BOOKS: Ultimate American in Paris

Composer Ned Rorem writes a worldy, catty autibiography

The best memoirs tell us not only where and with whom the author has spent his time in the past but also what kind of person he has become in the process. On the first count, Ned Rorem's Knowing When to Stop (Simon & Schuster; 607 pages; $30) is the scintillating chronicle of how a gifted, remarkable, good- looking young man from the Midwest grew into a leading American composer, one of our finest craftsmen of art songs. On the second count, the book is profoundly exasperating.

Describing his Quaker parents and Chicago boyhood, Rorem vividly evokes a vanished time when...

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