Come Back in September ~ by David Pinckney

From Putnam, the publishers: :  
“Critic and writer Darryl Pinckney recalls his friendship and apprenticeship with Elizabeth Hardwick and Barbara Epstein and the introduction they offered him to the New York literary world.

Come Back In September: A Literary Education 
On West Sixty-Seventh Street, Manhattan
By Darryl Pinckney: 2022
Rating: 9.5 / memoir 

  • National Book Critics Circle Award – Nominee 
  • New York Times Book Review Notable Books of the Year 
  • Washington Post Best Books of the Year

The New York Times calls it “elegiac,”although for the most part I didn’t quite understand that. There is certainly a tone of it”good-bye” especially in the last chapter, The title is oddly hopeful for an elegy. It’s more like an observation that an era has passed and this book remembers Pinckney himself as well as his mentor and long-term, good friend Elizabeth Hardwick.  The book is like an homage to Elizabeth Hardwick.

With no audio book available for this, I actually read it on my little iPad-Kindle. It took me quite a long time due to my senior eyes. Also, the book itself is dense with memories which seem to flow (or be choppy). I listened to other books along the way. This lack of an Audible book is rare and I think it mostly happens with the older non-classic books as well as to a few which just wouldn’t work very well (graphic novels?)

 To me, the sample Kindle read like a name-dropping memoir of New York literary snobbery and I almost decided not to bother, but I changed my mind because I am group leader at All-Nonfiction and this was our month’s group read. Besides, I’ve read every book since I joined in April of 2000 – I don’t want to break that record.

 I’m glad I read it. (What happened was that I kept procrastinating the decision to quit. – lol!)   

I have a couple of criticisms, but it still gets a very high rating!  If this book were only 250 pages long it might be much better – although maybe not quite so “elegiac” or nostalgic. I was really interested for only about the first 150 pages and then my involvement was in bits and pieces. That said, there is something worthwhile and compelling about this book – Maybe it’s the good-bye to that era with all the books and different kinds of news from the War in Vietnam (1973) to the height of the AIDS struggle (1980s) and on to the fall of the Berlin Wall so there’s also a bit of nostalgia.

That said, I kept going, but Gertrude Stein did this kind of memoir properly with The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas which I read about 20 years ago. Stein’s book inspired me to compose a kind of annotated list of people mentioned and what they were noted for to go with the book.  I loved Stein’s book, but it’s only 206 hard cover pages and that fits what it was.

 In his defense, Pinckney tries for quite a lot more and ended up with 432 pages (also hard cover for comparison), for his 2-decade memoir and homage to Elizabeth Hardwick and he also includes information about his own family and some Black-American history.  

All that said, I enjoyed so much of it. I think he captured the ambiance of the New York literary circles in the 1970s and ’80s (much of it anyway).  I’ve read quite a number of the authors mentioned, but certainly not all. And yes, I feel like I got to know Hardwick as well as Pinckney.  

It was after trying the sample that I decided to skip it,  but I guess I only procrastinated the decision because I re-thought it and decided I should check out some background and that got me more interested and I decided to get it. And I read it. For the next 3 weeks I read it, taking notes and highlighting but not going very fast.  

Elizabeth (Liz, Lizzy) Hardwick, was age 50-something in 1974 when she became the professor and mentor of 19-year old Pinckney. Along with Barbara Epstein he kind of pleaded/advised/joked Hardwick into admitting him to her class and they became fast friends until her death 34 years later. (I read somewhere that he’s the custodian of her works.) This book doesn’t do much with the last couple decades of her life but I think Pinckney wasn’t around so much then.  

On the surface, this is NOT my era of New York literature. David Pinckney, is a Black New York writers born in about 1955 or so in Indiana.  (He’s rather coy about his age.)   Meanwhile I love the later New York of Don DeLillo and Jonathan Letham and Cynthia Ozick and others, Mark Helprin? Even Thomas Pynchon in his later days.

I can’t really recommend this if you weren’t a part in some way, even as a reader, of the literary life of New York in the 1980s and ’90s. But if you were an involved reader of the New York Review of Books or the kinds of books they critique you might really enjoy it.

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