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Essays Paperback – September 21, 2010

15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Caveat emptor: these witty, ironic, and observant essays by Wallace Shawn are brought to audio in a shoddy production with such poor sound quality that listeners may justifiably demand their money back. The microphone skips in and out so that parts of Shawn's narration are almost completely lost. In a reproduction of the 2004 interview that Shawn conducted with MIT linguist Noam Chomsky, the volume modulation varies so widely in the interview's second half that listening becomes irritating and difficult. (And the narration itself is confusing: Shawn plays Chomsky while Brian Jones plays Shawn, a role reversal that will sound bizarre to listeners who have already spent more than an hour with Shawn reading as himself.) Advice to Shawn's many fans: buy the hardcover of these worthy essays or seek out the pieces online; free versions of some are available on various Web sites or even on A Haymarket hardcover.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Wallace Shawn is an Obie Award–winning playwright and a noted stage and screen actor. His plays The Designated Mourner and The Fever have recently been produced as films, and his translation of Threepenny Opera was recently performed on Broadway. He is co-author of My Dinner with Andre and the author of The Fever, Aunt Dan and Lemon, and Grasses of a Thousand Colors, among other works.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 164 pages
  • Publisher: Haymarket Books (September 21, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608460967
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608460960
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #207,076 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

"Full of what you might call conversation starters: tricky propositions about morality... politics, privilege, runaway nationalist fantasies, collective guilt, and art as a force for change (or not)... It's a treat to hear him speak his curious mind."--O The Oprah Magazine

"Wallace Shawn's essays are both powerful and riveting. How rare to encounter someone willing to question the assumptions of class and the disparity of wealth that grows wider every year in this country. To have such a gentle and incisive soul willing to say what others may be afraid to is considerably refreshing."--Michael Moore

"Wallace Shawn's career as a playwright has been uncompromisingly devoted to proving that theater is an ideal medium for exploring difficult matters of great consequence. The qualities that make his dramatic work so challenging, sensual, mind-and-soul expanding, so indispensible, are equally in evidence in the marvelous political and theatrical essays collected here."--Tony Kushner

"Wallace Shawn writes in a style which is deceptively simple, profoundly thoughtful, fiercely honest. His vocabulary is pungent, his wit delightful, his ideas provocative."--Howard Zinn

WITH A BOLD and broad-ranging set of essays, Wallace Shawn takes us on a revelatory journey through high art, war, culture, politics, and privilege. With his distinctive humor and insight, Shawn invites us to look at the world with new eyes, the better to understand and change it.

WALLACE SHAWN is an Obie Award-winning playwright and a noted stage and screen actor. His plays The Designated Mourner and The Fever have recently been produced as films, and his translation of Threepenny Opera was recently performed on Broadway. He is co-author of My Dinner with Andre and the author of The Fever and Aunt Dan and Lemon, among other works. His friends call him Wally.

"I've written plays and a few screenplays, in each one of which a person who isn't me speaks, and then another person who isn't me replies, and then a third one enters or the first one speaks again, and so it goes until the end of the piece. I've even worked as a professional actor, speaking out loud as if I were someone not myself.

Every once in a while, though, I like to take a break from fantasy land, and I go off to the place called Reality for a brief vacation. It's happened a dozen or so times in the course of my life. I've looked at the world from my own point of view, and I've written these essays. I've written essays about reality, the world, and I've even written a few essays about the dream-world of 'art' in which I normally dwell. In a bold mood I've brooded once or twice on the question, Where do the dreams go, and what do they do, in the world of the real?"--From Essays by Wallace Shawn

You can preview the book at Harper's, where an excerpt, "Is Sex Interesting?," of Essays has been published.

Wallace Shawn will be available for select interviews with national media September-October. To request an interview or review copy of Essays, please contact Sarah Macaraeg, 773-583-7884 (office), or 312-315-8476 (cell). Select Advance Reader's copies

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Keith Rosenthal on October 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This short work is divided into two parts linked by a common pursuit of the Moral Self in a chaotic world of war, poverty, inequality, but also beauty, love, and wonder.

The first part, "Reality," is more explicitly centered around the 'political' side of Wallace Shawn. Never losing his uniquely poetic voice, Shawn describes the evolution and development of his worldview as a child of privilege who comes to feel restlessly uncomfortable with the accepted absurdities and inequalities of his world.

Self-consciously torn between feeling a duty to exalt the hierarchy that has blessed him so, yet abhorring the war, misery, and national aggression that it necessarily produces, Shawn reveals to the reader a man genuinely struggling to "live morally" in a world wrought with obstacles, traps, and incongruities.

From the Vietnam war to Israel's attack on Gaza in 2008, this section is somewhat free-wheeling and informal, but nonetheless poignant.

The second section, "Dream-World," focuses more on Shawn's 'aesthetic' side. He talks about how it was that he came to be drawn towards the theater--and writing plays in particular; what he sees as the role of art in 'softening the human soul;' and his views on the special niche that poetry fills in the world of letters.

The most interesting piece in this section I found to be the one addressing Shawn's obsession with writing about sex. Clearly sex is a topic of contradictory standing in our society: on the one hand, it's used to sell hamburgers, but on the other hand, it's deemed as something really not appropriate for 'polite conversation.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Katherine Cameron on January 28, 2011
Format: Paperback
I remember going to high school with Wally Shawn, and seeing him constantly huddled in conversation with Jon Schell and others, and wondered wistfully what deep ideas they were coming up with. In the movie My Dinner with Andre, I got an initial answer: Wally asks a lot of open-ended, Socratic-style questions and listens, with poker face, for an excruciatingly long time. When Wally finally responds, he makes it clear he disagrees, but he formulates his passionate response most often with questions and speculations. ("Is it really reasonable for EVERYONE to go to Mt Everest to get enlightened?")

Wally Shawn's essays employ a similar combination of probing questions, but this time we, the reader, are at the table. The first set of essays, titled "Reality",explores how to live, both as privileged individuals and as a powerful country, in a world of poverty and oppression. The second set of essays explores art, especially theater and poetry, in terms of their purpose and their role in making the world a better place.

His essays on Reality are deeply moving in one very specific way: they expose his own unbearable pain trying to have fun and a good life, in a world that is inescapably terrible and sad. He returns to this dilemma several times, and each time, he spoke for me and thousands of others who wake up each day trying to figure this out. The rest of his Reality essays offer familiar information and analysis about Iraq, Israel, etc, but written in a deft and fresh and concise way. It is the underlying emotion - how we are to live with all this - that is truly unique.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Debra Jan Bibel TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Many of Wallace Shawn's 13 brief essays and two interviews (with poet Mark Strand and linguist Noam Chomsky) were published in The Nation, which indicates which side of the Congressional aisle he affiliates, but Shawn's political commentaries are more of a compassionate stranger in a strange land, one who blurs self and other, than an ideologue. Throughout the book, his gentle humor and chain of unusual associations makes me envious of how well, how direct, and how simple he writes. Moreover, his insights on art, be it theatre, music, literature, or paintings, are sword keen. I especially find his views on acting--becoming a lie, or necessary fiction---refreshing. Shawn, whom we all met in My Dinner with Andre, who portrayed Grand Nagus Zek of Ferenginar and many other movie and TV characters, is a man of letters, a playwright particularly, and it manifests in his words. It is a shame that we are limited to 161 pages in which to share his mind. Oh, the humanity!
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By J. Brennan on October 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
It would be a wonderful world if we were all more like Wallace Shawn. I attended a conversation between Shawn and author Bruce Wagner at West Los Angeles' Hammer Museum of Art on a recent Wednesday evening promoting "Essays." It was an outstanding pairing, though it ended somewhat abruptly due to the discomfort caused by an outburst from Wagner in response to insulting comments from the audience. Still it was a memorable evening, resembling an alternate version of "My Dinner With Andre," with Wagner playing the antithesis of Andre Gregory.

In this version Wagner dubbed Shawn "the reluctant mystic." The discussion that ensued that evening was an appropriate preface to reading (or rereading since most have been previously published) Shawn's outstanding collection of essays. These show Shawn to be a "reluctant mystic," a man of faith.

Shawn writes about art, theater, politics, family, and sex. Noam Chomsky basically sums up Shawn's thesis in their interview when he states, "It's simply very easy to subordinate oneself to a worldview that's supportive of one's own interests." How to un-subordinate, or figure out how to live ethically in subordination, is Shawn's dilemma and our own. "Well," Shawn claims, "the first thing we have to do is face it."

I am very comfortable with the way Shawn faces the world. It's an elegant stance of thought and noble ideals. As Shawn notes in his one-person performance, "The Fever," many are well acquainted with interior identity, intentions. "We're prisoners of self-love." It is the exterior identity, what we actually do, which is less familiar. It is also less interesting and lovable. "We understand the crimes of others but can't understand our own." Even if we understand them we can't endure the correction.
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