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, she writes about the importance of reading―and re-reading―as life progresses.
Gornick’s new book is part memoiristic collage, part literary criticism, yet it is also an urgent argument that rereading offers the opportunity not just to correct and adjust one’s recollection of a book but to correct and adjust one’s perception of oneself ... If there’s something both simplistic and almost academic-seeming in that prescription for greater enlightenment, Gornick’s lively, personable book is evidence of the pleasure that can result from the endeavor. Unfinished Business is sneakily poignant ... the book moves beyond these elegantly rendered but somewhat superficial dimensions of her life to traverse her greatest disappointments ... It is one of the great ironies of consuming literature that as much as we read to expand our minds, we often take in only whatever it is that we are primed to absorb at a particular moment. Do not, Gornick says in this brief, incisive book, let that be the end of it.
... a chronicle of the protean perceptions and interpretations drawn from among the books that have, for one reason or another, stayed with Gornick through the passage of decades. Unfinished Business does not present as a work of literary criticism per se. While it is concerned with interpretation and meaning, its fundamental focus is on that most peculiar of phenomena, the way that texts appear to change as we reread them throughout our lives ... the book’s aim is critical mainly in its attempt to demonstrate the ways that meaning is generated by response, and Gornick certainly is convincing when she takes the perceived textual qualities of realness and life and brings them to bear on her own life, particularly in those cases where what had appeared to be real and living to the twenty-year-old Gornick is not at all what seems to the thirty- or sixty- or eighty-year-old Gornick to possess those qualities ... My own response to Gornick’s insights varied. Gornick’s resolute desire to frame her view of literature in terms of its emotional component seems to me to falter a little when it encounters more formidable roadblocks thrown up by style ... If I happen to feel that Gornick’s response to Duras is a little tortured—that Duras does not yield easily to the sort of inquiry to which Gornick seeks to subject her—there lies the heart of Unfinished Business: Gornick and I both find so much of interest in The Lover, and yet her interests and my own seem scarcely to intersect ... our interest in Unfinished Business lies less in her hypotheses and conclusions than it does in her process of evaluating and reevaluating books, and consequently in the sort of woman Gornick believes herself to be and to have been through the successive stages of her life.
...[an] enchanting and addictive little book—whose size and shape make it feel like it contains epigrams and instructions for life when in fact it contains not so much instructions for life, but life itself ... Like some of [Gornick's] other books, Unfinished Business takes up literary criticism in Gornick’s distinctly participatory way; putting the " ‘personal’ and the ‘journalism’ together proportionally,” as she says in her introduction ... Delmore Schwartz, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Natalia Ginzburg, and Thomas Hardy...all are reexperienced in the same lucid, mercilessly penetrating way.