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The Amateur: An Independent Life of Letters…

The Amateur: An Independent Life of Letters

by Wendy Lesser

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375404023, Hardcover)

In The Amateur Wendy Lesser marries two literary forms, autobiography and essay, with remarkable results. True to the spirit of the critical essay, she discusses any number of subjects in a profound and analytical way; yet in the course of reflecting on, say, vocabulary or philanthropy or dance lessons, she imparts a vivid portrait of the woman behind the ideas. Consider, for example, how Lesser bounces between intellect and slapstick. An examination of the relationship between critics and artists in "Passionate Witness" ("When you attach yourself to a cherished artist, as I have attached myself to Mark Morris, you cede to that artist a certain portion of your own intellectual development. You are not just the learned critic, commenting on the work, you are also the novice, being molded by that work") gives way to a wacky tale of high art and low comedy in "A Night at the Opera"--complete with stomach cramps, a visit to the aid station, and an eye-opening introduction to behind-the-scenes doings that rivals any drama being enacted on the stage. Over the course of 24 essays a picture gradually emerges of all the phases of Wendy Lesser's life in the world and of the mind.

Whether she's discussing her disastrous affair with a young Englishman during her postgraduate years at Cambridge, the poet Thom Gunn, or her cat, Ralph ("I had a cat without a nose"), Lesser does so with intelligence, humor, and deep insight. Reading her is something like having a conversation with an old friend--that delightful sense of kinship even when you disagree. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:03 -0400)

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