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What I Think I Did: A Season Of Survival In Two Acts Hardcover – May 2, 2000

3.9 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Playing on the title of his first novel, What I'm Going to Do, I Think, Larry Woiwode's fresh, endearing memoir chronicles the years leading up to its publication in 1969. He views his early life from the vantage point of the bitterly cold winter of 1996 in North Dakota, where he resides with his wife and children, seamlessly interweaving his memories with an often comic account of the mishap-fraught installation of a new wood-burning furnace. Woiwode's supple, burnished prose teems with love for his family and with religious faith all the more moving for being quietly and unpretentiously expressed. His early struggles as an actor, poet, and fiction writer gain depth from this mature perspective, which also ensures that mentions of the literary celebrities who cross his path (John Updike, Truman Capote, and Robert Lowell, among others) never seem like mere name-dropping. Woiwode's affectionate portrait of Robert De Niro, a friend since the actor was 19 and the author 21, gives a marvelously vivid sense of De Niro's idiosyncratic personality. Even more revelatory is the detailed account of Woiwode's relationship with legendary New Yorker editor William Maxwell, which shows a sensitive, challenging mentor helping a young writer find his voice. The writer frankly depicts hard times and bad moments, but his autobiography's fundamental emotion is joy. --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly

National Book Award and NBCC finalist (for his novel Beyond the Bedroom Wall) Woiwode tells of braving North Dakota's harshest winter on record (1996) as well as the New York literary world in this lovely but emotionally reserved memoir. Aiming to "write a memoir that gets beneath the self-consciousness of self," he offers a seemingly natural view of his mind at work, gliding from fact (the correct pronunciation of Woiwode is "Y-woodie") to observation (on his daughter's unerring sense of direction) to drama (the pitching of a carton of college Dickens texts into the furnace when firewood runs out). Snatches of dialogue with mentor William Maxwell offering writing advice and with friend Robert De Niro revealing the actor's worries about love run throughout the book, as do sonorous descriptions of the world around him, as when he describes a sunset "strip of orange under a boil of dark-blue clouds so huge their upper reaches bump at heaven." Yet, while the memoir (his first of a projected three) is centered on particular personal events--setting up a wood-burning furnace, launching oneself as a writer--the work lacks immediacy and intimacy. Even Woiwode's encounter with God, the strongest portion of the book, although obviously heartfelt, is elusive, even for a fellow believer. While packed with incident and reflection, this memoir is best read not for author epiphanies or a sense of place, but for its unhurried and deliberate movement of words. 3-city author tour; radio satellite tour. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (May 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465078486
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465078486
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,372,662 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Larry Alfred Woiwode (born October 30, 1941) is an American writer who lives in North Dakota, where he has been the state's Poet Laureate since 1995. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, The Atlantic Monthly, Harpers, Gentleman's Quarterly, The Partisan Review and The Paris Review. He is the author of five novels; two collections of short stories, a commentary titled "Acts," a biography of the Gold Seal founder and entrepreneur, Harold Schafer, Aristocrat of the West, a book of poetry, Even Tide ; and reviews and essays and essay-reviews that have appeared in dozens of publications, including The New York Times and The Washington Post Book World.

He has served as Writer in Residence at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and conducted summer sessions as a professor at Wheaton College, Chicago, and the C.S. Lewis Seminars at Cambridge; he has also conducted seminars and workshops in fourteen states of the U.S., all of the Canadian provinces but British Columbia, and in England, Lithuania, and the Scandinavias. He has published a dozen book sin a variety of genres, and his work has been translated into a dozen languages.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on August 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Woiwode is one of America's finest prose stylists; folks who remember some of his novels and short stories were looking forward to this book. What I Think I Did has an interesting parallel plot that moves back and forth between a bitterly cold North Dakota winter and Woiwode's early career as a writer for The New Yorker. I was so caught up in the description of a North Dakota blizzard that I forgot I was reading a memoir, and was terrified that the main character was going to freeze to death trying to get back to the house. Things that seem unimportant in other settings (keeping the woodstove going; driving home from the post office or the store) become feats of courage! I also loved the description of Woiwode's early career as a writer in New York. His passion for his work and admiration for William Maxwell (New Yorker editor and novelist) offer a fascinating glimpse into the life of a young writer. Woiwode comes from the same generation of writers as Andre Dubus and John Updike, and is easily their peer; he has a clear and eloquent prose style that makes a lot of today's novels sound klunky. (Hint: If you haven't read Woiwode's earlier books, you might like his family novels, which I love, for their depth and scope; and he writes amazing short stories, too.)
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Format: Paperback
This was my first exposure to Larry Woiwode. At first, I was leery, his prose seemed so grand. It required time on my part, as this was not a book that could be read superficially.
But instead of drifting away from it as happens so often for me when real work is required, I was drawn in. I was captivated by the his ability to convey the raw, honest love he has for his children. I was compelled by the ongoing battle he has with the new furnace. And the flashbacks served to enrich rather than distract me. The book left me filled with image and emotion. I understand that this may be a memoir in trilogy. I eagerly await further installments.
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Format: Hardcover
Let me just say that I'm biased about Larry Woiwode's work, since my wife and I know Larry and Carol. We attended the same church when we all lived in the Chicago area in the mid 70's. So it was a fascinating look at their lives, and how their children have grown. But besides all of that, I've always liked his novels, "Beyond the Bedroom Wall" and "Born Brothers." Larry Woiwode writes with a sense of depth that few writers do--he can be profoundly spiritual, yet honest about hard, heart issues. I found "What I think I Did" to be a fascinating look at a period of time before we actually met. I greatly appreciated his relationship with William Maxwell, and to consider some of the process of becoming a published author. To have Maxwell as a mentor was interesting to read about. Onetime, in Chicago, Larry encouraged me to continue writing; I wish he could have mentored me. My daughter(degree in philosophy) considers Woiwode's work to be among the best in modern America--I'm going to give her a copy of this memoir for her birthday. My only criticism of this memoir is that I was sometimes confused by the sudden transitions--were we in North Dakota in 1996, or in New York City in the 60's? But I loved the book and look forward to future musings. He made winter and furnaces interesting!
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Format: Hardcover
This is a compelling memoir, I read it in two days. Woiwode is truly a master artist with language -- his sentences sing on the page, and you can nearly feel the atmosphere of his own brooding and composing as he puts the words down.Language is his real life's story, not the events he records -- if you're looking for "story" of a hip life in New York with DeNiro and publishers, it's not here. Prose and poetry is, though For me, the most emotionally driven parts of this book came toward the end, in Woiwode's recollections of the days that preceded his first novel -- the struggle to find a topic, to move from story to novel form, the mentoring love flowing to him from William Maxwell. The North Dakota sections felt more strained to me, as though written for language's sake more than for emotional commitment to the material. And this is the odd effect for me of the book -- Woiwode's words are deep, complex, subtle, gorgeous, yet I closed the book feeling he'd kept me on the surface of his felt life. There's a weird illusion of deeply felt experience conjured by words -- but Woiwode himself and his friends, family, colleagues, remained removed or hidden behind prose. Only Maxwell makes it through the veil,vibrant, living. I recommend this book for people who love the memoir form in all its variety, people who worship words, writers who can share with Woiwode the drive to compose and be heard. Not for "story" people or those out for exciting DeNiro peeks. All said, we need writers like Woiowde, who never compromise a sentence. He celebrates the salvation in words themselves.
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Format: Hardcover
...one of the best books about writing ever. And so indirect, too. Woiwode never comes out and tells the reader what it's like to be a writer, but he's captured it perfectly. The book is full of all kinds of images, too, which makes it an intense reading experience. I feel like I really know him. When I finished it, I went back to the beginning to see how he started. I loved reading about the people he knew in New York, particularly William Maxwell, about the University of Illinois and about his children.
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