Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books
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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2014
If you've been a reader most of your life, this is a great book. If you have never been much of a reader, I don't know that you will be convinced to become one. This book preaches to the choir and is a festival... a love in....
Wendy Lesser is a lover and she knows whereof she speaks....
this is a book that truly celebrates reading and books read... and the contribution that reading can make to the wisdom, texture, and richness of a lifelong dedication...
You want the book never to end...
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2014
Lesser has written books that are much more geared to academic research. This book is quirky is good ways. She writes well about the need for reading and the results that accrue from doing so. I found her list of her best books to be a mix of te usual suspects and a few that I would never have thought about. I have put on a few of these on my 'to read' list as she makes a good case that books talk to us both in general ways that are useful but also in ways that whisper to our own quirky selves in ways that are mysterious, rich, and strange.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Like all great writing, this book compels the writer to enter the mind of the author. The experience in this book is luxurious in its exact and literate explorations of the author's favorite books. I am always struck with awe when a piece of writing captures my vague or ill formed thoughts into cogent and startling insight. Sharing a compulsion is deep pleasure that is multiplied by glimpses into unknown terrain. This book contains both and can take its place as a great work with literature.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 23, 2014
A dose of honesty up front: I am well disposed towards Ms. Lesser. As editor of The Threepenny Review, she published a poem of mine in the journal some years ago. As this is not a common occurrence for me, I remain grateful for her show of excellent literary judgment. I expected much the same from this book—excellent literary judgment—and, for the most part, I was satisfied.

Since I’m being honest here, a second dose: I am well disposed towards books about books no matter who the author is. Having few people in my life who like to discuss books as much as I do, I enjoy having this, granted, one-sided conversation with someone who clearly loves reading. She has decided to frame her conversation around topics like “character and plot”, “novelty”, “authority”, and “grandeur and intimacy”. Though there’s nothing particularly ground-breaking about this, it works well enough and gives her views some depth.

Of course, what I’m really after here is what books make a reader tick. Ms. Lesser covers quite a bit of ground but it’s also clear that she’s got certain books on her radar right now (as she admits). In particular, she seems enamored of the classic Russian writers as well as Henry James, who gets a lot of talk time. Though I’ve dipped into these writers over the years, I can’t say they rank as personal favorites but that’s just as well. One thing I am always looking for in a book is that it will lead me to another book that I might not have decided to read. Ms. Lesser does that for me here.

Ironically, despite her passion for the Russians and James, the book she has led me to is Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence. After being left fairly cold by my previous experiences of Lawrence—The Lost Girl and Lady Chatterley’s Lover—I decided to give Sons and Lover a try. Now, a little over halfway through the novel, I have finally found a Lawrence that moves me and speaks to his reputation as a great writer. And, as I read, Ms. Lesser’s words come back to me: “But wait—never trust the artist, trust the tale. David Herbert Lawrence the person may have had it in for his father, but the novel Sons and Lovers knows enough to allow for our sympathy for Walter Morel. The book wouldn’t work without it.” (p. 107) From what I’ve read so far as I devour this novel, she’s right on target.

I expect I will try some other of her suggestions that I haven’t read yet. Hopefully, they will work out as well as the Lawrence. In the end, I couldn’t ask for much more.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2014
Loved this book. This is especially strange since Lesser is "annoyed" by "Ulysses" by James Joyce, a book I have gained more pleasure from than any other. Nevertheless, it was wonderful reading about her takes on many of my favorite books and many that I have never read. By the way, I read it on the iPad and was never without having it close at hand.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 22, 2014
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love to read. I’ve experienced pleasure in reading an eclectic mix of books throughout my life. When I read Wendy Lesser’s Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books, it felt like I was having a conversation with another intelligent reader, one who is far better informed than I am. I finished reading this book with a heightened sense of awareness of the pleasure I receive from what I read and wherein that pleasure is derived. Any voracious reader is likely to find a soulmate in Wendy Lesser.

Rating: Four-star (I like it)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2014
This is an excellent and highly personal reflection. Lesser supports clarity and the idea of truth in literature, which she defines broadly to include non-fiction. She says she cannot define truth in literature but illustrates it throughout the book. She has the courage to say she does not like James Joyce's _Ulysses_ and did not finish reading _Finnegan's Wake_. But she offers insightful comments about many books she does like. She obviously does not support postmodern skepticism, but nowhere in the book is the term even mentioned.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2014
This should be my 877th review on Amazon. I marked so not for boasting, but hope that you can feel for the deep joy of my reading the prologue below, that for the first time in my life that somebody seems really understand why I read so voraciously.

Why I read? It's not a question i can completely answer. There are abundant reasons, some of them worse than others, and many of them mutually contradictory. To pass the time. To savor the existence of time. To escape from myself into someone else's world. To find myself in someone else's words. To exercise my critical capacities. To flee fromt eh need for rational explanation. And even the obvious reasons mya not be the real ones. My motives remain obscure to me because reading is, to a certain extent, a compulsion. As with all compulsions, its sources prefer to stay hidden.....

In short, though I had not read any literature reviewed by the author, I simply enjoy it thoroughly. Pardon my indulgence towards sheer beauty. To paraphrase the author on page 147, "It is a bit like Zeno's paradox, this journey that approaches nearer and nearer to the thing itself without ever fully arriving."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2014
My mother, who recommended this book to me, has read many of the novels that Lesser discusses (or more precisely, uses as examples). I have read only a few -- but I found that lack no obstacle. I did not have to be familiar with the books mentioned to enjoy Lesser's tribute to reading and to the varying literary approaches of numerous authors and poets.

Anyone who loves the art of writing can enjoy -- indeed, revel in -- Lesser's profound appreciation of and gratitude for writers. The book is studded with small insights into the ways in which different authors can reach us, as well as such related topics as the more and less subtle ways in which different translators affect our experience of the work being translated.

I borrowed this book from the library, but I may have to purchase it -- I will want to reread passages and chase down the works with which I'm less familiar.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
I am afraid the lower rating is due more to a failing on my part than on the author's. Reading this was like attending a serious advanced course in literature and her knowledge far exceeds mine. She hones in on classic literature - the Russian greats, Shakespeare, Joyce, James - books that take a lot of plugging for me to get through. She also dabbles in genres that I tend to avoid - plays and poetry, for example. So, while I am a serious reader, I tend more toward more modern novelists and non-fiction works on current affairs so this really does not fit my profile. Not that it is a failing of hers - I would have loved to have had her for an instructor back in my college days and I was impressed by her comments related to the physical pleasure of books, despite the fact that I read this on my kindle.
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