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Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  108 ratings  ·  30 reviews
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

One of our most beloved writers reassess the electrifying works of literature that have shaped her life

I sometimes think I was born reading . . . I can't remember the time when I didn't have a book in my hands, my head lost to the world around me.

Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-reader is Vivian Gornick's celebration of
Hardcover, 176 pages
Published February 4th 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Lahna A book I have re-read over the years (during my 71 years) is "A Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl. Actually planning to read it again now!…moreA book I have re-read over the years (during my 71 years) is "A Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl. Actually planning to read it again now! Perfect timing. (less)

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Average rating 3.58  · 
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Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020, favorites
A collection of compact essays on 19th- and 20th-century classics, Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader considers how the experiences of daily life and literature shape each other. In direct prose Gornick surveys an eclectic bunch of books shes returned to again and again over the course of decades, from the autofiction of Marguerite Duras to the late Victorian novels of Thomas Hardy. She vividly describes plots, characters, and authors, and examines all three through the lens of ...more
lark benobi
I got to the end of this brief collection of literary essays thinking that I'd very much like to have Vivien Gornick over for dinner. She is an interesting person. She and I have almost nothing in common when it comes to reading, or re-reading, and that was a bit of a barrier when it came to enjoying her literary criticism. These brief essays make assumptions about how people read and I just am so not like her this way. Hmm, to give an example...well she is just very, very character-focused, ...more
Dec 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What a complete pleasure this book was! I loved listening to Gornick ruminate over her layered impressions of books throughout the course of her life. It made me pull too many books off the shelf in the hopes of (somehow) finding time to reread old favorites. It also made me wish more people took on this project. It should be a column somewhere! But, really, Gornicks keen memory, honest impressions, and incredible prose made this book sing. This doesnt feel like a vanity project (as it may with ...more
This is not a book that I meant to pick up. I've never read anything written by Vivian Gornick ever. I don't have the same lived in experience as her. I certainly don't have the same taste in reading as she does. But I didn't think I'd get lit-crit about a few books that she has re-read over time, I thought it would be a more general approach to rereading. I have read a few of the books or authors she mentions, but none really made a mark, and Gornick didn't sell them enough, except for Pat ...more
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful book. Both sharp and gentle and full of hope. Gornicks voice is one to live by. ...more
Genevieve Brassard
Mar 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
A quick and fun read, especially if youre familiar with the books and authors she talks about, but if youre not, shell make you curious to check them out (I now want to read Natalia Ginzburg, for example🙂). The Bowen chapter was my favorite, but of course Im biased 😉 And now I want to read more Gornick titles too! ...more
Jan 10, 2020 rated it liked it
This is fine, although I found it kind of hard to really get into the authors narration of re-reading the specific books she chose to discuss because I have only read one of them - Carrs A Month in the Country - and others were very unfamiliar to me. It could be generational - based on events Gornick talks about in her life shes approximately my parents age. Books that I read and found to be touchstones that I return to are definitely not the same books that they found meaningful for them. I ...more
Rhiannon Johnson
Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux for my complimentary review copy.

Glen Helfand
Mar 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Vivian Gornick is a writer I've only recently discovered, and immediately felt a kinship. Reading her feels like chatting with a relative, a smart Jewish older cousin who can teach me so much about writing, and about a particular sensibility. She's got a heartfelt critical voice, an unerring self-examination gene, that is poignant and sometimes comically neurotic. She has a knack for clarity and expressiveness. She repeats herself from book to book and admits to it--"I have felt free to ...more
Feb 14, 2020 rated it liked it
Unfinished Business by Vivian Gornick was some Seriously. Deep. (Unprintable). I had never read anything written by Gornick previously, but had read multiple highly-entertaining and informative tomes on the respective authors' reading, re-reading, searching for things to read, etc. and expected something vaguely along the same lines. I was incorrect in my assumption. I understand how a reader's view of a book changes over the course of their lives based on education, life experiences, etc. But, ...more
Mar 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
I am not a re-reader. My to do reading list just seems too insurmountable to go back over previous reads. But, the "Facebook" challenge of listing one's favourite books made me realize that to know (and recommend) a book, one needs to re-read. Serendipitously, a profile of the author Vivian Gornick appeared in the New York about the same time (in February 2020), and made reference to this, her most recent book of essays.

I had not encountered her work previously. I like her tone and
Mar 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
As a chronic and obsessive re-reader myself, this book spoke to me and spoke for me more eloquently than Ive been able to articulate. Im a firm believer of re-reading books, especially those that make a powerful impact on us. It is a good idea to return to some books a few years later to see if they still carry the same weight as before. With the benefit of time and experience, we all tend to view our experiences in different light. This is true of books as well.
As a fan of Gornicks, I was
Jan 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley-books
I love this type of book so always keep my eye out for "books about books." The author examines the books that she frequently re-reads and how the important aspects of them change as she ages. Most of these books, I have never even heard of, which did affect my opinion of the book as a whole but only marginally. Re-reading is something that I always want to do more of (darn plethora of new books) so I am always interested to read about someone else's experience doing so. Overall, this is a book ...more
Jason Payne
Mar 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
As an inveterate reader, and more to the point a re-reader, this slim book by Vivian Gornick was right up my street. The basic premise is that Gornick chronicles the delights and pitfalls of re-reading favorite novels over the course of one's life. Her choices are interesting, from Elizabeth Bowen to A.B. Yehoshua, and it's interesting to read her readings of these texts change as life experiences pile on and years roll by.

Feb 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020, contemporary
Reading this as a companion text to my re-read of Middlemarch this term, I experienced Gornick's essays on books she revisited throughout her life as an inflection to my own act of reading as listening. She opens the book with a dedication to Randall Jarrel, "the man who believed we are devoted to the act of making literature because it leads to the act of reading." As a devotee to both writing and reading, I am thankful for the affection held in Unfinished Business.
Katie Anderson
Feb 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a very interesting look at how the same book can seem to change so much during each successive rereading. The book remains ever the same, but we as readers don't. Our lens of life colors the pages and affects how we take in the story. I haven't read any of the books that Gornick talks about, but the phenomenon isn't limited to just literary titles. All in all, this book makes one of the best cases for taking those beloved titles back off the shelf every once in a while.
Jan 19, 2020 rated it liked it
While her examples and experiences were not always a match to my own reading life, I was in full agreement with her findings on the startling value of re-reading and coming back to a book (to re-read or to try again to read for the first time) when one is in a different state or stage of life: like having to, in some cases, grow into the reader for whom the book was written, and for whom it had, all this time, been waiting. (e-galley, Ch. 8). ...more
Mar 22, 2020 rated it liked it
I've been reading Gornick's books since her first one was published. I liked the idea of this, I liked her writing style, but her discussion of the book didn't resonate with me. I know the feeling of rereading a book and seeing something different in it, but I just couldn't relate to a lot of her feelings.
Christine Edwards
Mar 24, 2020 rated it it was ok
Terribly unimpressed. This was one of those great jackets that didn't live up to the expectations it set. It rocks back and forth between memoir and literary criticism and leaves both lacking in my opinion. The page used for the cover art is probably the best page in the entire book. It's unfortunate, especially since I hear she is a great author on the whole.
Susan Messer
Mar 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Such an interesting, personal, moving way of discussing/examining/describing one's life as a reader, or especially, as a re-reader. But it's also about how books/characters/reading experiences intersected with her life, what they revealed to her about her own life experiences and interacted with them, what they taught her about writing.
Feb 28, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-in-2020
Seemed a chosen hyperfocus on a specific theme. Written as from a standpoint of self-justification. Perhaps the title mislead my own expectations, as I re-read many things, for differing reasons. The writing was fine, but it seemed I was rereading her same words page after page.
Luann Ritsema
Mar 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
This too will be a book to reread and ponder. I was especially taken with the final essays, particularly her thoughts connecting JL Carrs A Month in The Country (a favorite of mine) and Pat Barkers Regeneration, and the chapter on Jude the Obscure. Full disclosure: longtime, big Gornick fan. ...more
Jan 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 I just love living in her head and it is so fun to read what she thinks about important books!!!! ...more
Feb 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So good. Finished this and immediately started reading something else by Gornick.
Mar 17, 2020 added it
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Ann Cooper
Mar 12, 2020 rated it did not like it
Skimmed. The author makes good points about rereading at different stages of your life, but the books she chooses as examples are too erudite for me, and I haven't read, or didn't remember them.
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I might mark it down half a star for being too short, but that's all!
Mar 28, 2020 rated it liked it
I liked this short memoir of a life spent re-reading, but I hadnt read enough of the books Gornick discusses to get the most out of it. ...more
Mar 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Thoroughly enjoyable. For bookworms only.
Proof that theres a lot we miss or misinterpret simply because were not yet mature nor experienced enough to understand. Were never the same reader twice. A strong case for continually evolving and maintaining a supple mind through close attention, reassessment, and an openness to changing our perspectives. May we all be so intellectually vital in our eighties. A joy to read. ...more
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Vivian Gornick is the author of, among other books, the acclaimed memoir Fierce Attachments and three essay collections: The End of the Novel of Love, Approaching Eye Level, and, most recently, The Men in My Life. She lives in New York City.

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