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Myself and Strangers: A Memoir of Apprenticeshipby John Graves
Synopses & Reviews
In Myself and Strangers, the much admired author of Goodbye to a River and other nonfiction classics recounts his long, winding journey toward becoming a writer in the years after World
Drawing upon memory and his journals, Graves moves quickly through his early days in Texas and his brief dramatic stint in the Pacific with the marines. The story starts in earnest with the year after the war, when his quest to find himself takes him to Mexico, where he punches out his young man’s recollections on an old portable typewriter, beginning a lifelong habit of looking inward, of observation and note-taking. We follow him to Martha Foley’s famous short fiction class at Columbia University, and then to Europe, where he spends nearly three years in 1950s Spain, part of the expat communities of Mallorca, Madrid, and Tenerife, keeping the journals that form the basis of this memoir.
We meet dozens of fascinating people: the large and generous Park Benjamin, who put him up in Mexico City; the restless, self-involved expatriates of Mallorca; Pepe Mut and other Spanish friends Graves sails and fishes with, and who allow him to become acquainted with the real Spain; and many other artists and writers, both famous and unknown.
It is a time of serious work and serious play, but whether cheering at a bullfight, sipping a strong local wine at a Canary Island literary salon, or spearing crustaceans underwater, Graves never forgets his deep-seated literary ambition. “I would like so God-damned much to write something worth writing,” he says in an early journal entry. And we see him producing, despite many false starts, a stream of stories and articles and the beginning of a novel.
By the end of Myself and Strangers, Graves has returned to Texas, where he finds both his true voice and the world that has become the focus of much of his admired work. Here is a wonderfully revealing portrait of a young writer on his way—of the strivings, struggles, and self-scrutiny that marked the beginning of an extraordinary literary career.
"[A] thought-provoking work....Despite abbreviated characterizations, Graves is a master of visual detail, and his journey unfolds with the picturesque clarity of a film." Publishers Weekly
"A gentle, civilized memoir, as comfortable as an eiderdown but not without a certain goatishness....Exotic but identifiable experiences into which readers can pleasurably insinuate themselves." Kirkus Reviews
"[An] engagingly dry memoir....Graves' art is so deft that readers used to bullet points may wonder when he'll get to the point — but that's a lesson in itself." Keir Graff, Booklist
"[Graves] is much more than a regional writer, as evidenced by this memoir....Graves's often wry comments are sprinkled between the journal entries, as Old John reflects on Young John." Library Journal
About the Author
John Graves was born in Texas and educated at Rice and Columbia universities. He has published a number of books, chiefly nonfiction concerned with his home region. He currently lives with his wife on some four hundred acres of rough Texas hill country, which he described in Hard Scrabble.
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