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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
This finely wrought volume of essays deserves to be considered a "literary memoir" in several senses: it is the autobiographical account of a life in literature (Lesser, the author of A Director Calls, is best known as the founding editor of the ThreePenny Review); many of the most intimate and affecting moments are those that dissolve into literary analogy or analysis; and further, it merits "literary" as a term of approbation. Lesser shows admirable agility of mind, for instance, as she considers James, Dickens, Fielding, Johnson and her own experiences in the grant-giving world of philanthropy, in light of a homeless person's request for a handout?all without letting her momentum slacken or falling into pedantry. Despite her range, she remains sure-footed, engaging and accessible. Although some essays are less spectacular than others, Lesser is always entertaining?in a section of straightforward narrative, she works in this remark: "I've noticed that people often do look saner with their clothes on." The essays are a diverse lot, offering meditations on San Francisco, the city she has made her home; accounts of visits to the compound of the cultish Synanon rehab center and the retreat of a "madman" who has proclaimed himself an artist; critiques of dancer Mark Morris and poet Thom Gunn; and, of course, tales of the joys and travails of producing an admired periodical from scratch. One might object that Lesser's eclecticism feels studied, that she flits too quickly from insight to insight. But such mobility of mind, she contends, is in the nature of the amateur, the character whom she makes it her business to celebrate. Lesser justifiably styles herself "an eighteenth-century man of letters," showing the versatility and taste of an English Augustan in these essays of reflective erudition.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Since this author has considerable influence as a magazine editor, I thought an autobiography would provide unique insights into literary politics. Read morePublished 16 months ago by A Customer
Wendy Lesser has written an engaging book or half-critical, half-personal essays, a form that has gone out of style. She should be commended for reinvigorating it.Published on January 16, 2001 by Hils
The Amateur: An Independent Life of Letters by Wendy Lesser is a semi-autobiographical book of short essays. Read morePublished on May 4, 2000 by Lissy Friedman