Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The First Book of 2010

I have finished my first book of the new year -- My Father Is A Book by Janna Malamud Smith. It is a warm, intimate account of her life and relationship with her father, the author, Bernard Malamud.

Smith provides a rare glimpse of an author's daily life. Two passages serve to capture the tone of her superb memoir:

"He wrote in blue or black ink, often in later years with a Bic ballpoint pen, on yellow unlined paper, a pile of which he kept in a desk drawer. He spaced the lines intending correction and would begin each morning by rereading and editing what he'd written the day before. . . . His process was so private, so easily interrupted that I rarely witnessed him putting words on paper. . . . Then he would rewrite. And rewrite. Usually two or three times, occasionally into the double digits of drafts. His sentences and paragraphs were hard won, the result of considered thought and constant revision. He understood that effort and discipline made up his strong suit, and at least once he said that his success had come from 10 percent talent and 90 percent hard work."

She recalls the summer she was 16 and began to borrow from her father's library as she embarked on her first serious reading:

"I'd interrupt him in his study to replace one (book) and take another, or to tell him about something I was learning, recite a poem I had lately memorized, or simply to get him to explain some idea. He delighted in my intellectual awakening. I enjoyed holding his attention. But more than that, I found him then, at his quiet best. They were moments of deep compatibility; easy, comfortable closeness; conversations with a friend. His study is still where I cherish him most; where is exactly my loving, beloved father."

Tomorrow I begin Larry McMurty's most recent memoir, Literary Life.

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