The Inventors

Finalist: Katharine Bakeless Nason Prize (Nonfiction), 2010*
Finalist: Graywolf Press Prize for Nonfiction, 2010*
as Landscape w/ English Teacher

In the Fall of 1970, at the start of eighth grade, Peter Selgin fell in love with the young teacher who’d arrived from Oxford in Frye boots, with long hair, and a passion for his students that was intense and unorthodox. The son of an emotionally remote inventor, Peter was also a twin with a burning need to feel unique.

The teacher supplied that need. They spent hours in the teacher’s cottage, discussing books, playing chess, drinking tea, and wrestling. They were inseparable, until the teacher “resigned.” Over the next decade they met occasionally and corresponded constantly, their last meeting a disaster. Only after he died did Peter learn that the teacher had completely fabricated his past.

As for Peter’s father, the British-accented genius inventor, he turned out to be the son of prominent Italian Jews. Paul Selgin and the teacher were both “self-inventors,” enigmatic men whose lies and denials betrayed the boy who idolized them.

The Inventors is the story of how these men shaped the author’s journey to manhood, a story of promises fulfilled and broken as he uncovers the truth about both men, and about himself.

For like them—like all of us —Peter Selgin, too, is his own inventor.

ADVANCE PRAISE for The Inventors:

The Inventors is a philosophical memoir that grapples with some of the questions regarding how we invent ourselves and how we in turn are invented by others, particularly our mentors. Thanks to Selgin’s autobiographical candor and the vivid details of his telling, these puzzles of identity seem as fresh, engaging, and befuddling as they were when they first bubbled to the surface of our thinking. A smart, tender, compelling book. —BILLY COLLINS Aimless Love

Peter Selgin writes brilliantly about our mindfulness and forgetting – the necessary inventions and reinventions that help us live. The lies of his father and his eighth grade teacher inevitably enter into this intricate portrait of inner and outer selves. As he inhabits their action, talk, and thought, he teaches and fathers himself. In language most rare for its transparency, Mr. Selgin reminds his readers of the difference between artifice and the genuine. In these remarkable pages, he has become one of the truest of our writers. —CAROL FROST Honeycomb

Peter Selgin’s The Inventors is brilliant, brave and compelling and inventive all at once. This is an intimately intimate rendering not just of Selgin’s coming of age, but indeed his rebirth into a new life of cognitive thought, of making sense of a perplexing world, of inventing out of blood and abstract ideas and hidden histories who, exactly, he is. This is an intelligent and moving book, a gorgeous book, an important book. —BRET LOTT Dead Low Tide

This story is about what we make and how we make it. Selves, lives, love stories, life stories, death stories. It is also the story of how creation and destruction are always the other side of each other. And like the lyric language so gorgeously invented in this book that it nearly killed me, its meanings are endlessly in us. Writers live within language, and so in some ways, you might say we are at the epicenter. —LIDIA YUKNAVITCH The Chronology of Water

Peter Selgin’s intricately woven memoir, The Inventors, offers a unique, engaging, and occasionally startling examination of how childhood influences bend and shape us into being. Selgin’s candor and intimacy bring to vivid life the Zen koan of how we become the people we become and how we somehow never really know who we are.
—DINTY W. MOORE, Between Panic & Desire

Only a writer as gifted and insightful as Peter Selgin could have produced this deeply compelling story of two brilliant but extraordinarily deceitful men and the complicated relationships he shared with them. A superb work of memory that unfolds like a great suspense novel.—SIGRID NUNEZ Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag