- Hardcover: 432 pages
- Publisher: Knopf (April 3, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1524732486
- ISBN-13: 978-1524732486
- Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.7 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #374,148 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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See What Can Be Done: Essays, Criticism, and Commentary Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 3, 2018
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The critics welcome Lorrie Moore's See What Can Be Done
"From one of America's most brilliant writers ... a delight ..."
"Incisive, wide-ranging ... marvelously nuanced ... Moore is a lively guest at the party, but she never tries to steal the show."
--Kate Kellaway, The Guardian
"A testament to the breadth of Moore's intellect. There are pieces here on everyone from Nora Ephron to Kurt Vonnegut to Edna St. Vincent Millay, and everything from Christmas pop songs to 9/11. What unifies these pieces--what must galvanize any such collection--is the author's voice, a prevailing sensibility. 'One must throw all that one is into language,' she writes, 'like a Christmas tree hurled into a pool.' At its best, See What Can Be Done is not only a call to that ideal, but a fulfillment of it."
--Danny Heitman, The Christian Science Monitor
"34 years of lively, often humorous critical prose. Moore's wicked wit is demonstrated by the opening sentence ... What sustain overall this group of essays and commentary is a continuous critical spirit that stays in touch with life."
--William H. Pritchard, The Wall Street Journal
"Whip-smart and thought-provoking."
"Intimate and approachable ... See What Can Be Done flooded my veins with pleasure. Had she wanted, Moore could have had an important career as a theater or television critic. When writing teachers pass this book to their students, the title will be read as a simple command."
--Dwight Garner, The New York Times
"Lorrie Moore's writing and analysis, as with her fiction, is so consistently smart, funny, and unexpected that the essays end up feeling far more compulsively readable than it seems essays have any right to be. It's like she's invented some sort of extremely healthy snack that possesses all the addictive qualities of junk food. It's not only an extremely good-looking book, it's also an extremely good book, period."
--Scott Smith, author of A Simple Plan and The Ruins
"Fascinating insights into one of America's finest short story writers and her ever-evolving understanding of her craft ... her incisive readings are a must for budding authors ... this rewarding collection from a wonder of American letters provides a rich reading list, while Moore, cogent, distinctive, and entertaining, reiterates what great art can do."
"This collection of 60 lucid and erudite cultural essays by the award-winning fiction writer is a treasure."
--Jane Ciabattari, BBC.com
"Deft, graceful essays from a sharply incisive writer."
"A fantastic collection ... The essay on writing alone is worth the price of admission. If Lorrie Moore is not the Miles Davis of cultural criticism, she is surely the Bill Evans; she's got those brilliant harmonies and that swinging incisive wit."
"Acclaimed fiction writer Moore has compiled her nonfiction writings into a marvelous collection ... a window onto the trajectory of both late 20th-century American culture and Moore's development as a writer. Throughout, her chief virtue as a critic is shown to be a sympathetic, generous eye ... a boon to any lover of smart cultural criticism."
About the Author
LORRIE MOORE is the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English at Vanderbilt University. She is the recipient of the Irish Times International Prize for Literature, a Lannan Foundation fellowship, as well as the PEN/Malamud Award and the Rea Award for her achievement in the short story. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
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Author Lorrie Moore has assembled essays in chronological order that she previously published from 1983 to 2017 in such prestigious publications as the New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper's Magazine and more. In addition to literary criticism, Moore opines on such varied subjects as the movie "Titanic," Barack Obama, her first job, the best love song of the millennium, the O.J. Simpson trial, Monica Lewinsky, the TV series "The Wire" and 9/11 ten years later.
Moore has a formidable intellect and an astonishing bucket of knowledge stored in her brain. Here is one of just MANY examples: When discussing the theme of water in Alice Munro's short story collection "Runaway," she compares and contrasts it with the ancient Roman poet, Ovid: "…in Ovid water fuses a couple's sexuality; in Munro it distinguishes and separates." This is not a fact that one can easily Google. Lorrie Moore just knows it, gleaning it from her prodigious literary background, education and admirable memory (she's 61!). Her depth and breadth of knowledge is truly admirable and something of which I am, quite frankly, in awe.
Still, while most of the essays are fascinating and truly inspired me to read (and buy) the books, some are so highbrow and cluttered with intellectual--and at times perplexing--drivel they are difficult to comprehend and a chore to finish.
Bottom line: If you enjoy reading scholarly literary criticism, this book is for you. If you would rather just read the novel or short story collection, skip this.
What we have in this volume are about 60 of Moore's essays, criticism, and commentaries. All were published by various sources during a period from 1983 ("Nora Ephron's Heartburn") until 2017 ("Stephen Stills"). I had previously read about a third of them and was eager to re-read them as well as check out the others. Having now read all of them, what is my appraisal? If I were asked to select essayists with whom to spend an evening, they would be Michel de Montaigne, George Orwell, E.B. White, Joseph Epstein, John McPhee, and Moore.
Consider her concluding paragraph in the Introduction:
"My ignorance of a topic never deterred [Silvers] from trying to assign it to me. He started offering more and more television for me to watch and see what could be done. I turned only a few down. But I took on programs and films I was genuinely interested in watching and wrote about them in my Martian way. Mongaigne's [begin italics] que sais-je [end italics]. A little light, a little wonder, some skepticism, some awe, some squinting, some [begin italics] je ne sais quoi [end italics]. Pick a thing up, study it, shake it, skip it across a still surface to see how much felt and lively life got baked into it. Does it sail? Observe. See what can be done."
Here in Dallas near the downtown area, there is a Farmer's Market at which some of the merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples of their wares. In that same spirit, I offer three brief excerpts from Moore's lively and eloquent narrative:
"John Cheever" (1988): In his biography of John Cheever, Scott Donaldson "lingers in his discussion of Cheever's great stories -- 'Goodbye, My Brother,' 'The Country Husband,' 'The Geometry of love' -- like a gardener caring for the,m, though in his particular tasks they yield him beauty rather than fruit. Said son Fred Cheever of his father, 'No one, absolutely no one, shared his life with him.' Donaldson has this in common with his subject: the impulse to share a life that cannot be shared -- though it can be written down a little with a gardener's care, the words planted like a kiss." (Pages 22-23)
"On Writing" (1994): "Writing is both the excursion into and the excursion out from one's life. That is the queasy paradox of the artistic life. It is the thing that, like love, removes one both painfully and deliciously from the ordinary shape of existence. It joins another queasy paradox: that life is an amazing, hilarious, blessed gift and that it is also intolerable. Even in the luckiest life, for example, one loves someone and then that someone dies. This is not [begin italics] acceptable [end italics]. This is a major design flaw!" (59)
"True Detective" (2015): "The ability on a camera-laden set to inhabit a character without a twitch of distraction or preoccupation or visible hint of internally or externally irrelevant is a scary but brilliant feat. Ordinary people cannot do it. But I have seen great actors do it even at cocktail parties full of cell phones. In a world where major writers have announced that they cannot focus on their work without extracting or blocking the modems in their laptops, this kind of thespian concentration is worth noting. (One thinks of the writer Anne Lamott's remark on her own maturing undistractibility: 'I used to not be able to work if there were dishes in the sink,' she has said. 'Then I had a cild and now I can work if there is a corpse in the sink.'" (351)
However different great essayists may be in most respects, all are willing to examine -- if only briefly -- anything and anyone that attracts their attention with the prospect of nourishing their (not quite) insatiable curiosity. For them, differences have as much in common as commonalities have differences. They are explorers of worlds that are both internal and external. They let their readers tag along as welcomed companions and on occasion as confidantes...or perhaps as collaborators.
That is what it was like as I re-connected with some of Lorrie Moore's essays and experienced for the first time several others. You can be certain that this volume will be cherished...near at hand, always at the ready.
I feel so grateful for the pleasure of her company.