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Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir Paperback – March 10, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"A celebration of the memoir form...an impassioned call to write, delivered by an author who knows how to zero in on the truth, and lead others there as well. If you're serious about finding that voice inside yourself, Natalie Goldberg is a teacher you have to meet." -- Steve Almond, author of Candyfreak and (Not That You Asked)

"A writer -- both energized and enlightened." -- Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way

"An invaluable addition to any writer's (or reader's) bookshelf. Each new chapter is another gift, unlocking the mystery of the story of the human heart. There isn't a better approach to memoir. Beautifully written, this book is for everyone." -- Robert Wilder, author of Daddy Needs a Drink and Tales from the Teachers' Lounge

"The brilliance of this book is that it immediately gets you writing your story. It opens the inner treasure and the inner zoo, makes you wriggle and weep, pawn the family jewels, laugh out loud, tear down memory lane, and reawaken to the mystery of your own life." -- Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with Heart

"Natalie Goldberg doesn't fool around. The moment I started reading her new book, I found myself compelled to follow her lead. She's a master and this book is a must-read for anyone who even thinks about putting pen to page." -- Cheryl Richardson, author of The Unmistakable Touch of Grace and Take Time for Your Life

"A richly abundant how-to book full of deep personal insight and practical go-get-'em. Memoir writers, buy this book, put it on your personal altar, or carry it with you as you traverse the deep ruts of your old road. Really, this book could save your life." -- Tom Spanbauer, author of The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon

About the Author

Natalie Goldberg is a poet, painter, teacher, and the author of twelve books, including her classic, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (which has sold more than 1.5 million copies) and Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. She has been teaching seminars for thirty-five years to people from around the world and lives in New Mexico. 

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books (March 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416535039
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416535034
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Natalie Goldberg lived in Brooklyn until she was six, when her family moved out to Farmingdale, Long Island, where her father owned the bar the Aero Tavern. From a young age, Goldberg was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Carson McCullers's The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, which she read in ninth grade. She thinks that single book led her eventually to put pen to paper when she was twenty-four years old. She received a BA in English literature from George Washington University and an MA in humanities from St. John's University.

Goldberg has painted for as long as she has written, and her paintings can be seen in Living Color: A Writer Paints Her World and Top of My Lungs: Poems and Paintings. They can also be viewed at the Ernesto Mayans Gallery on Canyon Road in Sante Fe.

A dedicated teacher, Goldberg has taught writing and literature for the last thirty-five years. She also leads national workshops and retreats, and her schedule can be accessed via her website: nataliegoldberg.com

In 2006, she completed with the filmmaker Mary Feidt a one-hour documentary, Tangled Up in Bob, about Bob Dylan's childhood on the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota. The film can be obtained on Amazon or the website tangledupinbob.com.

Goldberg has been a serious Zen practitioner since 1974 and studied with Katagiri Roshi from 1978 to 1984.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
What I love about Natalie Goldberg's latest is how the book grows, how it swells, how it starts with small, private memories and joins these to the larger world. "The reason we want to write memoir," she says, "is an ache, a longing, a passing of time that we feel all too strongly." The longing calls up stories, calls up details, which are the anchor of any memoir. The details are vital, "but detail devoid of feeling is a marble rolling across a hard wood floor."

Memoir, says Goldberg, "is taking personal experience and turning it inside out. We surrender our most precious understanding, so others can feel what we felt and be enlarged." Our feelings connect us not just to the past, but to the rest of the sentient world, even the political world. We may lead a lucky life compared to others around the globe. We may write about a red wagon or "the slow spring we remember in Ohio, while at the same time atrocities, torture, genocide are happening. It's not wrong that our life has been graced, but it's important to acknowledge that while a rose blooms a bomb is being dropped."

Much of Goldberg's advice on writing we have read before, in her earlier books. But her suggestions here for putting the mind and heart in gear, as we put pen to paper, are perfectly fresh. More and more of us want to uncover and write down our own stories, and Old Friend from Far Away will be welcomed by anyone struggling to set down the sweet or painful pressure of her life, the past as it flows into the present. The book is filled with inventive observations, and with Natalie Goldberg's infectious belief in writing practice. "Stay connected to the power," she says, "the pleasure of writing. Come back to that over and over."
A lovely and trenchant book.
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Format: Hardcover
In Natalie Goldberg's new book, Old Friend from Far Away, the theme is in its subtitle: The Practice of Writing Memoir. Best known for her seminal book, Writing Down the Bones, Goldberg once again preaches the dogma of PRACTICE... Ten minutes of freehand writing on any topic. Just get it down.

This is not a book about how to put together a memoir, what topics to write about, or how to publish. Plenty of other memoir-writing books cover those topics. Goldberg is 100% cheerleader--reminding us over and over to "Shut Up and Write" because what we have to say is fleeting and so important. There are no great answers for who we are; don't wait for them. Pick up the pen and right now, in ten furious minutes, tell the story of your life. I'm not kidding. Ten minutes of continuous writing is much more expedient than ten years of musing and getting nowhere.

Natalie Goldberg is first and foremost a poet, so you can expect the pages to drip with delicious imagery. She is particularly adept at food analogies:

"Memoir gives you the ability to plop down like the puddle that forms and spreads from the shattering of a glass of milk on the kitchen floor."

"You crack open sentences, like egg shells letting the bright yellow, the clear white, in all its unorderliness, fall out."

The author advises us to jump in wherever we like; this is not a book to be read from front to back. In fact, she wants us to WRITE our way through the pages in whatever order we desire. And because life is not linear, you want to approach writing memoir sideways, using the deepest kind of thinking to sort through the layers. You want reflection to discover what the real connections are.
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Format: Hardcover
I love Natalie Goldberg, and Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind are not to be missed, but this book was a real disappointment because all too often it was repeating ideas from those two classic works (things like "monkey mind" and approaches to writing fast without self-censorship). If you're looking for something new here, you aren't going to find much. I also think that Goldberg is long on inspirational writing prompts to uncover new ideas (write about a memory associated with cabbage or a bicycle, that kind of thing) but short on the follow through. This isn't about how to craft full memoirs.
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Format: Hardcover
Old Friend from Far Away is supposed to be about writing a memoir. It's really a set of exercises to help readers begin writing about themselves and their memories, interspersed with tantalizing glimpses of the author's own life.

On the positive side: The topics for the ten-minute timed writings (Goldberg's significant contribution to the world of writing) seem like fun. She teaches us to see details, not get derailed into abstraction. Her own writing demonstrates these principles. The author's own memories -- all too brief -- are the best part of the book. I loved her stories of studying with Alan Ginsberg and finding an unusual coffee shop for writing. As always, her writing elevates mundane events and gives them meaning.

But I was disappointed to see so many pages with just a sentence or two of writing exercises. Is she just tired of writing, I wondered, forcing herself to finish her book to meet the demands of her publisher? We don't get the kind of background Goldberg shares in earlier books, especially Thunder and Lightning. We get snapshots when it would be nice to have a movie. We don't get new exercises. And I'm not sure we get helpful insights into memoir as a genre.

For publication (or a good review, if you self-publish), memoirs need to make meaning of a life. The strongest memoirs carry a theme of struggle and redemption. We read about someone's life and something resonates with our own. Or we see this story a part of a bigger theme, giving us new insights and ideas. Weak memoirs leave the "so what" question unanswered.

Maybe that comes later...after you've written dozens and dozens of timed writings. Maybe it's not possible till you realize you've got to face down the truths that Natalie Goldberg urges us to expose in writing.
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