Am I Alone Here: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live, Peter Orner, 2016
Orner, a Professor at Dartmouth, combines stories about his unhappy family and his father’s death with commentary on a dizzying array of books. The interplay between these two threads emphasizes his lifelong struggle to make sense of existence, the tragedy of human life (Life sucks and then you die), the randomness of our encounters with people and places, and ultimately, the irretrievability of time (see To The Lighthouse). I was familiar with perhaps one-third of the authors and books he describes in these brief, thoughtful, penetrating, and quotable essays, and many of the others are now on my ‘to read’ list. We share a love of James Salter and William Maxwell and a fascination with Chekhov, Kafka, Woolf. His essay on Wright Morris, a Black writer of more than 30 novels in the mid-20th C contains the phrase “inarticulate wonderment’ in reference to Morris’s short story world. He goes on to say that Morris ‘celebrates life as I experience it: a phenomenal muddle.” Orner’s life does not appear to have been an easy one—-an angry father, parental and his own divorce, a mentally ill wife, a daughter who he is raising and his own struggle to understand his place in the world and the onrushing and disappearing in the rearview mirror TIME. A book worth reading a re-reading.