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The Norton Book of American Autobiography by…

The Norton Book of American Autobiography

by Jay Parini

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 039304677X, Hardcover)

Rounding up all the usual suspects (Benjamin Franklin to Mary Karr) as well as some once-popular authors now criminally neglected (Ulysses S. Grant, Lucy Larcom), editor Jay Parini has assembled 62 entries that amply attest to both the diversity of American autobiography and its essential coherence. It's been a long two and a half centuries from the majestic, near-biblical cadences of Jonathan Edwards's chronicle of his striving towards God to the intimate (some might say whiny) tone in which Elizabeth Wurtzel examines her generation's reliance on friends to heal the wounds inflicted by family. But both of these writers and most of those in between delineate a very American process of self-discovery and enlightenment. Parini manages to represent most of the genre's important contributors: African Americans (including W.E.B. Du Bois and Malcolm X); women (from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Terry Tempest Williams); nature writers (Thoreau, of course, and Annie Dillard); and today's nothing-is-off-limits confessors (Caroline Knapp on booze, Paul Monette on AIDS). Those readers who are familiar with the books from which most of these pieces are excerpted may find their brevity frustrating, but Parini has gone for breadth rather than depth. Consider this a collection of tasty hors d'oeuvres designed to whet individual readers' appetites for full-course offerings from the chefs they find most appealing. --Wendy Smith

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:06 -0400)

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