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The Fran Lebowitz Reader Paperback – November 8, 1994
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They say that age brings wisdom--or resignedness, at least--but every time you see Fran Leibowitz, she's just as hangdog as ever. Hey, Fran, how about writing a few more humor columns? That'll cheer you up! Or maybe not, but until she writes more columns, we'll have to make do with The Fran Leibowitz Reader. This paperback collects her two bestsellers of the 1970s into one volume, Metropolitan Life and Social Studies. Back then, her books defined knowing, urban cool. Guess what? They still do. If you were a mite too young to appreciate Leibowitz's take on that libertine decade the first time around ("Notes on Trick," anyone?), now is an excellent time to make her acquaintance. The pieces still hold up as good writing and deliver plenty of sharp laughs. Would that we had her jaundiced take on the '90s, which could use some Leibowitz-style deflating. Come back, Fran! Come back!
On METROPOLITAN LIFE
"Hilarious...an unlikely and perhaps alarming combination of Mary Hartman and Mary McCarthy.... To a dose of Huck Finn add some Lenny Bruce, Oscar Wilde and Alexis de Tocqueville, a dash of cabdriver, an assortment of puns, minced jargon, and top it off with smarty pants." —The New York Times
"Her humor made me laugh aloud and call friends to read passages to them." —Newsweek
On SOCIAL STUDIES
"Right on the mark.... Among the things she hates this time...baggage-claim areas, high tech, after-shave lotion, adults who roller skate, children who speak French, or anyone who is unduly tan." —Newsweek
"Unique.... Lebowitz offers vocational guides for aspiring heiresses, popes, empresses; manuals for landlords; guidance to the rich who wish to meet the poor." —Vogue
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Top Customer Reviews
I can't resist quoting. Some of these are classics that you may be surprised to learn came from Lebowitz:
"My favorite way to wake up is to have a certain French movie star whisper to me softly at two-thirty in the afternoon that if I want to get to Sweden in time to pick up my Nobel Prize for Literature, I had better ring for breakfast. This occurs rather less often than one might wish."
* * *
"There is no such thing as inner peace. There is only nervousness or death."
* * *
"All God's children are not beautiful. Most of God's children are, in fact, barely presentable."
* * *
"[In grade school,] I believed passionately that Communists were a race of horned men who divided their time equally between the burning of Nancy Drew books and the devising of a plan of nuclear attack that would land the largest and most lethal bomb squarely upon the third-grade class of Thomas Jefferson School in Morristown, New Jersey."
* * *
"Polite conversation is rarely either."
* * *
"The only appropriate reply to the queston, 'Can I be frank?' is 'Yes, if I can be Barbara.' "
* * *
"Looking genuinely attentive is like sawing a girl in half and then putting her back together. It is seldom achieved without the use of mirrors."
* * *
Well, I could go on and on, clearly, but I'll stop quoting if only just to say that this is the kind of sophisticated humor book you can devour in one gulp--or pace yourself and enjoy it slowly and luxuriously, like nibbling away at a particularly fine bittersweet chocolate mousse.
Despite the occasional reference which dates these pieces to their 1970s origin (such as instructions for disco behavior), most of the essays hold up amazingly well because they do the time-honored humorist trick of commenting on basic human foibles. This is a delightful, subversive book.
I'll admit that many of these essays are dated -- Lebowitz hasn't published much in the past decade or so. As a result, some of the references and jokes feel a little old to modern ears. However, as someone who lived through the 1970s and 80s, these essays conjure up a sense of nostalgia that someone in their 20s or 30s might not feel. That isn't to say if you're in your 20s or 30s you shouldn't read this book: you should. Especially if you want to write. As entertainment, Lebowitz's essays are a delight. Yet, they are also so well written that any aspiring writer of essays (or "creative non-fiction") would do well to read and study these gems. Lebowitz doesn't spend a great deal of time with fancy words, and long, flowing sentences -- she wastes no words.
I would add that if you are not curmudgeonly, or are unaware of what curmudgeonly means, this book might not appeal to you. However, if you are the kind of person who dislikes most things -- especially other people -- then this book is definitely for you.
There are some brilliant pieces in here, but there is no question that they were of a time. The selections from Metropolitan Life work best for me; they are, as one would've said in '70s Manhattan, "a stitch". Still, I can't imagine even a modern new yorker not being able to identify greatly with some of these insights and witticisms. Kind of like the movie Arthur, it evokes a different time but you'll still be able to recognize all the people and feelings. And it's damn, damn funny.
As another reviewer begged, come back Fran, we need to read what you have to say about today's anti-smoking, anti-dancing, anti-livable, post-Giuliani town.
Fran Lebowitz falls both into the tradition of great humorist essayists like H.L. Mencken and Dorothy Parker and of social satirists like Juvenal and Horace. She doesn't suffer fools gladly but, despite what other reviewers have said below, she doesn't suffer them unkindly either. In fact, I came across the current book as I was searching this web site desperately hoping that she had published another book after her two great earlier triumphs, and I was stunned to see the bile and venom emitted by some of the reviewers. Fran Lebowitz is FUNNY. (I mean, laugh-out-loud funny.) She's SATIRICAL. There is absolutely nothing in her works at which to be offended (seriously).
Her take on the world is that of a slightly world-weary urban sophisticate. It probably doesn't hurt that this is a style I particularly admire or that so many of her views reflect my own. (She had me at "The outdoors is what you have to go through to get from the apartment into the taxi.")
The essays in this book are terrifically written, models of wit and good style, admirably concise, and still pertinent today.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I read Social Studies back in the late 70s (I think) and re-reading it now I laugh just as...Read more