cover image One Hundred Autobiographies: A Memoir

One Hundred Autobiographies: A Memoir

David Lehman. Cornell Univ, $22.95 (248p) ISBN 978-1-5017-4645-1

Poet and critic Lehman (Poems in the Manner of...), who was treated for bladder cancer in 2014, brilliantly captures the despair, uncertainty, and anger he felt in these 100 short reflections on life, death, and writing. Likening his ordeal to the plot of a novel, he declares, “the road connecting memory and desire is not linear... one lesson of any brush with death is that time is finite.” He muses on why he writes: “I write to assert my will to live. To prove I exist.” Throughout, he reflects on literature and pop culture figures to tell his story: arriving at the hospital for treatment wearing his fedora, Lehman recalls the movie Some Came Running and Dean Martin’s hat, “which he wears even in bed, even in a hospital bed.” After reading John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Lehman ponders the concept of evil: “the real question is not whether you believe in god as such but whether you believe there is such a thing as evil.” In his final reflection, being in excellent health—though, like many cancer patients, he acknowledges that this might just be a reprieve—he advises that “even on bad days, there are pleasant hours,” and “it is amazing how much pain the body can withstand.” Lehman’s exquisite essays illustrate the ways that beauty can flow out of pain. (Oct.)