Am I Alone Here?
“Stories, both my own and those I’ve taken to heart, make up whoever it is that I’ve become,” Peter Orner writes in this collection of essays about reading, writing, and living. Orner reads—and writes—everywhere he finds himself: a hospital cafeteria, a coffee shop in Albania, or a crowded bus in Haiti. The result is “a book of unlearned meditations that stumbles into memoir.” Among the many writers Orner addresses are Isaac Babel and Zora Neale Hurston, both of whom told their truths and were silenced; Franz Kafka, who professed loneliness but craved connection; Robert Walser, who spent the last twenty-three years of his life in a Swiss insane asylum, “working” at being crazy; and Juan Rulfo, who practiced the difficult art of silence. Virginia Woolf, Eudora Welty, Yasunari Kawabata, Saul Bellow, Mavis Gallant, John Edgar Wideman, William Trevor, and Václav Havel make appearances, as well as the poet Herbert Morris—about whom almost nothing is known.An elegy for an eccentric late father, and the end of a marriage, Am I Alone Here? is also a celebration of the possibility of renewal. At once personal and panoramic, this book will inspire readers to return to the essential stories of their own lives.

Am I Alone Here? Details

TitleAm I Alone Here?
Author
ReleaseOct 25th, 2016
PublisherCatapult
ISBN-139781936787258
Rating
GenreWriting, Books About Books, Nonfiction, Essays, Autobiography, Memoir, Language

Am I Alone Here? Review

  • Lee
    January 1, 1970
    Acquired this after walking at lunch to the one good independent bookstore in Center City Philadelphia that sells new fiction while listening to the author's interview with Michael Silverblatt on Bookworm. Loved the two short pieces that have nothing explicitly to do with books, the one about his "uncle" coming in out of the rain and the other about stealing his father's gloves. Both of these jumped off the page and were published in The New York Times (linked). These stories suggest and state t Acquired this after walking at lunch to the one good independent bookstore in Center City Philadelphia that sells new fiction while listening to the author's interview with Michael Silverblatt on Bookworm. Loved the two short pieces that have nothing explicitly to do with books, the one about his "uncle" coming in out of the rain and the other about stealing his father's gloves. Both of these jumped off the page and were published in The New York Times (linked). These stories suggest and state the historia behind the hysteria. But, in general, I kept saying to the wife as I read that I distrust the sensibility. It's centrist, alert for so-called bad sentences but unaware of its cliched emotional expression. Stories always make a reader ache, they break a reader's heart, they bring readers to their knees and explode their hearts. It says that stories are about what it means to be human but then overvalues melancholy, loneliness, sorrow, heartbreak, nearly completely forgoing ecstatic states, awe, wonder, joy, everything on the other side of the continuum of human experience that truly makes us human. Stories, for Orner, are like mechanisms for "maximum emotional devastation," which is something I've just never bought. I agree that they need to breathe on the page, but I look for more than that, just as I look for more than longing, loss, soul ache (I look for audacity, authority, execution, oomph, heft). I marked a Gina Berriault story collection to read and now have more of an interest in Eudora Welty, but otherwise the textual analysis herein I often read with restlessness. So often, in any review, when a sentence is enthusiastically excerpted for admiration, it so rarely lives up to expectations out of context. Eggers has a nice blurb on the cover but this doesn't "defy any category" -- it goes firmly into the category of books about books, with memoirish tendencies, like Between Parentheses or other compilations of brief essays on novels that seem to be out right now, or many reviews on here that integrate some personal experience. Generally, despite not often being on this one's side, I admired enough of it (the Salter, Babel, Juan Rulfo, and social media sections, particularly) and respect the impulse to put this together. For a certain sort of writer or reader who reads to ache instead of enhance perception of the world via the alternate reality of worlds in text, this may be a great read. For me, I read to see, to think, to sense, to experience, all of which includes emotion, but I've never been one to privilege feels over perception and ideas. A teacher at ye olde grad school once said that to take the next step I should focus on the emotional side of things, a teacher who also often wrote about daddy issues, but that's just never been what's interested me to begin with (interesting topic: the emotional side of Borges or Barthelme) and something that, when it seems to appear exclusively, especially in reactions to stories, has always been off-putting. The blubbery transparent vulnerability of the middle-aged male writer I intuitively distrust. I also object when authors talk about why "we" write (please leave me out of your blessed generalizations, please) and then defaults to loneliness (oh how I savor time alone): "Aren’t we perpetually, one way or another, trying to solve loneliness? The loneliness we feel? The loneliness we know is coming?" Loneliness is a step from solitude, which is writers' nirvana; it's not necessarily a negative, and when it's presented as such, it comes off false. Anyway: admirable at times, not for me in many ways, your results may very well vary.
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  • Julie Ehlers
    January 1, 1970
    I'm catching up on my 2017 reviews, and because I finished Am I Alone Here? so many months ago, I decided I would simply 5-star it and move on with my life—but when I looked at my own status updates I was reminded of the warm and friendly feelings this book engendered in me, and I decided it deserved a few words. In each brief essay in this collection, Orner talks about a book he's reading and finds a way to connect it to his own life, or the creative process, or the state of the world. There ar I'm catching up on my 2017 reviews, and because I finished Am I Alone Here? so many months ago, I decided I would simply 5-star it and move on with my life—but when I looked at my own status updates I was reminded of the warm and friendly feelings this book engendered in me, and I decided it deserved a few words. In each brief essay in this collection, Orner talks about a book he's reading and finds a way to connect it to his own life, or the creative process, or the state of the world. There are no major epiphanies here, just small moments, and that's as it should be—those of us who read all the time know we constantly have these small moments of insight, or joy, or sadness, and Orner captures that experience so perfectly. He's partial to short-story collections, and he will make you want to read all of them. Beautifully illustrated by Orner's brother, Am I Alone Here? is best read in small doses, the better to savor its many pleasures.
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  • Antonia
    January 1, 1970
    I have mixed feelings about this book and, while reading, was alternately captivated and irritated. I’m always interested in reading lives, why we read, how books affect us, which books others find especially noteworthy. I like reading about, and thinking about, the ways that our lives and our reading are linked, how they inform each other. And I really loved parts of Orner’s account, especially the earlier chapters. But as the book progressed, I became kind of bored. I’m not sure why. Partly, n I have mixed feelings about this book and, while reading, was alternately captivated and irritated. I’m always interested in reading lives, why we read, how books affect us, which books others find especially noteworthy. I like reading about, and thinking about, the ways that our lives and our reading are linked, how they inform each other. And I really loved parts of Orner’s account, especially the earlier chapters. But as the book progressed, I became kind of bored. I’m not sure why. Partly, no doubt, due to unfamiliarity with the book or story under discussion. And partly because a central project of writing the book seemed to be Orner’s argument with himself, his effort to make peace with his father’s memory. The book consists of about 40 short chapters, some (many?) of which began as entries in a column that Orner wrote for The Rumpus. Each short essay is partly a tribute to the book, story, or author under discussion and partly a discussion of how Orner came to the story and how it intersected with his own life. We get a lot of memoir here and come to understand that the book, overall, is largely about Orner’s complicated relationship with his father — and, to a lesser extent, his relationship with his (first?) wife and her problems. (It made me uncomfortable that he tells so much about her problems when she’d clearly asked him not to write about her. More than uncomfortable. It irritated me bigtime.)I admit that my boredom was frequently interrupted by some highlight=-worthy passages. For example:"All lives are interesting; no one life is more interesting than another. It all depends on how much is revealed and in what manner.""She swore she wouldn’t come back, but she did. Endless the roads that bring us back home, endless the roads that carry us away again.""Salter’s obituary in The New York Times focused, at length, on how unfamous he was. As if fame is the sole basis by which we judge a lifetime of work. When will we cut this shit out? And enough with the writer’s writer stuff. He wrote for readers, if not for millions, then for enough of them.""Outside, the fog was so thick it wasn’t fog exactly, more like a curtain of rain that wasn’t falling."In fact, I highlighted a lot throughout the book — and for many different reasons. And I have another list of things I want to read, and reread. I’ll no doubt dip into this book again. There’s really a lot I’d like to revisit and think about.Orner offers a free companion book that contains the full text of some of the works mentioned in Am I Alone Here (stories from Chekhov, Gallant, Pancake, Babel, et al.). The download link didn’t work for me with the Safari browser, but did work with Firefox.
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  • Diane Barnes
    January 1, 1970
    OK, glad it was a library book.
  • Ethel Rohan
    January 1, 1970
    AM I ALONE HERE? ends on the word 'haven.' I found haven in this thoughtful, heartfelt book. It's a wonderful blend of memoir and meditation.On literature and life, Orner poses questions and seeks meaning and we're invited into the essential exploration. By turns pensive, probing, sad, stirring, insightful, tender, honest, angry, harsh, and cynical, AM I ALONE HERE? offers up so much. I found myself clutching the book at its close and answering the title question in a burst, 'No you're not.'
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  • Holly
    January 1, 1970
    Orner and I are different kinds of readers. I thought I was an emotional reader, but I'm a cold heartless consumer compared to someone who asserts passionate devotion to writers and books and bases his very identity on his transcendent reading experiences and favorite authors, someone who carries books as talismans, or as badges of his literary loyalties, someone who might self-consciously hold the cover of his book outward while riding the subway. That's not being entirely fair, I realize. I li Orner and I are different kinds of readers. I thought I was an emotional reader, but I'm a cold heartless consumer compared to someone who asserts passionate devotion to writers and books and bases his very identity on his transcendent reading experiences and favorite authors, someone who carries books as talismans, or as badges of his literary loyalties, someone who might self-consciously hold the cover of his book outward while riding the subway. That's not being entirely fair, I realize. I liked the personal writing in this book but simply got weary of all the enthusiasm, the gushing about obscure and trendy writers whose names are bandied as literati code words (Imre Kertez, Robert Walser, etc.). Orner seems like a nice person and a fine story writer. He writes lovingly about Eudora Welty and Andre Dubus (père), which I appreciate. He reminded me to read the Gina Berriault story collection that has sat on my shelves for 15 years and to someday finish reading every Chekhov story, because a Chekhov-completist is a good thing to be.
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  • Sophfronia Scott
    January 1, 1970
    I love this book. I know I love it because I want to go back to the first page and read it again. I consume again and again work that touches me because I want to imprint it on the tissues of my being so I can call it forth at will when I need to experience something thoughtful, something beautiful. Orner also consumes what he reads again and again but he is smarter than I am. He reads oceans while I'm still learning how to tread water and can't hold my own in the deep end. But I know what it is I love this book. I know I love it because I want to go back to the first page and read it again. I consume again and again work that touches me because I want to imprint it on the tissues of my being so I can call it forth at will when I need to experience something thoughtful, something beautiful. Orner also consumes what he reads again and again but he is smarter than I am. He reads oceans while I'm still learning how to tread water and can't hold my own in the deep end. But I know what it is to pick up a book first before I write, and to marvel at words hung like perfect stars in the night sky. The aloneness of this is exquisite and yet, because we are not the only ones venturing and toiling this way, we are not alone. Orner writing this book, my reading it, and now my sharing it with you, is proof of this awesome fact.
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  • Lauren Albert
    January 1, 1970
    Many of you know that I have a shelf called "Books about Books and Reading"--it's one of my favorite topics. I have a whole section of a bookcase at home devoted to it. And to readers who also love walking away from a book with a list of other books to look for, this book will satisfy. It wasn't my favorite but it was good.
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  • Olga Zilberbourg
    January 1, 1970
    This book is wonderfully fluid in genre. Part memoir, part reader's diary, part craft book, it's one of those books I pick up when I'm feeling overwhelmed by the difficulties of life and looking for inspiration. Peter Orner reads and rereads the books he loves, and tells us in depth the circumstances of his reading.
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  • Jonathan Maas
    January 1, 1970
    Like having your smartest, most interesting - and unpretentious - friend list you his favorite books, and the life insights that he gleaned from themAm I Alone Here?: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live by Peter Orner sat on the library slush pile beneath my bed for a long time. It was coming due - renewed thrice already, and there was no chance for another, so I picked it up and -It had me from the introduction. Sometimes you just know a book is going to be incredible - and you have tha Like having your smartest, most interesting - and unpretentious - friend list you his favorite books, and the life insights that he gleaned from themAm I Alone Here?: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live by Peter Orner sat on the library slush pile beneath my bed for a long time. It was coming due - renewed thrice already, and there was no chance for another, so I picked it up and -It had me from the introduction. Sometimes you just know a book is going to be incredible - and you have that strange mix of kicking yourself for not getting earlier, plus relief that you have a can't miss good one in front of you for the time being.Now I read a lot, more than anyone I know - though when I read Orner's tome, I realize that no - I don't read a lot, at least not compared to him. Or rather I don't read challenging works, or at least not compared to him. I read Ruth Ware, he reads Hrabal, Bohumil.Orner is beyond unpretentious - so he makes that be ok - it's like having a smart friend who lifts you up. He reads the difficult thing, lends you the insight - and then boom - you've at least sort of read the source material.And what insight he brings, on every pageI have a thing I like to call the John Updike-level of writing. Updike basically drops an insight that could turn your worldview upside down in every paragraph. I don't think it's bad if a writer fails to live up to this - it's just a number. Some writers come close, some do one a page, some one a chapter, some one a book. Some, like Ruth Ware, might have zero - and that somehow makes her more powerful.Peter Orner, through reading other people's work - comes pretty close to the Updike level. You read it slowly, lest you miss out.For example:On Anton Chekhov: Chekhov is as realistic a writer as Kafka, and vice versa. I read “The Metamorphosis” not as an allegory but as a rough morning. Gregor Samsa, you might want to call in sick today. Yet Chekhov, in his unobtrusive way, is often gloriously weirder. It’s all in the things he notices about human beings, and there is nothing Chekhov does not notice. Few writers in history have been as gifted a noticer.On fiction in general:I’ve always resisted the notion of fiction as consolation. I’ve always seen it as something that is supposed to disrupt my life, to shake me out of treacherous contentment—but there are days, mornings like these, when it does provide a little solace, when reality itself, whatever this actually is, gets to be more than I can take.On a painting of a family he saw once:I remember a painting I once saw in a museum. A mother, a father, and a child huddled together on a beach, in the wind, their clothes flapping. There is something so vulnerable about a family of three. Take one away and what’s left but a permanently empty space the other two must carry?On short stories:For the short-story writer there is no such thing as essential form. Because his frame of reference can never be the totality of a human life, he must be forever selecting the point at which he can approach it, and each selection he makes contains the possibility of a new form as well as the possibility of a complete fiasco. I once tried to get all that tattooed on my chest, but the artist said he didn’t do paragraphs.On a quote from Jorge Luis Borges - note how even his quotes change you btw:Borges, who once said: I like beginnings and I like endings and I leave the long middles to Henry James.On novels, short stories and himself:If the novel is the more communal form, the short story is for loners, for those off to the side. Or to put it more mundanely, stories are like me at a party. I hover near the appetizers and have been known to consume entire wheels of cheese in order to keep busy. Anything to avoid the oppressive mob laughter of group conversations.----In short - Orner brings insight and accessibilityHe reminds me of Roxane Gay, who herself reads Judith Butler and gives me the insight, and also reminds me of one of my recent favorites - Martin Amis, who seems like he should be difficult to read, and is not.To clarify that note on Martin Amis - he is incredibly well-versed and read, and looks like a guy who gets into literary feuds with other big literary people - but when you read Amis's work, it goes straight to understanding.None of these are pretentious, and Orner is perhaps the least pretentious of the lot, or at least tied.I was thinking why and then I realized it is because -Orner finds a way to surprise youOne of my few criticisms of Roxane Gay is that she doesn't surprise you after awhile. You get the initial shock of her unique voice, and after that settles in - you can kind of predict what she is going to say.It is the same with Ta-Nehisi Coates and even conservative writers like Thomas Sowell. This doesn't make their points less valid - it just is.Orner does not suffer from this - perhaps because he doesn't care for politics. He throws insight at you, and that's it. Insight surprises, and so does Orner.His writing of loneliness does not make you feel bad - it uplifts, in factThough I loved Dani Shapiro's Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage, the despair in it crowded into the reader's consciousness.Shapiro leads a seemingly good life, finds a way to be unhappy - and then brilliantly shows this to the reader - I am not happy, and here is an absolutely incredible book elucidating reasons why you should you not be, either.Note I loved Shapiro's book - just illustrating that Orner does not have the self-obsessed despair within his words.His message is more Yeah there is a little bit of loneliness here, but it can be good at times - and regardless, let's hang out together and share it - you the reader and meIn Conclusion - no Peter Orner, you are not alone hereIn short, reading Orner makes you feel not only less alone, but great. You feel uplifted, and you feel smarter. He's your newest smartest friend that finds a way to self-deprecate just enough, and being around him makes you better.Now I've got a reading list haha - I won't say that I'll provide Orner-levels of insight afterwards, but it might push me in the right direction, and hopefully I can share with someone else what he has shared with his readers/fans, a group of which I am now proudly a member;)
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  • Numidica
    January 1, 1970
    This is a book about reading and about writing. I enjoyed it because it introduced, or re-introduced me to "difficult" authors in an accessible way. Kafka, for instance, is not light reading, and Orner makes it a bit easier to contemplate tackling his works. I have always loved Eudora Welty, but I have found he stories challenging, or not sufficiently engaging; Orner showed me a way of thinking about her that makes me want to read her again. James Salter has always been a favorite author, but ag This is a book about reading and about writing. I enjoyed it because it introduced, or re-introduced me to "difficult" authors in an accessible way. Kafka, for instance, is not light reading, and Orner makes it a bit easier to contemplate tackling his works. I have always loved Eudora Welty, but I have found he stories challenging, or not sufficiently engaging; Orner showed me a way of thinking about her that makes me want to read her again. James Salter has always been a favorite author, but again Orner makes me reconsider what I thought of the man. And he introduced me to many authors I did not know, and throughout the book he tells his own story. I will be referring back to this book as I think about what to read next, and I will likely read Orner's book about his time teaching in Namibia. I found Am I Alone Here by searching for a book about Namibia because I was reading a book about the Bushmen of the Kalahari, and stumbled across Orner's name because of his novel.
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  • Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
    January 1, 1970
    Peter Orner reads through his life, and that's what this book is. In these little essays, he faces a struggle in his real life and finds a struggle in a short story or novel that is similar. In the process, he shares favorite authors and favorite stories and favorite quotes. If you live to read, as Orner does, and as I do, you may enjoy reading to live along with this author, too.
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  • K.P. Ambroziak
    January 1, 1970
    I came to Peter Orner through his Modern Love essay in the New York Times. I connected with his writing style from the first. His poetic cadence carries you along like a stream taking hold of a leaf. His phrases kind of move through you as you read, making you feel as if you’re in conversation with him. I read his three short stories in the Paris Review, which were conservative and less moving than his essay, but still I wanted more, which is why I picked up “Am I Alone Here?” I didn’t go in wit I came to Peter Orner through his Modern Love essay in the New York Times. I connected with his writing style from the first. His poetic cadence carries you along like a stream taking hold of a leaf. His phrases kind of move through you as you read, making you feel as if you’re in conversation with him. I read his three short stories in the Paris Review, which were conservative and less moving than his essay, but still I wanted more, which is why I picked up “Am I Alone Here?” I didn’t go in with expectations, other than those his writing had suggested, and I knew it was a meditation on reading, an autobiographical memoir-esque experiment of sorts. But it seems something more. This work is about stories, fiction and truth bound by that secret pact that never lets a reader know which is which. Orner has a way of telling a story about a story that lets you know he’s lived some part of it, too. He lives what he reads, and this seems so important for a writer. I love books about writing, especially those that aren’t blatantly about writing. I admire Orner’s compassion for—and deep understanding of—stories. He makes it so that you walk away realizing everything is a story. Stories are how we live. Day in and out, we are living stories. We don’t all write about them, but when we read we’re reminded of this and seem to connect more readily with the idea. Maybe I’m taking away what I’d like here, but this brief foray into reading highlights the ways we are connected. Aside from the literary works he undresses here, he shares some sage-like advice. “Stories need no why,” he writes. “They only need to breathe a little on the page.” We don’t need to know the reasons we are telling or writing a particular story because they are essentially a byproduct of what it is to be human (in my humble opinion, not his). He suggests readers—who come in all shapes and literary shades—share the burden of the weight writers—who come in all shapes and literary shades—carry. He dares to claim reading (all thirteen volumes of Chekhov, for instance) isn’t what helps him “write a sentence that breathes,” which goes against the trite bit of writing advice, to write better, one must read, and read, and read. Orner admits reading alone keeps him alive, and yet his writing seems like the air we’re often looking to breathe. Yes, I am enamored with his writing, but also his honesty and his … um, is it humility? passion? compassion? humanity? I don’t know, but it’s all there.Midway through a rather interesting observation about Captain Ahab, Orner tells us he’s been doing more reading than writing lately (as he writes this gem about reading), and more thinking than both. He asks: “Isn’t thinking a form of writing without the pressure of needing to communicate with anybody?” Then he suggests he’s “testing the possibility of writing a book in [his] head without pen, paper, or computer.” I despise this idea, wanting to ask him how one can divorce the idea of thinking from writing—or writing from thinking. I can’t think without writing; through writing we think. But then Socrates feared the pen and perhaps he was one of the greatest thinkers ever … according to Plato’s pen, anyhow.Last little bit, and perhaps this is more for the writer (who won’t read this if he knows what’s good for him). According to one of his sources and notes on the notes, when discussing Chekhov in translation, he quotes Roberto Bolaño’s response to how we recognize a work of art in a piece of literature. Essentially, if a kid makes it her own after reading it, and whether faithfully or not reinterprets it, adding value to its original, well … “then we have something before us …” I say, if a writer is inspired to write after reading a book of essays about reading, well then … (she writes, as she taps the keys with the tips of her fingers, typing at a thoughtful pace.)
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  • Art
    January 1, 1970
    “Think of this as a book of learned meditations that stumble into memoir,” writes Peter Orner. These notes-into-essays began nine years ago, in the aftermath of a marriage. Orner finds himself drawn to short stories that refuse to explain themselves. And it is that open-face open-mindedness voice of discovery and wonder that appeals to me. The forty-two essays in this anthologies first appeared in a dozen publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, Salon, BuffFeed and McSweeney’s. “Think of this as a book of learned meditations that stumble into memoir,” writes Peter Orner. These notes-into-essays began nine years ago, in the aftermath of a marriage. Orner finds himself drawn to short stories that refuse to explain themselves. And it is that open-face open-mindedness voice of discovery and wonder that appeals to me. The forty-two essays in this anthologies first appeared in a dozen publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, Salon, BuffFeed and McSweeney’s. Several essay titles in the table of contents appealed to me. But the strong, direct and friendly first-person style drew me in, and I ended up reading the collection cover-to-cover. This anthology serves as a gateway to short stories and their writers, as experienced by Peter Orner. Highlights: — Each of us lives with a gap in our personal culture. Somewhere along the way, we failed to read, study or connect with a writer, film or band that everyone else understands. I, for example, never read much Chekov. But the ten-page opening essay here persuaded me to add several of his works to my to-read shelf. “Chekhov is a gifted noticer,” writes Orner, admiring the author’s powers of observation. — The novel is communal while the short story is for loners, for those off to the side, writes Orner. Or, as he puts it, stories are like him at a party, hovering over the food table to avoid the mob laughter of group conversations. — Inhabit a story by listening to it, Orner urges. But because he forgets that, Orner spends so much time in his head that he forgets to open himself to the voice of a stranger. — Every now and then, a book comes along that is agony to finish because you will never read it for the first time again, Orner writes. Ironically, that’s true with this, his own book. — “I thought reading would somehow make me a better writer. So I’d read in order to write. I’d justify the hours I spent with my feet up, and call reading my work,” Orner writes. Hard to tell why Peter Orner’s writing speaks to me. Maybe because many of our places intersect. Orner comes from Chicago. His father came from the Rogers Park neighborhood. The family moved to Highland Park. Those familiar areas come close to my own roots in the area. Orner also lived in Cincinnati, where I was a fine arts major. In his early twenties, he paddled Upper Moose Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, where I, too, went on a trip as a young Boy Scout. The song of the loon still haunts me. And, ultimately, his people own a family plot in Skokie, where my own parents spend eternity, across from Old Orchard. We remember when it was an orchard, an old orchard. I borrowed this book from the library. But, after enjoying it so much, I will now buy a copy and treasure it as another gateway to short stories. And, for bonus points, this memoir of essays includes an index. This terrific book came to my attention as a National Book Critics Circle nominee, Criticism category, announced in January. The title alone appealed to the reclusive part of me. But now I like this clear, ironic and funny voice, which is new to me.
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  • Ally
    January 1, 1970
    There are some books where the title is completely confusing and, at first glance, out of place...Steinbeck's OF MICE AND MEN comes to mind. This is not one of those books. What you see is what you get with Peter Orner's AM I ALONE HERE: NOTES ON LIVING TO READ AND READING TO LIVE. The book gives readers glimpses into the author's life, and what books/authors have influenced him. It's a borrowed book that was never returned, and the author is ruminating about his relationship with the borrow-ee. There are some books where the title is completely confusing and, at first glance, out of place...Steinbeck's OF MICE AND MEN comes to mind. This is not one of those books. What you see is what you get with Peter Orner's AM I ALONE HERE: NOTES ON LIVING TO READ AND READING TO LIVE. The book gives readers glimpses into the author's life, and what books/authors have influenced him. It's a borrowed book that was never returned, and the author is ruminating about his relationship with the borrow-ee. It's a scene in the book that the author is currently reading, that brings up memories of a similar scene in Peter's life. It's two books that, at first glance might not seem similar, but upon reflection the author sees many parallels. By the end of the book, you may feel like you know something about Peter Orner...for better or worse. However, as is the case with most collections of essays, you may resonate with some of the pieces more than others. For me, one of the most interesting pieces was "Eudora Welty, Badass". In it, Peter Orner talks about his love for Eudora Welty, and how he even made a pilgrimmage to her home (now a historic landmark) and inspecting her books. He also discovers a little-known story in her obscure, short story collection THE BRIDE OF THE INNISFALLEN called "The Burning". She primarily wrote about the American South, living her entire life in that area. In this particular story, she did not shy away from confronting the overt racism and other evils of slaveholders toward their slaves. In particular, the practice of white masters raping their female slaves is highlighted - within the context of post-Civil War reconstruction. Welty takes on complicated and complex issues that face herself and her fellow Southerners with clarity and sharpness. For Orner, that definitely makes her a badass, and puts this story in the realm of Toni Morrison, Edward P. Jones, and William Faulkner. Most of the pieces feature at least one book that played a significant role in Peter Orner's life, but there are two essays which are obituaries he wrote after his father's death. His father features in many of the essays in AM I ALONE HERE as being a source of love, of fear, of confusion, and of example. One of the most unexpectedly moving essays is "My Father's Gloves", showing how an ordinary object to one person can be a metaphor and important artifact to another.There are over 40 short essays here, each one around 5 pages long, which makes it perfect to read while waiting for an appointment, during a lunch break, or sitting on the toilet. In fact, the writing style is so unpretentious and full of humor, yet well-crafted and thoughtful that you don't even realize you're learning something, or feeling feelings, until the essay is over. This is the brilliance of Peter Orner's writing - it creeps up slowly and without flourish, then hits you over the head. AM I ALONE HERE is a book that can be approached from many different ways, for different people. It's for readers and bibliophiles. It's for lovers of imperfect and complicated people and relationships. It's for memoir/essay enthusiasts. It's for humans.
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  • Joanne Clarke Gunter
    January 1, 1970
    A delectable treat of a book for literary fiction readers. Peter Orner is a very good writer and this book is full of admiration for many well known writers (and some not so well known) whose writing has left an indelible mark on Orner. I love books about books and this one was particularly wonderful for me because many of the same writers he cherishes are also cherished by me. William Maxwell! William Trevor! John Cheever! Bohumil Hrabal! But also Chekhov, Kafka, Welty, Walser, Bellow, Salter, A delectable treat of a book for literary fiction readers. Peter Orner is a very good writer and this book is full of admiration for many well known writers (and some not so well known) whose writing has left an indelible mark on Orner. I love books about books and this one was particularly wonderful for me because many of the same writers he cherishes are also cherished by me. William Maxwell! William Trevor! John Cheever! Bohumil Hrabal! But also Chekhov, Kafka, Welty, Walser, Bellow, Salter, among others. This is a book about books and writers (especially the short story masters), but it is also a memoir of Orner's life as he reads and rereads his beloved favorites. This book is a joy to read and highly recommended.
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  • Sara
    January 1, 1970
    I wish I had the words to express the magic of this book (but then, "the failure to capture the vision is the vision"), how it quietly schooled me on life and literature --- or maybe school is the wrong word, but engages in a generous, honest meditation on the intersection of the two that feels alive, open, ongoing, almost conversational (in that it places the reader in the room) brimming with insight and wisdom. My pencil went to town. This will be a book I'll return to again and again for its I wish I had the words to express the magic of this book (but then, "the failure to capture the vision is the vision"), how it quietly schooled me on life and literature --- or maybe school is the wrong word, but engages in a generous, honest meditation on the intersection of the two that feels alive, open, ongoing, almost conversational (in that it places the reader in the room) brimming with insight and wisdom. My pencil went to town. This will be a book I'll return to again and again for its barest truths on writing, on living. Orner is dynamite.
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  • Gaylord Dold
    January 1, 1970
    Am I AloneHere? Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live by Peter Orner (Catapault, New York, 2017)There are many, many books about the reading life and how books effect and alter our existence. Schools of thought exist that emphasize the intellectual accomplishment that reading brings, seeing reading as a form of mental exercise. Other readers emphasize the empathetic nature of reading, seeing in reading a way of entering other worlds, cultures, and individuals, bringing them closer to us an Am I AloneHere? Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live by Peter Orner (Catapault, New York, 2017)There are many, many books about the reading life and how books effect and alter our existence. Schools of thought exist that emphasize the intellectual accomplishment that reading brings, seeing reading as a form of mental exercise. Other readers emphasize the empathetic nature of reading, seeing in reading a way of entering other worlds, cultures, and individuals, bringing them closer to us and teaching us how to think differently about people. A goodly number of readers think of pleasure first, and cite the joy of reading as a prime reason to pick up a book. And then there are what I call the hysterics--those like Pat Conroy, and in this case, Peter Orner, who make extravagant claims about reading, how it "changes" one's life, revolutionizes existence, or takes one's breath away. These hysterics often talk about "weeping" over the fate of characters (Conroy is good at this) and connect a certain reading experience with some kind of titanic alteration of their fortunes. It is best to view much of this with skepticism. One good place to get a fabulous overview of the "opinions" of mankind about reading and books is in...The Anatomy of Bibliomania by Holbrook Jackson (University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, pb. 2001) See esp. Part I, Of Books in General; Part III, The Pleasure of Books; Part IV, Of Fellowship; Part XIII, The Influence of Books; Part XV, The Origin of a Species.Orner's book is sentimental, sometimes banal and often trite. He throws books out windows, weeps, hides his face in a book, keeps one under the seat of his car for those "long red lights", claims to keep a copy of a certain book in "every room", to read "before work" etc. He also makes the ridiculous claim that reading has no influence on writing. This claim in particular flies in the face of the experience of most writers. See, for example, Stefan Zweig's fabulous book about Balzac, which contains a particularly brilliant elucidation of Balzac's "writer's education" through reading. If you want a starter bibliography of books about "The Reading Life", just email me.Here is a sample of Orner's claims. “Certain Absurd Observations About the Reading Life”FROM: AM I ALONE HERE: NOTES ON LIVING TO READ AND READING TO LIVE BY PETER ORNER (CATAPAULT, NEW YORK, 2017)“A few years ago I was away from my daughter for five weeks. She was about two and a half at the time, and I remember sitting in a little coffee shop in upstate New York feeling rested, and guilty for all the time I was spending by myself. I took out John Edgar Wideman’s All Stories are True. I often carry this collection around with me. The energy of Wideman’s prose is like a shot of epinephrine.”“By the first sentence of the second paragraph—“She would be twelve by now”—I realized I wasn’t going to be able to finish it this time. My family would be surprised to hear that I cry. They’ve never seen me do it. I do it down in the garage, tearlessly. There’s this welling up and I have to gulp air because I feel like I’m suffocating. I hide my face (from myself) in a book…That day in Essex, New York, in a coffee shop called the Pink Pig. I picked up a People instead. No big deal. How many greater challenges have I shirked? But I remember my cowardice. I couldn’t endure someone else’s losses on the page because I was too busy missing my own people…This morning, as an act of private penance, my family asleep, I returned to “Welcome” and wept. All-out wept for a change. ---“This morning I threw a novel out the window of my car…I was reading a few lines from a novel—Julian Barne’s The Sense of an Ending—at a red light. I often keep a book under the seat for long lights.”“After a few paragraphs…I found myself, once again, sympathizing with Adrian, a character who, before the book opens, kills himself to get away from people like Tony, the guy telling the story. I suppose Tony is supposed to be a a charmingly irritating fellow. All I got was irritated. I’m sure I’m unfair. Smarter heads than mine, people I love and respect, adored this novel, including my mother. It was her book-club copy that I lobbed into the street.” ---“As I understand it, she (Gina Barriault) was an intensely private person who did not seek attention. My guess is she was working too hard at her desk to care very much about the business side of publishing. Every time I come upon a faded red copy of the 1982 North Point Press edition of The Infinite Passion of Expectation in a used bookstore, I buy it again. I like to have a copy in every room.” ---“This morning, hours before I heard the news that she was gone, I read an essay by Mavis Gallant called “Paul Leautaud, 1872-1956. It’s about a now obscure writer once known in French literary circles as the Great Insulter.”“It’s not much of a coincidence that I happened to be reading Gallant on the morning of her death, because I often read Gallant in the morning before I start to work.” ---“For a long time I thought reading would somehow make me a better writer. So I’d read in order to write. I’d justify the hours I spent with my feet up and call reading “my work.” Now I see how ludicrous this is. All the Chekhov in thirteen volumes won’t help me write a sentence that breathes. That comes from somewhere else, somewhere out in the work, where mothers die in car accidents and daughter hide the pain. And yet I have come to the conclusion that reading keeps me alive, period.” ---“Not everything he (James Salter) did was perfect, or even close. I remember once being so irritated by a lush sentence in Light Years that I threw the book across the room.” ---“And there have been many times when I’ve wanted to mug people just to force them to take the book home and read it, slowly, letting each sentence echo in the brain. Call it the novel of my life…It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Too Loud a Solitude has rescued me from myself more than once…”
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  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    I was really wavering between 3 and 4 stars for this one, but I decided to give Am I Alone Here? 4 stars because some of the passages were just too good. According to Goodreads I highlighted 59 extracts in this book, and I'm not surprised. Many of the stories were moving, funny, etc. but there was a bit of lull midway, that the author couldn't full shirk off. Lots of quotable material, but too many rhetorical questions. Sometimes this book read like an extended Carrie Bradshaw monologue.For the I was really wavering between 3 and 4 stars for this one, but I decided to give Am I Alone Here? 4 stars because some of the passages were just too good. According to Goodreads I highlighted 59 extracts in this book, and I'm not surprised. Many of the stories were moving, funny, etc. but there was a bit of lull midway, that the author couldn't full shirk off. Lots of quotable material, but too many rhetorical questions. Sometimes this book read like an extended Carrie Bradshaw monologue.For the most part however, I enjoyed this book, and I enjoyed reading about the passion Peter Orner has for books.
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  • Robert Vaughan
    January 1, 1970
    My pal Sara Lippmann sent me this book and I was thrilled. I was familiar with the author, having read his short story collection, Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge. And though this book is, in some ways, a short story collection, it is so much more. It arrived at the perfect time, as all books do, and I devoured it. Then, come to find out, his own brother collaborated on the book illustrations throughout the book. And it gets its own extra star for that. I love these CNF/ memoir/ fiction/ poetr My pal Sara Lippmann sent me this book and I was thrilled. I was familiar with the author, having read his short story collection, Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge. And though this book is, in some ways, a short story collection, it is so much more. It arrived at the perfect time, as all books do, and I devoured it. Then, come to find out, his own brother collaborated on the book illustrations throughout the book. And it gets its own extra star for that. I love these CNF/ memoir/ fiction/ poetry blends of books that seem to be all coming out of late. And like Sara, I had the pencil handy, taking notes, dreaming on breathless sentences, ordering too many books to mention by the end of this great read.
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  • Angela Boord
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 stars
  • Krista
    January 1, 1970
    "Power rarely pauses to listen, much less read." p. 43.Lots of book suggestions.
  • Janice
    January 1, 1970
    I am not a lover of the short story, as this author is, but he did persuade me to look at certain stories in a different way, to value the way a short story can give a glimpse of a moment in time, a snapshot of a life or an incident. In this book of essays, Peter Orner features a different author and one of their writings, in each chapter. Most of the chapters describe a short story, and it’s impact on his life, although a few do mention novels. Throughout the book, the author tells much about h I am not a lover of the short story, as this author is, but he did persuade me to look at certain stories in a different way, to value the way a short story can give a glimpse of a moment in time, a snapshot of a life or an incident. In this book of essays, Peter Orner features a different author and one of their writings, in each chapter. Most of the chapters describe a short story, and it’s impact on his life, although a few do mention novels. Throughout the book, the author tells much about his own life, and some chapters are much more autobiographical than others. I always enjoy hearing how reading has impacted a person’s life, and this was an enjoyable read.
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  • Mimi
    January 1, 1970
    charming book about books and life. A 3.5
  • Lynn Green
    January 1, 1970
    If you are ever feeling too euphoric, read this book because it will kill whatever good mood you may be suffering from. Peter Orner spends an inordinate amount of time complaining about what a crappy life he is leading. His father is a loud-mouthed jerk. His estranged wife is a basket case. He doesn't seem to go anywhere pleasant. He reads only the most depressing stories, and he mainly uses them to justify his pity party. Thanks for the buzzkill Peter.
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  • Melissa
    January 1, 1970
    An interesting collection of personal essays. Orner contrasts what he is reading - or finds he NEEDS to read at times - with his personal life. Gets a bit navel-gaze-y on occasion, but the range of authors he writes about is really awesome (particularly the short story writers). Orner has a toss-off line that states he prefers literature where families have trouble communicating and it's a through-line between his reading and memoir.
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  • John Benson
    January 1, 1970
    This is a book of short essays by a man who is trying to understand his life and writing through the books he reads. Peter Orner is also trying to make sense of the grief he feels at his dad's death, despite the fact that they did not speak to each other for many years. An honest and interesting book of essays.
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  • Paul Wilner
    January 1, 1970
    My notice, for the San Francisco Chronicle, is below:http://www.sfgate.com/books/article/A...
  • Jessi Cochran
    January 1, 1970
    I am really excited to be starting this book and am so thankful I won an ARC copy! I'm about to dive in now.
  • Book Barmy (Bookbarmy.com)
    January 1, 1970
    This wins the most unconventional memoir award, as it's described as "a book of unlearned meditations that stumbles into memoir.” (Say what?)Mr. Orner, a professor, poses questions on literature and life and the reader is invited into this, at times, existential exploration. At first blush the book appears pedantic, but have courage readers, Am I Alone Here? is affecting on so many levels.The author's true love is the short story, mixed with poetry and the occasional novel. Each chapter shows a This wins the most unconventional memoir award, as it's described as "a book of unlearned meditations that stumbles into memoir.” (Say what?)Mr. Orner, a professor, poses questions on literature and life and the reader is invited into this, at times, existential exploration. At first blush the book appears pedantic, but have courage readers, Am I Alone Here? is affecting on so many levels.The author's true love is the short story, mixed with poetry and the occasional novel. Each chapter shows a rendering of the book cover, reviews the story (or poetry), gives background on the author (many of which were unknown to me) and then, how the story relates to Mr. Orner's own life. Mr. Orner is a thinker -- a ponderer and as with many artists he struggles with the meaning of his life as it relates to his gift...and gifted he is. There's some staggeringly beautiful writing on display here. On reading a book of poetry by an obscure poet:"Books pursue us. I've always believed this. I dug Herbert Morris out of the free bin outside Dog Eared Books (San Francisco). What compelled me to stop that day? How can I express my gratitude to a poet who never sought it, who only wanted me to know his creations, not their creator? An how many others might be out there, somewhere, under all this noise, tell us things we need to hear?"I must admit I skipped around while reading Am I Alone Here? and found some bits more interesting than others. The format is unusual which allows for picking and choosing chapters to suit. And the chapter titles -- so intriguing:Euroda Welty, Badass; Shameless Impostors; Surviving the Lives We Have; My Father's Gloves; Night Train to Split: UnforgiveableDon't you just want to see what they'll offer? My Father's Gloves is a tender tribute to his father and, unless you're a hard case, will bring tears to your eyes.Sometimes heavy, often cynical, but always probing, and insightful-- Am I Alone Here offers plenty to think about long after you've finished. An as an added bonus, if you're like me, you'll come away with a whole new list of authors and poets to explore.See all my reviews at http://www.bookbarmy.com
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