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Paperback Burning the Days : Recollection Book

ISBN: 0394759486

ISBN13: 9780394759487

Burning the Days : Recollection

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Book Overview

In this brilliant book of recollection, one of America's finest writers re-creates people, places, and events spanning some fifty years, bringing to life an entire era through one man's sensibility. Scenes of love and desire, friendship, ambition, life in foreign cities and New York, are unforgettably rendered here in the unique style for which James Salter is widely admired. Burning the Days captures a singular life, beginning with a Manhattan boyhood...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A clinic on writing autobiography

I love Salter's fiction. After reading "Burning the Days", his autobiography (memoirs if your prefer), I'm not sure that I like the man - but the book review should have nothing to do with that personal opinion. Salter's writing style is unusual. The syntax often makes one stop and reconstruct, thus stop and think. On rare occasions it's nonsensical. I particularly was annoyed with the confusion of general pronouns among mixed proper pronouns, the result being that I couldn't figure out who he was talking about. That said, his use of the language is superb. It's there in all of his work. And he's a wonderful "observer and describer" of people and things. His life story is, of course, fascinating. Raised in privilege in NYC. West Point. Combat jet fighter pilot. Author. Director. Screeenwriter. Literary socialite. World traveler. His singularly candid recounting of his years at West Point was excellent in quality and style. He gives West Point to us warts and all. And his internal struggles. Loathing it, living it, finally loving it. The tales of flight are absolutely riveting. Nobody does it better. True storytelling that sometimes touches your heart, and sometimes raises your heartrate with the tension. In reading these memoirs I found that as I had suspected, his first novel, "The Hunters", was largely autobiographical. For me, this only adds to the greatness of that work. The writing years seemed to be a little slower reading. At least for me. And I can't decide whether Salter was indulging in a little "name dropping". In any case, he travels in high company. He is loyal to and generous to his friends. Plenty of saucy tales, no vulgarity. Well done. I do not share his love for Paris. Salter breathes it. Perhaps it rejected me, as Salter claims Rome rejected him. No matter - Salter is an accomplished individual, in a wordly way, and travels in circles far above the heads of most of us. He does not claim to be atheist, but his overtures toward God (or gods) are tenuous and ambiguous. As I wrote earlier, I'm not sure I like him - but I savour his work. This is an unusual autobiography of rare quality. Generally, Salter presents himself as he often presents his fictional characters. If you've read any of his novels, you understand what I mean. This autobiography is not for the People magazine crowd. It is thoughtful and broad in scope, spanning an accomplished man's life. I recommend it.

This is one of my favorites

The prose, as has already repeatedly been noted is wonderful. Much has been made of Slater's self-acknowledged unwillingness to reveal all the details. But much more is revealed in this book about Salter than the reader could ever hope for from a mass of minute details. In some crystalline passages, as clear as the view from his F-86, we see him thinking and his mediations on his own thinking and the prose turns to poetry: "Here among them, of what is one thinking? I cannot remember but probably of nothing, of flying itself, the imperishability of it, the brilliance." But he shows us the grayness as well as the dark and light of it. The struggling, the embarrassing ambition and jealousies, as well as the respect and the admirable. It is perhaps not a surprise that "Burning the Days" is so compelling -- it describes a very full and interesting life.

A man like and better than other men. . .

A colleague got me reading novels again after a long period by recommending "The Hunters." Not long afterward, I was reading "Solo Faces," stunned in both cases by Salter's crystal clear prose and the wrestling with themes of personal integrity. It has taken me a while to get round to his memoir "Burning the Days," which I found myself gulping down in two days and one long night of a holiday weekend. It has been a revelation. Salter's novels are case studies of what I'd call male mythology. The heroes of "Hunters" and "Solo Faces" seem trapped in hyper gender roles, testing always both a kind of grace under pressure and an ability to endure physical and psychological extremes. "Burning the Days" turns out to be a celebration of those values, where to be a man is to embark on a long, lonely journey of proving that one is both like and better than other men. The book is his own story of emerging from a fairly nondescript youth in New York to the life-transforming experience of West Point and a career as a pilot, along with the getting of a kind of worldly wisdom during times spent in Europe, especially Paris. His life as a writer introduces him to literary circles in New York and abroad and an international community of filmmakers and film stars. Through it all, Salter focuses often on the men around him who earn his respect. He marvels at the particular integrity that makes each of them admirable. He elevates each of them into a kind of pantheon, and when all is said and done, he hopes that his own life warrants him a place among them. By contrast, the women who pass through his life are remarked upon for their beauty and intelligence, but beyond that they are walk-ons in this book about men. Readers may be taken by his old-fashioned glamorizing of women, or they may take exception to it. Brilliantly written, the book is compelling for what it sets out to do - provide a remembrance of things past that not only captures moments and people in vivid detail but bathes them in a melancholy glow - like richly detailed sepia photographs.

A life lived, if not always in the right way.

The first question I have about this book is where was Salter's wife when he was carrying on all the adulterous affairs he had? She is almost never mentioned. We do encounter, however, an incredibly interesting number of people, many of whom are famous: Robert Redford, Irwin Shaw, James Jones, Vanessa Redgrave, are only a few. And then there are the dazzling descriptions of the restaurants, hotels, residences and cities of Europe. The food that was eaten, the wine that was drunk, and the conversations had on literature, writing and film making. These are complimented by Salter's experiences as a pilot, flying in the States, Europe and across deserts in Africa. All of it, delivered in an often brilliant, dizzying prose. There is no doubting James Salter lived an interesting life and drank from the lees more than most of us, and yet the one defect of this rich memoir is its morally flawed author. Salter seems to have not the slightest hesitation in sleeping with someone's wife or betraying his own wife for that matter. Adultery seems almost par for the course of being someone who is someone. Knowledge of women (many women), like knowledge of books and wines, seems almost a requirement to being cultured, to having truly lived. Which is perfectly acceptable, I suppose, if that's what you believe. But the problem is that the most emotionally honest part of this book comes when Salter briefly mentions the death of his daughter. The pain in his words stand in counterbalance to all the frivolity of his affairs throughout the book. And I found myself thinking that Salter would have done his daughter much better if he had never betrayed his wife, had never run off to Europe and other places for months at a time and sipped wine from golden goblets with genuises and moviestars. It's a consideration I believe Salter takes into account also.The book succeeds because the author does not try to recapture the past (the days that he has burned away) or to ever justify his actions, but only the impressions that they have left him. And so if we are not given the whole picture, we are at least presented with a small part of the indelible proof of a life remembered, and the wisdom gained by having lived it.

A read-before-you-die book

I find it amusing to see how some people take this man's extraordinary lyrical gift for granted - as if prose poets of his caliber could be found in any issue of People magazine. Let's be clear about this: there is *no one* making more beautiful music with the magnificent instrument of the English language than James Salter. If this book were nothing more than a factual recounting of his life story, it would still be a greatly rewarding reading experience.It is, in fact, a great deal more than that. Like Casanova's immortal memoir, this is the work of an old man looking back on the dazzling life he relished but which has vanished forever. As such, a funereal darkness lurks behind every sunlit memory, an abyss of ruin underneath every bejewelled sentence. There is a sad wisdom in these pages that makes "Burning the Days" a timeless classic, belonging to no one generation but to all.
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