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A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice. One of Library Journal's Best Books of 2020. One of our most beloved writers reassess the electrifying works of literature that have shaped her life I sometimes think I was born reading . . . I can't remember the time when I didn't have a book in my hands, my head lost to the world around me. Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chro A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice. One of Library Journal's Best Books of 2020. One of our most beloved writers reassess the electrifying works of literature that have shaped her life I sometimes think I was born reading . . . I can't remember the time when I didn't have a book in my hands, my head lost to the world around me. Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-reader is Vivian Gornick's celebration of passionate reading, of returning again and again to the books that have shaped her at crucial points in her life. In nine essays that traverse literary criticism, memoir, and biography, one of our most celebrated critics writes about the importance of reading--and re-reading--as life progresses. Gornick finds herself in contradictory characters within D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, assesses womanhood in Colette's The Vagabond and The Shackle, and considers the veracity of memory in Marguerite Duras's The Lover. She revisits Great War novels by J. L. Carr and Pat Barker, uncovers the psychological complexity of Elizabeth Bowen's prose, and soaks in Natalia Ginzburg, "a writer whose work has often made me love life more." After adopting two cats, whose erratic behavior she finds vexing, she discovers Doris Lessing's Particularly Cats. Guided by Gornick's trademark verve and insight, Unfinished Business is a masterful appreciation of literature's power to illuminate our lives from a peerless writer and thinker who "still read[s] to feel the power of Life with a capital L."


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A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice. One of Library Journal's Best Books of 2020. One of our most beloved writers reassess the electrifying works of literature that have shaped her life I sometimes think I was born reading . . . I can't remember the time when I didn't have a book in my hands, my head lost to the world around me. Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chro A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice. One of Library Journal's Best Books of 2020. One of our most beloved writers reassess the electrifying works of literature that have shaped her life I sometimes think I was born reading . . . I can't remember the time when I didn't have a book in my hands, my head lost to the world around me. Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-reader is Vivian Gornick's celebration of passionate reading, of returning again and again to the books that have shaped her at crucial points in her life. In nine essays that traverse literary criticism, memoir, and biography, one of our most celebrated critics writes about the importance of reading--and re-reading--as life progresses. Gornick finds herself in contradictory characters within D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, assesses womanhood in Colette's The Vagabond and The Shackle, and considers the veracity of memory in Marguerite Duras's The Lover. She revisits Great War novels by J. L. Carr and Pat Barker, uncovers the psychological complexity of Elizabeth Bowen's prose, and soaks in Natalia Ginzburg, "a writer whose work has often made me love life more." After adopting two cats, whose erratic behavior she finds vexing, she discovers Doris Lessing's Particularly Cats. Guided by Gornick's trademark verve and insight, Unfinished Business is a masterful appreciation of literature's power to illuminate our lives from a peerless writer and thinker who "still read[s] to feel the power of Life with a capital L."

30 review for Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader

  1. 5 out of 5

    Anne (on semi-hiatus)

    4.5 stars rounded up. I’ve often had the experience of reading a book and deeply identifying with a character through their struggles, fears and triumphs. In Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-reader, Vivian Gornick takes this experience a few steps further. She thinks about and inhabits the lives of characters as if they are living and breathing beings about whom she has strong feelings and opinons and from whom she can learn, all of which changes over time in pursuit of “the unfinished 4.5 stars rounded up. I’ve often had the experience of reading a book and deeply identifying with a character through their struggles, fears and triumphs. In Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-reader, Vivian Gornick takes this experience a few steps further. She thinks about and inhabits the lives of characters as if they are living and breathing beings about whom she has strong feelings and opinons and from whom she can learn, all of which changes over time in pursuit of “the unfinished business” which is Gornick’s life-long efforts towards personal growth. In this book Gornick shares her experiences of decades of reading and how her changing understanding of characters in books reflects and coincides with her own personal growth and maturity. She vividly describes plots, characters, and authors, and examines all three through the lens of her personal history and her current understanding of herself, reflecting on how aging, maturation, and changes in self-awareness and circumstances caused characters to resonate with her in a new way on each reread. She uses personal anecdotes about her life to elucidate her latest insights about a book or a character and their impact on her. Gornick is such good company throughout these musings which are as emotionally open as they are intellectually stimulating. In this small book of 10 chapters, one chapter per author or subject, Gornick shares her reflections on some of her favorite authors, including D.H. Lawrence, Colette, A.B. Yehoshua, Elizabeth Bowen, Marguerite Duras, Doris Lessing, Natalia Ginzburg, Pat Barker and J.L. Carr. Gornick doesn’t grapple for self-understanding in every chapter of this reading memoir but she always delights in finding just the right book or passage that speaks to her about her experience or provides her with a different spin on a character or author whom she thinks she fully understands.. One chapter, for instance, is devoted to her adoption of 2 kittens. Gornick had never lived with cats and knew nothing about them; how to care for them, how to understand their play or how to get them to cuddle with her. She struggles to understand these cats and their aloofness well into their adulthood. When Gornick eventually picks up a book by Doris Lessing which was presented to her by a friend when she initially adopted the kittens and was quickly forgotten (“how could Doris Lessing help me with understanding cats?) she finds exactly the information and experiences which speak to her predicament and finds herself not only more educated about her felines but also more comfortable around them. In one other chapter which doesn't fit the mold of rereading and self-reflection Gornick meets A.B. Yehoshua on her first visit to Israel. Without spoiling this wonderful anecdote I'll just say that Yehoshua found the wrong audience in Gornick for his forceful lecture on the importance of Zionism and his declaration that all Jews, including Gornick, should be living in Israel,. She was so appalled by him that it took years for her to read anything written by him. She delighted in meeting a very different man in his short stories once she was able to open one of his books. But one of the best examples of how Gornick’s rereading over times changes her perception of a character and herself is in her discussion of Sue Bridehead from Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. She begins this discussion with an anecdote from one of her own therapy sessions. In the middle of this session Gornick says to her analyst, “Now for the first time I see how devious I’ve been with men in relationships.” Her analyst “allows herself a look of weariness” and asks, “when are you going to act on what you now for the first time see?” Gornick thinks to herself, “what a fate… that of the New York analyst, condemned to listening to analysands, like me, insight manufacturers one and all, forever seeing something for the first time, never being able to act on what they see.” Then she says, “fuck it, let me out of here…. I can’t do it….let me out of this life.” This memory is followed up with the history of Gornick’s lifelong relationship with the character Sue Bridehead. Searching for an explanation for ”Sue’s godawful behavior" during a reread of Jude, "I recalled this scene in my analyst’s office and thought, “she can’t do it either. She too just wants out.” “She,” being of course, Sue Bridehead. In her late teens and ‘20s Gornick “ached" for the characters in Thomas Hardy novels and read them over and over again because they reflected her own feelings at that time. “They were doomed to years of suffering… only because they were born in the wrong place and wrong time.” But no character pleased her more than Sue Bridehead with whom she so identified and for whom she felt so much sympathy. Years later after a reread of Jude she sees for the first time in Sue’s character “how a Victorian novelist tracked the resistance to consciousness which afflicts us all through the movements of a character with so much flesh and blood reality she seems nearly a case study.” The case study is the relationship between Jude and Sue, seeing for the first time Sue’s sexual abstinence and the “double bind of sexual attraction and revulsion.” At that point in her life Gornick sympathizes with Sue’s plight and self-imposed loneliness and sees it as a courageous means to achieve a sense of self through being alone. “Ten years later Sue’s courageous abstinence lost it’s glamour and Sue was getting on my nerves,” Gornick writes. Now Gornick refers to Sue’s abstinence and relationship with Jude as “lunatic behavior.” And 10 years later, after having an illegal abortion, Gornick felt a sense of foreboding and fear of retribution which she didn’t understand in the least since she was “secular to the bone.” With trepidation and “superstitious dread” she takes Jude off the bookshelf and reads. “For the first time I understood the darkness at the bottom of Sue’s personality and the “willful blindness” which I knew so well. Most recently she wondered if the novel “had finished saying all it had to say to me.” This is the question she has for many of the novels she returns to again and again. I listened to the audio version which was narrated by the author.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    A collection of compact essays on 19th- and 20th-century classics, Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader considers how the experiences of daily life and literature shape each other. In direct prose Gornick surveys an eclectic bunch of books she’s returned to again and again over the course of decades, from the autofiction of Marguerite Duras to the late Victorian novels of Thomas Hardy. She vividly describes plots, characters, and authors, and examines all three through the lens of h A collection of compact essays on 19th- and 20th-century classics, Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader considers how the experiences of daily life and literature shape each other. In direct prose Gornick surveys an eclectic bunch of books she’s returned to again and again over the course of decades, from the autofiction of Marguerite Duras to the late Victorian novels of Thomas Hardy. She vividly describes plots, characters, and authors, and examines all three through the lens of her personal history, reflecting on how circumstance caused different things to resonate with her on each of her reads. The prose reads fluidly, a handful of the essays are unforgettable, and Gornick brings even the dullest of texts to life. A more diverse reading list would have made the collection more inclusive and interesting, though, and some of the pieces feel too brief, over just as they begin to become fascinating.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Violeta

    How to go about reviewing this book? Is there a point in trying to capture the essence of a book that, in turn, perfectly captures the essences of other books? Vivian Gornick is an enlightened writer who makes sure we won’t go away having the slightest doubt as to what were the intents and purposes of the authors she examines. I felt I gained a first-rate appreciation of a number of literary works simply by having participated in the author’s breadth and depth of critical thinking. This is a bri How to go about reviewing this book? Is there a point in trying to capture the essence of a book that, in turn, perfectly captures the essences of other books? Vivian Gornick is an enlightened writer who makes sure we won’t go away having the slightest doubt as to what were the intents and purposes of the authors she examines. I felt I gained a first-rate appreciation of a number of literary works simply by having participated in the author’s breadth and depth of critical thinking. This is a brilliant collection of essays on literature and the way we look to it in our effort to grasp our forever-eluding selves. Same as in her other book of essays The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir, her capacity and readiness for unflinching self-examination deeply impressed and inspired me. No, this isn’t just a collection of literary essays; it is also a memoir and a vivid account of how differently she kept perceiving the same books each time she visited their pages throughout the years. It made me wonder: Do we see in a novel (or in any piece of writing) what we want to see, ultimately? Are we forever ready to apply our own vision on the matters at hand at the slightest hint of compatibility or disagreement between the author’s and our own perceptions? Does the author’s insight serve as only a frame in which we put our own thoughts, happily pushing aside the work of art that is already there, often without even realizing we’re doing it? Do we really “listen”? Or do we unconsciously make the necessary adjustments so that the writer’s words fit into the molds we already carry in our heads? And lastly, do we pick our reading material expecting a confirmation of what we suspect or because we hope to find new paths for our thoughts? I have an answer only to the last one: I think it depends on age. The younger we are the more we expect to be guided, the older we get the more we want affirmation, lest our carefully constructed mindset falls apart; more often than not we find that too exhausting. I should present the books analyzed. But I won’t. Anyone interested can see them in the book description here on GR. I will only say that in each of the ten chapters, apart from a brief presentation of one or two books, an engrossing journey takes place. A journey both into the core of the book, as it was perceived by Gornick at the time(s) she read it, as well as into the core of her psyche at those phases of her life. I thought I had a revelation when it occurred to me that each chapter resembles a session between therapist and analysand (with Gornick playing both parts) but when I reached the end and turned to the gorgeous introduction for a re-read, there it was in the very first sentence: “It has often been my experience that re-reading a book that was important to me at earlier times in my life is something like lying on the analyst’s couch.” That’s how fast we forget, how little attention we sometimes pay to what we’ve just read! I think that the common theme among the books discussed, the idea that haunts and inspires all the authors mentioned is the solitude of self, the existential loneliness, the self-alienation. Call it what you like, we have all known, more or less, at one time or another, what we’re talking about here. That, and the (often distorted) ways people find to assuage the angst that comes with it. Here in Christminster, stripped of the dream of life that kept him company for so many years, he suddenly sees himself as a creature alone in a hostile universe….how limited is the power of shared sensibility to save us from the primeval ooze within ourselves, ever waiting to flood the pain of insufficient self-knowledge. On Hardy’s “Jude the Obscure”. The irony – disconnect drives one to pleasure; pleasure acts on one like a drug; to be drugged is to feel the disconnect even more acutely – struck her as existentially profound. On Duras’ “ The Lover”. Set in London in the fall of 1942, it is preoccupied with the unknown within ourselves breaking through during a time of devastation, revealing the fatal lack of fellow feeling beneath the civilized surface we assume as a second skin. On Bowen’s “The Heat of the Day”. Extraordinary, when one comes to think about it, the compelling need to bend ourselves out of shape, rationalize trade-offs of an incredible variety, endure a lifetime of intermingled pleasure and pain – all in order to not be alone. On Ginzburg’s essay “He and I”. And this remarkable sentence from the chapter devoted to D.H. Lawrence’s “Sons and Lovers”: Not only does sexual ecstasy not deliver us to ourselves, one must have a self already in place to know what to do with it, should it come. But solitude is not always bad, of course; not when it’s put to good use. Here’s Gornick’s take on it: “All that I needed was there in the room with me. I was there in the room with me. Nothing else in my life – neither love nor the promise of wealth or fame or even good health – would ever match the feeling of being alone to myself- real to myself – that writing gave me.” I want to close this on a hopeful note because this book is not bleak. It is delightful in its condensed wisdom and sharp insight that can only make us richer by urging us to read or re-read the works mentioned, if only to compare notes with a very perceptive chronic re-reader and thinker. Here she is, in her own words: Once again, I found myself reading differently. I took out the books – novels in particular- I had read and reread, and read them again. This time around I saw that whatever the story, whatever the style, whatever the period, the central drama in literary work was nearly always dependent on the perniciousness of the human self-divide: the fear and ignorance it generates, the shame it gives rise to, the debilitating mystery in which it enshrouds us. I also saw that invariably what made the work of a good book affecting – and this was something implicit in the writing, trapped somewhere in the nerves of the prose – was some haunted imagining of human existence with the rift healed, the parts brought together, the hunger for connection put in brilliant working order. Great literature, I thought then and think now, is a record not of achievement of wholeness of being but of the ingrained effort made on its behalf.

  4. 5 out of 5

    lark benobi

    I got to the end of this brief collection of literary essays thinking that I'd very much like to have Vivien Gornick over for dinner. She is an interesting person. She and I have almost nothing in common when it comes to reading, or re-reading, and that was a bit of a barrier when it came to enjoying her literary criticism. These brief essays make assumptions about how people read and I just am so not like her this way. Hmm, to give an example...well she is just very, very character-focused, ide I got to the end of this brief collection of literary essays thinking that I'd very much like to have Vivien Gornick over for dinner. She is an interesting person. She and I have almost nothing in common when it comes to reading, or re-reading, and that was a bit of a barrier when it came to enjoying her literary criticism. These brief essays make assumptions about how people read and I just am so not like her this way. Hmm, to give an example...well she is just very, very character-focused, identifying with fictional characters and deriving meanings from their actions as if they were real people making choices. I honestly never read this way. I read for theme and movement and language and I'm constantly aware of characters as vessels for a certain philosophy or point of view that was important to the author...if I identify with anyone, it's the author. Recognizing this difference in how I approach my reading was interesting, too, somehow--that we might be reading the same book or looking at the same page and getting something completely different from it--but it was distancing to me that Gornick didn't seem to be aware that there are many ways to read, and re-read. I think if she came over for dinner I'd be doing a lot of listening.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    What a complete pleasure this book was! I loved listening to Gornick ruminate over her layered impressions of books throughout the course of her life. It made me pull too many books off the shelf in the hopes of (somehow) finding time to reread old favorites. It also made me wish more people took on this project. It should be a column somewhere! But, really, Gornick’s keen memory, honest impressions, and incredible prose made this book sing. This doesn’t feel like a vanity project (as it may wit What a complete pleasure this book was! I loved listening to Gornick ruminate over her layered impressions of books throughout the course of her life. It made me pull too many books off the shelf in the hopes of (somehow) finding time to reread old favorites. It also made me wish more people took on this project. It should be a column somewhere! But, really, Gornick’s keen memory, honest impressions, and incredible prose made this book sing. This doesn’t feel like a vanity project (as it may with others); her clear voice encourages you to challenge yourself and your memories.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    A beautiful book on the process of forgetting and remembering the books that we’ve read as we visit them again later in life. This book can help mend the anxieties that readers have about forgetting most of what they read with Gornick’s experience of giving new meaning to books that she has already read. I loved that she described the feeling of thinking of a book as mediocre on the first read vs. a change in opinion later on in life: “It’s the same between a reader and a book that becomes an i A beautiful book on the process of forgetting and remembering the books that we’ve read as we visit them again later in life. This book can help mend the anxieties that readers have about forgetting most of what they read with Gornick’s experience of giving new meaning to books that she has already read. I loved that she described the feeling of thinking of a book as mediocre on the first read vs. a change in opinion later on in life: “It’s the same between a reader and a book that becomes an intimate you very nearly did not encounter with an open mind or a welcoming heart because you were not in the right mood; that is, in a state of readiness.” I found her experiences to be engrossing and never boring or repetitive. It’s a book that I’ll be thinking about as I continue to read and revisit my favorites.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Cedricsmom

    This book is a good example of what happens when a book doesn't meet my expectations and doesn't interest me on its own terms, either: it gets an enthusiastic 2 out of 5 stars. I'd never heard of Vivian Gornick. I heard her discuss this book on the New York Times Book Review Podcast with Pamela Paul, which I listen to like religion. Nothing caps off my work week like jumping in my truck at 5:00 on Friday and turning on this podcast as I commute from work. Since rereading is a new habit I'm develo This book is a good example of what happens when a book doesn't meet my expectations and doesn't interest me on its own terms, either: it gets an enthusiastic 2 out of 5 stars. I'd never heard of Vivian Gornick. I heard her discuss this book on the New York Times Book Review Podcast with Pamela Paul, which I listen to like religion. Nothing caps off my work week like jumping in my truck at 5:00 on Friday and turning on this podcast as I commute from work. Since rereading is a new habit I'm developing, a book on the topic seemed like the right book at the right time. If only. I wanted to hear about the why, what, how, when, and wherefores of re-reading. But no. This book focused on specific authors and books that I either hadn't read or didn't care about. If there was any generalizing about rereading, I missed it. The Introduction pulled me in, of course, because otherwise why bother with the book at all. Sadly, that's where the party ended. First of all, Gornick is 20+ years older than me, quite a difference in generations. Books that were scandalous in her generation (Sons and Lovers and various books by Colette) were required high school reading for my generation, simply because they were racy. Actually the book's first chapter discusses what she thought she read in Sons and Lovers and what she actually read when she went back to it decades later, with a lot of living and experience under her belt. Chapter 1 was actually not half bad and made me think perhaps I'll re-read Sons and Lovers myself. On further reflection, it sounds pretty depressing so I'll pass. In later chapters Gornick talks about Elizabeth Bowen, AB Yehoshua, and several feminist writers that were foundational to the women's movement of the 1960s. Snoozefest! Of course I'm familiar with rereading a book and discovering that it's not what I've remembered for decades. For that reason, some books I refuse to re-read. I like the memory I have about those books and I don't want that ruined. When I read The Catcher in the Rye for the first time in my 20s, I thought it was hysterically funny. When I reread it in my 50s, it broke my heart. Here was a kid in a mental hospital, not even 20 years old. I still hold Catcher up as a favorite, and I will read it again. I even look forward to what I will discover on reading #3. But Flowers for Algernon? That one made me cry the first time around, and I still think of it as a terrifically sad book, and I want to keep it that way. Those are only 2 examples. Perhaps if Gornick had discussed books more familiar to me, I would've gotten more out of her book. If you're looking for books about rereading, skip this one unless you share something with Gornick or you like her other work. The book wasn't what I hoped it was, and I wasn't interested in what it actually was. I'm still looking for books that address rereading. Got any ideas? P.S. The first paragraph of Chapter 3 was probably my favorite in the entire book, a short segment from Duras's novel The Lover.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca H.

    Love to read about books? Unfinished Business is one of the best meditations on books and reading I’ve ever come across. Vivian Gornick uses books to chart how she has changed over the years. She rereads some of her favorites, including works by D.H. Lawrence, Colette, Marguerite Duras, Doris Lessing, Natalia Ginzburg, and others, and contemplates the new meanings the books have accumulated. She writes about her life with warmth and verve, and her stories will fascinate whether you know anything Love to read about books? Unfinished Business is one of the best meditations on books and reading I’ve ever come across. Vivian Gornick uses books to chart how she has changed over the years. She rereads some of her favorites, including works by D.H. Lawrence, Colette, Marguerite Duras, Doris Lessing, Natalia Ginzburg, and others, and contemplates the new meanings the books have accumulated. She writes about her life with warmth and verve, and her stories will fascinate whether you know anything about Gornick or not. Her insights into literature are rich and feel honest and hard-earned. Gornick is a captivating writer: her energetic prose style combined with sharp intelligence years of wisdom make for a wonderful read. https://bookriot.com/new-genre-bendin...

  9. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    The painful thing about Gornick's re-readings is that all of them are rejected on revisit — neither Duras's appetite, Colette’s independence, or Sue Bridehead's abstinence hold up. Same. I’m a faint 200 pp into re-reading Middlemarch and can’t bear Dorothea’s choice. Don’t do it. I know. I’ve read this before. But then, reading new with Gornick? Always a pleasure: “Tolstoy once said that if he was asked to write on social or political questions, he would not waste one word on the subject, but if a The painful thing about Gornick's re-readings is that all of them are rejected on revisit — neither Duras's appetite, Colette’s independence, or Sue Bridehead's abstinence hold up. Same. I’m a faint 200 pp into re-reading Middlemarch and can’t bear Dorothea’s choice. Don’t do it. I know. I’ve read this before. But then, reading new with Gornick? Always a pleasure: “Tolstoy once said that if he was asked to write on social or political questions, he would not waste one word on the subject, but if asked to write a book which twenty years from the time it was written would make people laugh and cry and love life more, to this he would bend all his efforts.”

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chaitra

    This is not a book that I meant to pick up. I've never read anything written by Vivian Gornick ever. I don't have the same lived in experience as her. I certainly don't have the same taste in reading as she does. But I didn't think I'd get lit-crit about a few books that she has re-read over time, I thought it would be a more general approach to rereading. I have read a few of the books or authors she mentions, but none really made a mark, and Gornick didn't sell them enough, except for Pat Bark This is not a book that I meant to pick up. I've never read anything written by Vivian Gornick ever. I don't have the same lived in experience as her. I certainly don't have the same taste in reading as she does. But I didn't think I'd get lit-crit about a few books that she has re-read over time, I thought it would be a more general approach to rereading. I have read a few of the books or authors she mentions, but none really made a mark, and Gornick didn't sell them enough, except for Pat Barker's Regeneration, which I already wanted to read. Maybe the J. L. Carr too, if I can get my hands on it. She has had better luck with her rereads than I have. I used to reread books far more often when I was younger, when I wouldn't let enough time pass between two reads of a book, when I was essentially the same person with the same views. It worked, because in India access to books did not come cheap. Rereading was essential if I didn't want to end up broke. But then I came to the US, and discovered its wonderful library system, and suddenly I had so many books that I didn't have to reread any book ever again. The ones that I did read again, left a bad taste in my mouth - (*Little Women*). I was really hoping this book would make me appreciate the joys of re-reading, because sometimes it can be rewarding, but I didn't find any of that, except for the confirmation that people change, ideas change, and you notice different things at different times because of your mood, the side of the bed you woke up on, or because different issues matter more or less to you now. I don't mean to sound superior, but I already knew that. On the plus side, Gornick's writing is great. I'd read another topic by her without hesitation.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Vivian Gornick on books and reading, and speaking directly to my own reading soul: "The companionateness of those books! Of all books. Nothing can match it. It's the longing for coherence inscribed in the work--that extraordinary attempt at shaping the inchoate through words--it brings peace and excitement, comfort and consolation." (p.4) Well yes, and I'll have that on a T-shirt please. Gornick's close engagement with her own reading and her clear-eyed observations of her own shifting responses Vivian Gornick on books and reading, and speaking directly to my own reading soul: "The companionateness of those books! Of all books. Nothing can match it. It's the longing for coherence inscribed in the work--that extraordinary attempt at shaping the inchoate through words--it brings peace and excitement, comfort and consolation." (p.4) Well yes, and I'll have that on a T-shirt please. Gornick's close engagement with her own reading and her clear-eyed observations of her own shifting responses to the meaningful books in her life were already enough to add this little book as a friendly presence on my bookshelves, but keeping this one became inevitable when I got to the chapter chronicling her experience adopting two cats. You had me at "The companionateness of those books!" Gornick, but you sealed the deal with your tale of Cat One and Cat Two and this: "Although it remains the lifelong need of these cats to not accommodate me, neither can they bear for me to long forget their existence." (p.142)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    Vivian Gornick is one of my favorite writers. And in spirit I completely appreciate what she is doing here, telling the story of her life through books she has reread throughout it. And yet, its a little hard to embrace this book with a full heart if you aren't familiar with the authors or novels she's talking about. If you're new to Gornick, start with Fierce Attachments or Odd Woman in the City instead. Vivian Gornick is one of my favorite writers. And in spirit I completely appreciate what she is doing here, telling the story of her life through books she has reread throughout it. And yet, its a little hard to embrace this book with a full heart if you aren't familiar with the authors or novels she's talking about. If you're new to Gornick, start with Fierce Attachments or Odd Woman in the City instead.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    Vivian Gornick has been a reader and a rereader all her life. “I sometimes think I was born reading . . . I can’t remember the time when I didn’t have a book in my hands, my head lost to the world around me.” In this book, she closely looks at her reads and rereads of notable books that impacted her life—-Sons and Lovers, the books of Colette, Jude the Obscure, A Month in the Country, the works of Elizabeth Bowen, The Lover, among others—-and compares how her rereads brought her a richer experien Vivian Gornick has been a reader and a rereader all her life. “I sometimes think I was born reading . . . I can’t remember the time when I didn’t have a book in my hands, my head lost to the world around me.” In this book, she closely looks at her reads and rereads of notable books that impacted her life—-Sons and Lovers, the books of Colette, Jude the Obscure, A Month in the Country, the works of Elizabeth Bowen, The Lover, among others—-and compares how her rereads brought her a richer experience, a truer experience each time she indulged.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    A critic and journalist considers how a lifetime of experience has opened her eyes to new meanings in old books. See full review here: https://openlettersreview.com/posts/u... A critic and journalist considers how a lifetime of experience has opened her eyes to new meanings in old books. See full review here: https://openlettersreview.com/posts/u...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alice

    A beautiful book. Both sharp and gentle and full of hope. Gornick’s voice is one to live by.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Varsha Ravi (between.bookends)

    Part literary criticisms and part snippets from Gornick's own life experiences, in Unfinished Business she makes a compelling and urgent case that rereading not only enlightens facets of one's own recollection of a book but also an opportunity to alter perceptions of oneself. So much of literature is a reflection of life, parallels drawn from the author's own experiences and circumstances poured into the page, whilst also serving the reader a lens to reflect on their own lives. An opportunity to Part literary criticisms and part snippets from Gornick's own life experiences, in Unfinished Business she makes a compelling and urgent case that rereading not only enlightens facets of one's own recollection of a book but also an opportunity to alter perceptions of oneself. So much of literature is a reflection of life, parallels drawn from the author's own experiences and circumstances poured into the page, whilst also serving the reader a lens to reflect on their own lives. An opportunity to identify within the character's inner turmoil, desires and disappointments, very human experiences that often mirror our own. In a particularly insightful essay, Gornick examines rereading Elizabeth Bowen's work, characters with seemingly stunted empathy with a pathological tendency to self-sabotage. Interweaving through her assessment of Bowen's works, Gornick reflects on a time in her young life when she allowed herself to steadfastly hold on to a man, well aware that he was nothing short of a ticking time bomb. The vulnerability and clarity with which she examines her younger self is deeply moving, describing her relationship with the said man as,'It was as though knowing him had brought into consciousness some primitive set of hungers that I could neither identify nor hope to satisfy on my own.... I was in thrall to some romantic ideal of trust between us (the one he routinely betrayed) that provided all the excuse I needed to persist in the delusion that I was grounding myself, all the while I remained in free fall.' In the opening essay, she examines revisiting D.H.Lawrence's Sons and Lovers at different points in her life. You get to see the evolution of her thought and the forming of a richer, more perspicacious understanding of the novel with each visit. In another, she assesses womanhood, the trials and tribulations through the works of Colette. Each essay delves into the work of a particular author and Gornick uses it as a lens to illuminate a version of her own life, from girlhood, adolescence to adulthood. An incredibly perceptive, probing essay collection that I can't recommend enough.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Adelman

    A friend passed this book on to me because she had enjoyed it and couldn't return it to our local library for a while, due to the COVID related closure. Gornick dives into some novels that I haven't read yet, in very intriguing interpretations that make me want to read them. That would have been reason enough to read this book. But it is the premise of the book -- that those of us who reread books that have previously engaged us find ourselves almost reading a different book, because of our circ A friend passed this book on to me because she had enjoyed it and couldn't return it to our local library for a while, due to the COVID related closure. Gornick dives into some novels that I haven't read yet, in very intriguing interpretations that make me want to read them. That would have been reason enough to read this book. But it is the premise of the book -- that those of us who reread books that have previously engaged us find ourselves almost reading a different book, because of our circumstances, lived experience and changes in our emotional and intellectual development-- that intrigued me the most. Gornick is an honest and self-searching writer. Often enough I have to go over her sentences a few times before I think I understand her claim. That's a good thing. She's a complex thinker. (I read a book on a long trip last December on a Kindle. The book totally engaged and mesmerized me. I bought a hard copy of it a few months later because I wanted to reread it in print, not digitally. Even only a couple months later, and the difference really being digital vs. print, made me engage the book in a different way.)

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jenn McKee

    Always hard to be objective about Gornick's work, because I have a mild case of PTSD from once being in a workshop of hers that was, uh, intense? But she is nonetheless really, really compelling to read, particularly in regard to unpacking her responses to books. (They're almost always books I've never read, admittedly, but still. Fascinating to follow her evolving responses to the same works over time.) Part of becoming a skilled writer is becoming a skilled reader, and you see Gornick firing o Always hard to be objective about Gornick's work, because I have a mild case of PTSD from once being in a workshop of hers that was, uh, intense? But she is nonetheless really, really compelling to read, particularly in regard to unpacking her responses to books. (They're almost always books I've never read, admittedly, but still. Fascinating to follow her evolving responses to the same works over time.) Part of becoming a skilled writer is becoming a skilled reader, and you see Gornick firing on all cylinders re: both here. It's kind of a marvel to witness. I mean, the very best personal essays invite us to watch someone digging down intellectually to get at a hard-won truth, so it's satisfying and thrilling to be along for the ride. And there was more autobiographical asides than I was expecting, always used to elucidate the book in question. I must confess, I'm not a re-reader by nature, but this book makes a pretty convincing case to revisit books that meant something to us earlier in our lives.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Muffin

    I really enjoyed this book a great deal. I felt sort of lost, unfortunately, having read almost none of the books Gornick discusses here. Sort of like my experience with Teju Cole’s Open City, I emerge from this ready happy and daunted by my new assignments. This definitely makes me want to read more by Vivian Gornick, though, since this was her first book I’d read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Genevieve Brassard

    A quick and fun read, especially if you’re familiar with the books and authors she talks about, but if you’re not, she’ll make you curious to check them out (I now want to read Natalia Ginzburg, for example🙂). The Bowen chapter was my favorite, but of course I’m biased 😉 And now I want to read more Gornick titles too!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Akosua Adasi

    Gornick’s tender exploration of a variety of texts get she has revisited over time is so delightful that it made me form brief attachments to texts I hadn’t read before. She writes with a thoughtfulness and humor that cannot be practiced and this is a book I’d read again.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    Gornick reflects on how the same text communicates to us differently, depending on who we are at the moment we read it. While this is interesting and true, I found myself unfamiliar with most of the texts she analyzed. Thus I was not ready to fully appreciate her intimate thoughts about them.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    In this book, Vivian Gornick writes about books that she has re-read, either once or multiple times. She discusses how each reading is different, mostly because she has changed since she previously read the book. I have not read any of the books she discusses, and I am only inclined to go and read one of those. However, her observations about her own reading, and her own life made for fascinating reading. Gornick is so very honest about herself.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    There were some interesting insights in this book, the first one I have read by Gornick. But these were sporadic and this and her reading voice on Audible earned it a 3. Not recommended.

  25. 5 out of 5

    fran

    very good, of course! and gave me a whole new list of books to read. always smart to remember that readiness is temperamental and forming an opinion on something takes a long, thoughtful time :^)

  26. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    This is fine, although I found it kind of hard to really get into the author’s narration of re-reading the specific books she chose to discuss because I have only read one of them - Carr’s A Month in the Country - and others were very unfamiliar to me. It could be generational - based on events Gornick talks about in her life she’s approximately my parents’ age. Books that I read and found to be touchstones that I return to are definitely not the same books that they found meaningful for them. I This is fine, although I found it kind of hard to really get into the author’s narration of re-reading the specific books she chose to discuss because I have only read one of them - Carr’s A Month in the Country - and others were very unfamiliar to me. It could be generational - based on events Gornick talks about in her life she’s approximately my parents’ age. Books that I read and found to be touchstones that I return to are definitely not the same books that they found meaningful for them. I also didn’t get a sense, from this book, the breadth of Gornick’s taste in reading. The writing was quite nice, though, very readable.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Camila - Books Through My Veins

    At some point last year, my hunger for essays became an issue. Now, I cannot resist the temptation of getting my hands on any collection of essays that discuss reading or, in this case, re-reading. I was utterly curious about Gornick's essays because re-reading is a controversial aspect of a reader's life: some love re-reading, others claim not having time to and are too overwhelmed by new releases. But these essays weren't really about that. Doubtlessly, Gornick's insights on re-reading were co At some point last year, my hunger for essays became an issue. Now, I cannot resist the temptation of getting my hands on any collection of essays that discuss reading or, in this case, re-reading. I was utterly curious about Gornick's essays because re-reading is a controversial aspect of a reader's life: some love re-reading, others claim not having time to and are too overwhelmed by new releases. But these essays weren't really about that. Doubtlessly, Gornick's insights on re-reading were compelling and entertaining, but they weren't what I was expecting. Gornick talks about her personal experience re-reading certain books, and unfortunately, I have not read any of the books she discussed. Furthermore, her essays are deeply personal, and they delve more into the political climate around the release of each book than 'actual' or 'generic' re-reading. Adding that I did not understand the particular references to each book, I felt too underwhelmed for my liking. However, Gornick's essays inspired me to pick every single book she discussed. I'm hoping to re-read the essays through a different lens once I have the minimum understanding of each novel to truly comprehend Gornick's point of view. Her writing was fantastic: concise, straight-forward and impactful, and I cannot wait to give this collection of essays another go and have a completely different experience. Overall, Unfinished Business is an insightful and deeply personal collection of essays that delve into the author's experience reading and re-reading particular books throughout her life. I'd recommend it to readers who have already read the following authors' works: D. H. Lawrence, Colette, Marguerite Duras, Elizabeth Bowen, Delmore Schwartz, Natalia Ginzburg, J. L. Carr, Pat Barker, Doris Lessing and Thomas Hardy.

  28. 4 out of 5

    David Dunlap

    This book was something of a surprise to me: I was expecting a paean to the joys of re-reading books. Instead, this is a quasi-memoir, as the author discusses books she has re-read...and how her view of them has changed, due to her changed circumstances. I found the book/author descriptions interesting (I haven't read any of the novels she writes about), but, on the whole, the book was something of a disappointment. There was not enough criticism to make for a book about literature; there were i This book was something of a surprise to me: I was expecting a paean to the joys of re-reading books. Instead, this is a quasi-memoir, as the author discusses books she has re-read...and how her view of them has changed, due to her changed circumstances. I found the book/author descriptions interesting (I haven't read any of the novels she writes about), but, on the whole, the book was something of a disappointment. There was not enough criticism to make for a book about literature; there were insufficient personal details to make for a satisfying memoir. (Perhaps I'll need to re-read this one at some future time! lol)

  29. 4 out of 5

    Carey Calvert

    I think there is enough new material to read without resorting to older material. Unless, and this is an important “unless,” researching a project. Who knows? A line could grab me as I tread deeper, falling in love again with the prose, or a character, or simply nuance.   Vivian Gornick, esteemed author of several acclaimed books, including Fierce Attachments, named the best memoir of the past fifty years, by the New York Times Book Review in 2019, developed the idea for Unfinished Business: Notes I think there is enough new material to read without resorting to older material. Unless, and this is an important “unless,” researching a project. Who knows? A line could grab me as I tread deeper, falling in love again with the prose, or a character, or simply nuance.   Vivian Gornick, esteemed author of several acclaimed books, including Fierce Attachments, named the best memoir of the past fifty years, by the New York Times Book Review in 2019, developed the idea for Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader, when a friend invited her to re-read Howard’s End, which neither of them had looked at in decades. According to Alexandra Schwartz, from a New Yorker article in February, Gornick “was shocked to find how different E. M. Forster’s text was from her memory of it. So she decided to revisit books that had influenced her in one way or another, and to write about what she found in them, and in herself.”   “The result is a hybrid of Gornick’s two genres, criticism and memoir, and it puts the reader in mind of the Nelson Mandela quotation about returning to a place only to find out how much you yourself have changed.”   This slim volume purrs like the cats with whom she’s become enamored; not at first, of course, but much like Gornick’s writing, emotive and passionate, she learns. In fact, Chapter Eight is a fascinating story of her adopting a cat and tying that to Doris Lessing’s book, Particularly Cats. Gornick has been a devotee of Lessing’s since college. What I found exciting was Gornick’s treatment of D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, a book I haven’t read, but in Gornick’s more than capable hands, has encouraged me to read.   “I read the book in one gulp.”                                                               She read the novel 3 times in 15 years, and each time identified with another of its major characters. When she first read it, at the ripe age of 20, felt herself “communing with the primitive conflict at the heart of the tale.” On the back cover of Unfinished Business, Gornick writes “I sometimes think I was born reading. I can’t remember the time when I didn’t have a book in my hands, my head lost to the world around me.” I don’t know what I expected when I picked up Unfinished Business but it’s opened my eyes to deeper critical analysis heretofore unexplored. The author Sarah Broom, who received the National Book Award for Nonfiction for her own memoir, The Yellow House, was asked recently, “Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?” Invoking the spirit of Unfinished Business and summarizing it perfectly, she answered “Books speak to us differently at different times.”   Indeed.      

  30. 5 out of 5

    Howard Cincotta

    Vivian Gornick continues to document her passionate engagement with literature and writing by rereading books, classics and near-classics, that shaped her life and relationships from her teenage years to middle age. In these essays, she adeptly weaves crackling analysis with great empathy and insight into her evolution as a writer — as well as a woman and a Jewish-American. Gornick rereads authors I honestly may never get around to (D.H. Lawrence, Colette) and those I hope to tackle in the future Vivian Gornick continues to document her passionate engagement with literature and writing by rereading books, classics and near-classics, that shaped her life and relationships from her teenage years to middle age. In these essays, she adeptly weaves crackling analysis with great empathy and insight into her evolution as a writer — as well as a woman and a Jewish-American. Gornick rereads authors I honestly may never get around to (D.H. Lawrence, Colette) and those I hope to tackle in the future (Marguerite Duras's The Lover, Natalia Ginzberg, Israeli writer A.B. Yehoshua). Yet her insights into them all — especially the contrasts between her young and older readings of them — are fascinating and insightful. Gornick's conclusion is not so much that her twenty-something self got it wrong, but how often she strangely misremembers these works upon later rereading. Her understanding of D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, for example, shifted from the quest for Love (with a capital "L") to understanding the message as, "Not only does sexual ecstasy not deliver us to ourselves, one must have a self already in place to know what to do with it, should it come." The limits of love and sex dominate her sympathetic but cool-eyed discussion of books by Colette and Duras as well. Of Duras's account of a teenage girl's affair, Gornick writes, "A life in service to desire only confirmed what she had learned in the shuttered room in the Chinese quarter in Saigon in 1932: that she was alone, alone was what she was, and never more so than in the pursuit of pleasure unto death." In many of the essays, Gornick shifts her focus from eroticism to women and feminism. One of her most interesting insights about ethnicity and gender occurs during a trip to Israel and an encounter with Yehoshua: "It flashed on me then that when I was growing up it was only the boys who were being prepared to become Americans…. By the time it was my turn to lay claim to something that resembled a withheld American birthright, it was not as a Jew but as a woman that life began to feel metaphorical." In the same essay, she delivers a moving account of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's last address as head of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, one in which she mourned the irreducible loneliness to which all individuals are condemned. Stanton said, "Alike amid the greatest triumphs and darkest tragedies of life we walk alone." Gornick's answer comes at the end, when she tapes together the fluttering pages of a yellowing paperback, claiming the power of connection that can derive from writing, and reading.

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