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.
Chronic rereaders of the author’s essays, criticism, biographies, and memoirs will recognize in her spare and elegant new book, Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader, a familiar commitment to class consciousness, cultural politics, gender, and close reading — not only of literature, but of daily human relationships ... Unfinished Business takes us somewhere else with the same anecdote — further down the line of self-knowledge, through the aftermath of second-wave feminism, to the 'unfinished business' that fuels Gornick’s present interest in rereading ... To read Gornick’s unabashed insights, with their hallmark clarity and searching self-scrutiny, is balm for the soul in uncertain times: this new book arrives at a good moment ... for Gornick, rereading, like reading, is also about pleasure, good company, playful internal dialogue, and intimacy ... The essays in Unfinished Business are hybrid forms in which literary analysis, close reading, personal narrative, anecdotal aside, and sudden revelation alternate and combine. Which is to say they are essays par excellence, in the best, most old-fashioned sense of the form, à la Montaigne, De Quincey, Woolf, Orwell, Ginzburg, James Baldwin ... The effect is to telescope reading and writing, in past, present, and future tenses: we are all patchwork and collage, haunted for better or worse by our experiences and ideas, and how we have tried to reckon with them — in life and in writing.
...[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.