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A Strong West Wind

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  467 Ratings  ·  85 Reviews
In this exquisitely rendered memoir set on the high plains of Texas, Pulitzer Prize winner Gail Caldwell transforms into art what it is like to come of age in a particular time and place.

A Strong West Wind begins in the 1950s in the wilds of the Texas Panhandle–a place of both boredom and beauty, its flat horizons broken only by oil derricks, grain elevators, and church s
Paperback, 256 pages
Published January 9th 2007 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 2006)
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Linda Robinson
Jan 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Where and when we are formed shapes us - whether we fight it, attempt to outrun it, or succumb - time and place is who we are. Our stories begin and end at home. Move from country to city, windswept plains to wet mountains, our bones are hardened in the time and place we are born. Caldwell puts the flesh on the bones. Strong, sere and melodic the words in this book sweep us from the panhandle of Texas to the bricks of Cambridge. Quiet and powerful, just as she describes the wind against the rock ...more
Brandon Kurtich
Jul 21, 2009 rated it it was ok
I cannot say that I was fan of this memoir at all. I usually love memoirs, especially about ordinary people in ordinary circumstances, but this was a complete bore. Just a warning, Caldwell makes a TON of references to classic literary works which might go over some people's heads (like mine for one). It also seems like Caldwell uses these references to just show her large literary knowledge. Overall, just a book filled with literary references with some fillers.
Heather Fineisen
Caldwell fans will have a no brainer and any writer wannabe will want to add this to their list. But for the rest of the readers, Caldwell writes as if she's sprawled in your living room or sharing one of your pockets on a cold day. The listen is good and the book is a treat!
Dawn Downey
Apr 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Baby Boomers
Shelves: memoir

What really works for me, in this memoir of the sixties, is that it reaches well beyond the scope of counter culture and political activism. I admire the way Caldwell showed how geography, WWII, and the books she’s read shaped her personality as much as family genes did. (With plenty of references to books I should have read by now e.g. anything by Virginia Woolf.)

What didn’t work for me was this: Although her writing is beautiful, I didn’t engage with the author on an emotional level. She hand

Feb 03, 2010 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: My Enemies or Insomniacs
This book is great if you are looking for a cheap non narcotic sleep aid. I pride myself on never walking out on a bad film or not finishing a boring book, giving it a chance to redeem itself up until the final frame or word. This book will go down as one of the most pointless, boring, self absorbed books I've ever read. I see no reason why this memoir needed to be written other than the author won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism and someone probably told her she was so interesting that she shoul ...more
Dec 19, 2013 rated it liked it
I read Let's Take the Long Way Home, Caldwell's memoir of her friendship with the author, Caroline Knapp, and absolutely loved it. A Strong West Wind is her first book, a memoir of growing up in Amarillo, Texas, attending UT-Austin, and eventually leaving Texas to move North. It's about her relationship with her mother and father, counterculture in 1970s Austin, feminism and the anti-war movement. It's beautifully written, but it's so heavy on description that even though things do happen in the ...more
Hank Pharis
Apr 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
I enjoyed this because I was growing up in TX at the same time and remember many of the things the author discusses. I did not grow up in a small town but visited a couple of them every Summer to see my Dad's family. The author and I however took very different directions with our lives but it was interesting to hear her experiences.
May 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! Since I grew up in West Texas, I could really relate to the landscape, the culture, and the era in which the author grew up. The stories were priceless and the author's down-to-earth, honest writing drew me in. I wish I would have highlighted or jotted down some of her most memorable and beautiful lines; guess I'll just have to reread the book again!
Jan 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It took me a while to get used to her writing style, but once I did I loved it. The literary references in many cases left me searching Wikipedia for answers. The author is a few years younger than I am, but I went through some of the same turmoil as I came of age during the Vietnam War.
Jean Kelly
Jul 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
A story that flows easily and keeps you interested in the growing up of this woman, the ups and downs of her life and most of all for me the picture she draws of her parents.
This was a quick read and a memoir. Gail tells her story - emphasizing her relationships with both her parents, her experiences with politics and feminism in the 60s, and, more than anything, her relationship with books and literature. Gail's life lessons seemed to come from these three sources/experiences and they were continuously interwoven throughout the book. Some experiences include - reading voraciously as a child, polio as an infant leaving her with a limp, being anti-war and getting hig ...more
Interesting sort of memoir, as Caldwell is just a few years older than I am, but lived in a vastly different part of the country. The images of life in Texas were interesting, though I did get a little impatient with her coming of age years. (It's only fair. Those coming of age are usually pretty impatient with their world, too.) Reading of her parents, the word that comes to mind is hardscrabble, but by the time Caldwell came into the picture, they were probably more middle class. She tells the ...more
May 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
From a book review I wrote for the Charlotte Observer:

Part literary memoir, part coming-of-age through landscape metaphor, Caldwell tells the story of her youth in the Texas panhandle and then beyond, complete with smoking, skipping journalism, writing bad poetry, dropping out of school, getting arrested, protesting war, and circling back around to the life she seemed destined for as a child when she retreated into books. A mild, bookish child, she grew into the unlikely, a Vietnam War protesto
Jan 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've become a Gail Caldwell fan. She really knows how to write. This memoir of growing up in Amarillo, Texas and ending up in Cambridge, MA is fascinating. I just relished her sentences and being taken to places I've never been. She is a book critic and well versed in literature and brings in other authors in a subtle and unassuming way that makes you want to read them, if you haven't yet, or go back to them,and understand them in new ways, if you have.

Here are two quotes I liked so much when I
Emily H.
Jul 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
There are very few books about Austin, Texas in existence. I try to read all of them. One notable is Waterloo by the Texas Monthly journalist Karen Olsson; it's a mystery that captures the late twentieth century Austin political landscape and also embraces the anti-change sentimentalism that permeates the former town. Amanda Ward has two books that take place in Austin. I don't think I've seen any others. Let me know if you know of any.

So, I've moved to try to find books that take place in Texa
Highly recommend, am giving for a #60 birthday gift next month for someone who was also born in 1951 as was Caldwell. I did not relate to the Texas themes exactly, but being from the MidWest farm country, I could tap into my childhood memobires there. Particularly good read for a "book lover" with a graduate degree in English lit. Favorite quote page 201 about being caught with Lady Chatterley's Lover at age 11: However protective in most arenas, my mother was intuitively libertarian when it cam ...more
Sep 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
I don't usually read memoirs, but when I do, I am continually struck by the similarity of the human condition across the spectrum, between people as different as Caldwell, who grew up in the Texas panhandle, and myself, good Midwestern girl that I am. Her story is well-told and poignant, especially the parts about her relationship with her father, and what she saw in him that he never spoke about. All of a sudden, I missed my own father more than ever. (This in itself may be enough motivation fo ...more
Apr 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
I loved Caldwell's memoir of friendship Lets Take the Long Way Home (hope I've got that title right), so thought I'd give this a try. I admit I was a bit put off by her constant literary references - does anyone really read and retain that much? But of course this author does, as it is her chosen profession and passion. I was also a bit dis-interested in her descriptions of her times of protest. Having followed most of the rules and stayed on a pretty boring path, I often think of the "hippies" ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

It is surprising to discover that A Strong West Wind is Gail Caldwell's first book. Maybe her position as critic for the Boston Globe (a role for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for Distinguished Criticism) forced her to consider her literary desires more closely. Her patience has paid off in a memoir that succeeds on all levels, from a contextual understanding of her times to her personal relationships. The same touch with metaphor that distinguishes Caldwell's critical writing shows u

Feb 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved the author's description of her family. Her frequent references to other literary works, most of which I haven't read, made me feel pretty ignorant. I wonder if most people have read to the depth and breadth that Gail has? I enjoyed every sentence and some of her sentences are so powerful, and it seems, so perfect in their word choice that I was absolutely floored. I reread many passages and was just blown away by the images, inclusion of time, and sensory input that they evoked. Her wri ...more
Jan 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
An intelligent and deeply moving memoir of a friendship between two women who chose to forgo marriage and children and instead focus on their literary careers. Both author Gail Caldwell and Caroline Knapp (the friend who is diagnosed with stage four lung cancer) spent years taking their dogs on daily hikes through the woods and sharing in each others successes and failures (both are recovering alcoholics). When illness brings their lives to a screeching halt the author tries to rebuild her life ...more
Jan 22, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Gail Caldwell is a very strong writer. I was first introduced to her through her more recent book Let's Take the Long Way Home. While the whole book is well written, I enjoyed the second half of this book more than first because here Caldwell gets into her family's history and we start to understand her relationship with both parents more clearly. Caldwell makes multiple literary references throughout, and because I was unfamiliar with most of them, I felt I was missing a certain depth or messag ...more
Oct 08, 2012 rated it liked it
I first read "Let's Take the Long Way Home," Caldwell's beautiful memoir about her friendship with author Caroline Knapp. Caldwell writes so beautifully, and that is what kept me reading this. However, she seems to have fallen into the same trap as many other first-time authors - she gets so wrapped up in her lavish descriptions and tangents that she forgets to tell her story. "Let's Take the Long Way Home" tells a compelling story beautifully. However, "A Strong West Wind" was more of a descrip ...more
Jun 30, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: people who want to take a nap
Shelves: memoir
I was disappointed with this memoir after reading all the fantastic blurbs on the cover and paying full price at a bookstore. It's a memoir about a writer/critic who grew up in the 50s-60s in the Texas panhandle. I suppose she led an interesting life, but she doesn't write very interestingly about it. Her tone is more scholarly than intimate, and she seems to overanalyze everything. I enjoy memoirs with details about a person's life; this one didn't have enough of that. IMHO, this book is very w ...more
Dec 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
I loved this book. Caldwell has such a way with words and I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir. I rank it slightly behind Let's Take the Long Way Home but ahead of her most recent memoir New Life No Instructions. My one complaint with this book is that she ends it when she leaves Texas for New England. I want to know/read all about her life between leaving Texas and then meeting Caroline Knapp and becoming best friends with her. Perhaps she will one day write a memoir about that? I hope so. Anyway, ...more
Apr 20, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who appreciates the beauty of a true story of how people get to where they are
Shelves: memoirs
eloquent yet very substantive account the author's coming of age in the Texas panhandle. she grows up to become a radical college/perennial student with a veteran father, ultimately finding and following her love of the written word and fine literature, all the way to the top of literary circles as chief book critic of the BOSTON GLOBE. along the way she comes to understand and appreciate the people who shaped her life without directly saying so. an author with conviction, determination and hard ...more
Jan 19, 2011 rated it liked it
Gail Caldwell’s memoir of her childhood in Amarillo and early adult life. I didn’t love it as much as “Let’s Take the Long Way Home” but I liked it -- especially the parts about her father, who shares her traits of a big personality, big heart, and big ability to be obstinate; and her calm, diplomatic mother. The book also reminded me about some of the authors I need to read, such as William Faulkner and Sylvia Plath.
Caroline Crayons
Jan 18, 2010 rated it liked it
I picked this up at a $1/book sale, so I didn't even really know anything about the author or the book. I always like a good coming-of-age story, so I am enjoying this one. Caldwell pitches high in the vocabulary category. I love learning new words and dredging up known ones. Right now, at the half-way point, I'm finding that hyperbole kind of ruins a moving story. But it's so easy to criticize things, isn't it?
Jun 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book was given to me by a friend who knew I grew up in the Texas Panhandle. I loved this book because of the the amazing writing. It is a little slow at first as she details the many books she escaped into to avoid the stifling (my word, not hers) constraints of the culture during the late 60's and early 70's. She details the relationships and characteristics of her family and friends and does it so precisely, I almost felt I knew them too.
Aug 24, 2012 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed her book "Take the Long Way Home", which I thought was beautifully written and I totally connected with the emotion of the friendship and loss. While this book was also well written it did no have the same connection for me. Given the emotion of Take the Long Way Home, I felt that this book was one step removed from the story. I connected most with the parts of the book that discussed her relationship with her father.
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Gail Caldwell is the former chief book critic for The Boston Globe, where she was a staff writer and critic for more than twenty years. In 2001, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. She is also the author of A Strong West Wind, a memoir of her native Texas. Caldwell lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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“in all the years i had blundered along in search of my own footing, she had never given me an inkling of this wish. unburdened by the demands of history or anyone else's dreams, i had wandered toward and finally reached a world far outside the plains i loved and loathed. my mother had neither begrudged me this journey nor expected it, certain that i had to make my own way. but she packed my toolbox with her great wit and forbearance before i went, and she stashed there, for long safekeeping, her desire.” 5 likes
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