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The Amateur: An Independent Life of Letters Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (March 7, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375703810
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375703812
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,494,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

From Publishers Weekly

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.

More About the Author

Wendy Lesser was born in 1952 in California, where she grew up. She attended Harvard University, Cambridge University, and UC Berkeley, earning a PhD in English from Berkeley in 1982. Though she has taught on occasion (at UC Santa Cruz, Princeton University, and Hunter College, among other places), she has mainly supported herself over the years as a writer, editor, and consultant. From 1976 to 1980 she and her friend Katharine Ogden worked as public policy consultants through their firm Lesser & Ogden Associates. In 1980 Lesser founded The Threepenny Review, which she still edits; it has become one of the most respected and long-lasting literary magazines in America. She is the author of ten books (including one novel, two memoirs, several works of literary or cultural studies, and a biography of Shostakovich) and the editor of two. She also writes book, dance, art, and music reviews for a variety of publications in this country and abroad, dividing her year between Berkeley and New York so as to cover cultural activities on both coasts. Lesser is married to Richard Rizzo and has one son, Nick Rizzo.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 20, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed reading Ms. Lesser's collection of essays, anecdotes, and vignettes. (Can it really be called an autobiography?) Just when it appears that what the literary world has most to offer us are self-indulgent novels and biographies that think all readers are voyeurs and that life's lessons are learned only through humiliation (usually self-imposed) and and through emotional crises--just then along comes a small book that gives us insights into a person and, at times, into ourselves through wonderful and simply written chapters. This is not a classic--just a well-written book that deserves to be well read.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Paul Lakeland (pflakeland@fair1.fairfield.edu) on March 22, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Wendy Lesser's book is a dream! The author is founder-editor of the famous Threepenny Review, a gifted practioner of the essay form. In this book she has turned a string of occasional pieces into an autobiography, a genuine encounter with a person that I for one, simply want to get to know. Ms. Lesser also writes in that spare, plain style that makes direct contact with the reader, and brings immediacy to whatever she is writing about. Here is an immensely attractive life, a person who knows who she is and who is willing to let us into a little of what she has known and thought, while preserving dignity and prudence. She is above all skilled in the fine art of discrimination.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 20, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed reading Ms. Lesser's collection of essays, anecdotes, and vignettes. (Can it really be called an autobiography?) Just when it appears that what the literary world has most to offer us are self-indulgent novels and biographies that think all readers are voyeurs and that life's lessons are learned only through humiliation (usually self-imposed) and and through emotional crises--just then along comes a small book that gives us insights into a person and, at times, into ourselves through wonderful and simply written chapters. This is not a classic--just a well-written book that deserves to be well read.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Olivas on June 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
Only a sourpuss could dislike this engaging, enlightening and well-crafted autobiography by Threepenny Review's founder and editor, Wendy Lesser. In two dozen essays, we not only learn about the great obstacles inherent in starting a literary journal, we see how Lesser developed as a reader and observer. This is a delightful read filled with Lesser's wonderful observations on love, art and publishing. I highly recommend this book.
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