Good Reads: Old Friends by Tracy Kidder
October 10, 2008
In August, I visited my mother back in Michigan. She lives, as she has during the past 13 years, in a retirement community now known as The Park at Trowbridge. Surprisingly, many of the residents and many of her good friends there have been at Trowbridge almost as long as my mother, and occasionally longer.
So I decided to pick up a copy of ‘Old Friends’ to read and see if what I currently was witnessing and hearing from my mother and her friends rang true. Knowing it was written by such a competent author as Tracy Kidder made me confident I would find a ring of truth. What a gem of a book! But don’t just take my opinion.
“Tracy Kidder writes of elemental things ” work, home, education, and community” writes Elaine Hines in her essay ‘In His Element: Tracy Kidder.’ She goes on to explain “He writes big by writing small, grabbing the reader by focusing on the thousand daily details of company, one house, one schoolroom, one town.”
Kidder states, in his interview with Hines, “I’m a little suspicious of the great, overarching view. It always leaves something out. What interests me is trying to catch the reflection of the human being on the page. I’m interested in how ordinary people live their lives.” One of America’s leading writers of non-fiction, Kidder not only captures how ordinary people live their lives, but also what lies beneath the surface, beyond the edges.
The Library Journal wrote “As in his Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘The Soul of a New Machine,’ ‘House,’ and the best-selling ‘Among School children,’ Kidder reveals his extraordinary talent as a storyteller by taking the potentially unpalatable subject of life in a nursing home and making it into a highly readable, engrossing account in ‘Old Friends.’ …This is a life that we all hope to avoid, both for ourselves and our loved ones; yet when we see it as it is portrayed in ‘Old Friends’ it becomes less terrifying.”
“An eloquent account,” describes Kirkus Reviews, “neither bitter nor saccharine, of daily life in a nursing home. Kidder has a unique talent for transforming the minutiae of living into a mosaic that brings focus to issues ” like aging ” that have become diffuse intellectual exercises or emotionally-charged agendas.”
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The viewpoints of the Linda Manor staff are heard indirectly as they interact with residents. Rich detail and true-to-the-ear dialogue let the brave and determined elderly speak for themselves ” and for the continually surprising potential of the human spirit. This wonderfully different book is a Good Read for anyone.
Born in New York City in 1945, Kidder spent his childhood in Oyster Bay, Long Island, where his father was a lawyer and his mother a teacher. He attended Harvard where he earned a BA in 1967. From June 1968 until June 1969, he served as a lieutenant in Vietnam for which he was awarded a Bronze Star.
Following the war, Kidder obtained his MA from the University of Iowa, where he participated in the Writers’ Workshop, a program known for the literary accomplishments of its faculty and alumni. It was there Kidder met Atlantic Monthly Contributing Editor Dan Wakefield, who helped him get his first assignment for the magazine as a freelance writer. Kidder’s articles in the Atlantic have covered a broad array of topics, ranging from railroads, to energy, architecture and the environment.
Tracy Kidder’s writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Granta, The New York Times Book Review and The New York Times OpEd page. He has also written several short works of fiction. Kidder lives with his wife in western Massachusetts and in Maine where he is at work on a new book.
Books by Tracy Kidder:
“The Road to Yuba City: A Journey into the Juan Corona Murders,” Doubleday, 1974
“The Soul of a New Machine,” Back Bay Books, 1981
“House,” Hougton Mifflin Co., 1985
“Among Schoolchildren,” Avon Books, 1989,
“Old Friends,” Houghton Mifflin Co., 1994,
“Home Town,” Random House, 1999,
“Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World,” Random House, 2003 hardcover: 2004 paperback
“My Detachment: a Memoir,” Random House, 2005, (a Vietnam War memoir)
1989 Robert F. Kennedy Award Winner for Among School Children
1982 National Book Award Winner for Soul of a New Machine
1982 Pulitzer Prize Winner For Soul of a New Machine
Literary Birthdays This Week:
Oct. 10: James Clavell (1924), Nora Roberts (1950), Rumiko Takahashi (1957)
Oct. 11: Leonard Elmore (1925)
Oct. 12: Robert Fitzgerald (1910)
Oct. 13: Conrad Richter (1890)
Oct. 14: e. e. cummings (1894)
Oct. 15: Evan Hunter (1926), Mario Puzo (1920), P. G. Wodehouse (1881), Suzanne Somers (1946), Oscar Wilde (1854)
Barbara’s Good Reads List –
Adults (fiction): “A Cup of Comfort for Single Mothers: Stories That Celebrate the Women Who Do It All” by Marilee Stark, Cynthia Borris, Rachel Sarah and Jennifer Eyre White
Young Adult (ages 13-17): “Green Goes With Everything: Simple Steps to a Healthier Life and a Cleaner Planet” by Sloan Barnett
Juvenile (4th-6th grade): “Shadow Of a Bull” by Mai Wojciechowska (Newbery Prize winner)
Children (2nd-3rd grade): “May I Bring a Friend?” by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, illustrated by Beni Montresor (Caldecott Medal winner)
Books for Book Groups: “Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution ” and How It Can Renew America” by Thomas Friedman