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Mentor: A Memoir Paperback – August 1, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A grim look back at a writerÖs journey from publication to crippling self-doubt prompts Grimes (Redemption Song), the director of Texas State University M.F.A. program, to reflect deeply on his literary mentor, Frank Conroy. In 1989 Grimes, then a married 32-year-old waiter in Key West, Fla., with a few published short stories under his belt and a lot of ambition, was accepted into the Iowa WritersÖ Workshop on a top scholarship at the instigation of director Conroy (famous for an early memoir, Stop-Time), who anointed Grimes--on the strength of an unfinished baseball novel--as the next golden boy with unlimited promise. Grimes was both "electrified by hope" and paralyzed by anxiety during his stint in Iowa struggling to finish the novel; on ConroyÖs recommendation, Grimes signed with agent Eric Ashworth and soon had five offers by publishers, though none of them terribly enthusiastic or high paying. Pressured to make a quick decision, Grimes chose badly, he later believed, underscored by the subsequent critical failure of the novel, SeasonÖs End. "All Frank had hoped for had not come to pass," writes Grimes in defeat, and though their friendship endured until ConroyÖs death in 2005 ("I arrived fatherless; I departed a son"), Grimes never quite recovered from his overreaching ambition. Employing a constant tension of ambivalence--shame and tenderness, pride and humility--Grimes proves in this stunningly forthright, forlorn memoir that his great subject is Conroy himself.
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The principles of the venerable Iowa Writers' Workshop have come to influence much of contemporary fiction, so it is perhaps no surprise that some reviewers used them to criticize this memoir of that institution and its longtime leader. In particular, several reviewers complained that Grimes abandoned the principle of "show, don't tell" when describing his evolving relationship to Conroy. But less picky critics seemed to truly relish Mentor as a book for literary insiders. As to whether the memoir should be recommended to aspiring writers, critics severely disagreed. Michael Dirda of the Washington Post claimed it is now one of those books all young writers must read; Dwight Garner of the New York Times claimed it might drive them to suicide. Let's hope not.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Tin House Books; 1st edition (August 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0982504896
  • ISBN-13: 978-0982504895
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #67,153 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"I hadn't expected to write this book, but, in a way, our memoirs form bookends. His about childhood, adolescence, and a lost father, mine about writing, teaching, and a father found. Our story has come full circle. The story's meaning mystifies me, yet if Frank were alive he'd agree that neither of us would choose to live in a world that was unmarked by the passage of time, and anything other than inscrutable."

Writer, teacher, and philanthropist, Tom Grimes, wrote this memoir about his friendship with Frank Conroy and his struggles with writing and publishing. Grimes opens his narrative in 1980's Key West, where he's striving to write publishable work while earning money as a waiter. After applying to the Iowa Writing Workshop MFA program, he heard Frank Conroy speak at a seminar in Florida. Later, he approached him offstage with enthusiastic questions about writing and the workshop. Conroy, who had recently become Director at Iowa, dismissed him. He ambled right past Tom to talk to a friend, waving him off that his chances of acceptance were slim to zip (in so many words). His confidence punctured, Tom went home to tear up--really, he gutted--Conroy's celebrated memoir, Stop-Time: A Memoir. He tossed it in the garbage and wiped his hands of Frank Conroy.

During the subsequent interval of furious emotions--getting rejected by various schools, being frustrated with his job--Tom received a phone call. It was from Conroy, who had no clue that he was speaking to someone he had snubbed. He wouldn't have even remembered the encounter.
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I was assigned this book in my undergraduate Capstone course for my Creative Writing major. I enjoyed every word of the memoir. Not only was it entertaining, rather than dry like the majority of memoirs I've read, but I truly learned a lot about the ups and downs of trying to make it as a writer and the importance of being persistent and disciplined. Grimes' Memoir inspired me to purchase some of his fiction novels as well. I would definitely recommend. I could only wish for "a Frank" in my life.
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By forum on December 18, 2010
Format: Paperback
For most of this memoir I wondered why Grimes wanted to portray himself as, alternately, dependent, childish, sycophantic, grandiose, self-indulgent, self-preoccupied (I know it's a memoir), paranoid (and it turns out he really was paranoid for a while), angry, lacking insight, and unpleasant. He seems seldom to have had a thought about anyone other than himself. When he thinks about other people, it is only in terms of their relation to him (I know it's a memoir) and they are thus flat on the page. Conroy is generally seen from such a distance and so adoringly that it's hard to get a feel for him and impossible to understand why he likes Grimes.

I similarly wondered why Grimes chose to portray himself in the jacket photo as grim-looking man who seems to have escaped from 19th century Russia.

I still have no idea why he made those choices.

For the first 210 pages, then, Grimes is someone I read only with morbid curiosity. In addition to all the other unsavory aspects of himself that he highlights, he is more than a little creepy. He also is angry at Conroy. This comes out in small bits, such as commenting twice on how much money Conroy charged him - first for living in his house and then for contributing an essay. He also notes that Conroy, despite his encouragement of Grimes, never provided the rigorous editing or critiques that Grimes needed. His anger leaks out but he seems unaware of it and never probes it.

I was annoyed with the unnecessary repetitions about writing and how writing made him feel. If he was going to talk about writing, I was hoping for something above the standard advice.
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Format: Kindle Edition
One of the best memoirs of the writing life that I've ever read. It's about a writer who published an early, critically-acclaimed book, and then never quite matched up to that promise (even though he always managed to stay in the literary game) and about his relationship with his literary mentor, the director of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, Frank Conroy. You will never read another book whose writer talks in such a frank manner about failure. If you're an aspiring writer, you need to read this.
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In its brutal honesty Grimes' memoir is enlightening, entertaining and educational. Writing's Triple Crown. Should either of my sons express a desire to pursue writing as a career I would insist they read it. Not as a way of discouraging them from pursing a passion; writing can be a wonderful way to live even if you don't always earn a living from it. I would just want them to fully understand the commitment and financial risk involved in this career choice. I know these truths firsthand but, kids being kids, my sons don't always listen to me.

In Mentor, Grimes gives readers a candid insider's view of the novelist's life, and in so doing he becomes, in my eyes, an extraordinary writer of nonfiction. His prose weds two remarkable writing lives, his own and that of his idol/teacher/mentor Frank Conroy, another novelist who wrote a great memoir.

After finishing Mentor I checked Publishers Weekly to see if Grimes received its "starred review" -- an anointing of industry approval that he had craved for his novels. I am delighted to see that Grimes finally got what he deserved.
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