Hot Best Seller

The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir

Availability: Ready to download

A memoir of self-discovery and the dilemma of connection in our time, The Odd Woman and the City explores the rhythms, chance encounters, and ever-changing friendships of urban life that forge the sensibility of a fiercely independent woman who has lived out her conflicts, not her fantasies, in a city (New York) that has done the same. Running steadily through the book is A memoir of self-discovery and the dilemma of connection in our time, The Odd Woman and the City explores the rhythms, chance encounters, and ever-changing friendships of urban life that forge the sensibility of a fiercely independent woman who has lived out her conflicts, not her fantasies, in a city (New York) that has done the same. Running steadily through the book is Vivian Gornick's exchange of more than twenty years with Leonard, a gay man who is sophisticated about his own unhappiness, whose friendship has "shed more light on the mysterious nature of ordinary human relations than has any other intimacy" she has known. The exchange between Gornick and Leonard acts as a Greek chorus to the main action of the narrator's continual engagement on the street with grocers, derelicts, and doormen; people on the bus, cross-dressers on the corner, and acquaintances by the handful. In Leonard she sees herself reflected plain; out on the street she makes sense of what she sees. Written as a narrative collage that includes meditative pieces on the making of a modern feminist, the role of the flaneur in urban literature, and the evolution of friendship over the past two centuries, The Odd Woman and the City beautifully bookends Gornick's acclaimed Fierce Attachments, in which we first encountered her rich relationship with the ultimate metropolis.


Compare

A memoir of self-discovery and the dilemma of connection in our time, The Odd Woman and the City explores the rhythms, chance encounters, and ever-changing friendships of urban life that forge the sensibility of a fiercely independent woman who has lived out her conflicts, not her fantasies, in a city (New York) that has done the same. Running steadily through the book is A memoir of self-discovery and the dilemma of connection in our time, The Odd Woman and the City explores the rhythms, chance encounters, and ever-changing friendships of urban life that forge the sensibility of a fiercely independent woman who has lived out her conflicts, not her fantasies, in a city (New York) that has done the same. Running steadily through the book is Vivian Gornick's exchange of more than twenty years with Leonard, a gay man who is sophisticated about his own unhappiness, whose friendship has "shed more light on the mysterious nature of ordinary human relations than has any other intimacy" she has known. The exchange between Gornick and Leonard acts as a Greek chorus to the main action of the narrator's continual engagement on the street with grocers, derelicts, and doormen; people on the bus, cross-dressers on the corner, and acquaintances by the handful. In Leonard she sees herself reflected plain; out on the street she makes sense of what she sees. Written as a narrative collage that includes meditative pieces on the making of a modern feminist, the role of the flaneur in urban literature, and the evolution of friendship over the past two centuries, The Odd Woman and the City beautifully bookends Gornick's acclaimed Fierce Attachments, in which we first encountered her rich relationship with the ultimate metropolis.

30 review for The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Candi

    “Every night when I turn the lights out in my sixteenth-floor living room before I go to bed, I experience a shock of pleasure as I see the banks of lighted windows rising to the sky, crowding round me, and feel myself embraced by the anonymous ingathering of city dwellers. This swarm of human hives, also hanging anchored in space, is the New York design offering generic connection. The pleasure it gives soothes beyond all explanation.” What a deeply gratifying little book this was! It satisfied “Every night when I turn the lights out in my sixteenth-floor living room before I go to bed, I experience a shock of pleasure as I see the banks of lighted windows rising to the sky, crowding round me, and feel myself embraced by the anonymous ingathering of city dwellers. This swarm of human hives, also hanging anchored in space, is the New York design offering generic connection. The pleasure it gives soothes beyond all explanation.” What a deeply gratifying little book this was! It satisfied a hunger I’ve had to visit New York City for quite some time now. That longing was set to be fulfilled not long ago until my plans were thwarted by… ahem… well, you know what I mean. Through this memoir of sorts, Vivian Gornick not only walked the streets of the city with me, but she shared an intimate reflection on solitude, friendship, and romantic love. This reads more as a series of vignettes, rather than a chronological sort of telling of a life story. Throughout, her friendship with Leonard is highlighted. It was a lovely tribute to the value of meaningful conversation and companionship. Most importantly, the definition of what constitutes a friendship in modern times really struck a chord with me. One that grazes the surface and admits to no imperfections or weaknesses is really just superficial at best. A much deeper human connection is what we truly need, though many will not take such a risk to share themselves with another, whether a romantic partner or a friend. “Today we do not look to see, much less affirm, our best selves in one another. To the contrary, it is the openness with which we admit to our emotional incapacities – the fear, the anger, the humiliation – that excites contemporary bonds of friendship. Nothing draws us closer to one another than the degree to which we face our deepest shame openly in one another’s company.” There are lots of little anecdotes that arouse the senses and emotions. Gornick describes chance encounters with strangers in the city, bits of strangers’ conversations overheard, and running into acquaintances on the street corners. The vibrancy and pulse of the city was communicated so credibly, I felt as if I’d just been there myself and needed to get right back to it! The reader is also treated to some reflections on reading and how she identifies with those solitary women in some of her favorite novels, particularly George Gissing’s The Odd Women, from which title Gornick adapted her own. Her search for romantic love and marriage and its initial wonder and later failings provided some thoughtful musings as well. “It was as though an invisible membrane had fallen between me and my lover, one fine enough to be penetrated by desire but opaque enough to obscure human fellowship. The person on the other side of the membrane seemed as unreal to me as I felt myself to be to him.” At first, it seemed that so little could be covered in this slim book. But I found there to be so much heart and meditation that it allows for a great deal of introspection on the part of the reader as well. Its value is much expanded as a result. Gornick is intelligent and honest, especially about herself. She gives the reader the opportunity to be truthful to him or herself regarding one’s own various personal relationships. Once we have the ability to do that, then maybe our interactions with others will become more genuine as well. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?! “Without friendship, we were each alone in the wilderness.”

  2. 5 out of 5

    Violeta

    I'm walking up Fifth Avenue at noon straight into the cold harsh sunlight of a morning in November. Mobs of people are coming at me. Once the dominating color of this crowd was white, now it is black and brown. Once it wore blue and white collars, now it is in mufti. Once it was law-abiding, now it is not. The idiom has changed, but the character remains stable. Ms Gornick and I have almost nothing in common except for our love for New York City, she as a native and I as a visitor. We are of di I'm walking up Fifth Avenue at noon straight into the cold harsh sunlight of a morning in November. Mobs of people are coming at me. Once the dominating color of this crowd was white, now it is black and brown. Once it wore blue and white collars, now it is in mufti. Once it was law-abiding, now it is not. The idiom has changed, but the character remains stable. Ms Gornick and I have almost nothing in common except for our love for New York City, she as a native and I as a visitor. We are of different generations, ethnicities, backgrounds and we have made opposite life choices. This is an anthology of thoughts, experiences, grievances and consolations that are hers and hers alone. Why then did I feel that I knew exactly what she was talking about page after page of this deeply personal book? Because she is so frank and willing to give away so much of herself that one can only stop and listen to this woman who's clear-sighted, street-smart, well-read and a keen observer of herself and those who surround her. Chances are that she will be understood by many. This is not a traditional memoir or a mere account of colorful scenes of city life. It is also a study of solitude and companionship and of lives containing both. The rhythm of the narration is masterful, alternating between ruminations on the human condition, brief stories of people from all walks of life and snapshots of the drama that unfolds daily on the streets of any metropolis. In this case a very NY-ish one. It reminded me of the best of Woody Allen films from the 70s to the 90s when he too was proclaiming his love for the city and its restless inhabitants. The minute I finished this little book I wanted to start all over again to better appreciate and digest the author's condensed wisdom and her outlook on city (and her own) life that is as unflinchingly sharp as is emotionally moving. Here's a tiny sample: "Early on a Friday evening in spring, cars coming from three directions are halted in the middle of Abingdon Square, in their midst a rat running frantically back and forth. A man turns the corner nearest to where I'm standing, mesmerized. He is in his forties, wearing khaki shorts and a bright blue camp shirt and carrying a Whole Foods shopping bag in each hand. His brown thatch is graying, his features painfully delicate; his eyes blink worriedly behind designer glasses. "What is it?" he cries at me. His eyes follow my pointing finger. "Oh," he says wearily. "A neur-rotic rat". "Or else a prelude to the plague, " I say. "Now there's an only slightly more comforting thought." For a moment the man looks thoughtful. Then he shakes his head no. "Poor thing. He's looking for a way out and there isn't any. Believe me. I know." He shoulders his fancy provisions anew and goes his way, now burdened by the useless wisdom he only rarely has to face up to."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ellie

    The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir by Vivian Gornick is a beautiful book. I was hoping to love it- I loved Gornick's memoir, Fierce Attachments: A Memoir so I knew I loved Gornick's writing style and her sensibility. The book did not let me down! The book combines many of my favorite themes: New York City, the idea of the flaneur, a woman negotiating life alone in New York City, how people negotiate relationships (of various kinds), and (indirectly) growing older. Gornick is my role model. The b The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir by Vivian Gornick is a beautiful book. I was hoping to love it- I loved Gornick's memoir, Fierce Attachments: A Memoir so I knew I loved Gornick's writing style and her sensibility. The book did not let me down! The book combines many of my favorite themes: New York City, the idea of the flaneur, a woman negotiating life alone in New York City, how people negotiate relationships (of various kinds), and (indirectly) growing older. Gornick is my role model. The book is framed and punctuated by Gornick's friendship with Leonard, a highly sophisticated man who is perceptive and articulate about his sadness. There are meditations on the role of conversation in friendship and the ways in which we define ourselves, our relationship to our own personal narratives-where we came from, where we're going. The book takes its title in part from The Odd Women by George Gissing, a late 19th century novel describing a group of woman in London who are unmarried and attempting to create their identities within the confines of their times and personalities,k without men, against the backdrop of the city. Gornick considers herself a modern descendant of these women, creating her identity alone, with the help of friendships-through conversations-and in relationship to the city, which is more than a place but a power and a living entity with an energy and personality particular to it. Now as a woman who was alone for many years and who lived in NYC, I'll admit I have a very personal response to this book. But the writing is as intelligent and thought-provoking, her vignettes evocative, her meditations on her past and especially (for me) about how we find ourselves, create ourselves, in conversation, as it is in her earlier memoir. It is too brief a book, although that is part of its perfection. Upon finishing it, I immediately went back to the beginning and reread it. And I look forward to reading it again. There are sections I have only just touched upon, that have much more meaning to yield. It's a wonderful book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    I figured this would be great bedtime reading. A book of musings about life in NYC, feminism, literature, friendships; short vignettes including her penchant for people watching and overheard snippets of conversation. I have never lived in New York or even visited there, but I love walking the streets of many smaller cities that I've visited, and my own much smaller neighborhoods, so I could relate. I was right, this was perfect for bedtime reading, or any time when you need a pick up and put dow I figured this would be great bedtime reading. A book of musings about life in NYC, feminism, literature, friendships; short vignettes including her penchant for people watching and overheard snippets of conversation. I have never lived in New York or even visited there, but I love walking the streets of many smaller cities that I've visited, and my own much smaller neighborhoods, so I could relate. I was right, this was perfect for bedtime reading, or any time when you need a pick up and put down anytime book. I understand her memoir, "Fierce Attachments" is very good, so I'll hunt down a copy of that.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Anne (On semi-hiatus)

    This is a thin book to be savored. It's not a traditional memoir, but a series of vignettes which move back and forth in time between Gornick's childhood, her early adulthood, and the present, when, as a single woman who has learned much about life and herself. There were so many excerpts about life on the streets of NYC which made me laugh out loud or smile in recognition. One of these took place on 14th Street where she ran into a friend and carried on a conversation despite the Con Ed drillin This is a thin book to be savored. It's not a traditional memoir, but a series of vignettes which move back and forth in time between Gornick's childhood, her early adulthood, and the present, when, as a single woman who has learned much about life and herself. There were so many excerpts about life on the streets of NYC which made me laugh out loud or smile in recognition. One of these took place on 14th Street where she ran into a friend and carried on a conversation despite the Con Ed drilling, honking cars, screeching brakes, and sirens which "pierced the air." That is such a familiar experience. Gornick also shares her hard won and brilliant insights about solitude in NYC among the masses of people there. But she doesn't despair. She understands it and why she is solitary yet she finds moments of "togetherness" and solace with strangers in the streets, with friends, and in her apartment looking out at all the other "hives" filled with thousands of people. Besides being very quotable herself, she quotes others from whom she has learned about life. Frank O'Hara and Charles Reznikoff are just two of the writers/poets she quotes and to whom she refers. Wonderful vignettes or stories about Dickens, Hugo, Sarton, Sartre, Henry James, George Eliot, Freud, and other writers and philosophers appear in this short book. I will have to buy this book (I read a library copy) so that I can reread it and underline (yes, I underline in my precious books) my favorite passages. Then I can finally share some of these excerpts with friends, an urge I had several times while reading this memoir. Beware NYC exiles: this book will make you miss NYC.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    Like Charles Dickens with London, Gornick walks the streets of New York City and knows them intimately. She walks for the same reasons I believe Dickens did: to ward off restlessness and depression; and to immerse herself in the characters she encounters, because hearing their voices, their “expressiveness” as she calls it (a word which recalls for me Dos Passos’ Manhattan Transfer) is like breathing. It’s written as “a series of vignettes,” as Anne's review says, which can tell you more about t Like Charles Dickens with London, Gornick walks the streets of New York City and knows them intimately. She walks for the same reasons I believe Dickens did: to ward off restlessness and depression; and to immerse herself in the characters she encounters, because hearing their voices, their “expressiveness” as she calls it (a word which recalls for me Dos Passos’ Manhattan Transfer) is like breathing. It’s written as “a series of vignettes,” as Anne's review says, which can tell you more about the book than I can. Gornick moves as quickly, and as elegantly, in her writing, as she likely does the streets of New York. Though I was enjoying this work the whole time, I wasn’t fully engaged until I spotted the name Constance Fenimore Woolson. Then I became excited, as if seeing an old friend, much in the same way Gornick enjoys seeing old friends and acquaintances as she makes her way around the city. After relating the story of Woolson and Henry James’ friendship, Gornick writes, The night after I’d read about Woolson and James, I became a literary groupie. She doesn’t explain that sentence but immediately relates a dream about herself and her best friend, a gay man, that’s obviously rooted in the friendship of the two 19th-century writers. I’d figured the ‘odd woman’ of the title was a nod to Gissing’s novel The Odd Women and Gornick’s longest section explains why it's important to her. After reading and loving his New Grub Street many years ago, I’ve been meaning to read The Odd Women for years. I now have a new impetus to do so.

  7. 5 out of 5

    julieta

    I find everything gornick writes incredibly stimulating. Her writing makes me see many connections happening all at the same time. Friendship, city life, family life, sickness, death, she goes through all of it. Her take on other writers is always wonderful, since she is a great reader of literature and of being human.

  8. 4 out of 5

    ♥ Sandi ❣

    2.5 stars Not a book that I would recommend. I was disappointed - thoroughly. So many, many characters it was dizzying. Absolutely no way to keep them all straight. And authors - she spoke of so many. And so many short clips - moving from topic to topic. She seemed to go from past to present and back to past within a sentence - it keeps your mind spinning. This is a short book as it is and the method it is written in makes it jumbled, in disarray, and mind boggling. I don't profess to judge anyon 2.5 stars Not a book that I would recommend. I was disappointed - thoroughly. So many, many characters it was dizzying. Absolutely no way to keep them all straight. And authors - she spoke of so many. And so many short clips - moving from topic to topic. She seemed to go from past to present and back to past within a sentence - it keeps your mind spinning. This is a short book as it is and the method it is written in makes it jumbled, in disarray, and mind boggling. I don't profess to judge anyone's memoir - their life is how they see it to be. But, I prefer it to be written in some order, some semblance, something that is understandable. This book had nothing understandable, nothing orderly. The only thing I can take away from this book is she was trying to determine who she really is - maybe?? Where she belongs in this world and trying to grapple with her own loneliness, I think?? Really a book written in disarray.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Steve Turtell

    My only real complaint is that I wish this was longer, as I get a sense that Gornick is winding down, nearing the end of her writing life (and of course she's more than entitled, as she's in her eighties). I gulped it down, just the way I gulp New York street life every time I take a walk in this still glorious, filthy, magical city, the city I was, as was Gornick, born in. "It's the voices I can't do without. In most cities of the world the populace is planted in centuries of cobblestoned alley My only real complaint is that I wish this was longer, as I get a sense that Gornick is winding down, nearing the end of her writing life (and of course she's more than entitled, as she's in her eighties). I gulped it down, just the way I gulp New York street life every time I take a walk in this still glorious, filthy, magical city, the city I was, as was Gornick, born in. "It's the voices I can't do without. In most cities of the world the populace is planted in centuries of cobblestoned alleys, ruined churches, architectural relics, none of which are ever dug up, only piled one on top of another. If you've grown up in New York, your life is an archaeology not of structures but of voices, also piled one on top of another, also not really replacing one another."

  10. 4 out of 5

    WB1

    Before the book starts, there's an unexpected (for me) warning: All names and identifying characteristics have been changed. Certain events have been reordered and some characters and scenes have been composites. In short, the title is false. It's a faux memoir. Or, to put it bluntly, fake. What's real and what's not real? Who knows?. Based on a NYTimes review of the book, I thought it would be interesting because Ms. Gornick's life has a few similarities to mine. Leaving the Bronx for Manhattan Before the book starts, there's an unexpected (for me) warning: All names and identifying characteristics have been changed. Certain events have been reordered and some characters and scenes have been composites. In short, the title is false. It's a faux memoir. Or, to put it bluntly, fake. What's real and what's not real? Who knows?. Based on a NYTimes review of the book, I thought it would be interesting because Ms. Gornick's life has a few similarities to mine. Leaving the Bronx for Manhattan to become a writer etc. She became a journalist. So did I. I think we're about the same age. But the book by Ms. Gornick, who once wrote about feminism for the Village Voice and has written several other (memoirs) and teaches at some prestigious universities, is so painfully humorless, so self-important, so ridiculous that it's absurd. She lives on the 16th floor of a Greenwich Village house with a doorman. (Not so bad --if true). Her best friend is a gay man named Leonard who has got to be one of the most pretentious characters in recent literature. (His dialogue sounds like a Woody Allen parody of a Greenwich Village intellectual). Ms. Gornick talks about her two quick failed marriages, several love affairs with guys who sound like creeps, and her constant walks through the West Side of Manhattan. Every little tidbit about her life --she yells at a guy who speaks loudly on a cell phone, she has constant conversations with strangers in pharmacies and groceries. Conversation that I did not believe at all. She spends pages talking about her mother (she writes a lot about her mother) and how cruel Mom could be to the point where she once ripped little Vivian's party dress so she cuold not go to a birthday party. (It sounds a little like "Mommie, Dearest."). Gornick writes that she mentions this to her mother nunerous times over her life. Her mother denied it. And then one day Gornick (in her fifties or sixties) steps off a bus and realizes maybe her mother was right. After 5o years?? Who cares? Maybe it's all fiction. Maybe it's half-fiction. Maybe it all adds up to a lot of self-serving and pompous writing by an author who should know better.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    A brief but brilliant book. What intelligence and what perceptiveness this woman has! Also, now I know what a flaneur is. I had thought it was possibly a fabrics retailer that sold flannel, not someone wandering around the city making observations. This is an absorbing series of discontinuous narratives about the streets of Manhattan, with literary references so profound and in such abundance that that alone is an education by itself. Read this by all means: hard coverly, Nookily, Kindly, libraril A brief but brilliant book. What intelligence and what perceptiveness this woman has! Also, now I know what a flaneur is. I had thought it was possibly a fabrics retailer that sold flannel, not someone wandering around the city making observations. This is an absorbing series of discontinuous narratives about the streets of Manhattan, with literary references so profound and in such abundance that that alone is an education by itself. Read this by all means: hard coverly, Nookily, Kindly, librarily.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Carmel Hanes

    I've not been to New York. I've not read any Gornick previously. I went into this without knowing much about it. So it's probably just me in terms of not enjoying it more. It was a scattered collection of vignettes, recollections and observations. Some I could value and relate to more than others. There were some very thought-provoking musings. "...I consciously felt men to be members of a species separate from myself. Separate and foreign. It was as though an invisible membrane had fallen betwee I've not been to New York. I've not read any Gornick previously. I went into this without knowing much about it. So it's probably just me in terms of not enjoying it more. It was a scattered collection of vignettes, recollections and observations. Some I could value and relate to more than others. There were some very thought-provoking musings. "...I consciously felt men to be members of a species separate from myself. Separate and foreign. It was as though an invisible membrane had fallen between me and my lover, one fine enough to be penetrated by desire but opaque enough to obscure human fellowship."..."...For me, it had become the pea beneath the twenty mattresses: an irritation of the soul that I could not accommodate."--while she specifies men, this is a statement that could apply much more broadly to the difficulty of connection to any other; male to female, race to race, human to human. "What we are, in fact, is a pair of solitary travelers slogging through the country of our lives, meeting up from time to time at the outer limit to give each other border reports." "Slowly but inexorably, the enterprise of mind and spirit to which our friendship had been devoted began to lose strength before the growing encroachment of the sympathies out of which our lives were actually fashioned. Like an uncontrollable growth that overtakes a clearing the forest, the differences moved in on us. In no time at all, the friendship that had for so long generated excitement and exerted power was now experienced as a need that had run its course." I appreciated these kinds of moments in this book, which created a desire for a long conversation with a vintage bottle of wine. Obviously an intelligent and articulate woman it would be interesting to spend time with; just not in the format of this book...at least for me.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    It baffles me why Vivian Gornick isn't as well known as a writer as say, Joan Didion. I sit in wonder as she creates her world for the reader; yes, this is a memoir, but not in the traditional one may think of a memoir. I think I like her so much because she gives snippets of her life, weaving present day with the past. She walks the streets of New York with her friend, Leonard, ruminating on life, past and present. And who writes sentences like these?! "He was in his sixties then, smaller and mu It baffles me why Vivian Gornick isn't as well known as a writer as say, Joan Didion. I sit in wonder as she creates her world for the reader; yes, this is a memoir, but not in the traditional one may think of a memoir. I think I like her so much because she gives snippets of her life, weaving present day with the past. She walks the streets of New York with her friend, Leonard, ruminating on life, past and present. And who writes sentences like these?! "He was in his sixties then, smaller and much thinner than he'd once been, but his blue eyes were lit with a beautiful kind of gravity and his narrow face imprinted with the wisdom of inflicted patience." Gornick has a great eye for the city she's lived in her whole life, bringing colorful characters to life in just one small scene. A great read, and I liked this better than her lauded "Fierce Attachments."

  14. 5 out of 5

    Scarlet Cameo

    This was a HUGE disappointment. Boring and all over the place, the only good thing was that I leanr about some writers that sounds awesome. This was a HUGE disappointment. Boring and all over the place, the only good thing was that I leanr about some writers that sounds awesome.

  15. 5 out of 5

    John

    Found myself skimming a couple of times, but overall a good look at New York City from a native familiar with the "old" days. Found myself skimming a couple of times, but overall a good look at New York City from a native familiar with the "old" days.

  16. 4 out of 5

    ns510

    4.5 stars. I really enjoyed this one. I had the luxury of a quiet weekend morning to get stuck in, and this introspective read was the perfect accompaniment. In this book, Vivian Gornick keeps a journal of sorts, detailing her lived experiences in the city of New York. She is an older woman, often pounding the city’s streets on her regular walks, listening to snippets of conversations, privy to peeks into the lives of her fellow city dwellers, making observations about a variety of things with suc 4.5 stars. I really enjoyed this one. I had the luxury of a quiet weekend morning to get stuck in, and this introspective read was the perfect accompaniment. In this book, Vivian Gornick keeps a journal of sorts, detailing her lived experiences in the city of New York. She is an older woman, often pounding the city’s streets on her regular walks, listening to snippets of conversations, privy to peeks into the lives of her fellow city dwellers, making observations about a variety of things with such loveliness and clarity. She experiences the world in an almost physical way, such that we as readers can picture, and perhaps feel, how she experienced these encounters at the time: ”...but going up in the elevator to my apartment, I start to feel on my skin the sensory effect of an evening full of irony and negative judgment. Nothing serious, just surface damage - a thousand tiny pinpricks dotting arms, neck, chest - but somewhere within me, in a place I can’t even begin to name, I began to shrink from the prospect of feeling it again so soon.” Rather poignantly, is the sense of melancholy and loneliness that permeates, rendering the every day encounters she shares with various strangers on New York’s streets even more affecting. She considers herself an ‘Odd Woman’, referencing a George Gissing novel, and shares a friendship with Leonard, a similarly aged gay man similarly on life’s margins. They can just about see each other once a week, which in their books make them “intimates”. Through her lens, he seems to be quite a negative person, but really does not appear to be too different to her. Is she more forgiving about herself? Or is it that she truly revels in the life she lives on the margins of the city, having made the choice to truly live/believe in the distinction between loneliness and useful solitude: ”One is lonely for the absent idealized other, but in useful solitude I am the one keeping myself imaginative company, breathing life into the silence, filling the room with proof of my own sentient being.”

  17. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    I liked this meditation on living in New York City. This is more of a journal than a sustained narrative and my favorites of Gornick's remain her more substantive memoir, Fierce Attachments, her feminist literary criticism of The End of the Novel of Love, and her essential guide to the art of the personal essay, The Situation and the Story. I noticed a undercurrent of black-and-white racial awareness in this book - isn't that new for her? (In addition to sexual politics, an abiding concern) One I liked this meditation on living in New York City. This is more of a journal than a sustained narrative and my favorites of Gornick's remain her more substantive memoir, Fierce Attachments, her feminist literary criticism of The End of the Novel of Love, and her essential guide to the art of the personal essay, The Situation and the Story. I noticed a undercurrent of black-and-white racial awareness in this book - isn't that new for her? (In addition to sexual politics, an abiding concern) One striking example: she describes an unsettling incident on a city bus when a white man refuses to pay his toll to a black driver and the driver finally stops the bus and refuses to continue the route, making the packed bus of passengers disembark - but the people only stand on the sidewalk and watch and don't scatter to other buses ... Is it about race or not? And her fellow riders' reactions - are those about race, too? There are some other things going here, and social class and age (the nonpaying passenger is elderly) are in play, as well as Gornick's meditations on individual- and group-identities in the urban environment. But yes, she's also highlighting a fraught racial encounter. Like all the other vignettes in this book she leave it mostly unanalyzed, but reverberating in my mind.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Libby

    I wanted to love this book, I really did. So many people I value had said such good things about Gornick, shared lovely quotes and waxed lyrical on her writing. Maybe I was expecting too much, but this just wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. There were kernels of glorious prose in here. I found the sections about other things - other lives, other books, whatever - to be mostly incredibly interesting and quite well-written. Everything about Gornick herself felt annoying though. Too much, too int I wanted to love this book, I really did. So many people I value had said such good things about Gornick, shared lovely quotes and waxed lyrical on her writing. Maybe I was expecting too much, but this just wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. There were kernels of glorious prose in here. I found the sections about other things - other lives, other books, whatever - to be mostly incredibly interesting and quite well-written. Everything about Gornick herself felt annoying though. Too much, too intimate, for my first book of hers. And at times, better suited to a private journal, honestly. I don't know. Maybe I thought about reading this too much before I read it, maybe you'll like it more. But too much of it missed the spot for me.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michael Livingston

    A wonderful love letter to NYC, filled with glorious snippets of street life, ruminations on love and friendship and infused with Gornick's witty, smart and big-hearted sensibility. A wonderful love letter to NYC, filled with glorious snippets of street life, ruminations on love and friendship and infused with Gornick's witty, smart and big-hearted sensibility.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    She has such a great voice—I loved Fierce Attachments and she is consistently, well...the same person. But this book was really disjointed and meandering.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Clayton

    'I know about this obscure 19th century English novelist, Alfred Puddington-Bingley, who once wrote a proto-modernist novel called Crosses and Noughts about an old London schoolteacher fond of taking long walks around the city and reminiscing on her failed marriage to an accountant and her resolution to never touch a human being again. I modeled my life on this character, which I knew at the time was a mistake. That's why I did it. Do I regret it? Of course. But I don't regret my regret, and the 'I know about this obscure 19th century English novelist, Alfred Puddington-Bingley, who once wrote a proto-modernist novel called Crosses and Noughts about an old London schoolteacher fond of taking long walks around the city and reminiscing on her failed marriage to an accountant and her resolution to never touch a human being again. I modeled my life on this character, which I knew at the time was a mistake. That's why I did it. Do I regret it? Of course. But I don't regret my regret, and there is a lesson in that. *** I saw a man holding a hot dog walking backwards across the 57th (in New York) while whistling a tune. He nearly tripped over me. "Watch where you're going, pal," I said. "Modern life is a disease, and sensitive, intelligent, unhappy women are its first victims," he said. "That's probably true," I said. Then I went to the deli, and brooded. *** I have a gay friend L., who is gay, and he once went to a party and didn't say a single word for the three hours that he was there. "There was nothing to complain about," he said by way of explanation. I nodded sagely, and said that life was a mistake if you didn't live in New York. *** I wanted to be Henry James, when I was young. Then I grew up, and realized I didn't want to be Henry James. Then I got old, and realized both desires amounted to the same thing. *** I was strolling through Central Park (that's in New York) this morning when a woman jogging with a baby stroller passed by on my left. At the same time, a Belorussian man on a bicycle passed by on my right. "Good morning," the man says to the woman, and nods. "Happiness is an emotion necessarily limited in quantity," the woman said. Ain't that the truth, I thought. *** I know that Walter Benjamin really liked walking, and so did Baudelaire. I also really like walking. I'm just saying. *** I've read that the ancients thought that the best friendships were the ones that brought out the ideal version of each friend. We moderns believe that friendships are a place where you can safely be at your weakest and most vulnerable. I agree with the ancient view, but I also agree with the modern view. This paradox is profound. *** I was on a the New York Subway (it's in New York) and the doors were closing just as an old woman was preparing to get on. I took her arm and helped her through the doors just as they closed. "Memoir," she said, "even disguised by the technique of modernist collage, is still a self-absorbed genre threatened by the specter of narcissism. But when a narcissist has an interesting perspective, the writing can still be effective." Then she sat down. Isn't everybody a critic. '

  22. 5 out of 5

    Zora

    I have been meaning to read Vivian Gornick properly for years and this book turned up in an airport bookshop exactly when I needed it. I wanted something absorbing and meaningful and delightful, without being too ponderous or shallow. When I made the purchase, the woman serving me read the back and said 'wow, I like the sound of this'. Now that was a bit of a Gornick move including that small anecdote. She spins from the everyday and the enduring (namely long friendships and their sometimes myst I have been meaning to read Vivian Gornick properly for years and this book turned up in an airport bookshop exactly when I needed it. I wanted something absorbing and meaningful and delightful, without being too ponderous or shallow. When I made the purchase, the woman serving me read the back and said 'wow, I like the sound of this'. Now that was a bit of a Gornick move including that small anecdote. She spins from the everyday and the enduring (namely long friendships and their sometimes mysterious ingredients) often startling effects and truths. The book is essentially a love letter to New York City and also one of her best friends Leonard, plus some insightful and sometimes damning asides about the fleeting nature of heterolove (at least in her experience). Her best lines are about Leonard and what they mean to each other after decades: 'What we are, in fact, is a pair of solitary travellers slogging through the country of our lives, meeting up from time to time at the outer limit to give each other border reports'.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Candace

    Meditations on life, loneliness, friendships and connections, all through the lens of living and walking in the streets of New York City. Some of her passages resonated quite greatly with me, others less so, but it's an interesting portrait of growing older and moving through life as a (mostly) single woman, nonetheless surrounded every day by interactions and people that make up the city and in turn her longest, constant relationship. Meditations on life, loneliness, friendships and connections, all through the lens of living and walking in the streets of New York City. Some of her passages resonated quite greatly with me, others less so, but it's an interesting portrait of growing older and moving through life as a (mostly) single woman, nonetheless surrounded every day by interactions and people that make up the city and in turn her longest, constant relationship.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Isabel

    "We were in thrall to neurotic longing, all of us - Dorothea and Isabel, my mother and I, the fairy-tale princess. Longing was what attracted us, what compelled our deepest attention. The essence, indeed, of a Chekovian life. Think of all those Natashas sighing through three long acts for what is not, and can never be. While one (wrong) man after another listens sympathetically to the recital of a dilemma for which there is no solution" (55). "We were in thrall to neurotic longing, all of us - Dorothea and Isabel, my mother and I, the fairy-tale princess. Longing was what attracted us, what compelled our deepest attention. The essence, indeed, of a Chekovian life. Think of all those Natashas sighing through three long acts for what is not, and can never be. While one (wrong) man after another listens sympathetically to the recital of a dilemma for which there is no solution" (55).

  25. 5 out of 5

    Gabriela

    This is such a short book that it doesn't have the right - in my opinion - to be such a mixed bag? On the one hand, the writing is very beautiful. Vivian Gornick has the clear, precise way of expressing hard of define feelings that I love in a writer. She also talks a lot, and in ways I could relate to, about wandering the city and using walking as a coping mechanism of sorts and I definitely appreciated to see parts of my experiences reflected in a book - it's always a delight! However, the thin This is such a short book that it doesn't have the right - in my opinion - to be such a mixed bag? On the one hand, the writing is very beautiful. Vivian Gornick has the clear, precise way of expressing hard of define feelings that I love in a writer. She also talks a lot, and in ways I could relate to, about wandering the city and using walking as a coping mechanism of sorts and I definitely appreciated to see parts of my experiences reflected in a book - it's always a delight! However, the thing with memoirs is that you kind of, inevitably get to know the author in ways that other forms of literature don't necessarily allow. And a third of the way in I realized that I don't like her in some important ways which made the book sort of hard to get through, but some parts made it worth it. The memoir is organised in a series vignettes, a few of which are recounting scenes she sees on the street. And this is where the issues start for me. There's a way in which the author treats the scenes she sees like she bestows some moral judgement on them that I can't really shake off. It's also really uncomfortable how she takes ownership of those moments and although she doesn't pass judgement in a direct way the words which she uses to tell the story and the way that it's framed make it very clear what she's thinking. She recounts brief episodes that outline some stranger's misfortune in some ~interesting way and it made me so very uncomfortable that their sorrow was somehow transformed into an opportunity to entertain, for the author to show she can tell a story in an unusual way. There's a story in which a homeless man has abused hurled at by a passer-by. There's a story in which the author calls the police on a black man on the bus who called her a 'bitch' and then she's outraged that no one was on her side. She just does not seem like a great person, you know? Another thing is how, if someone is black, or generally not white, she will let you know, especially if something she doesn't approve of is going on. She has a way of othering people that was also kind of jarring - people are immediately announced as [insert race], [insert minority sexual orientation], [insert type of addiction/illness] so often that it makes me think that yes, mentioning those characteristics is definitely a way of announcing their deviation from what's supposed to be the norm in her eyes. There's such a contrast between her saying she's a feminist and aware of class relations about 20 pages after being really condescending towards someone she perceived as having a lower social standing than her. And this is not like a work of fiction - I can't dislike an author but appreciate that they make an interesting person to read about like I would a fictional character. It's a real person whose life continues beyond the page and I can't just ignore the ugly parts.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Richard Gilbert

    This short memoir, really one long essay, is about friendship, especially in New York City, walking in the city, and encounters with strangers in the city. Vivian Gornick makes this compelling because her stories are so interesting, as is her brutally honest truth-speaking voice and her humor. She tells funny stories on herself. And she is aware that, well, she's odd. The latter is literally a reference to her feminism—she takes the term from George Gissing about feminists of an earlier era—but i This short memoir, really one long essay, is about friendship, especially in New York City, walking in the city, and encounters with strangers in the city. Vivian Gornick makes this compelling because her stories are so interesting, as is her brutally honest truth-speaking voice and her humor. She tells funny stories on herself. And she is aware that, well, she's odd. The latter is literally a reference to her feminism—she takes the term from George Gissing about feminists of an earlier era—but it alludes as well to her feeling of being broken. Like all writers (and people) she generalizes from her personal truths. This is why we read her but it's also sometimes why I want to argue with her about her conclusions. As if she's a friend. Many writers I admire I wouldn't cross the street to hear speak, but I'd make an effort to see Gornick. She's stuffed herself with art and culture, and she's full of stories about her and others' encounter with the world. She also makes me want to move to New York City. She so captures its gritty romance.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Reix

    This book is somehow a portrait of NY city and its lifestyle, through Gornick's eyes. It's not exactly a story, but a compendium of anecdotes seen or experienced by the author, all of them told in the ironic style that characterizes Gornick. What I love most of Gornick is the intelligence that dazzles in her words and her complex and unestable personality that make me think of her as an interesting person for having a talk. This book is somehow a portrait of NY city and its lifestyle, through Gornick's eyes. It's not exactly a story, but a compendium of anecdotes seen or experienced by the author, all of them told in the ironic style that characterizes Gornick. What I love most of Gornick is the intelligence that dazzles in her words and her complex and unestable personality that make me think of her as an interesting person for having a talk.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kylie Maslen

    I completely loved this book. I'm so thrilled to have welcomed Gornick's work into my life. Funny, biting and comforting all at once. I completely loved this book. I'm so thrilled to have welcomed Gornick's work into my life. Funny, biting and comforting all at once.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Laurence Leduc-Primeau

    Livre, je pense, que je vais me mettre à aimer de plus en plus à mesure que le temps depuis la lecture passe - c'est un bon signe, c'est rare. When human experience slides off the scale, and the end of civilization threatens, only hard truths will do; and I was finding them sealed into the minimalist prose of French and Italian novelists of the fifties and sixties. Here, an eerie inwardness trapped in the prose resonated inside a suffusing silence that promised moral disorder of a serious nature. Livre, je pense, que je vais me mettre à aimer de plus en plus à mesure que le temps depuis la lecture passe - c'est un bon signe, c'est rare. When human experience slides off the scale, and the end of civilization threatens, only hard truths will do; and I was finding them sealed into the minimalist prose of French and Italian novelists of the fifties and sixties. Here, an eerie inwardness trapped in the prose resonated inside a suffusing silence that promised moral disorder of a serious nature. Ah yes, the reader feels. However it once was, that’s the way it is now. Standing there on the island in the middle of Broadway, I realized what it was that we were loosing: it was nostalgia. And then I realixed that it was this that was at the heart of postwar fiction. It wasn’t sentiment that was missing from these novels, it was nostalgia. That cold, pure silence at the heart of modern European prose is the absence of nostalgia: an absence made available only to those who feel themselves standing at the end of history, staring, without longing or regret, into the is-ness of what is.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Sampson

    vivian gornick, now there’s someone who has no trouble getting her 10,000 steps in every day

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...