains one of the most moving examples of the genre.

Vivian Gornick
Vivian Gornick
Elizabeth Cady Stanton—along with her comrade-in-arms, Susan B. Anthony—was one of the most important leaders of the movement to gain American women the vote. But, as Vivian Gornick argues in this passionate, vivid biographical essay, Stanton is also the greatest feminist thinker of the nineteenth century. Endowed with a philosophical cast of mind large enough to grasp the immensity that women's rights addressed, Stanton developed a devotion to equality uniquely American in character. Her writing and life make clear why feminism as a liberation movement has flourished here as nowhere else in the world.

Born in 1815 into a conservative family of privilege, Stanton was radicalized by her experience in the abolitionist movement. Attending the first international conference on slavery in London in 1840, she found herself amazed when the conference officials refused to seat her because of her sex. At that moment she realized that "In the eyes of the world I was not as I was in my own eyes, I was only a woman." At the same moment she saw what it meant for the American republic to have failed to deliver on its fundamental promise of equality for all. In her last public address, "The Solitude of Self," (delivered in 1892), she argued for women's political equality on the grounds that loneliness is the human condition, and that each citizen therefore needs the tools to fight alone for his or her interests.

Vivian Gornick first encountered "The Solitude of Self" thirty years ago. Of that moment Gornick writes, "I hardly knew who Stanton was, much less what this speech meant in her life, or in our history, but it I can still remember thinking with excitement and gratitude, as I read these words for the first time, eighty years after they were written, ‘We are beginning where she left off.' "

The Solitude of Self is a profound, distilled meditation on what makes American feminism American from one of the finest critics of our time.

Vivian Gornick
"Emma Goldman" is the story of a modern radical who took seriously the idea that inner liberation is the first business of social revolution. Her politics, from beginning to end, was based on resistance to that which thwarted the free development of the inner self. The right to stay alive in one's senses, to enjoy freedom of thought and speech, to reject the arbitrary use of power--these were key demands in the many public protest movements she helped mount.

Anarchist par excellence, Goldman is one of the memorable political figures of our time, not because of her gift for theory or analysis or even strategy, but because some extraordinary force of life in her burned, without rest or respite, on behalf of human integrity--and she was able to make the thousands of people who, for decades on end, flocked to her lectures, feel intimately connected to the pain inherent in the abuse of that integrity. To hear Emma describe, in language as magnetic as it was illuminating, what the boot felt like on the neck, was to experience the mythic quality of organized oppression. As the women and men in her audience listened to her, the homeliness of their own small lives became invested with a sense of drama that acted as a catalyst for the wild, vagrant hope that things need not always be as they were. All you had to do, she promised, was resist. In time, she herself would become a world-famous symbol for the spirit of resistance to the power of institutional authority over the lone individual.

In "Emma Goldman, " Vivian Gornick draws a surpassingly intimate and insightful portrait of a woman of heroic proportions whose performance on the stage of history did what Tolstoy said a work of art should do: it made people love life more.

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