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The sexual politics of a faculty wives dinner. The psychological gamesmanship of an inappropriate therapist. The emotional minefield of an extended family wedding . . .   Whatever the subject, Emily Fox Gordon’s disarmingly personal essays are an art form unto themselves—reflecting and revealing, like mirrors in a maze, the seemingly endless ways a woman can lose herself in The sexual politics of a faculty wives dinner. The psychological gamesmanship of an inappropriate therapist. The emotional minefield of an extended family wedding . . .   Whatever the subject, Emily Fox Gordon’s disarmingly personal essays are an art form unto themselves—reflecting and revealing, like mirrors in a maze, the seemingly endless ways a woman can lose herself in the modern world. With piercing humor and merciless precision, Gordon zigzags her way through “the unevolved paradise” of academia, with its dying breeds of bohemians, adulterers, and flirts, then stumbles through the perils and pleasures of psychotherapy, hoping to find a narrative for her life. Along the way, she encounters textbook feminists, partying philosophers, perfectionist moms, and an unlikely kinship with Kafka—in a brilliant collection of essays that challenge our sacred institutions, defy our expectations, and define our lives.


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The sexual politics of a faculty wives dinner. The psychological gamesmanship of an inappropriate therapist. The emotional minefield of an extended family wedding . . .   Whatever the subject, Emily Fox Gordon’s disarmingly personal essays are an art form unto themselves—reflecting and revealing, like mirrors in a maze, the seemingly endless ways a woman can lose herself in The sexual politics of a faculty wives dinner. The psychological gamesmanship of an inappropriate therapist. The emotional minefield of an extended family wedding . . .   Whatever the subject, Emily Fox Gordon’s disarmingly personal essays are an art form unto themselves—reflecting and revealing, like mirrors in a maze, the seemingly endless ways a woman can lose herself in the modern world. With piercing humor and merciless precision, Gordon zigzags her way through “the unevolved paradise” of academia, with its dying breeds of bohemians, adulterers, and flirts, then stumbles through the perils and pleasures of psychotherapy, hoping to find a narrative for her life. Along the way, she encounters textbook feminists, partying philosophers, perfectionist moms, and an unlikely kinship with Kafka—in a brilliant collection of essays that challenge our sacred institutions, defy our expectations, and define our lives.

30 review for Book of Days: Personal Essays

  1. 5 out of 5

    Seth Mann

    About midway through this book I reached the personal conclusion that Emily Gordon was a whiny, self-absorbed, elitist, one-dimensional regretful woman from a privileged background who only had an occasionally lucid or observant thought. My problem was with her "voice" and tone. By then I felt invested and I decided to trudge through the essays with a hope of finding one that would shine, speak to me, inspire, provide an insight. Instead, I was dragged through repetition about the impact of wild About midway through this book I reached the personal conclusion that Emily Gordon was a whiny, self-absorbed, elitist, one-dimensional regretful woman from a privileged background who only had an occasionally lucid or observant thought. My problem was with her "voice" and tone. By then I felt invested and I decided to trudge through the essays with a hope of finding one that would shine, speak to me, inspire, provide an insight. Instead, I was dragged through repetition about the impact of wildly unprofessional psychologists, her observations as the outsider wife of a well-regarded philosopher, her self-congratulatory attitude about her intellect and her odd references and self-deprecation as it related to being a late-blooming writer. That being said, Gordon did have her moments which redeemed the book from being a completely wasted experience. A handful of observations that really resonated with me. Plus, she has a great vocabulary. A few passages that I liked: "... he turned the discussion to my drinking, and drinking in general. We talked about the coarsening of feeling, the blurring of distinctions and the deadening of thought that habitual drunkenness brings about. He also talked about the joy of another kind of non habituated drinking." We usually encounter the overly described shedding of inhibitions that accompanies casual drinking. Here, Gordon speaks to being young and being a habitual drinker, which today can include those who do something as innocent seeming as attending consecutive happy hours week after week. That regularity creates a quality all it's own which is described so simply here as to be elegant - especially the "coarsening of feeling" which I don't think is necessarily a reference to a jaggedness of negative feeling but I think also speaks to a focusing of feeling that deadens all else in its name - even that which feels good... coarse, threat of pain, but good. In referencing Jane Eyre, Gordon writes... "The Dyad! How much I prefer it to the group. In my heart I believe that the presence of more than two introduces a tragic warp into the world." I love the word choice "tragic warp." It captures that distinct intensity that is possible with only two - an intensity that changes in quality or is quickly diluted by the addition of others. Again, on relationship, "Groups have no mind; only in dyadic relationships can I, or anyone, be known, or know another. Only in friendship - and particularly in the long, combative friendship that has been my marriage - have I been able to free myself of the feeling of anomalousness that I've harped on so obsessively here.... better battle with a single antagonist ... than a hopeless struggle to preserve myself in the face of the grossly numerical superiority of the group, an entity that can only subsume." On marriage, "Why does marriage remain? It remains to provide the simplest and most essential of psychic shelters, a sort of human lean-to inside which truth can be told and selfhood can unfurl. In the desert of mass society, it provides the patches of shade necessary for the cultivation of shared private worlds." "Where is their aggression? I ask myself. Where is their lust? I feel cheated of my childhood expectation that adult life would be charged with violent emotion, and all the more aggrieved because it happens to be true that I would be content to enjoy violent emotion vicariously, if only somebody would provide me that gratification." - I hadn't formulated this thought for myself but agree with Gordon - Where is the lust! the aggression! the spirit in every day life and dealings w/ one another? A quote from Kafka - "The infinite, deep, warm, saving happiness of sitting beside the cradle of one's child opposite its mother." On aging - "for us, the problem is not so much resistance to the inevitability of aging as it is a sense that we're being slow to catch on to its ways." "Aging disintegrates the body, but time is a conservator. As it rubs away at the organic, it reveals meaning and pattern." Succinct lay-out for the formula of a self-discovery memoir - "The protagonist (1) suffers and/or is damaged, often at the hands of parents, but sometimes as the result of an illness or affliction or repressive thought system, and (2) seeks out or encounters a person or institution or vocation or influence that offers escape, healing, relief from, and/or transcendence of the original suffering and/or damage. These persons or institutions or vocations or influences turn out to be false, unreliable, or inefficacious (think of drugs, gurus, false religions, sexual obsessions, bad marriages). (2) is repeated. Each time the protagonist's wish for relief is frustrated, the stakes grow higher: the reader's sympathetic identification grows and the narrative tension increases. Just at the point when the reader's pleasure threatens to become pain, the protagonist (3) stumbles across the finish line. Through the agency of yet another vocation or influence or person or institution, the protagonist at last achieves the relief, escape, or transcendence he has been seeking all along. The drive toward narrative closure, which seems to be encrypted in human DNA, is realized in an emotionally satisfying conclusion." "The mirror tells a very partial story. It's only the eyes and ears of the others that can truly register what time has done to our bodies and minds.... Charged with knowing about others what they can't know about themselves, and knowing that others, in return, know what we can't know about ourselves, how can we feel anything but tenderness?"

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn Bashaar

    Gordon is a very engaging writer, with a strong memory for detail. She brings her subjects to life. But I always have trouble reading about women of leisure - which she was for most of her life until she started writing seriously. As a woman who has always been ambitious and hard-working, I feel very impatient with women who let their husbands earn the living while they gaze at their navels and play around at insignificant nothings. Good Lord, she didn't even make FRIENDS! But she does write VER Gordon is a very engaging writer, with a strong memory for detail. She brings her subjects to life. But I always have trouble reading about women of leisure - which she was for most of her life until she started writing seriously. As a woman who has always been ambitious and hard-working, I feel very impatient with women who let their husbands earn the living while they gaze at their navels and play around at insignificant nothings. Good Lord, she didn't even make FRIENDS! But she does write VERY WELL about her mostly-useless life and some of her insights were very thought-provoking. I especially enjoyed reading about her Master's Thesis on Kafka and about the "Kangas."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Roxani

    As a fan of essays and one who is always in search of female essayists, I appreciated this collection. I particularly liked the distinction in the intro between essay and memoir and the comparison of the relative merits of the former to the latter. Because the narrative focused on the hardship the author faced and overcame in her youth and early adulthood, the tone was at times heavy and depressing -- these essays were not light reading. That said, Emily Fox Gordon's insights on academia, marria As a fan of essays and one who is always in search of female essayists, I appreciated this collection. I particularly liked the distinction in the intro between essay and memoir and the comparison of the relative merits of the former to the latter. Because the narrative focused on the hardship the author faced and overcame in her youth and early adulthood, the tone was at times heavy and depressing -- these essays were not light reading. That said, Emily Fox Gordon's insights on academia, marriage, New England and psychological disorders were valuable.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Alana

    Horrid book. Worst self-centered drivel ever printed.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Monica L Edwards

    3.5 (great at times, struggled to get into at first)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    The introduction of the book explains that Emily Fox Gordon felt forced to write memoirs by her publisher because she was too unknown for a collection of essays to be marketable. She believes she agreed to a Faustian bargain, and that bargain seems to continue through the essays in the first half of the book that provides plodding reviews of her experience in institutions and therapy. For those that have not read her previous books (myself included), she introduces herself as a sloppy, chubby, e The introduction of the book explains that Emily Fox Gordon felt forced to write memoirs by her publisher because she was too unknown for a collection of essays to be marketable. She believes she agreed to a Faustian bargain, and that bargain seems to continue through the essays in the first half of the book that provides plodding reviews of her experience in institutions and therapy. For those that have not read her previous books (myself included), she introduces herself as a sloppy, chubby, emotionally unstable child that bloomed later because she spent her college years among those that couldn't get along by self-medicating with beer and pot like the rest of us. I agree with many of the reviews that I almost gave up on the book based on the first half. The second half, however, seem to hold the essays the late-blooming author really wanted to write. It is here that she describes how the Faustian bargain of the memoir trend is that you'll reveal enough sordid details about your life that you'll try to get out of attending your niece's wedding to avoid the inevitable confrontation with relatives that feel betrayed by what you've aired out to the world. Gordon explains that she's happy the memoir made her a professional writer and given her a vocation, but she regrets having to write that kind of book and that it was not ultimately a book that felt true to her. "Everything that I say happened in my memoir happened, and happened more or less when I said it did: no fact checker could catch me out," she writes. "But in Mockingbird Years I distorted the truth of my life almost beyond recognition--my own recognition, that is." To construct a narrative she (and all memoir writers) have to leave many things out and only include those scenes that serve the story her publisher wanted her to tell. The second half also includes compelling and insightful essays on the cocoon of a long marriage, and the treatment of faculty wives in academia (to Gordon, the inclusion of female academics just makes them man-women that still have little use for those that aren't formally tied to the university). One hopes that Gordon has fulfilled her end of the Faustian bargain by now and that future efforts will let her move beyond her role as therapy critic. The second half of this book shows she has so much more to offer readers.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Shawna

    It was a good thing I had a great deal of tenacity with this book. I found it poorly put together. The essays that stood out to me were primarily in the middle and back of the book. Gordon's ability to describe someone is fantastic. She picks out the exact details you need to get an emotional and physical picture of that person in only a few sentences. Her language is why I chose this book after reading an essay in a class, and what kept me reading. I found myself skimming parts of essays when t It was a good thing I had a great deal of tenacity with this book. I found it poorly put together. The essays that stood out to me were primarily in the middle and back of the book. Gordon's ability to describe someone is fantastic. She picks out the exact details you need to get an emotional and physical picture of that person in only a few sentences. Her language is why I chose this book after reading an essay in a class, and what kept me reading. I found myself skimming parts of essays when they started to drag, but feeling a bit of regret knowing I was probably missing a highlight buried in something otherwise mundane. It's the mundane and the small moments where Gordon shines. She has a way of integrating beautiful language with bare language that packs a punch. I consider this book a teaching book. The narrative of each essay didn't interest me as much as what she did with storytelling and her ability with language. I recommend Book of Days.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Holly Foley (Procida)

    I read this book of essays simultaneously with Emily Fox Gordon's first memoir. In this book she laments about being "forced" to write a memoir when she prefers the essay format. This book is essays and she is much more skilled at writing pieces that are not all woven together. A few of the essays in this book ARE also pieces of the memoir with some narrative connecting text around them. I liked best the essays in here that were NOT part of the memoir. There was a detailed story about waiting wi I read this book of essays simultaneously with Emily Fox Gordon's first memoir. In this book she laments about being "forced" to write a memoir when she prefers the essay format. This book is essays and she is much more skilled at writing pieces that are not all woven together. A few of the essays in this book ARE also pieces of the memoir with some narrative connecting text around them. I liked best the essays in here that were NOT part of the memoir. There was a detailed story about waiting with her husband while he has a medical procedure and a nice account of a family wedding. It seemed easier for her to keep and interesting voice and tone for shorter lengths of time. She still is not the most engaging writer I have read recently, but her vocabulary is extensive.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sunni

    I really enjoyed one of these essays, "Mockingbird Years." Otherwise, not so much. It just seemed like self-indulgent ramblings and unfathomable angst. I didn't feel like I learned how someone else views the world and is able to interpret that into a language shared. These types of memoirs can teeter on the edge of resonance with the reader, and "oh for gawd's sake get over yourself." For me it tipped to the latter. I really truly didn't want to hear about her thoughts on Kafka or her husband's I really enjoyed one of these essays, "Mockingbird Years." Otherwise, not so much. It just seemed like self-indulgent ramblings and unfathomable angst. I didn't feel like I learned how someone else views the world and is able to interpret that into a language shared. These types of memoirs can teeter on the edge of resonance with the reader, and "oh for gawd's sake get over yourself." For me it tipped to the latter. I really truly didn't want to hear about her thoughts on Kafka or her husband's colonoscopy.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Iva

    What a clear thinker Emily Fox Gordon is! This collection of personal essays--which she makes very clear is not a memoir--are at times brilliant, highly observant, self-absorbed (but how can a personal essay be anything but personal) but always fascinating. Her topics are shadowed by her years in analysis, her wayward youth, her family and life in academic, but on the outside. This is an original, painfully honest and memorable collection from The American Scholar and other similar literary jour What a clear thinker Emily Fox Gordon is! This collection of personal essays--which she makes very clear is not a memoir--are at times brilliant, highly observant, self-absorbed (but how can a personal essay be anything but personal) but always fascinating. Her topics are shadowed by her years in analysis, her wayward youth, her family and life in academic, but on the outside. This is an original, painfully honest and memorable collection from The American Scholar and other similar literary journals.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mary Louise

    For any MFA graduate and/or nonfiction writer, this book is a must-read. Lopate writes that Gordon “tells ruefully the tale of how she was seduced, not once but twice, to write and publish memoirs, instead of being allowed to bring out a collection of personal essays.” Amen. Half the memoir-type nonfiction books published (including most written by the nonfiction faculty of MFA Programs) feel stuffed for the sole purpose of filling the pages of a book. Bring back the personal essay forum!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Martha

    I found this book difficult because I identified so much with the author's sense of being "on the outside." It is well written, if somewhat slef-indulgent and 'spiky' at times. There are also many insightful passages about life and writing; I have turned down corners on many pages to come back to them. I found this book difficult because I identified so much with the author's sense of being "on the outside." It is well written, if somewhat slef-indulgent and 'spiky' at times. There are also many insightful passages about life and writing; I have turned down corners on many pages to come back to them.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Allie

    Very skillfully done! It was intriguing to read about Emily's life and hard to believe that the stories unraveling are about the woman you would meet now. I especially enjoyed her use of simile and thought that this collection of essays (rather than straight memoir) worked well. Very skillfully done! It was intriguing to read about Emily's life and hard to believe that the stories unraveling are about the woman you would meet now. I especially enjoyed her use of simile and thought that this collection of essays (rather than straight memoir) worked well.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Skillfully written, just not my cup of tea

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Bertaina

    This book is wonderful. She has an incredible voice for personal essays.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    Paperback used from Amazon. Not sure who recommended this very good collection of essays about life, depression and therapy.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Linda S

    I didn't finish this book. I didn't enjoy the first third and found myself skimming some chapters and skipping others entirely. When it came due at the library, I returned it without guilt. I didn't finish this book. I didn't enjoy the first third and found myself skimming some chapters and skipping others entirely. When it came due at the library, I returned it without guilt.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    This book just felt so honest and human.

  19. 4 out of 5

    cat

    2011 Book 8/100 Book eight was not great.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cooky

    Good enough writing, but horrible writer. Dis not like the writer as a person at all.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Janice

    8/25/10

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  23. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Gustafson

  24. 4 out of 5

    Marian Ferguson

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dirk

  27. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Grunow

  28. 5 out of 5

    Allison

  29. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

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