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Seeing Through Places: Reflections on Geography and Identity Paperback – October 2, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1st Touchstone Ed edition (October 2, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684862557
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684862552
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #488,253 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Composed of eight loosely connected essays about places that have marked Gordon's (Spending) life, this beautifully written but uneven memoir evokes above all the intensely sensual and emotional perceptions of childhood. Proceeding from a brilliant New Yorker essay ("My Grandmother's House") about a childhood dominated and emblematized by a powerful and mysterious matriarch and her old-fashioned house, Gordon tracks her progress outward to the grand Manhattan spaces that were her refuge as a student at Barnard, to a beloved writer's retreat on Cape Cod, then to her return to the apartment of her girlhood dreams as a Barnard professor. Not surprisingly, the writing anchored in childhood is the strongest; there, Gordon conveys a sadness and solitude that is a kind of fertile darkness. Nurtured by her Catholic- and Hollywood-themed fantasies, "trying to construct a world of lightness," she nonetheless practiced a ruthless honesty that, she notes, serves her well as a writer. The child of a gentle failure, a writer of unpublishable pieces, and of a proud, polio-crippled working mother, Gordon was forced to move in with her grandmother after the death of her father. There, she marinated in the shadows, seeing but seemingly unseen, making observations shot through with longing and wit. An immaculate young priest entered the darkly feminine house, making the girl feel "a lightening of the atmosphere that made me think there was some hope for my future life." The later essays are often sketchy and self-indulgent, as when she ruminates about her good fortune in landing again at Barnard. At her best here, however, Gordon shows us the creative power of remembering. (Jan.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Prolific and noted author Gordon (The Rest of Life; Spending) here presents a collection of essays loosely centered around the locations and people that influenced her maturation and shaped her as a writer. She begins with her harsh grandmother's old-fashioned house and then revisits the working-class homes of her babysitters and neighborhood friends in a suburb of New York City. She recalls spending time with her unhappy, dissatisfied parents and, as a young Catholic, engaging in church rituals and socializing with priests. She laments not being able to buy a house she once rented on Cape Cod and marvels at having ended up in an apartment on the Upper West Side. These pieces reveal the beginnings of the themes Gordon has developed throughout her writing career--introspection, discontentment, sacrifice, guilt, and bitter redemption. The collection evokes strong, nostalgic images, particularly for women whose formative years were the mid-forties and fifties. And although her insights are sometimes over-intellectualized and her prose overwrought, these memoirs are an important adjunct to her works. Recommended for all libraries.
---Carol Ann McAllister, Coll. of William & Mary Lib., Williamsburg, VA
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia Rucker on February 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The first essay, "Grandmother's house", made me shut the book and just gaze for minutes at a time. In reading about her childhood, she forced me to revisit my own "places" before I could come back to hers. Rereading her prose is so pleasurable; it 's like glancing twice at an attractive stranger on a street. The first and last essays seemed the most personal, the best "placement" for them. Everyone should reflect upon her life's places after savoring this book.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Seeing through places is enchanting. Full of the sharp insight and beautiful description I've come to expect from Mary Gordon. A pleasure to read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 13, 2003
Format: Paperback
If you've ever longed to return to a place from your past, Mary Gordon gently explores why. With memories that are sometimes sad, she connects how place figures into who we love and how we make decisions later on in life. Her chapters are houses that serve as an eclectic garden tour, and which, in the end, make her whole. This is reason enough to read the book, but I love what she says place does for her as a writer. While on vacation last year, I sat in a carribean resort bar before it opened and began to write. The place was red-walled, with black and white accents, and no one would expect that suddenly, this place would be where the words I'd been struggling to put down poured out. And so, as I writer, I shared Gordon's thoughts about falling in love with a place that was not hers to own, but one she would remain connected to forever because it was a place "in which you have written happily and well."
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