Selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Off to the Side is the tale of one of America's most beloved writers. Jim Harrison traces his upbringing in Michigan amid the austerities of the Depression and the Second World War, and the seemingly greater austerities of his starchy Swedish forebears. He chronicles his coming-of-age, from a boy drunk with books to a young man making his way among fellow writers he deeply admires — including Peter Matthiessen, Robert Lowell, W.H. Auden, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Allen Ginsberg. Harrison discusses forthrightly the life-changing experience of becoming a father, and the minor cognitive dissonance that ensued when this boy from the "heartland" somehow ended up a highly paid Hollywood screenwriter.
He gives free rein to his "seven obsessions" — alcohol, food, stripping, hunting and fishing (and the dogs who have accompanied him in both), religion, the road, and our place in the natural world — which he elucidates with earthy wisdom and an elegant sense of connectedness. Off to the Side is a work of great beauty and importance, a triumphant achievement that captures the writing life and brings all of us clues for living.
For nearly forty years, Jim Harrison has been one of America's most beloved writers, an award-winning literary giant who has given us such American classics as Dalva, Legends of the Fall, and The Road Home. And he is perhaps just as loved for his personality -- gleefully devoted to life's sensual pleasures, staunchly unpretentious, and ever mindful of the dangers of straying too far from our origin. Now, for the first time, Jim Harrison has put pen to paper to write about his own life -- a life that is the root of his wonderful fiction, and which he captures with a riveting directness and a delightful, peculiar music. Harrison returns always to his love of literature -- from his first awakenings to the power of writing in his teens, and his youthful decision to model himself on Rimbaud; how books have remained his center, sustaining him during the darkest times of his life. Above all, he delivers a joyful, meditative, candid, and wise book that is a paean to the complex delights of life. Now, for the first time, Harrison has been willing to share his immense spirit with readers in a most personal way. Off to the Side is a work of great beauty and importance that is sure to delight.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING:
"...full of heart and wisdom...rambling, poetic, big-hearted, expansive--just like the wise man who wrote it." --The Oregonian
"Reading Jim Harrison is ... as close as one can come in contemporary fiction to experiencing the abundant pleasures of living." -- The Boston Globe
"Harrison has quietly established one of the deeper canons in modern American letters." -- William Porter, The Denver Post
"Somewhere in that big literary acreage staked out by Thoreau, Hemingway, and Hunter Thompson is a ... space for Jim Harrison." -- Playboy
"Jim Harrison's work is a big, wet, sloppy kiss [that] Harrison continues to plant on the face of life itself." -- The New York Times Book Review
* Selected as a Book Sense 76 title
* Selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year
* A national best-seller in hardcover
It was a warm, late April afternoon heavy with the scent of dogwood buds. I was thinking about my first love who had recently abandoned me because I was unwilling to marry right after high school.
After a long time sitting on a log, perhaps an hour, my mind emptied out into the landscape and my preoccupations with the girl and other problems leaked away. In the stillness garter snakes emerged feeding on flies that buzzed close to the ground among dead leaves and burgeoning greenery. Birds came very close because I had been so still in my sumpish reveries I had ceased to exist to the birds, and gradually to myself. I had become nature and the brain that fueled my various torments had decided to take a rest by leaving my body and existing playfully in the landscape. The air became warmer and moister, so much so that the air seemed densely palpable, swollen enough to touch. It did not so much begin to rain as the air quite suddenly became full of water. Given the circumstances the rain could not help but be a baptism. The natural world would always be there to save me from suffocating in my human problems.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Harrison is the author of four volumes of novellas, The Beast God Forgot to Invent, Legends of the Fall, The Woman Lit by Fireflies, and Julip; seven novels, The Road Home, Wolf, A Good Day to Die, Farmer, Warlock, Sundog, and Dalva; seven collections of poetry, including most recently The Shape of the Journey: New and Collected Poems; and two collections of nonfiction, Just Before Dark and The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand. The winner of a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Spirit of the West Award from the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association, his work has been published in 22 languages.