Cover image for Off to the side : a memoir
Off to the side : a memoir
Harrison, Jim, 1937-2016.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Atlantic Monthly Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
313 pages ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3558.A67 Z465 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3558.A67 Z465 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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For the first time, the author of such classics as "Legends of the Fall" 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.

Author Notes

James Thomas Harrison was born on December 11, 1937 in Grayling, Michigan. After receiving a B.A. in comparative literature from Michigan State University in 1960 and a M.A. in comparative literature from the same school in 1964, he briefly taught English at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

During his lifetime, he wrote 14 collections of poetry, 21 volumes of fiction, two books of essays, a memoir, and a children's book. His collections of poetry included Plain Song, The Theory and Practice of Rivers, Songs of Unreason, and Dead Man's Float. He received a Guggenheim fellowship for his poetry in 1969. His essays on food, much of which first appeared in Esquire, was collected in the 2001 book, The Raw and the Cooked. His memoir, Off to the Side, was published in 2002.

His first novel, Wolf, was published in 1971. His other works of fiction included A Good Day to Die, Farmer, The Road Home, Julip, and The Ancient Minstrel. His novel, Legends of the Fall, was adapted into a feature film starring Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt. Harrison wrote the screenplay for the movie. His novel, Dalva, was adapted as a made-for-television movie starring Rod Steiger and Farrah Fawcett. He died on March 26, 2016 at the age of 78.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Where do writers come from? What coalescence of temperament, inheritance, and circumstance ignites an all-consuming love for language and the need for literary expression? Both poet Orr and Harrison, author of Legends of the Fall and The Road Home among many other works, reflect on how childhood tragedies and a profound involvement with nature gave rise to their passion for writing. Michigan born and bred, Harrison has always been happiest out in the natural world where as a boy he took what comfort he could find after he was blinded in his left eye at age seven. This brutal loss set his life pendulum swinging sharply between trauma and beatitude, and Harrison writes with a spanning energy and bemused self-deprecation about his realization at age 16 that he wanted to be a writer, his nomadic adventures (he used to hitchhike with a box containing his typewriter and books by Faulkner, Dostoyevsky, and Rimbaud), paralyzing depressions, early and enduring marriage, parenthood, and eventual and resounding artistic breakthroughs, first as a poet, then as a fiction writer embraced, to his surprise, by Hollywood. A mesmerizing storyteller and down-to-earth philosophizer, Harrison explicates his "seven obsessions," which include alcohol, strip clubs, hunting, fishing, and dogs, and offers compelling ruminations on the splendor of nature and the crimes of man, the mysteries of spirit and the revelations of art. So dire was Orr's childhood, when he read the Greek tragedians for the first time he accepted all the bloody feuds and multigenerational curses as "matter-of-fact family dynamics." The anxious middle son of a wildly irresponsible father (a country doctor addicted to amphetamines and risk) and an emotionally repressed mother, Orr, at age 12, accidentally shot to death his younger brother, Peter. How does one live after such a shattering tragedy? How does one write about it? Orr has distilled the anguish of his youth right down to its holy bones in a breathtaking chronicle of long-term shock and the arduous road to expiation. In each poemlike chapter, tension, sorrow, and darkness give way to the mystical beauty of metaphor as Orr struggles to make sense of yet another horror, including his mother's death in Haiti and his violent experiences as a civil rights worker in the Deep South. Everywhere young Orr turned, he confronted the worst of humanity and the chilling sense of a world without soul until he found poetry, the thread, Orr writes, that leads us out of the labyrinth of despair and into the light. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

"I'm not sure I'm particularly well equipped to tell the truth," writes Harrison. But with such a colorful life, there's not much need to tell lies. Bus boy, gardener, gourmand, novelist, screenwriter, drunkard-Harrison has done it all. Now add successful memoirist to that list. After a rugged outdoor childhood in Michigan, where an accident left him blind in one eye, Harrison moved to New York with vague ambitions to be a poet. Denise Levertov soon recognized his talent and launched Harrison on a literary career that eventually included teaching at SUNY Stony Brook, writing for GQ and Esquire, authoring several popular novels (The Road Home; Legends of the Fall) and writing Hollywood screenplays. Throughout, Harrison befriended an impressive gang of fellow free spirits: Jack Nicholson, Jimmy Buffett, Tom McGuane, among others. He swingingly recounts trout fishing with Richard Brautigan, bingeing with Orson Welles, arguing gay poetry with W.H. Auden and drinking with just about everybody. Alcoholism, Harrison writes, was his constant enemy, the writer's "black lung disease," as his friend McGuane once said. But he had other vices, too: strippers, cocaine, hunting, long walks in the woods by himself-all of which fed into Harrison's characteristic mix of freewheeling boho sensibilities and earthy western melancholy. A man as willing to shoot a grouse as trip on psychedelics-he claims to annually experience God-like visions and swears that he was once transformed into a wolf-Harrison is never less than intriguing. This fine memoir is a worthy capstone to a fascinating career. Agent, Bob Dattilla. (Nov. 19) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

After numerous cult novels, finally an autobiography. With a 65,000-copy first printing and a 13-city author tour. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.