Thursday, May 10, 2012

Reading: At Home in the World by Joyce Maynard

I found myself developing a love/hate relationship Joyce Maynard’s At Home in the World. My Advanced Memoir Workshop had picked it for our April reading. 

First of all, At Home in the World is such a compelling read that whenever I opened it, I found myself reading way more than I had time for. And yet I did not particularly like the main characters, nor was I mesmerized by the story, nor is the writing, while smooth and swift, the kind of prose that I enjoy and admire. I wasn’t thinking, “I wish I could write like that,” and I didn’t underline a single phrase. And yet, I knew I was in the hands of a forceful and skilled writer.

Some of the power of the book comes from the amazing pace Maynard keeps up; her entire childhood is covered in one chapter, and the affair with J.D. Salinger takes up less than half the book. It’s the kind of book that sweeps you up, twirls you around, and when you land, you blink for a while, wondering what a strange place you’ve been to.
Some of my bias probably comes from me having no appreciation of J.D. Salinger’s statue – The Catcher in the Rye seems to be a typically American coming-of-age story that was not on the reading lists in Germany, where I grew up (unlike, for instance, To Kill a Mocking Bird). And it seems to me you'd better read it before you turn twenty, unless you haven’t grown up yet. So I’m way too old to get into it now.
The one thing I appreciated, though, is that Maynard had the courage to write this memoir. I know many have accused her of simply wanting to profit from Salinger's allure, and certainly that has not hurt her book sales. And yet, the point she makes in the introduction of the 2010 edition is, in my opinion, commendable: "More important, at least to me, was exploding the myth that any human being owes another human being her silence, at the expense of her ability to know and be her own true self."


  1. You are right about Catcher in the Rye being more of an American phenomenon. For me, not growing up here, it was never a book I could get into- and when I did plugged through it- was not sure what all the fascination was as you say..."To Kill a Mockingbird" Now that is another story all together :)

    Thank you for sharing this review on At Home In the World: A memoir-- you've made me want to read it just to see if I have the same love/hate feelings :)

  2. I had to read Catcher In The Rye in college. Didn't like it then, and I read it again for my Book Club a couple years ago and still did not like it. So, I decided it wasn't an age thing--youth or senior citizen--not my cup of tea.

  3. Thanks for reminding me of this memoir. Your review actually makes me want to read it—but not in a great hurry!

    1. Richard - there couldn't be a better result of a book review than someone wanting to read the book. So go ahead and report back please!

  4. Anjuli & Nancy - it's good to hear I'm not the only one who's not in on The Catcher in the Rye thing.