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The Amateur: An Independent Life of Letters

by Wendy Lesser

The Amateur is an inquiry into how we discover our passions and how they discover us. "I am very conscious," writes Wendy Lesser, one of our shrewdest cultural observers, "of having made choices in my life. You can't plan how the choices will turn out. But you can certainly make them. " In The Amateur Lesser explores some of the choices she has made in pursuit of an old-fashioned but indispensable vocation: an independent life of letters. She discusses the place--California--in which she grew up; the institutions-- Harvard, Cambridge, Berkeley--where she received her formal education; the writers, artists, and performers who deepened her critical understanding; and, finally, the literary journal she founded, The Threepenny Review, which she still edits and publishes out of the Berkeley apartment in which it began nearly twenty years ago. Lesser describes both the events in her own life and those she has witnessed on stage, screen, canvas, and paper, noting noting how both experience and art teach us to observe, to discriminate, and to make sense of one another. Written with her trademark intelligence, quiet wit, and elegance, The Amateur is a beguiling work of autobiography.

The Genius of Language: Fifteen Writers Reflect on Their Mother Tongues

by Wendy Lesser

Wendy Lesser--a celebrated essayist in her own right--has put together a rich and often surprising work, a book brimming with pleasures for lovers of literature, travel, memoir, and, above all, language.

Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen Quartets

by Wendy Lesser

Most previous books about Dmitri Shostakovich have focused on either his symphonies and operas, or his relationship to the regime under which he lived, or both, since these large-scale works were the ones that attracted the interest and sometimes the condemnation of the Soviet authorities. Music for Silenced Voiceslooks at Shostakovich through the back door, as it were, of his fifteen quartets, the works which his widow characterized as a "diary, the story of his soul. " The silences and the voices were of many kinds, including the political silencing of adventurous writers, artists, and musicians during the Stalin era; the lost voices of Shostakovich's operas (a form he abandoned just before turning to string quartets); and the death-silenced voices of his close friends, to whom he dedicated many of these chamber works. Wendy Lesser has constructed a fascinating narrative in which the fifteen quartets, considered one at a time in chronological order, lead the reader through the personal, political, and professional events that shaped Shostakovich's singular, emblematic twentieth-century life. Weaving together interviews with the composer's friends, family, and colleagues, as well as conversations with present-day musicians who have played the quartets, Lesser sheds new light on the man and the musician. One of the very few books about Shostakovich that is aimed at a general rather than an academic audience,Music for Silenced Voicesis a pleasure to read; at the same time, it is rigorously faithful to the known facts in this notoriously complicated life. It will fill readers with the desire to hear the quartets, which are among the most compelling and emotionally powerful monuments of the past century's music.

Nothing Remains the Same: Rereading and Remembering

by Wendy Lesser

From the esteemed cultural critic and journalist Wendy Lesser, Nothing Remains the Same is a bibliophile's dream: a book about the pleasures and surprises of rereading, a witty, intelligent exploration of what books can mean to our lives. Compared with reading, the act of rereading is far more personal -- it involves the interaction of our past selves, our present selves, and literature. With candor, humor, and grace, Lesser takes us on a guided tour of her own return to books she once knew, from the plays of Shakespeare to twentieth-century novels by Kingsley Amis and Ian McEwan, from the childhood favorite I Capture the Castle to classic novels such as Anna Karenina and Huckleberry Finn, from nonfiction by Henry Adams to poetry by Wordsworth. Lesser conveys an infectious love of reading and inspires us all to take another look at the books we've read to find the unexpected treasures they might offer.

Room for Doubt

by Wendy Lesser

Room for Doubtis Wendy Lesser's account of three separate but interlocking occasions for doubt: her stay in Berlin, a city she had never expected to visit; her unwritten book on the philosopher David Hume; and her long friendship with the writer Leonard Michaels, which constantly broke down and yet endured. Through this unusual journey, Lesser in the end shows us how, once examined, things are never quite what she thought they were.

Table Talk: From the Threepenny Review

by Wendy Lesser Jennifer Zahrt Mimi Chubb

Table Talk is a portable dinner party and a book to read alone while laughing out loud. Table Talk is a salon attended by your smartest friends and by all of the wittiest people they know. <P><P>Table Talk is a collection of brief but critically acclaimed, half serious/half tongue-in-cheek pieces that borrow the format of The New Yorker's "Talk of the Town" column. Selected from several decades of The Threepenny Review, known colloquially as the West Coast's New York Review of Books, these anecdotal essays debate the historical, artistic, and technological developments of our time.Released to coincide with the 35th anniversary of The Threepenny Review in January 2015, Table Talk, edited by Wendy Lesser, Mimi Chubb and Jennifer Zahrt, includes essays by Christopher Ricks, who unfolds a dazzling literary history of the phrase "Table Talk"; Leonard Michaels on why the waltz should be viewed as an aggressive, imperialist dance; and Claire Messud on the art of digression in fiction and conversation. Sigrid Nunez engages with the contemporary vogue for memoir and autobiography, while Luc Sante draws conclusions about postmodern art from a stray bit of graffiti glimpsed on a New York street. Other contributions include Alexander Nehamas on the NEA controversy that roiled the culture wars of the 1990s and Paula Fox's tips for interacting with difficult children.Ninety-nine pieces become a garden of literary delights, as Table Talk takes an irreverent walk on the wild side of philosophical and cultural speculation that will resonate with readers of any age.

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