Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader

Vivian Gornick (Author)


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 passionate reading, of returning again and again to the books that have shaped her at crucial points in her life. In nine essays that traverse literary criticism, memoir, and biography, one of our most celebrated critics writes about the importance of reading--and re-reading--as life progresses. Gornick finds herself in contradictory characters within D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, assesses womanhood in Colette's The Vagabond and The Shackle, and considers the veracity of memory in Marguerite Duras's The Lover. She revisits Great War novels by J. L. Carr and Pat Barker, uncovers the psychological complexity of Elizabeth Bowen's prose, and soaks in Natalia Ginzburg, "a writer whose work has often made me love life more." After adopting two cats, whose erratic behavior she finds vexing, she discovers Doris Lessing's Particularly Cats.

Guided by Gornick's trademark verve and insight, Unfinished Business is a masterful appreciation of literature's power to illuminate our lives from a peerless writer and thinker who "still read[s] to feel the power of Life with a capital L."

Product Details

$25.00  $23.00
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publish Date
February 04, 2020
5.3 X 0.7 X 7.8 inches | 0.5 pounds
BISAC Categories:

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About the Author

Vivian Gornick is the author of several books, including the acclaimed memoir Fierce Attachments, named the best memoir of the past 50 years by the New York Times Book Review in 2019; the essay collections The End of the Novel of Love and The Men in My Life, both of which were nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism; and The Odd Woman and the City, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography. She began her career as a staff writer for The Village Voice in 1969, and her work has since appeared in The New York Times, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, The Atlantic, and many other publications.


"Gornick's new book is part memoiristic collage, part literary criticism, yet it is also an urgent argument that rereading offers the opportunity not just to correct and adjust one's recollection of a book but to correct and adjust one's perception of oneself . . . Lively, personable . . . sneakily poignant . . . It is one of the great ironies of consuming literature that as much as we read to expand our minds, we often take in only whatever it is that we are primed to absorb at a particular moment. Do not, Gornick says in this brief, incisive book, let that be the end of it." --Chloë Schama, The New York Times Book Review

"Vivacious and highly recommended." --Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

"A thoughtful and far-ranging collection of essays. Gornick, one of the great essayists of our time, writes about one of life's simple pleasures with tenderness and wit." --Jenny Offill, Parade

"Unfinished Business is all about different ways of looking, a chronicle of the protean perceptions and interpretations . . . Gornick certainly is convincing when she takes the perceived textual qualities of realness and life and brings them to bear on her own life . . . In each case, the new reading leads to a different destination; in each case, Gornick is guided by a yearning that has remained as constant through the years as a star." --Christopher Sorrentino, Bookforum

"Reading Gornick rereading, there is the persistent feeling that we--readers, writers, authors, characters--are all in it together, trying to grasp the bigger, ever-shifting picture of why we do what we do and to find the tools to illuminate, reveal, question, mourn, and grow." --Emily LaBarge, Los Angeles Review of Books

"[An] enchanting and addictive little book--whose size and shape make it feel like it contains epigrams and instructions for life when in fact it contains not so much instructions for life, but life itself." --Thomas Beller, 4Columns

"These essays glow with Gornick's sharp intelligence . . . Whatever a reader may think of Gornick's tastes and interpretations, it must be recognized that few champions of literature and reading are as passionate and uncompromising. Would that there were more." --Bill Thompson, The Post and Courier

"Gornick's ferocious but principled intelligence emanates from each of the essays in this distinctive collection . . . The author reads more deeply and keenly than most, with perceptions amplified by the perspective of her 84 years . . . Literature knows few champions as ardent and insightful--or as uncompromising--as Gornick, which is to readers' good fortune." --Kirkus (starred review)

"A delightful entry for lovers of literature and literary criticism." --Library Journal (starred review)

"Through steady, sculpted prose and elegant readings, Gornick concludes the work of great literature is less about 'the transporting pleasure of the story itself' than revealing readers to themselves . . . The insights in this rich work will be appreciated by Gornick fans and bibliophiles alike." --Publishers Weekly