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Customer Review

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A FINE RIGHTNESS!, November 27, 2008
This review is from: The Wink of the Zenith: The Shaping of a Writer's Life (Hardcover)
Floyd Skloot's THE WINK OF THE ZENITH: THE SHAPING OF A WRITER'S LIFE, includes the most engaging critical writing about William Faulkner I've ever read.

When Skloot was an undergraduate at Franklin and Marshall College in the mid-Sixties, he got a job taping literature for Professor Robert Russell, who was blind. His account of preparing the tape for The Sound and the Fury is an inspiring account of how one learns to read every word of a book.

I thought of two things while going along for the ride. One: in the ideal academy, wouldn't it be a pretty thing to assign each student, at the beginning of a term, a book to record for a blind person; not an excerpt, but all of it. And two, Faulkner and Virginia Woolf were working the same side of the street.

As if this weren't reward enough in a book about the shaping of a writer's life, Skloot also delivers some of the best insights I've seen regarding the novels and method of Thomas Hardy.

Much of the rest of the book is equally revealing about Skloot's east coast childhood, dysfunctional family, early illness, and first literary influences.

Sports, summer camps, a brief career as a childhood spy, a galloping father, an outrageous 1960s interview ensemble, a caged chicken that yelled Help! every time someone walked by, and the Brooklyn Dodgers make poignant appearances.

We also hear one small detail that tells so much about Skloot's make-up as a writer and human being. I'm thinking of him briefly mentioning how, as a halfback he relentlessly hurled his 120 pound body against 180 pound opponents until he was knocked unconscious.

We learn how early bouts with illness guided the bedridden future writer towards a deeper, richer inner life, how distance running created a much needed connection to his father, and how his own long illness forced him to struggle to master the tiniest steps and simplest memory processes he (and all of us) had taken for granted. Finally, the pieces about he and his wife visiting his aged mother in a memory impairment ward are heartbreaking, hilarious, and disturbing. I won't give away great lines and anecdotes here, but I will share that these pieces contain some of the very best writing on the nature of memory I've seen. It's also pretty terrific in illustrating the Hello/Goodbyes that relentlessly envelope our time here.

Before I stop, it occurs to me that the rich seed of a next book is here, too. Many writers bless us, as Skloot has done here, with a memorable book about a writer's life, but he also has tremendous material at hand for a book on a writer's wife! Skloot's wife Bev (painter, house builder, musician, singer, itinerary magician, mapmaker, chef), is so integral to the author's living and writing that I can't imagine this book or any other being born without her. Theirs is a marvelous creative partnership, and Skloot's contemplative, John Muir-like attention to detail might very well give us the greatest book of this kind we've ever had. Just a thought, but I hope he considers it!

Robert McDowell, The Poetry Mentor, Bestselling author of POETRY AS SPIRITUAL PRACTICE: Reading, Writing, and Using Poetry in Your Daily Rituals, Aspirations, and Intentions (Free Press, 2008), [...]
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Location: Ashland, OR USA

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