From Publishers Weekly
Acocella is the New Yorker
's dance critic, but dancers and choreographers comprise a minority of the artists featured in this elegant collection of writings mostly from the New Yorker.
The dance pieces are literally the center of the book, sandwiched between Acocella's lucid assessments of writers (and one sculptor, Louise Bourgeois). She has a taste for early 20th-century European, often Jewish novelists who, she says, helped create the modern consciousness in literature: Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth, Italo Svevo, among others. In featuring these long-forgotten writers, she fulfills what, in a fascinating profile of Susan Sontag, she calls "an essential function of criticism: that of introducing readers to... strange work, things they wouldn't ordinarily encounter." A particularly affecting look at Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1998 portrays a man long in search of an artistic home who had to find that home, finally, within himself. The essays that follow the dance pieces focus largely on American and British writers (Bellow, Philip Roth, Sybille Bedford). Acocella can flatten a book she dislikes with cool derision ("The less she knows, the more she tells us," Acocella says of Carol Shloss's biography of Lucia Joyce), but her passionate and penetrating endorsements of other works make you want to discover their pleasures firsthand—the best service a critic can render. (Feb. 6)
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*Starred Review* Critic Acocella's deep knowledge of and organic feel for dance infuses her fleet-footed and witty prose. Like a dancer, she makes her art look easy, which it certainly is not, and what poise and range she evinces. Acocella has written expertly and vividly about dance for the New Yorker
and other venues and is a keen literary critic as well. She has now collected 30 of her stellar artist profiles, electrifying portraits that seamlessly pair biography and criticism and draw authoritatively on psychology and history. Add to that Acocella's versatility and knack for choosing just the right individuals. Accompanied by superb photographs of the artists, Acocella's portraits bring into focus such complex figures as Lucia Joyce, James' mad dancing daughter; Mikhail Baryshnikov; Martha Graham; Bob Fosse; Marguerite Yourcenar; Dorothy Parker; Philip Roth; M. F. K. Fisher; and Susan Sontag; as well as the iconic Mary Magdalene and Joan of Arc. How agile these firmly rooted yet whirling essays are, and how very enlightening. Acocella's portraits are so much fun to read, they feel like indulgences rather than writings that do no less than enrich and sustain culture. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved