James Salter, Burning the Days (1997)

I’m not a memoir fan, nor a big memoir reader – in this field, Mr. Smithereens is better qualified than I: maybe there’s something I missed in Salter’s Burning the Days. And I haven’t read enough Salter before getting to this book. But enough excuses: all in all, I didn’t really get to “feel” Salter in this book, that is, understand who he is and why he’s chosen such an unlikely path for his life: a pampered child from a Jewish family in New York, he studied at West Point and in a most unlikely way, became a perfect soldier, then chose to serve as a pilot and fly in the Korean war.

This makes up for more than half the book, and the rest of the books covers Salter’s encounters after he became a scriptwriter for Hollywood and a writer. But I was disappointed because nowhere does he explain how he decided to make such a huge career switch, nowhere do we get to understand how he came to writing at all (was he bored by the army life, scared, disenchanted?), how writing fulfilled (or not) different aspirations than his first career. He seems to write a memoir basically to remember people he’d met, but I didn’t know any of them, so all the fun was missed for me.

Don’t you sometimes dream that a writer had written a different book out of the very same rich material? I may sound presumptuous but I really kept thinking “what a shame!” almost all the way. Anyway, I’ll probably stick to Salter’s fiction next time.

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3 thoughts on “James Salter, Burning the Days (1997)

  1. Pingback: The one I didn’t get | Smithereens

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