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I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  578 ratings  ·  101 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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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
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
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
Marianna Monaco
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
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.
Chris Craddock
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,
"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
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
Becky Loader
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
Kathy Dhanda
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
Beautiful haunting memoir built around five chapters in the life of a writer.
AE Reiff
This one nut shows what I love and hate about Norman, love the first three, hate the last two. Hate the name dropping and infinite association with the rich, fam, corrupt. It shows the difference between the natural and what passes for the civilized, those with homes in D.C. but who live in Vermont. But that is not the start of his journey, it just ends there. I have always thought his Born Tying Knots and etc. were superb even while they were attacked for his prosifying or poetifying the words ...more
Feb 07, 2015 Ann rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
John Benson
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
Suzan Bond
This is a memoir that reads more like a novel. Though unusual for a memoir, it's one of my favorite aspects of the book.

Before I continue this review I need to make a confession. This is the first book I've read by the author. Reading his memoir before his more well known novels might seem strange but I happened to see it in the library, loved the title and am a big fan of memoirs in general. All of this is to say that if you've read his novels you may want to keep these facts in mind.

There are
Been on a bit of a Howard Norman kick of late so decided to listen to this autobiography of sorts wherein Norman recounts memories from five places he has lived. I was pulled in from the start because of the connection to the city of my birth (Grand Rapids, MI). Norman's literate, slightly odd, but ultimately humane style makes for easy and thought provoking listening. It was both captivating and relaxing even if unsettling at times.

Donna Seaman at Booklist captures it well: "Fluent in strangene
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jonathon Dyer
Memoir is a fraught excursion. Nobody can possibly write a true and unvarnished account of their own life, if only because, as Alice Walker wrote, though I've probably mis-remembered the exact words*, "You never step into the same river twice." Time has changed you, and the river is changing constantly around you.

Having said that, an honest appraisal of one's past circumstances - and one's past self - can be fascinating and beautiful, even when the situation itself is difficult to look back upon
*3.5 stars.
"Remember carbon paper? If you handled a sheet carelessly, you would leave fingerprints on everything you touched, as if you'd broken into your own life" (2).
"He honked the horn in a snippet of Morse code" (33).
" 'What expression do you see on my face right now?'
" 'I can't read it.'
" 'Disappointment, that's what'" (36).
"...whose every falsetto surge was like a shot of adrenaline administered to the radio" (37).
"...and they flew off as though I'd rudely interrupted a conference of ghos
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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.
More about Howard Norman...
The Bird Artist What Is Left the Daughter The Museum Guard Next Life Might Be Kinder The Haunting Of L

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“Everything I loved most happened most every day.” 2 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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