Peter Orner



Books

Still No Word from You

Notes in the Margin

Longlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay

A new collection of pieces on literature and life by the author of Am I Alone Here?, a finalist for the NBCC Award for Criticism


Stationed in the South Pacific during World War II, Seymour Orner wrote a letter every day to his wife, Lorraine. She seldom responded, leading him to plead in 1945, “Another day and still no word from you.” Seventy years later, Peter Orner writes in response to his grandfather’s plea: “Maybe we read because we seek that word from someone, from anyone.”

From the acclaimed fiction writer about whom Dwight Garner of The New York Times wrote, “You know from the second you pick him up that he’s the real deal,” comes Still No Word from You, a unique chain of essays and intimate stories that meld the lived life and the reading life. For Orner, there is no separation. Covering such well-known writers as Lorraine Hansberry, Primo Levi, and Marilynne Robinson, as well as other greats like Maeve Brennan and James Alan McPherson, Orner’s highly personal take on literature alternates with his own true stories of loss and love, hope and despair. In his mother’s copy of A Coney Island of the Mind, he’s stopped short by a single word in the margin, “YES!”—which leads him to conjure his mother at twenty-three. He stops reading Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Beginning of Spring three quarters of the way through because he knows that finishing the novel will leave him bereft. Orner’s solution is to start again from the beginning to slow the inevitable heartache.

Still No Word from You is a book for anyone for whom reading is as essential as breathing.

Am I Alone Here?

Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live

This National Book Critics Circle Award is “an entrancing attempt to catch what falls between: the irreducibly personal, messy, even embarrassing ways reading and living bleed into each other, which neither literary criticism nor autobiography ever quite acknowledges" (The New York Times). 

“Stories, both my own and those I’ve taken to heart, make up whoever it is that I’ve become,” Peter Orner writes in this collection of essays about reading, writing, and living. Orner reads and writes everywhere he finds himself: a hospital cafeteria, a coffee shop in Albania, or a crowded bus in Haiti. The result is a book of unlearned meditations that stumbles into memoir.

Among the many writers Orner addresses are Isaac Babel and Zora Neale Hurston, both of whom told their truths and were silenced; Franz Kafka, who professed loneliness but craved connection; Robert Walser, who spent the last twenty-three years of his life in a Swiss insane asylum, working at being crazy; and Juan Rulfo, who practiced the difficult art of silence. Virginia Woolf, Eudora Welty, Yasunari Kawabata, Saul Bellow, Mavis Gallant, John Edgar Wideman, William Trevor, and Václav Havel make appearances, as well as the poet Herbert Morris--about whom almost nothing is known.

An elegy for an eccentric late father, and the end of a marriage, Am I Alone Here? is also a celebration of the possibility of renewal. At once personal and panoramic, this book will inspire readers to return to the essential stories of their own lives.