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HALL OF FAMEon February 17, 2007
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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on April 10, 2007
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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on March 22, 2007
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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on September 24, 2013
I've learned so much from this book about modern culture( 20th cent on ) and the writing is terrific. Simple for strength, sophisticated for insights,she's down to earth and up in the clouds, Ms Acocella shows what it takes to keep on keeping on in the arts and glories in it .

Her introduction itself is another excellent article as well. I defy anyone to read just one essay per sitting. For all that's been written about MFK Fisher, I've not seen better than Acocella's essay here. She knows her subjects,and you'll know then far better too after reading her work.

The dance writing is spectacular. She makes you see it

You'll learn of artists you never heard of
and know far better the one's you have

great book
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on December 16, 2012
Insightful, informative, at times hilarious or heartbreaking, these essays will entertain and delight you. If you read these essays you will learn the lineage of Michael Jackson's sparkly glove and "the evil eye", lots about modern dance and what it means to be creative in the face of personal difficulty. I received this book as a gift, and am gifting it to others.
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on January 30, 2010
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.
One criticism, I wish there were fewer of these portraits. There are maybe five too many. Which five is probably a matter of taste. And so maybe it was better to refrain from making such a choice, after all.
I now pay closer attention to all her by-lines.
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on October 15, 2010
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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on January 6, 2014
Some were fascinating, some informative, and some were real clinkers. The ones I very much enjoyed were those on great dancers and choreographers. The most surprising one concerned philosopher Sarte and his famous writer mistress. The dullest of many, which for some unnoted reason leads off the book, was a piece on James Joyce's daughter about whom little more is said other than her mental illness.
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on February 27, 2008
These essays are so well written. Joan Acocella fully fleshes out her subjects by putting their work in the context of their lives without confusing the work and the person. This book is a terrific read; plus,for me, this collection served as a helpful introduction to a number of artists whose work I hadn't read and as a way to better appreciate those with whom I am familiar.
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on August 9, 2007
I have greatly enjoyed this selection of essays. Ms. Acocella brings forth what it takes to be an artist in this modern world. Not only that, but she rescues some obscure artists and makes the reader know more about them by providing a glimpse into their lives and work. Ms. Acocella's writing is fluent and makes for easy and entertaining reading as well.
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