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Mentor: A Memoir

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  407 ratings  ·  99 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

Paperback, 200 pages
Published July 29th 2010 by Tin House Books
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Average rating 3.83  · 
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 ·  407 ratings  ·  99 reviews

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May 20, 2010 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
Lee Klein
May 05, 2010 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.
Sep 18, 2010 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
Mike Reuther
May 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Grimes opens up a clear window into the writing life and how all-consuming it can become. He shares with the reader his many struggles, self-doubts and even mental health issues he comes up against during his life. Much of this book deals with the fabled Iowa Writers Workshop during the years it was headed up by Frank Conroy, a literary giant who became Grimes's mentor. I'm not sure we really grasp the whole essence of who Conroy was and exactly what he meant to Grimes. Certainly, Conroy was a ...more
Dec 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs, on-writing
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).

Karolyn Sherwood
Aug 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
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.
Aug 01, 2010 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 ...more
Alex Duncan
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Great account of a writer's life! Rings true from start to finish.
switterbug (Betsey)
Feb 22, 2011 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
Tejas Janet
Oct 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An astonishing accomplishment. In this luminescent memoir, Tom Grimes peers into his own heart of darkness and stares down his own demons while simultaneously paying homage to his mentor and dear friend, Frank Conroy.

His writing is grounded yet elevated, refined without being pretentious, and deeply emotional without being maudlin or overwrought. This is a memoir for the ages that speaks to existential emptiness and the search for meaning seen through the eyes of one man who finally recognizes
Jul 14, 2011 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
Rena Graham
Apr 21, 2016 rated it liked it
This is an odd book. At its best, it's a peek into the famed Iowa Writer's Workshop and the life Frank Conroy settled into after his initial fame with Stop-Time. At its worst, it's a confessional memoir by a student who should have been old enough to traverse the territory he was graced with in a more, well, graceful way. No one held a gun to his head and said, "You must write." I don't care what anyone says (myself included, when I speak of my own destiny)-this is always a choice. His ...more
Aug 21, 2010 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
Aug 01, 2010 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 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.
Aug 01, 2010 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 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.
Bill FromPA
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
An interesting literary memoir about the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, the author’s relationship with Frank Conroy (the mentor of the title), and life as a published but not spectacularly successful author. Much of the memoir, at least the parts I best recall, is about the novel that Grimes writes in the workshop, Season’s End. Conroy admires the book and is instrumental in its finding a publisher, and, as I recall, it gets good reviews, but Grimes finds that getting readers to actually pick up the ...more
Jul 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
I came to this book with low expectations--didn't go to Iowa, never met or even read any Conroy, don't care much about him. But this book is bafflingly clumsy. Maybe its subject is still too close and painful for the author, but, the subject is a teacher, and by extension the author's own sense of himself as a writer. Scenes read like a caricature of writers' lives by someone who has never met a writer. This book's main strength is as a study of how we let our teachers, our "mentors," manipulate ...more
Apr 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting look at one writer's relationship with another writer, and at the publishing industry. As a University of Iowa graduate myself, I love hearing about Iowa City in any book, and I am still impressed by the list of writers who have attended the workshop over the years.
Oct 27, 2017 rated it liked it
I had to read this book for a class, and honestly it wasn’t terrible. I thought it was interesting to get a writers perspective on the whole writing process. Clearly Tom is in love with Frank which great. Wonderful. I won’t read this again.
Peter Melancon
Mar 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful book, loved it!
Sep 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
A moving memoir and inside look at the writing life.
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Affecting. I doubt the veracity of some of Grimes’s claims, especially as his immediates routinely disputed him to his face, but what’s told is well told.
Sarah Weaver
Jul 17, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5 stars
May 04, 2013 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
May 10, 2010 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
lee lee
Jan 06, 2011 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
Oct 26, 2010 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
Sep 15, 2010 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
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