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I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place

3.67  ·  Rating Details  ·  667 Ratings  ·  119 Reviews
As with many of us, the life of acclaimed novelist Howard Norman has had its share of incidents of “arresting strangeness.” Yet few of us connect these moments, as Norman has done in this spellbinding memoir, to show how life tangles with the psyche to become art. Norman’s story begins with a portrait, both harrowing and hilarious, of a Midwest boyhood summer working in a ...more
Hardcover, 194 pages
Published July 9th 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2013)
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Rebecca Foster
Jan 18, 2016 Rebecca Foster rated it it was amazing
Norman has quickly become one of my favorite writers (see also Next Life Might Be Kinder). You wouldn’t think these disparate autobiographical essays would fit together as a whole, given that they range in subject from Inuit folktales and birdwatching to a murder–suicide committed in Norman’s Washington, D.C. home and a girlfriend’s death in a plane crash, but somehow they do; after all, “A whole world of impudent detours, unbridled perplexities, degrading sorrow, and exacting joys can befall a ...more
Nov 12, 2015 Irene rated it liked it
Reading this memoir felt like unraveling a skein of yarn. Stories wound around other stories, threads seemed to wander out in new directions, then with only the thinnest connection the original thread of an account would be picked up. Through the winding and wrapping, Norman wove an interesting pattern of barely hinted insights.
Aug 14, 2013 Ken rated it really liked it
First-person. The essay. They suit Howard Norman, whose voice you will become comfortable with in this set of five essays spanning his life from age 15 to present day. Each piece is anchored in place. Each features Norman's associative mind, his attempts to make sense of life's symbiotic relationship with change. The results in some cases are stronger than others.

The opener, "Advice of a Fatherly Sort," is a coming-of-age piece set in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Young Howard is shown the ropes by th
Jan 18, 2014 Holly added it
Shelves: 2013-reads
I am in the minority by claiming this, and perhaps I was influenced by the stress and complications surrounding the couple of days over which I read this memoir, but I thought this an emotionally cold and distancing book. Norman's style put distance between himself and the reader, and distance between himself and his "material" - and neither thing I've noticed in his fiction (though it's been many years since I read his novels). A couple of examples I highlighted:
... our uninhibited lovemaking
Kathy Dhanda
Nov 22, 2013 Kathy Dhanda rated it it was amazing
Brilliant memoir. Divided in 5 essays in which the writer ruminates on his past experiences. Each vignette reads like a segment of his coming-of-age and the vignettes are in chronological order. The writer is deft at handling issues of loss, death and coming to terms. I was especially intrigued by how birds played a role in the vignettes. My favorite story was Grey Geese Descending that mourns the loss of a relationship. Along the way, Norman drops quotes by other writers such as "the only way o ...more
Oct 05, 2013 Patricia rated it really liked it
This memoir is the first book I've read by this author but it won't be the last. At first it seemed a pleasant read but I soon came to appreciate his insight and the sheer beauty of some of his phrasing. A mix of everyday life and more dramatic occurances interspersed with philosophical musings and natural history observations it ends with gut-wrenching reactions to a tragedy that occured in his family home, not family-related but it definately affected the family. Yes, that is an extremely long ...more
A series of essays describing important experiences in the author's life. The first is set in Grand Rapids, MI when Norman was a boy. I could identify with much in this essay because we are about the same age. Some of the subsequent essays take place in Canada, including the far north where he lived with the Inuits for a while. He makes just about every character and setting a memorable one with his beautiful writing. I read The Bird Artistseveral years ago and liked it a lot, which is why I dec ...more
Chris Craddock
Sep 15, 2013 Chris Craddock rated it it was amazing
Ducks in a Row

In the introduction to his book, Howard Norman quotes twelfth-century Japanese poet Saigyo, who wrote, "A soul that is not confused is not a soul." Norman considers his own soul to be confused, but this book is his attempt to gain some clarity and keep his emothinal balance. Though he is loathe to attribute intrinsic themes to life, there does seem to be some recurring motifs here: Many of the stories are about having to leave places he has grown accustomed to, such as Point Reyes,
Washington Post
A creative writing professor at the University of Maryland at College Park, Norman uses the tight focus of geography to describe five unsettling periods of his life, each separated by time and subtle shifts in his narrative voice. Like the best writers’ memoirs — I think of Hilary Mantel’s “Giving up the Ghost” and J.M. Coetzee’s “Boyhood” — this one grants memory the distance of irony. Norman the Memoirist is as wryly humorous and soulful as Norman the Novelist. Read the review: ...more
Marianna Monaco
Mar 17, 2014 Marianna Monaco rated it liked it
Shelves: auto-biography
An interesting read of Howard Norman's life.
I have an interest in Inuit tales, and first met Howard Norman as a writer in children's books - "the girl who dreamed only geese: and other tales of the Far North" and "Between heaven and earth: bird tales from around the world".

Okay, I have to do it: here's an excerpt from the book (not typical, I admit, but my favorite pages):
A poem by Lucille Amorak, an Inuit in her seventies:

My aunt held a grudge - she forgot why.
My cousin held a grudge - he forgo
Jul 30, 2014 Leslie rated it really liked it
This is not a difficult book, but a slow, meditative read. And as with so many other books of this type (memoir-essay), I find myself wondering how its construction adds to the whole. How do the somewhat slight-seeming individual chapters slowly build to the powerful, albeit quiet, conclusion? Lovely.
Feb 25, 2014 Susan rated it really liked it
"The best way out is always through." Acclaimed novelist Howard Norman has appropriated this Robert Frost quote as the mantra for I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place. In this powerful memoir Norma reflects on five pivotal moments in his life beginning with his father's betrayal and ending with the consequences of a random violent act. For those familiar with his novels (The Bird Artist-The Museum Guard - The Haunting), this personal history sheds considerable light on where he gets the inspirat ...more
Mar 03, 2015 Kat rated it it was ok
I think that Howard Norman thinks he's far more interesting than he really is. He has a weird obsession with birds that doesn't really tie in to most of the stories he tells in this memoir... and yet he still finds ways to bring it up. He calls this book "I Hate to Leave this Beautiful Place" and yet most of the palces he describes are terrible places that anyone would want to leave. Howard jumps through years and decades of his life to share moments that he thinks seem to relate - but I don't a ...more
Nov 18, 2015 Leslie rated it liked it
I wish I could give half a star more. I really enjoyed this book, at times, and at other times it felt like it dragged. I don't know if it was me or the subject matter because I don't typically read about these places and things. Yet, the opening stories of loss were so profound, so touching. And, there was much humor. At times, it felt like I was reading a Bill Bryson novel. I can completely relate to the sadness in this man's life as well as the way in which he pulls himself through each episo ...more
Dec 02, 2013 Sally rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
A dreamy memoir, more of a gathering of events that the author has lived through. His dispassionate recollecting made them even more surreal: imagine seeing your father sitting at the diner counter time and again, when your mother has told you that he is no longer living in that town. Or imagine an adult sibling calling you repeatedly (collect) to request that you help him cross the border into Canada to escape the consequences of his white-collar crimes. And I will spare you the last, most dist ...more
Dec 12, 2013 Terri rated it did not like it
Shelves: don-t-read-again
I had read good things about this book, and thought I'd read it. I really enjoyed about the first 3rd, liked the writing, liked the story. The author tells about his youth, but skips quickly to his 20's. And after reading a bit about his first love, and how he got started writing about birds, it was still interesting. But somewhere along the 20th time he mooned over his lost love, the story kind of changed for me. Great blanks were left between happenings, the writing got a bit dry, I just could ...more
Becky Loader
Dec 02, 2013 Becky Loader rated it really liked it
Howard Norman is an awesome memoir writer. I was totally wrapped up in whatever he was writing about at the time: his mis-adventures as a 15-year-old, observing birds in all their glory, bidding at an auction for an art print when he has no money, sparring with his brother (hooo-yeee: his brother provides more than enough fodder for a separate book!), interacting with the Inuit people, and coping with catastrophes. The title comes from an Inuit legend of a man who turns into a goose, and his mig ...more
Aug 21, 2014 Anne rated it really liked it
Beautiful haunting memoir built around five chapters in the life of a writer.
Feb 07, 2015 Ann rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
Saying that this is the story of a writer with an artist’s sensibility who loves (besides his family) the Arctic, the Inuit, and birds, would be a correct and yet totally inadequate statement.
Some people have the writing skills to draw you into their world, and to make any story fascinating. Howard Norman is such a writer. This memoir is a patchwork of significant episodes in his life rather than a cradle-to-cane type narrative. His job in a bookmobile as a teenager in the early 1960s, and a bo
Norbert Preining
Aug 31, 2014 Norbert Preining rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Once again a book that I bought inspired by the NPR's Book Concierge for 2013 is Howard Norman's autobiographic collection of memories named I Hate to Leave this Beautiful Place. Born to a mixture of Russian-Polish immigrant with Jewish background, he moved around between the US (Ohio, Michigan) and Canada a lot. He has published on a variety of subjects: children's books, translations of Inuit folklore (he lived several years in this region and learned the language), novels, and, kind of, autob ...more
Aug 16, 2014 Ted rated it really liked it
I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place is classified as a memoir. It is a collection of stories that moves from Norman’s childhood in Michigan up through to the early 2000s. Each story, Adrian pointed out, involves a death. In the first story, it is the accidental death of a swan. Young Howard Norman is realizing an interest in birds and sets out to live-trap a duck, perhaps to be closer to the objects of his growing passion. But the trap is accidently sprung by a very territorial swan and culmina ...more
Restless Books
Jun 19, 2014 Restless Books rated it really liked it
In a perhaps unconventional sequence of events, I decided to read Howard Norman’s memoir before reading any of his many acclaimed novels, such as the National Book Award finalists The Bird Artist and The Northern Lights . I encountered I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place on NPR’s 2013 book concierge, and was immediately captivated by the lyrical title. Norman writes about five major chapters of his life so far—from a teenage summer spent working on a bookmobile in Michigan to a number of yea ...more
May 29, 2014 Steve rated it really liked it
Howard, I apologize for not having read any of your books in so long. I started out early, with the "Hotel JC" - which I no longer see listed in your "Other Books by..." page in your recent publications? It was good - you should be proud of it.

For the rest of us, I'm not sure why I quit reading Norman's new books, because I would continue to recommend his writings to others. And then this "memoir" came out. Well, I love memoirs, so just had to read it. As other "reviewers" have pointed out here
Feb 27, 2014 Bart rated it it was amazing
This memoir is particularly beautiful if you've read one or more of Norman's other books, as I have, because he adds more perspectives to key scenes and themes from his earlier writings. But I don't think any of his books are "prerequisites" for deeply appreciating this one. Norman's experiences and reflections are touching, odd, surprising, funny, disturbing, even truly horrifying. He opens with the quote "A soul that is not confused is not a soul", before relating some of the deeply confusing ...more
Kat Masek
Sep 05, 2015 Kat Masek rated it really liked it
There is so much to love and care about in Howard Norman's memoir, composed in five personal essays. Since I finished reading it today, I felt both love for it, and the sense that it was a patchwork. But then I remembered him quoting, in its pages, a twelfth-century Japanese poet, saying, "A soul that is not confused is not a soul." Norman is honest about his experiences in these five beautiful places he hates to leave. (And, by the way, he doesn't hammer us over the head by repeating this title ...more
John Benson
Jul 18, 2013 John Benson rated it really liked it
I have read several of Howard Norman's novels (he is an American who usually places his novels in Canadian settings) but this is a collection of memoir-essays of events that happened to him during his life in five different places. The essays are all somewhat quirky, but also very clearly written. The book is very different from his novels, but still very enjoyable.
Jul 23, 2013 Holly rated it really liked it
This memoir, by the author of The Bird Artist, was wonderfully written. It wasn't a memoir in the traditional sense, but more of a handful of essays about moments in the author's life that were significant and somewhat life-changing. It was an easy short read, but still quite powerful, poignant and bittersweet.
Jan 08, 2014 Kerry rated it it was amazing
I read fiction almost exclusively, so to pick up a memoir takes me a bit out if my element. The writing was immediately accessible and engaging to me, and ultimately I am left with that old adage: why fiction? Life's unreal enough. Dark, poignant, sorrowful, comic. Ah, such is life.
Feb 17, 2015 Cathleen rated it it was amazing
A collection of loosely tied remembrances of events both mundane and horrifically tragic in various beautiful locations, including Vermont and the Arctic. The author has a quiet, reflective voice that resonates even after you've closed the book. Quite beautiful and haunting.
Brant Wansley
Aug 03, 2013 Brant Wansley rated it it was amazing
Terrific memoir full of disturbing and unexpected occurences that throw new light on estrangement, death, grief and redemption. A most unusual life where place and Norman's love of nature figure heavily. As the author states, "There is another world and it is inside this one."
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Howard A. Norman (born 1949), is an American award-winning writer and educator. Most of his short stories and novels are set in Canada's Maritime Provinces. He has written several translations of Algonquin, Cree, Eskimo, and Inuit folklore. His books have been translated into 12 languages.
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“Everything I loved most happened most every day.” 3 likes
“Yasunari Kawabata wrote: “When speaking of those who take their own lives, it is always most dignified to use silence or at least restrained language, for the ones left most vulnerable and most deeply hurt by such an occurrence can feel oppressed by the louder assertions of understanding, wisdom and depth of remorse foisted upon them by others. One must ask: Who is best served by speculation? Who is really able to comprehend? Perhaps we must, as human beings, continue to try and comprehend, but we will fall short. And the falling short will deepen our sense of emptiness.” 0 likes
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