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Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints: Essays Hardcover – February 6, 2007


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What If? by Randall Munroe
From the creator of the wildly popular webcomic xkcd, find hilarious and informative answers to important questions you probably never thought to ask. Learn more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon (February 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375424164
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375424168
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,416,656 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*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 Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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Ms. Acocella writes with passion and knowledge.
Daniel P. Lucas
Another outstanding essay here is the one on Primo Levi who Acocella clearly believes is one of the great moral heroes of the century.
Shalom Freedman
Insightful, informative, at times hilarious or heartbreaking, these essays will entertain and delight you.
mom in NC

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I have read a number of the essays in this collection and found them to be informative, insightful and at times, eye- opening. Acocella often chooses subjects who are not that well known , and who she feels have been neglected. Two of the novelists she writes about here, Joseph Roth and Hilary Mantel were little known to an American audience. But the essays I have read and very much enjoyed are those she has written on Stefan Zweig, and Saul Bellow. I also read with great interest her critical review of a biography on James Joyce's daughter, Lucia, one which Acocella feels makes exaggerated claims for Lucia's influence on her father's work. Another outstanding essay here is the one on Primo Levi who Acocella clearly believes is one of the great moral heroes of the century. Acocella has a real feeling for the struggles involved in the literary and artistic, the creative life. She often reveals a special kind of sympathy with her subject. And this is one of the things which makes her writing, to me anyway, so likeable. One feels the writer herself is a very understanding and considerate person, one whose own creative effort is diligent, caring, and intuitively wise.

I have not read all this collection but from what I have and know of the work of this writer I would recommend it strongly.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Daniel P. Lucas on April 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The essays on modern dance in America are particularly outstanding. Ms. Acocella writes with passion and knowledge. Many of her observations are succint yet sympathetic. They inform the book with a compassion for the individual artist's struggle to define his or her art; something not readily available in much of what passes for criticism these days. Her essay on Marguerite Yourcenar, the French writer who lived in Maine for much of her life, literally jumped off the page for me. No one who reads this book will be disappoited.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By margaret hennig on March 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints: Essays.

This book is an inspiration to all creative people who have struggled with themselves and consequently their work. Better than any creative-self-help book, this brilliantly accomplished collection of essays, gives wonderful insights with amusing anecdotes into the live of artists. It is a study in problems that all artists face, whether they are writers, dancers, artists or saints.

About writing this book, the author says:" My concern is the pain that comes with the art-making, interfering with it, and how the artist deals with this......What allows the genius to flower is not neurosis, but its opposite, "ego strength", meaning amongst other things, ordinary Sunday- school virtues, such as tenacity, and above all the ability to survive disappointment."

Amongst the artists she discusses are; Stefan Zweig, Primo Levi, Vaslav Nijinsky, Bob Fosse, Susan Sontag, Louise Bourgeois, Philip Roth, and Joan of Arc -an eclectic selection of gifted and talented people, who through their work, and our contact with them, have contributed in some way, to inspiring our lives.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on October 15, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I found this book in a local library and kept checking it out over and over until finally a Kindle edition became available. Thank you, Amazon. Joan Acocella's essays are not just beautifully written. They introduce us to writers who over time have become lost like Joseph Roth, Italo Svevo, Marguerite Yourcenar and, a personal favourite Hilary Mantel. The dance essays are stunning. Acocello structures these sections with such remarkable detail weaving analysis of technique, and biographical detail seamlessly. Her focus on American dancers/choreographers like Suzanne Farrell, Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp, Martha Graham and Bob Fosse are a reminder of the rich history of dance in America. Read it; it's lovely.

A sidenote to Amazon: Please find a way to publish John Richardson's Sacred Monster, Sacred Masters in Kindle form. Like Acocella's essays, Richardson focuses on remarkable footnote people in the visual arts. That way I can stop checking out the hard copy from the local library as well.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michael H. Shenkman on January 30, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There is precious little "information" about art in this book, with a couple of exceptions that I'll mention below. That omission is all to the good. Also missing from this book is the litany of artistic "agonistes" that obscure such figures as Van Gogh or Celan in mists of reverence or pity -- emotions we gladly extend to artist, while ignoring the work their lives bring forth.
Acocella demonstrates all the lucidity and relevance that writers for the New Yorker bring to their work.
Artists (and yes, two saints) come alive in this book. People meet them and comment on living and conversing with them. And this is no exercise in reduction. These conversations and meetings point directly to an artist's life. This is not the life of commerce and conversation, but lives finding the treacherous boundaries on which they tread to be their necessary, if uninviting, path. The accompanying sufferings seem like so many thorns picked up in transit, but the journey goes on. These are portraits of spirits too alive to be tamed by careers, and too generative to let any wound be mortal. Like Martha Graham, who worked until drawing her very last breath well into her eighth decade, or even those who die young, seem to press on even as "talents" wane. Or like Yourcenar, their brilliance shines in their solitude and provides comfort-- not conceit -- and energy for the next project.
The exception: dance. Clearly, Acocella has a deep love for this form. In her descriptions of Suzanne Farrell and Barynishnikov in particular she hits her stride of evoking the life of bringing forth the artwork. She steers clear of pale and vapid "aesthetics" and instead mines for the utterances that speak out of these artist's drive to make art, and sets them on the page starkly, for our viewing and hearing.
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