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Mentor: A Memoir

3.78  ·  Rating Details  ·  338 Ratings  ·  85 Reviews
"You don't choose the writer's life, the writer's life chooses you."

When Grimes first meets Frank Conroy (then director of the legendary Iowa Writers' Workshop), he tells him he recently applied to the program.

Conroy's response? "Yeah, you and eight hundred others." But Grimes was not only accepted; he was offered the top scholarship an auspicious beginning. Grimes wante

Paperback, 200 pages
Published July 29th 2010 by Tin House Books
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(showing 1-30 of 785)
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Jun 30, 2015 Reese rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I once heard an interviewer ask Warren Buffett about "the key to the success of" -- not Berkshire Hathaway -- but his marriage. His response:
"low expectations" (or some equivalent expression). Although the result of low expectations is often poor performance and/or wasted potential,
I've had more gains than losses come from expecting little. I probably expected -- because I hoped for -- more from Tom Grimes's MENTOR than I should have. The book and I came together, with the GR first-reads system
Tiffany Reisz
Jul 28, 2013 Tiffany Reisz rated it it was amazing
Thomas Mann once said, "A writer is someone for home writing is more difficult than it is for other people." This memoir by Tom Grimes is 242 pages of proof that Mann's words are true.

I won't go into a lot of detail about this book. I will say it's a must-read for aspiring literary fiction writers. Most writers are the literary equivalent of McDonald's. They pound out words like McDonald's pounds out food that's pure calories and no nutritional value. All text, no subtext. Tom Grimes is like a
Aug 01, 2010 Lee rated it really liked it
It's clear I can't write about this book without improvising my own condensed Frank memoir, which is probably a testament to this book's goodness: the meaning/music of it, the co-created thematic stuff, is the thread of a reader's recollections (re: Frank, The Workshop, Iowa City, Connie, Charles D'Ambrosio, et al) nicely tangled up with everything Grimes relates.

Recommended for anyone who had any experience with Frank Conroy and wondered what it might have been like to have known him better. F
Karolyn Sherwood
Aug 25, 2011 Karolyn Sherwood rated it it was amazing
I was very moved—and only slightly disheartened—by Tom Grimes' account of his writing life, and how it intersected/was shaped by Frank Conroy. It's not just me... seems all writers flail, cry and scream about their writing!

Tom Grimes is an excellent writer. The fact that his fiction has never reached the heights he'd hoped for as a young man is, perhaps, only a matter of time. If any novelist writes more than one or two phenomenal books in his or her lifetime, it's a path to eternal fame. Perha
Dec 17, 2013 Cheryl rated it it was amazing
Candor in its presentation about the writer's life, extensive in its look at a rare mentor-mentee relationship, this is a concentrated read for anyone who writes, or for any reader who is a least bit curious about the writing life. However if you are not, or have never been a student of the MFA program, there is a possibility this could bore or annoy you (though even if you have been a MFA candidate or graduate, you could still become annoyed by the Iowa-workshop-intensive renderings).

I've alwa
Dec 19, 2010 Gwynne rated it really liked it
Despite the NY Times book review that spilled enough snark to make me wonder about this memoir's potential flaws, there is much to commend in *Mentor*. I felt myself turning the pages effortlessly and wanting to come back to it when I had to set it aside.
Strong, clear prose. Good story telling, too.
The NYT review cautioned young writers about reading this book because of its emphasis on the failure most writers face, but I found that aspect of the memoir right on target. The need to create des
Alex Duncan
Jul 08, 2013 Alex Duncan rated it it was amazing
Great account of a writer's life! Rings true from start to finish.
switterbug (Betsey)
Feb 22, 2011 switterbug (Betsey) rated it really liked it
"I hadn't expected to write this book, but, in a way, our memoirs form bookends. His about childhood, adolescence, and a lost father, mine about writing, teaching, and a father found. Our story has come full circle. The story's meaning mystifies me, yet if Frank were alive he'd agree that neither of us would choose to live in a world that was unmarked by the passage of time, and anything other than inscrutable."

Writer, teacher, and philanthropist, Tom Grimes, wrote this memoir about his friendsh
Jul 14, 2011 Shane rated it really liked it
Tom Grimes never made a huge career out of writing. He has published a few mediocre novels with a handful of good reviews by renowned publications. After years of wishing to drink with the “big wigs” of the literary world, Grimes enrolled in the MFA program at University of Iowa. Soon after, he was hanging at the local bar with famed literary mogul Frank Conroy, the program director that personally accepted Grimes into the workshop.
Many writers have been writing memoirs on their writing endeavo
Sep 04, 2010 Andy rated it liked it
I've been very curious about the Iowa Writers' Workshop well before reading this book. I'm not certain where I heard of it before, but John Irving discussion of his doppelganger's experiences there in his latest book renewed by curiosity. Tom Grimes, who spent significant time there and had a strong relationship with the program's long-time director, certainly demystifies the image I had of the place in this memoir. To him, the Workshop was largely inhabited by writers who had high anxiety about ...more
Aug 21, 2010 Djrmel rated it really liked it
This a memoir about that awful, wonderful, scary, magical journey that every author wants to take, the one that puts them in a place that when someone says "What do you do?" they can answer, "I'm a writer" without any fear of a followup question. Tom Grimes put in the hours, he did the revisions, he wrote and wrote and wrote. But still, it was a combination of good timing and talent that got him published. That's not great to hear if you're trying to make it as a published author, but at least G ...more
Aug 21, 2010 Rochelle rated it it was amazing
I received this book from Goodreads.
Although this is a wonderful memoir about the author's relationship with Frank Conroy and the Iowa Writer's Workshop, it is much more than that.
Mr. Grimes is certainly writing at his best when he describes, in great detail, his sister's suicide attempts and her subsequent loss of self. He succeeds as well in plumbing his own descent into mania with some of the best written pages in this book.
Altogether this is an enlightening book on the conception, gestation
Oct 18, 2010 Rebekah rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Excellent novel! An honest look into one man's journey to becoming/accepting his fate as a writer, mixed with his fascinating relationship with his mentor and surrogate father figure. Well worth the time spent to read, and a worthy choice for anyone interested in becoming a writer - a truly monumental task at times.

To quote - "In the end, my memoir about Frank is a memoir about me. By writing about Frank, I could no longer turn away from myself, which is what I've done all of my life."

I can say
May 05, 2010 eb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the most honest books I've ever read. Mentor isn't actually about Frank Conroy; rather, it's about Grimes's writing life, which is fascinating. I hope Grimes writes a dozen more works of nonfiction. I want to read about everything that's happened to him--his childhood, his marriage, his teenage years, the whole nine.
Jan 19, 2013 Tom rated it really liked it
A book that I may be predisposed to find interesting due to all the various personal connections I have to it. Full discussion/review here:
Aug 12, 2010 Lee rated it really liked it
Touching story about the influence Frank Conroy had on Tom Grimes whom he met at the Iowa Workshop. A little sad. But it's memoir, about writers, so of course it is.
Apr 11, 2014 Heidi rated it really liked it
I am not a huge fan of the memoir, so I did not expect to like this book. But lower expectations provides a space for books to grow on you. This one did.

Tom Grimes tells the story of his life as a writer with few details moving beyond that scope. This keeps the memoir focused, which I appreciated. And his life as a writer is completely connected with that of his mentor, Frank Conroy, and man who ran the Iowa Writer's Workshop for many years, so this becomes a kind of biography of Conroy, too.

May 10, 2010 TinHouseBooks rated it it was amazing
Shelves: tin-house-books
"One of the truest accounts of a writer's life—of two writers' lives—I've yet seen. A poignant and beautiful book."
—T.C. Boyle

"It's astonishing how much insight, passion, pain, joy, self-doubt, and sheer love Tom Grimes has managed to pack into this tightly made memoir of his relationship with the writer Frank Conroy. Not only does Mentor offer an honest and compelling account of the struggles of a writer at the onset of his career, but this immaculately composed memoir also draws an enduring an
Jan 23, 2013 Spencer rated it really liked it
Mentor, by Tom Grimes, was a touching tribute from one author (Grimes) to another (Frank Conroy). They were friends, they were teacher and student, they were mentor and protege, (figuratively) father and son. As I read this one, I read Conroy’s Stop-Time as well. I felt like I really got to know both of them as I read.

It is a memoir, as the title suggests, but it is also a pull-no-punches account of what life as a writer is like. It’s not pretty, but I think it’s pretty realistic. Frustration, r
Oct 20, 2010 Casey rated it it was ok
In the spirit of full disclosure, I won this book from a Goodreads giveaway, and if I hadn't I probably wouldn't have read it. That said, I'm glad I did. As much about the author, Tom Grimes, as it is about Frank Conroy, Grimes's mentor, Mentor is an interesting look at the development of a writer and the writer's life.

Given the subject matter, though, it's clear this book was not written or marketed toward the average reading public. I would venture to guess that a large majority of the people
lee lee
Jan 29, 2011 lee lee rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who's ever loved the person who taught them everything they know
Recommended to lee lee by: in a way, Frank Conroy :)
It's difficult for me to write this review. In fact, if I'd known how difficult it was going to be to read the book, I probably wouldn't have picked it up. But reading something worthy--just like writing--is worth more because it's hard.

The relationship between Grimes and Conroy is something all young writers covet, just as Conroy's stunning first book is something we all want to write. And Grimes' honest portrayal of how hard the writing life is, despite how brilliant and supportive a mentor y
Marco Kaye
Feb 05, 2011 Marco Kaye rated it really liked it
Not only is this a must read for anyone considering getting an MFA in Creative Writing, it’s also for anyone who is a writer. I described this book as “harrowing” to a friend. Curiosity piqued, he asked what it was about.

“Well,” I said, “it’s about a writer, Tom Grimes, who goes to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. The mentor of the title is Frank Conroy—not to be confused with Pat. Tom Grimes describes working on his first book, and when it’s published, he gets only a little bit of critical attentio
emma kate tsai
Sep 20, 2012 emma kate tsai rated it it was amazing
A wonderful book that explores the real life trials and tribulations of becoming a published writer. In some ways, this is a rags to riches story, though it is more about Grimes' relationship with Conroy, who never stops believing in him. We have all--I hope--had that poignant experience of mentorship, and Grimes does a good job of showing us his incredible care, love, and admiration for his own. You will also find out about publishing: getting an agent, having editors review a book, and what ha ...more
Nov 09, 2010 Johnvano rated it liked it
Recommends it for: aspiring novelists
An author and educator reflects back 20 years on his start, penning a memoir of the man who left the greatest imprint on him. The book introduces the reader to the late Frank Conroy and is revealing in its tale of a writer's struggles, inner turmoil, and few triumphs. Contained some great inspiration and reflection.

Two writing highpoints:

Grimes is given backstage access to the NY Mets for two weeks as he writes his novel. He witnesses a comeback win with the team's GM, then picks
Jun 07, 2013 Molly rated it really liked it
5/4/13; to pg 35: I'm not far into this memoir, but already I find myself rolling my eyes at the pomposity of phrase--he is everything that an Iowa attendee is clichedly reputed to be.

He sets himself up, really. He tells the reader how important a sentence must be and how no detail should be insignificant, then writes things like this:

"I didn't want to switch colors [of notebook] as I wrote the novel, and my intuition had drawn me to red, which I believed would bring me luck, as would the new p
Apr 17, 2015 Kyle rated it really liked it
Memoir done right: insightful into not only the writer of the book but into the world around him, in this case the world of a struggling, not-quite-notable writer. It's also proof that everyone needs a mentor - a boost to self-esteem in a chosen field. This book is written with a remarkable generosity of spirit and kindness and makes me think that struggles are worth it if there is someone to help you through them.
Bookmarks Magazine
Oct 11, 2010 Bookmarks Magazine rated it liked it
Shelves: nov-dec-2010
The principles of the venerable Iowa Writers' Workshop have come to influence much of contemporary fiction, so it is perhaps no surprise that some reviewers used them to criticize this memoir of that institution and its longtime leader. In particular, several reviewers complained that Grimes abandoned the principle of "show, don't tell" when describing his evolving relationship to Conroy. But less picky critics seemed to truly relish Mentor as a book for literary insiders. As to whether the memo ...more
Dec 17, 2015 Don rated it liked it
Lukewarm reaction: Easy to read through (i.e., to continue reading rather than put the book away); interesting views of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the writing career path of the author. I never felt fully engaged with Frank Conroy or Grimes' relationship with him. The book leaves me with little urge to say anything about it. Sorry.
May 28, 2014 Titus rated it liked it
Very educational. Tom Grimes does a good job describing his struggle to earn recognition in the literary world. Grimes, though, lives a seemingly unhappy life of constant anxiety. I found Grimes' relationship with his mentor, Frank Conroy, a little strange as the author often equates his own person with Conroy's making them seem like the same person. Perhaps he also holds Conroy's opinion too highly; at a certain point in the book, Grimes' idea of success or failure even depends on Conroy's appr ...more
Feb 07, 2011 David rated it liked it
Mostly about himself, but also includes a lot about his relationship with Frank Conroy, novelist and direction of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, who discovers the author via his Iowa application and very generously assists the author's career as a creative writer.

I'm not a fiction writer but as a teacher and (former) student I resonated to his description of the moods surrounding their relationship -- Grimes' anxiety about what Conroy would think of his work; Conroy's seemingly uncompetitive, pure
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