AL ALVAREZ, interviewed by PHYLLIS GROSSKURTH, Friday (October 27), 5 pm, Premiere Dance Theatre; and reading with HA JINand LAWRENCE NORFOLK, Friday (October 27), 8 pm, Brigantine Room.
WHERE DID IT ALL GO RIGHT?: A MEMOIR, by A. Alvarez (William Morrow), 352 pages, $37.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Al Alvarez's literary career ranges so widely that it requires dedication to read all of him. He's written poetry, three novels, critical work on Restoration poetry and Samuel Beckett, books about rock climbing, suicide in literature and life on North Sea oil rigs.
On the phone from London, he claims, "The only time of year that I'm a 'famous writer' is when I go to Las Vegas for the World Series Of Poker. It's the oddest thing. The Biggest Game In Town hardly sold any copies, yet every serious poker player has read it."
His new personal memoir, Where Did It All Go Right?, features a remarkable set of opening chapters that discuss growing up middle-class and Jewish in London in the 1930s. The motivation for writing the book was simple.
"Last year I hit that terrible number 70. If I don't write the fucking thing, no one else will. Might as well get it right. You know how your parents and family live in your head after they die?
"Although in my time I've done a huge amount of travelling and been kind of footloose, aside from boarding school and Oxford I've never lived outside of Hampstead, London NW3. I've moved about a little bit within that area. I think that makes it easier, because everywhere I go in my day-to-day life carries those memories.
"Writing books is a lot about sorting out the unfinished business. I'm one of God's rewriters -- not a very good writer, but a marvellous rewriter.
"The problem, or challenge, was getting the right tone of voice."
Of course, with the work comes the inevitable freelancer's complaint.
"Books tend to take me four years, which is not an economic proposition. I remember being sent a book by a guy named Rick Bennett (King Of A Small World), and I liked it, at least the poker stuff. I wrote a quote for promotion purposes, and about 18 months later I received a belated thank-you letter.
"He said, 'You alway hear of professional writers who have trouble because of gambling. I'm the only gambler who was ruined by writing.'"
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