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A guide to the art of personal writing, by the author of Fierce Attachments and The End of the Novel of Love.

All narrative writing must pull from the raw material of life a tale that will shape experience, transform event, deliver a bit of wisdom. In a story or a novel the "I" who tells this tale can be, and often is, an unreliable narrator but in nonfiction the reader must always be persuaded that the narrator is speaking truth.

How does one pull from one's own boring, agitated self the truth-speaker who will tell the story a personal narrative needs to tell? That is the question The Situation and the Story asks - and answers. Taking us on a reading tour of some of the best memoirs and essays of the past hundred years, Gornick traces the changing idea of self that has dominated the century, and demonstrates the enduring truth-speaker to be found in the work of writers as diverse as Edmund Gosse, Joan Didion, Oscar Wilde, James Baldwin, or Marguerite Duras.

This book, which grew out of 15 years teaching in MFA programs, is itself a model of the lucid intelligence that has made Gornick one of our most admired writers of nonfiction. In it, she teaches us to write by teaching us how to read: how to recognize truth when we hear it in the writing of others and in our own.

©2001 Vivian Gornick (P)2013 Audible, Inc.

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • M. Clark
  • 03-05-18


The first part of this book is so good, filled with exactly the information I was hoping to get. Then suddenly the good stuff ends and the entire rest of the book is just examples of nice writing with almost no further teaching at all. Such a letdown, made worse by a bad reader.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Tommy
  • 10-08-16

Barely talks about the difference between Situation and Story

I picked up this audiobook to help me understand the difference between a situation and a story and while it does touch in that it's not really what this book was about, at least that's not what I got out of it. This book is more of a short collection of the author's favorite summarized books and essays and the reason why they're written so well which is fine but what's missing for me was that at the end of each summary it's not broken down to what the situation was compared to what the story was. Well written but not what I was expecting.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful