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Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories Paperback – September 9, 2008

4.5 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This collection of reflections by the Nation essayist 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“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
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812973542
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812973549
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,311,984 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Katha Pollitt has long been revered for her sharp feminist writings, but in "Learning to Drive" she shows her more vulnerable side. Her skills as a poet carry these lovely musings about her parents, her daughter, her own fragile aging self, and the various boyfriends and husbands who have puzzled and amazed her through the years. I especially love the way she ends the collection, with thoughts about the most universal of subjects - beauty, aging, death. Fighting off the embarrassing urge to have plastic surgery, she realizes that her face carries in its contours the details of her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. "I like to think about the echoes of them, and of me, in my daughter's face, and the unexplained folds and angles that remind us that we are all made up of recombined bits of ancient ancestors, even if we don't know who they are." Pollitt is a wise, witty, complicated woman, and I loved spending time with her through this book.
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Format: Hardcover
John Freeman in the Newark Star-Ledger:

One cannot open a publication these days without stumbling upon a personal essay. Unfortunately, the awkward confessions outnumber the moving ones - and the finely written are rare indeed.

In this jungle of self-revelation, however, there is a bird which manages to embody all three qualities. And in the past couple of years, many have sprung from the aerie of Katha Pollitt's imagination.

"Learning to Drive," Pollitt's hilarious, elegant new book of personal essays, collects these pieces into one volume. If a book could contain awkward silences, this one could fill a cathedral with them.

Herein Pollitt admits to Web-stalking her ex-boyfriend, of continuously failing her driver's test, of attending a Marxist study group only to spend most of her time procrastinating for the weekly reading.

Pollitt, an award-winning poet and columnist for the Nation, knows she can't simply dump this information onto the page and expect a reader's natural sympathy to do the rest. Each story is a fine, crafted piece of comic writing, with expert turns of phrase.

"Information was what I wanted from her boyfriend's ex-lovers," she writes in a piece about befriending one of his ex-lovers: "the underside of the carpet I thought I had been standing on." A piece on feminism has this description of Iris Murdoch: "she looks a bit like an intelligent potato."

This kind of wit is hard to come by, harder still in a writer so thoughtful. One almost wishes Pollitt didn't have to go through such travails to deliver it to us - but, selfishly, most readers should take this book and run.
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Format: Hardcover
Gentle Reader, ignore the natterings of the insipid NY Times reviewer and run, do not walk, to read Katha Pollitt's latest. It is pure pleasure. Witty, erudite, wise, poignant, insightful, and sometimes hilarious. I started to browse in it and came up for air two hours later to find I'd missed my favorite NPR Saturday shows.
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Format: Hardcover
Katha Pollitt's "Learning to Drive" is fabulous -- smart, fuuny, and full of insight into men and women. The opening essays on her philandering boyfriend caused a sensation when they first appeared in The New Yorker--especially "Cyberstalker," about stalking the ex-boyfriend on the internet. The nine new essays are terrific. My personal favorite is the one about her Marxist study group: it seemed kind of useless at the time, but nevertheless she now misses "something wonderful and noble" in the wild utopian hope for a world of equality.
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Format: Hardcover
Katha Pollitt has long been known for her sharp wit and her rare ability to take an issue that confounds most social and political commentators and get right to the heart of it. I have always felt a little awestruck at her talents as an essayist, but this book impressed me, and moved me, in a totally new way. I was reminded of a quote from bell hooks: "It is easier to stand before a public world and demand justice (equal pay for equal work, reproductive freedom and more) than it is to stand in the space of our private longings for love and connection and call for a change in how we make love, how we create partnerships." In "Learning to Drive" Pollitt turns the lens onto herself, her relationships and her vulnerabilities with candor and remarkable courage, but her work of memoir is distinguished from others by her skill at making the connections between her private longings and the society that shapes them.
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Format: Hardcover
Katha Pollitt is that rare writer whose piercing intellect and emotional honesty are matched by wit and literary grace. All Pollitt's gifts are on display in this sparkling little volume. In eleven deeply personal essays, she chronicles with insight and eloquence, the landscape of her life and proves that feminism does not mean never saying you're vulnerable.
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Format: Hardcover
Katha Pollitt delivers political insight in her columns for the Nation. She crafts beautiful poems for the New Yorker and the Paris Review. And now she has turned her hand to memoir in this elegant collection of essays about life as daughter, mother, and live-in lover. The title piece, "Learning to Drive," will attract readers who have experienced a bitter romantic break-up and can't seem to stop thinking about revenge. Others will enjoy witty reflections about political study groups and parenting.
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