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I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place Hardcover – July 9, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this luminous memoir, novelist Norman (The Bird Artist) recalls moments of arresting strangeness, even in the midst of his quest to gain clarity and stay balanced emotionally. Norman writes of five places where he lived and the characters he met in each, providing him with an opportunity to reflect on his life. With a twinge of melancholy and a steely resolve not to let himself be moved or hurt, Norman regales us with his tale of lust, death (he inadvertently kills a swan on a local lake), and disappointment that mark his teenage summer of 1964 in Grand Rapids, Mich.: I was in a phase of moving away from people... and when the duck and swans... migrated south in their formations, I remember feeling bereft. Norman moves from one place to the next, often simply wishing to look at birds and write about them. He also recalls events that marked changes in his life: his work in an Intuit village where he first heard the phrase used in the book's title; a murder-suicide in his house in D.C. and its impact on his family; and his encounter with an owl and a kingfisher in Vermont. Norman is currently content to let the world come to his Vermont doorstep, but he may not have given up travelling quite yet. (July)

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In his latest and most revealing and disquieting memoir, Norman revisits milestones along his off-the-beaten path to becoming a writer. Norman’s nonfiction (In Fond Remembrance of Me, 2005) is every bit as spellbinding and mysterious as his fiction (What Is Left the Daughter, 2010), especially this inquisitive, dissecting sequence of recollections. Norman begins with the fateful summer of 1964, when, as a young teen in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he works as a bookmobile attendant while his burgeoning love for birds leads to a tragic encounter with a swan, his criminally inclined brother’s girlfriend accelerates his sexual education, and he discovers just how dastardly his father truly is. Norman drops out of school, heads to Canada, and becomes involved with a painter whose death triggers his fascination with the Canadian arctic. There he tangles with a hostile shaman and finds himself hanging out with a band that plays only John Lennon songs on the night Lennon is killed. Norman also sensitively but frankly chronicles the horrors of the murder-suicide committed by a poet while staying with her young son in the Normans’ home a decade ago. Fluent in strangeness, versed in ambiguity, Norman combines rapturous description with meticulous restraint as he potently recounts these feverish, eerie, life-altering events and considers the profound and haunting questions they raise. --Donna Seaman
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1st edition (July 9, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547385420
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547385426
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #803,424 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

HOWARD NORMAN is a three-time winner of National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and a winner of the Lannan Award for fiction. His 1987 novel, The Northern Lights, was nominated for a National Book Award, as was his 1994 novel The Bird Artist. He is also author of the novels The Museum Guard, The Haunting of L, and Devotion. His books have been translated into twelve languages. Norman teaches in the MFA program at the University of Maryland. He lives in Washington, D.C., and Vermont with his wife and daughter.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By K. Polzin on May 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I had read Norman's "The Museum Guard" years ago but didn't love it. However, I thought the author was worth another try.

I began this memoir one evening in bed and was immediately sucked in. The book is arranged chronologically, telling the story of five incidents in the author's life over the course of almost fifty years. There was something about Norman's retelling of the incidents that grabbed me and made me look forward to picking up this book each time.

Nature is an important element in the stories - during a particularly difficult time in his life, Norman takes a trip to California to "look at shore birds." Throughout the book, nature is a source of solace for him. Dreams and visions also play a significant role, too. Norman acknowledges their significance but seems grounded in this world.

The book is more than just personal reminiscences by the author. The five incidents are presented as seminal moments in the author's life, and he extracts from each experience a sense of where he was then and how it fit into the narrative of his life. The book gave me the sense of having experienced it all myself. A riveting book.
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31 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Kevin L. Nenstiel TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Howard Norman knew he wanted to write early, but didn't actually enter the business until fairly late. On the road to becoming his mature self, he suffered several important setbacks that laid the foundation of his later work. Now he recounts these stories in five short essays, ranging from Michigan to Vermont to northern Manitoba. But he does so in a way that frustratingly keeps readers at arm's length.

Five times, Norman sets a good stage. In his first essay, he begins the transition to manhood, linking a strange sexual initiation with the first time he confronted his deadbeat dad. Later, he writes about the struggle a white Jewish folklorist encountered trying to transcribe the Inuit myths that would populate his earliest novels. His final essays address his attempts to create an artistic life in today's fragmented world.

Yes, five times Norman sets a good stage. Then five times, he stumbles around it, desperately trying to find a through-line. With each essay, Norman starts off strong, and I feel a swelling heart, like I have something profound to look forward to. Most readers will agree that Norman is a good writer, with an eye for apropos detail. But he inevitably loses that initial momentum, vanishing in the haze of his own highly constructed memoir.

This isn't helped by Norman's overwhelming awareness of himself as an artist. In the first three essays, he repeatedly correlates, say, young Paris Keller's lack of sexual compunctions, or an Inuit shaman's increasingly aggressive curses, with his fumbling writing apprenticeship. His final two essays, set after his writing career began, name-drop confidences shared with David Mamet and Rita Dove, interviews with NPR, and his wife, poet Jane Shore.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By E.M. Jalph VINE VOICE on July 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Hawaiians have a phrase, "all is pono (oerfect) and then we tell ourselves a story about it. Without our stories there would be no great literature or novels of any kind. I've read many of Howard Norman's stories and found his point of view and characters to be on the side of "quirky" and I enjoyed them. So when I discovered that he had written a memoir about five "incidents of strangeness" in his own life I was interested in reading it. I felt it would afford me a look into the real life stories that contributed to the fictional ones. It did not disappoint. These five "incidents" give us a look into a quirky world view. I loved reading about his interesting life and came away wondering if our souls only feel free to explore "quirky" when our sense of "pono" is firmly in place and at some deep level we recognize the beauty in everything and know we can return to it when we give up our "story" about it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Todd K on July 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover
In I'd Hate to Leave this Beautiful Place, Norman displays a collage his life's most seminal moments which sample his experience in five different locales (Midwest, Arctic, West Coast, Washington D.C., and New England). However, the focus, instead of weighing exclusively on Norman, emphasizes the power of place. Although this book is undoubtedly a memoir, Norman distances himself emotionally from the moments he recounts to emphasize the atmosphere of the event instead of the happenings. His philosophical diversions explore the relationship of his place in life with his physical surroundings at that time. These retellings tend more to be artistic renderings and impressions with their nonlinear narrative and philosophical tangents rather than fact-oriented accounts.

Ultimately, Norman's story is spellbinding.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Erik L. Simon on August 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I have long admired Howard Norman's work deeply. This book is one of the most quietly and sagely beautiful books I've read in a while. The piece titled "Grey Geese Descending" left me speechless; not since I read Edmund Wilson's "Princess With the Golden Hair" have I been so utterly moved by a love story. And the final essay about grace and redemption in the throes of something surrealistically horrific is reminiscent of Loren Eisley's great essay "The Star Thrower."
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