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I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  895 ratings  ·  145 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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Dave Schaafsma
Jun 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: auto-bio-memoir
I decided to read Norman’s memoir because 1) it has a great title, maybe especially for a memoir by an older man; 2) he spent some of his life in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I also grew up and 3) While I have read none of his novels, decades ago I had heard him read in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor (Karl Pohrt’s Shaman Drum Bookstore) from of his many folklore projects, translations of Cree, Inuit and other indigenous Canadian tales, and own several of them, including his very first ones that are ...more
I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place is a collection of essays. The author writes of events in his life related both to his family and home environments in Washington D.C., Vermont and California and to his travels and work as a translator of Inuit stories and observer of birds. He speaks of his youth working in a bookmobile. This was in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He speaks of the suicide / murder that occurred in his own D.C. house in 2003. He had lent his house to an acquaintance he didn’t know t ...more
May 15, 2013 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 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.
Jul 28, 2013 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
Dec 06, 2013 rated it it was ok
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 18, 2013 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
Marianna Monaco
Mar 17, 2014 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
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
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
Oct 04, 2013 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
Jul 04, 2014 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.
Chris Craddock
Sep 09, 2013 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,
Dec 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
A book about seemingly disjointed, but ultimately cohesive instances of meaning in a life. I loved it, but it did take me a very long time to get through it.
Tyler McGaughey
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the best and most impeccably structured memoirs I've read, which probably means nothing since I'm so deep in the tank for Howard Norman I don't know which way is up. ...more
Kat Tischler
Jan 12, 2015 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
Becky Loader
Nov 30, 2013 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
Sally Ewan
Dec 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
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 11, 2013 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
Feb 22, 2014 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
Oct 19, 2015 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
Jul 10, 2013 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. ...more
John Benson
Jul 18, 2013 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. ...more
Jan 07, 2014 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. ...more
Aug 10, 2014 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. ...more
Frenchy Faith
Apr 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
I guess this memoir is not bad per say it just wasn't my cup of tea. An eclectic collection of memories about someone's aimless path in life... without much to it in my opinion. ...more
Aug 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Beautiful haunting memoir built around five chapters in the life of a writer.
Feb 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Howard Norman is an inspiration both for his beautiful writing and for his ability to heal via nature, books, poetry. I felt right there with him through his incredible life narrative.
Cynthia Egbert
Jan 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library
I pulled this one off of the staff recommendations shelf at the library and I am glad that I did. It was a striking memoir and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I appreciate the way he turns a phrase. I wanted to reach out and hug the young Howard and give him a better young life and then as he grew up I found myself wishing to sit down with this man and have a discussion over tea. Below are the quotes that I loved best (many from others than Norman, he does an impressive job of pulling from other great ...more
Laurel Deloria
Oct 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
As I have stated previously I am not enamored with Biographys. They are five periods in his life. He includes perhaps to much detail, but this one consists of very different places and their effects on his life. I do like this author a lot.

Amazon:“The events of a single episode of Howard Norman’s superb memoir are both on the edge of chaos and gathered superbly into coherent meaning . . . A wise, riskily written, beautiful book.” — Michael Ondaatje

Howard Norman’s spellbinding memoir begins with
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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

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