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Sharp by Michelle Dean
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Showing 4 of 4
Interesting potted and intertwined biographies of writing women, primarily who started out in journalism, but many of whom wrote novels too.

Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Zora Neale Hurston, Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Janet Malcolm, Mary McCarthy and a couple of others make shorter appearances.

It was interesting to read how often their lives crossed in friendships and rivalries, and although Dean while noting it, attempts to deflect from the capacity of most of them for cruelty at times, inferring that acknowledging women could be cruel in some way devalues them, it is certainly a constant.

None of these women had uncomplicated lives. All of them to varying degrees were fine writers, and all of them had, at some point, had solid reputations. On collecting their stories Dean has offered up a volume of journalistic founding mothers, perhaps, though it would have been interesting maybe to have included some lesser known women writers too. ( )
  Caroline_McElwee | Jul 21, 2019 |
Sharp brings together a dozen women authors and critics from the twentieth century—Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, Janet Malcolm, Zora Neale Hurston, and Lillian Hellman—who were, in various ways, professionally opinionated. Michelle Dean has an excellent eye for pulling quotations both from the work of these women and from the other literary figures with whom they interacted, and that was one of the principal pleasures of this book. It's a decent primer to the careers of most of the women depicted here, many of whom should be better known than they are.

However, Sharp doesn't really cohere as a book. What threads bring this group of women together, what argument can be made about them, beyond the fact that they were all once described (or critiqued as being) "sharp"? This was then, and is now, just another way of saying "being a woman in public." A brief aside in the introduction also shows that Dean is aware that she's chosen to focus largely on middle-class white women, most of whose careers centered on New York. She also doesn't seem to care very much about that. After all, Zora Neale Hurston can only be called a "marginal" literary figure if you've got very determined ideas as to where the centre lies. ( )
  siriaeve | Jun 19, 2019 |
Ten women: Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm. What do all these women have in common, besides writing and being female? They all had sharp tongues and were not afraid to speak their minds. Michelle Dean sets out to give a mini biography of each "sharp" woman, make connections between them, and illustrate why they made her sharp list.
As an aside, I was confused by Dean's treatment of Zora Neale Hurston in the West & Hurston chapter (p 59). It was obvious Hurston was not to be included as a "sharp" woman, so why include her as a connection to Rebecca West? Why include her in the chapter's title? West and Hurston did not have much in common. In fact, the introduction of the Hurston material at the end of the chapter is clunky at best. Dean makes the lukewarm transition thus - Rebecca West had been out of her league covering a trial involving a lynching. Admittedly, Black journalist Ida B. Wells would have been more suited to the cause and, oh by the way, another Black writer who understood the state of prejudice and racism of the 1940s was Zora Neale Hurston. Dean then goes on to dedicate three pages to Hurston's life and writing without much connectivity to Rebecca West or to the rest of the book. As a result those three pages end up sounding like an abbreviated and unintentional detour.
Additionally, were there absolutely no sharp women of color Dean could have included in her book; no one for more than a token few pages? I find it hard to believe there was not one woman of color who raised her voice loud enough to be heard by Dean. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Mar 27, 2019 |
I think it’s been a while since I’ve been so disappointed in a book as Michelle Dean’s "Sharp". Disappointed because I had such high hopes in learning more about what sounded like some amazing women who make a name for themselves through words. I wasn’t sure how I could be uninterested reading about ten different women, but I was so bored. This is officially the last time I force myself to slog through a book because I think it will be good for me or has all sorts of hype behind it.

I didn’t feel like there was any continuity in the examples nor any real feeling about any of the women. Their mini-bios were fairly haphazard and although the introduction implied they all had a connection to each other, most of the segue ways felt extremely forced in the end without connections to be had. Considering this is a work about reviewers/critics written by a reviewer/critic, I couldn’t tell if the author liked and/or was influenced by any of the women considering she implied that these are the women that future women critics should be looking to as their heroines. Either way I just didn’t feel any interest toward the majority of these women, and that truly makes me sad.

This really isn’t any kind of a review but more of a yelling to myself about not always listening to others about what’s good vs. not (ironic in a work about reviewers). It must have sounded good (honestly the inside cover really does make it sound great) because I had it in my library holds queue well before I started hearing so much hype about it, but I should have just reminded myself after the requisite 59 pages (the formula of 100 minus my age of reading before quitting) to shut it, return it, and then move on. ( )
  spinsterrevival | May 13, 2018 |
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The ten brilliant women who are the focus of Sharp came from different backgrounds and had vastly divergent political and artistic opinions. But they all made a significant contribution to the cultural and intellectual history of America and ultimately changed the course of the twentieth century, in spite of the men who often undervalued or dismissed their work. These ten women--Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm--are united by what Dean calls "sharpness," the ability to cut to the quick with precision of thought and wit. Sharp is a vibrant depiction of the intellectual beau monde of twentieth-century New York, where gossip-filled parties at night gave out to literary slugging-matches in the pages of the Partisan Review or the New York Review of Books. It is also a passionate portrayal of how these women asserted themselves through their writing in a climate where women were treated with extreme condescension by the male-dominated cultural establishment. Mixing biography, literary criticism, and cultural history, Sharp is a celebration of this group of extraordinary women, an engaging introduction to their works, and a testament to how anyone who feels powerless can claim the mantle of writer, and, perhaps, change the world. -- Provided by publisher.… (more)

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