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LIT
2009
 
synopsis | reviews | praise | purchase
 
Synopsis:
Lit is about getting drunk and getting sober; becoming a mother by letting go of a mother; learning to write by learning to live. Written with Karr's relentless honesty, unflinching self-scrutiny, and irreverent, lacerating humor, it is a truly electrifying story of how to grow up—as only Mary Karr can tell it. The Boston Globe calls Lit a book that “reminds us not only how compelling personal stories can be, but how, in the hands of a master, they can transmute into the highest art." The New York Times Book Review calls it “a master class on the art of the memoir” in its Top 10 Books of 2009 Citation. Michiko Kakutani calls it “a book that lassos you, hogties your emotions and won’t let you go” in her New York Times review. And Susan Cheever states, simply, that Lit is “the best book about being a woman in America I have read in years." In addition to the New York Times, Lit was named a Best Book of 2009 by the New Yorker (Reviewer Favorite), Entertainment Weekly (Top 10), Time (Top 10), theWashington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, the Christian Science Monitor, Slate, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Seattle Times.
 
Reviews:
Francine Prose, in the New York Review of Books

Michiko Kakutani, In New York Times

Susan Cheever, in the New York Times

USA Today

Oprah magazine

New York Times, 10 best books of 2009

Time Magazine, 10 best books of 2009
 
Praise:
“Searing. . . [Karr] has written a book that lassos you, hogties your emotions and won’t let you go. . . Explores the subjectivity of memory even as it chronicles with searching intelligence, humor and grace the author’s slow, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes painful discovery of her vocation and her voice as a poet and writer. . . Karr writes with such intensity and poetry. . . This struggle to reconcile her past and present, her family and her future, is the steel-wired ribbon that not only runs through this affecting book, but that also connects it to Ms. Karr’s two earlier memoirs – the bright, elastic thread on which she so deftly strings the colored beads of her tumultuous life.”
— Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

“[Karr] seems to have been born with the inability to write a dishonest – or boring – sentence.”
— Lev Grossman, Time (Top 10 Citation)

“A master class on the art of the memoir. Mordantly funny, free of both self pity and sentimentality, Karr describes her attempts to untether herself from troubled family in rural Texas, her development as a poet and writer, and her struggles to navigate marriage and young motherhood even as she descends into alcoholism.”
— New York Times Book Review, Top 10 Notable Books Citation

“Howlingly funny… In some ways, Lit is her most intimate book. The overall impression is of a sorrowful narrative poem as humble and funny as it is beautiful. Karr is an ‘inveterate check grabber,’ she tells us, out of ‘the poor girl’s need to prove solvency.’ Perhaps a similar need drives her generosity on the page. Certainly her readers, once again, are the lucky beneficiaries.”
—Mary Pols, Time

“No one should be surprised to find a certain combination of gut-spilling emotional volatility along with the survivor’s keen ability to detach far enough to tell a rollicking story. But the book is more than a recovery memoir. Karr writes unflinchingly about marriage, class, guilt, and the struggle to make peace with her raw, melodramatic, yet wildly interesting past.”
— NPR

“You’d think that after a couple of best-selling memoirs (The Liars’ Club, Cherry), Mary Karr wouldn’t have much more to say about herself. But Lit shows that a first-rate writer doesn’t need to repeat herself or trump up false epiphanies in order to craft a fascinating autobiography. The book glows with Karr’s descriptions – coming to terms with her alcoholism, her early lean years as a poet and teacher, her chaotic love life – but there’s nothing sentimental or self-congratulatory about her prose.”
—Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly (Best Books Citation)

“Karr could tell you what’s on her grocery list, and its humor would make you bust a gut, its unexpected insights would make you think and her pitch-perfect command of our American vernacular might even take your breath away. The closest relative to the memoir form is poetry, because the subject of the story doesn’t matter as much as the self-awareness and craft of the writer telling it. In this, the Guggenheim Fellow in poetry holds the position of grande dame memoirista.”
— Los Angeles Times

“In a gravelly, ground-glass-under-your-heel voice that can take you from laughter to awe in a few sentences, Karr has written the best book about being a woman in America I have read in years.”
— Susan Cheever, New York Times Book Review

“One of the best memoirists of her generation. . . She is, as always, unsparing in her honesty and humanity. . . [A] radiant, rueful, rip-roaring book. . . Karr writes . . . with a rare vividness, humor, and candor. . .Warm enough to burn a hole in your heart.”
— Entertainment Weekly

“Scrappy, gut-wrenching. . . Irresistible. . . . [Written] with trademark wit, precision, and unfailing courage.”
— Pam Houston, O Magazine

“This affecting memoir – the third in a series that includes The Liars’ Club and Cherry – documents Karr’s alcoholism, the breakdown of her marriage, and the unlikely redemption she finds in the Catholic Church.”
— The New Yorker

“Mary Karr restores memoir form’s dignity with Lit.”
— Vanity Fair

“A brutally honest, sparkling story.”
—Glamour

“Karr movingly depicts her halting journey into AA, making it clear her grit and spirit remain intact.”
—People (3 ½ out of 4 stars)

“Completes a landmark trio of literary confessionals from best-seller Mary Karr. . . and complements the story of her mother’s destructive drinking that the Texas-born Karr has previously captured so colorfully and painfully. . . [A] body-and-soul-baring memoir.”
— Elle

“Riveting.”
— Redbook

“Lit matches its predecessors in candor and outstrips them in insight. Karr exam-ines her past darkness in the light of the faith and self-knowledge that she spent those years working toward. She lays out her descent into addiction, her process of recovery, and her path to conversion with an honesty that makes it all intelligible to addicts and teetotalers, believers and nonbelievers. As she discerns God’s presence in her life, the hole left by her childhood traumas finally seems to be filled, and the result is something like a miracle… Now she can joke about God and still profess that, for her, belief is a matter of life and death.”
— Commonweal, independent journal of opinion edited and managed by lay Catholics

“[Karr] manages to report her self-imposed decline in a blunt and darkly humorous voice that is as irresistible as it is unflinchingly honest. . . With grace, saltiness and profanity galore, Karr undeniably re-establishes herself as one of our finest memoirists and storytellers. . . You do not have to be a rehabilitated drunk or go to church, or have a had a terrible childhood, or get so swept up in a book you forget to let the dog out to pee to find yourself in this book – you have only to be human. Lit is a testament to the healing power of love that beats at the heart of every good story.”
— San Francisco Chronicle

“Karr’s sharp and funny sensibility won me over to her previous two volumes, but what wins me over to Lit is the way her acute self-awareness conquers any hint that hers is the only version of this story. . . As with all stories that surprise us, the specificity of the account gives it its punch. . . Karr is full of regret, but she’s also as funny as ever on the subject of her own sinning. . . The language often captures, precisely, the tension between the intellectual and the emotional, the artistic and the spiritual. This is a story not just of alcoholism but of coming to terms with families past and present, with a needy self, with a spiritual longing Karr didn’t even know she possessed. It sounds as if she was hellish to be around for much of the time she describes here, but she is certainly good company now.”
— Washington Post

“With grace, saltiness and profanity galore, Karr . . . re-establishes herself as one of our finest memoirists and storytellers.”
— San Francisco Chronicle (Best Books Citation)

“Dazzling. . . Karr is the real thing. . . Ultimately, Lit reminds us not only how compelling personal stories can be, but how, in the hands of a master, they can transmute into the highest art."
— Boston Globe

“A redemptive, painfully funny story.”
—USA Today

“Compelling, and beautifully written. . . . Following Karr’s rise from unpublished, drunk poet to sober, Godly literary darling is the funniest damn thing – even her forays into the institution (“the mental Marriott.” In Karr’s parlance) are a riot, and the humor never seems forced.”
— Johann Hari, Slate

“The brouhaha that flared last week when Publishers Weekly announced its list of Top Ten Books of the Year, a list that garnered probably unwanted but inevitable attention for not including any books by a female writer, shifted this week from egregious oversight to blatant inaccuracy with the publication of Mary Karr’s searing and transcendent new memoir, Lit, which belongs securely on any respectable list of top ten books of the year… With this third book Karr has managed to raise the bar higher still on the genre of memoir.”
— Steve Ross, Huffington Post

“What distinguishes Karr’s book from most others . . . is her mordant humor and exceptional writing. Throughout, her descriptions are startling and poetic. . . This is a truly harrowing story, but so poetically written that unlike many memoirs, the material seems riveting rather than repugnant. And not once does the author paint herself as the heroine of her own life. (There isn’t a single false note in Lit.) Her hard-won contentment is inspiring, and above all, miraculous.”
— Christian Science Monitor

“[Karr] continues to delight with her signature dark humor and pitch-perfect metaphors… Karr’s prose moves at a quick and seductive clip, delivering large doses of wit and painful insights. . . There are plenty of memoirs about being drunk, but this one has Karr’s voice – both sure-footed and breezy – behind it. . . Even when Karr is writing about church, Lit has flashes of brilliance to keep you under its intoxicating spell.”
— Time Out New York

“[Karr] pulls it off because, despite the narcissism and drama, she’s a very likable character. If you’ve read Karr before, you know she’s a terrific storyteller – and a poet. Her language is both precise and vivid, as though she were writing in color. If you like her other books or recovery memoirs in general, you’ll probably enjoy this one.”
— Ellen Silva, senior editor, NPR’s All Things Considered

“As one of contemporary America’s most beloved purveyors of the genre, The Liars’ Club and Cherry author Mary Karr has never lacked for material. But she’s always delivered on the craft side, too, with her poet’s gift for show-and-tell. . . Karr’s too smart and accomplished a writer to not acknowledge her genre’s limitations. But while it’s fashionable for memoirists to ‘fess up that memoir is a fuzzy thing, Karr sincerely and passionately believes in the truth. . . If what we expect from Mary Karr is to deliver transcendence for $25.99, she delivers.”
— Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Karr tells the story with the same down-to-earth writing – some of it funny – that she brought to her first two memoirs. . . Her willingness to show herself in this light and the humility with which she writes about recovery and faith are testaments to the honesty of both her writing and her life.”
— Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Riveting. . .As unsparing and unsentimental as her first two memoirs and, like the others, by turns hilarious and gut-wrenching. She again brings to the task her acerbic wit and poet’s eye for lyrical detail. . . Karr’s entire body of work attests to this simple truth: that the past, until you reckon with it, will remain in hot pursuit. In other words, what you don’t bring into the light will destroy you. Lit brings this process full circle. That pleasingly monosyllabic title encapsulates this writer’s entire journey thus far – one that is about drinking and the illuminating revelations of sobriety, about the redemptive power of literature and how the act of writing can save a soul.”
— Bookpage

“Only an extraordinary writer like poet Mary Karr could come up with a third act . . . without collapsing under the weight of cliché.”
— Austin American-Statesman

“Mary Karr sparked a memoir revival with The Liars’ Club – now she’s back with Lit to describe how she turned those early troubles into literary gold.”
—Body + Soul

“Written in almost flawless image-filled prose and moving seamlessly from present to past and back again… her ability to tell a good story and her flair for written expression, Karr has found another way to leave a mark and to make peace with herself, her back story and those around her.”
— Dallas Morning News

“In short, in Lit Karr continues to deliver the goods. How exactly does she deliver those goods? Foremost, with her magnificent writing; she can make an almost-silent car ride or the most awkward AA meeting come to life in brimming color. She is never dull, pedantic, preaching or whining (as some memoirists, unfortunately, certainly are). Neither is she coy or, worse, impressionist in a ‘poetess’ kind of way. She is a realist, with absurdist tendencies reined in by her dedication to the truth, which is most often scathingly self-indicting… She illuminates, and she is entertaining as she does so.”
— Oregonian

“Karr’s life, in fact, is no darker than ours; she’s just much better at describing the hue, which is why Lit stands apart from the dreary dollops of cream typical among American book sequels. It is as powerful as Liars’ Club, as restless as Cherry and as exquisitely written as any of Karr’s award-winning collections of poetry.”
— St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Hard to put down… Utterly compelling, featuring Karr’s cleverness and wit…. Written in almost flawless image-filled prose and moving seamlessly from present to past and back again.”
—Michelle Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Karr recalls her experience of these relatively ordinary events with a poet’s economy, an adult’s rueful wisdom, and a native Texan’s salty humor.”
— Wendy Smith, AARP

“Karr is a writer you don’t forget. Never is this page-turning torrent self-pitying or sentimental.”
—Beth Taylor, Providence Journal

“This is a book about finding faith, but like the monastic Thomas Merton, Karr describes her rebirth in simple, honest language: ‘In the end, no white light shines out from the wounds of Christ to bathe me in His glory. Faith is a choice like any other.’… [Karr] has written a book that is artful, honest and convincing.”
— Virginian Pilot

“[Karr] writes with a singular combination of poetic grace and Texan verve, which allows her to present the experiences as fresh, but she also brings a potent, self-condemning honesty and a palpable sense of responsibility and regret to the narrative. . . Will ring as true in American-lit classrooms as in church support groups – an absolute gem that secures Karr’s place as one of the best memoirists of her generation.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Lit contains more than a whiff of the standard recovery narrative as Karr gropes her way toward her new faith. The saving grace, so to speak, is that she, better than anyone, can reinvigorate a tired tale… The yarn spinning skill she inherited from her father and the love of words bequeathed by her mom… remain in full display.”
—Ellen Emry Heltzel, Seattle Times

“Karr builds on her ability to spin a yard and her gift with words to creat this story of her struggle with the bottle. Lit could serve as a 12-step program for writers as well as anyone who wants to know what the struggle is like.”
—Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times (Best Books Citation)

“[Karr’s] poetic sensibility infuses every sentence of her story with an alliterative and symbolic energy, conjuring echoes of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, and occasionally, Sylvia Plath. . . [Her] wry wit and deft prose do not render her slow conversion to Catholicism in a sentimental or proselytizing manner.”
— Publishers Weekly (entered already)

“Her tale is riveting, her style clear-eyed and frank. That Karr survived the emotional and physical journey she regales her readers with to become the evenhanded, self-disciplined writer she is today is arguably nothing short of a miracle, and readers of her previous two books won’t be disappointed.”
— Library Journal

“Lit by Mary Karr is a harrowing and riveting memoir of Karr’s life from late adolescence to adulthood as she tries to escape her past and recover from alcoholism. Karr takes us into the mind of an alcoholic in a way that is at once horrific and beautiful for the language she uses to describe the most horrific events is heartbreakingly beautiful… I think Lit will appeal to anyone who’s struggled to get where they are today or who enjoys a story of triumph of very great adversity.”
— Blogcritics.com
 
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