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One Hundred Autobiographies

A Memoir

(amazon)

David Lehman (View Bio)
Hardcover: Cornell University Press, 2019.

One Hundred Autobiographies
(amazon)

In One Hundred Autobiographies, poet and scholar David Lehman applies the full measure of his intellectual powers to cope with a frightening diagnosis and painful treatment for cancer. No matter how debilitating the medical procedures, Lehman wrote every day during chemotherapy and in the aftermath of radical surgery. With characteristic riffs of wit and imagination, he transmutes the details of his inner life into a prose narrative rich in incident and mental travel. The reader journeys with him from the first dreadful symptoms to the sunny days of recovery.

This "fake memoir," as he refers ironically to it, features one-hundred short vignettes that tell a life story. One Hundred Autobiographies is packed with insights and epiphanies that may prove as indispensable to aspiring writers as Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet.

Set against the backdrop of Manhattan, Lehman summons John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Edward Said, and Lionel Trilling among his mentors. Dostoyevsky shows up, as does Graham Greene. Keith Richards and Patti Hansen put in an appearance, Edith Piaf sings, Clint Eastwood saves the neighborhood, and the Rat Pack comes along for the ride. These and other avatars of popular culture help Lehman to make sense of his own mortality and life story.

One Hundred Autobiographies reveals a stunning portrait of a mind against the ropes, facing its own extinction, surviving and enduring.