MYSELF AND STRANGERS: A Memoir of Apprenticeship

John Graves, Author . Knopf $24 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4222-7

Writer Graves (Hard Scrabble ; Texas Heartland ; etc.) burned his journal after extracting valuable excerpts, and these passages frame this thought-provoking work. At first, the incidents feel random and scattered, until readers piece them together as a tapestry that contributed to Graves's literary maturity. More than most authors' autobiographical books, this one demonstrates that style and subject matter aren't acquired overnight, but slowly evolve through experience. Graves left his native Texas to travel through Europe, then spent long periods of time in Spain. His writing is lean and pared-down, avoiding melodrama even when Graves describes a grenade exploding during WWII combat and leaving him blind in one eye. He talks of his early job teaching English at the University of Texas, "a basically miserable, overworked, underpaid period," and covers his first, failed marriage, then goes on to introduce various friends and lovers. The book's title is sometimes frustratingly apt, because many of these strangers pass through in too-brief anecdotes. Despite abbreviated characterizations, Graves is a master of visual detail, and his journey unfolds with the picturesque clarity of a film. Writers will recognize what he calls "the writing disease... a permanent affliction," and cheer when the disappointment of A Speckled Horse is followed by the outstanding Goodbye to a River . By the time Graves returns home to stay with his father, stricken with esophageal cancer, and embraces the birthplace he left behind, readers will be moved to acquaint (or reacquaint) themselves with his other books and articles. 18 photos. (May 11)

Reviewed on: 04/12/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-4281-7447-4
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