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The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative 1st Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0374528584
ISBN-10: 0374528586
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With her essays regularly appearing in high-profile periodicals, anthologies and partisan-attracting books like Fierce Attachments and The End of the Novel of Love, Gornick is one of a handful of nonfiction prose stylists whose work is instantly recognizable to the literati and crititocracy. Based on many years' teaching in a variety of creative writing programs, Gornick's book discusses ways of making nonfiction writing highly personal without being pathetically self-absorbed. In admirably plain and direct style, she discusses writers as diverse as Oscar Wilde, Joan Didion and a man she calls the "Jewish Joan Didion," Seymour Krim. Part of the virtue of this book is Gornick's wide-ranging reading, which comprises less-than-household names like Jean Amery, a Belgium-based Holocaust survivor, and the noted Italian author Natalia Ginzburg. By excerpting and condensing freely, she presents chosen texts in speedily absorbed format, which is useful for the primer-style approach here, even if some of the original authors might object to being Readers Digested in this manner. All the texts do nevertheless support her statement that essays can "be read the way poems and novels are read, inside the same kind of context, the one that enlarges the relationship between life and literature." (Sept.) Forecast: Poised for a warm embrace in writing programs and college seminars, this slim tome from a nonfiction master will undoubtedly inspire young writers, while Gornick's loyal fans will enjoy her unmistakable erudition and felicitous prose.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Noted critic/essayist Gornick (Fierce Attachments) has taught creative writing for decades, and this is the repository of her experience. She divides her subject into two parts: the essay and the memoir. While the latter essentially reflects personal experience, Gornick reminds us that an essayist is also writing personally. Drawing on classic essayists from George Orwell to Oscar Wilde, Gornick analyzes the writers' lives and sees their essays as much as possible through their eyes. She is careful to distinguish the teaching of the writing process from teaching writing, which she dismisses as impossible. Using lengthy excerpts from her favorites, Gornick presents a psychology of writing. Teaching thus by example, she creates a spare but elegant tool. Recommended for academic and public collections.
- Robert Moore, Itworld.com, Southboro, MA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (October 11, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374528586
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374528584
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 7.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Judith Barrington on January 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Vivian Gornick invariably delights me, whether in her memoir, Fierce Attachments, her occasional essays in various journals, her book about reading, or this new one, which gave me a lot to think about.
The Situation and the Story focuses on essay and memoir-writing. Rather than trying to cover a lot of ground superficially, Gornick lays out one main idea and explores it in depth, using a wide variety of examples to illustrate her ideas. It was particularly helpful to have long excerpts from these examples, so I could really get a sense of the essay or memoir being discussed. She deals most intelligently with the question of the narrator -- the narrator's "persona" on the page, and the relationship of the narrator to her/his material.
As someone who writes and teaches memoir, I found this extremely helpful, but it will be equally interesting to anyone who writes or reads narrative nonfiction and wants to think seriously about it.
It is a great relief to find a book about writing that has gracefully sidestepped every pitfall of the advice genre. Gornick's style is respectful: she expects her readers to be as serious and smart about literature as she is herself and, even if we're not, we can always find a lot to think about in her work.
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Vivian Gornick writes beautifully, whether she's writing about love, politics, or the craft of writing. The Situation and the Story is based on her many years of teaching creative writing and focuses on ways of making nonfiction personal without wallowing in self-absorption. In other words, it helps writers discover where the 'universal truth,' the essence of Story, is in the millions of anecdotes in our lives.
As an author and writing teacher, I've found this book invaluable and have read it several times. My copy is well thumbed and appropriately coffee-stained.
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Format: Hardcover
The Situation and the Story, by Vivian Gornick is immensely entertaining while adapting an educational prose designed to enhance awareness of "self" as narrator. She uses excellent examples of non-fiction narratives that serve to further the invitation of speculation through tone, syntax, and perspective. The self as a persona is developed using wonderful writers such as Joan Didion, Oscar Wilde, and Edmond Gosse.
Vivian Gornick breaks down the writing barrier and gets right to the contents of human emotion. We are what we write, and our personal truths are conveyed in our words. She does a fabulous job taking a stand against the "boring, agitated" self and replaces that with the truth speaker who can move an essay forward creatively and effectively. Non-fiction can instruct without losing the personal voice.
For anyone who likes to write, this book is the first step to question your narrative self and begin to discover the wonderful implications that "self" can bring to your writing. I highly recommend this book.
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Format: Paperback
Gornick manages to analyze exactly what makes a personal essay successful without sounding didactic or sentimental. I'm not surprised, as she is a terrific writer herself. She uses examples of pieces and excerpts from well-known and not-so-well known writers. For anyone who has written creative non-fiction and hasn't always known what to do to improve their work, Gornick offers an unusual way of looking at things, an interesting combination of intuitive and analytical. If you are new to writing, she offers suggestions on how to read other writers, and what to look for. I would add this to "Bird by Bird," by Anne Lamott, as excellent and inspiring books for writers.
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Format: Paperback
Writers can be like cats, waiting for the right piece of string to be dangled in front of them, the one that tugs. The Situation and Story was that string for me, with the right words and examples at the right time to pull me forward. It's how Gornick describes the necessity to get inside one's own mind, excavate its interiority that makes the book magic. For example, she says, memoir is "a mind puzzling its way out of its own shadows," a way to get acquainted with the stranger who lives inside your own skin." Her use of favorite writers' (Joan Didion and Loren Eisley) stories really helped illustrate for me the situation and the story. Most useful, as a writer of memoir, were these words: "Memoir isn't what happened but what the writer makes of what happened." That's the key to memoir I didn't understand before.
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Format: Paperback
I thought I'd read 'The Best' works out there on writing, especially a Memoir, but this surpasses all so far since she gives a very CLEAR analysis of using 'your voice' so that you "intrigue, not bore" the reader... making the reader believe and trust in your story and guiding them to a conclusion. I like being offered examples to match my work up against, not unlike when you in a writing workshop.
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Gornick's obsession is persona, the truth-seeking and truth-speaking narrator and how that partial, constructed self relates to the tale being told. When you try to apply her interesting principles to some works you like, especially if they are very scenic and narrative-driven, it will drive you crazy. Ditto if you are a writer trying to do what she says you should do. But it's fascinating. And she discusses some really interesting essays and memoirs, many of them uncommon or forgotten classics.
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